Introduction: Guide to Field Soldering

Picture of Guide to Field Soldering

This is a kit that will allow you to do many soldering tasks in the field, cost about $8.00, and it all fits in an Altoids tin! I've used this same set of stuff for years now and was inspired to share it based on a recent instructable on soldering (an outstanding one). This instructable goes one step further in building a portable helping hand, solder dispenser, and assembling all the other tools that you will need to get things done in the field.

Let me add at this point I know this not the best way to solder and this method has its limitations. It is however the best way to fix surveillance equipment at 3 a.m., in the back of a van, in the dark. I can testify to that. Good times. I was a tech for an undercover narcotics unit for five years and this method came through for me many times.

Step 1: Building the Dispenser

Picture of Building the Dispenser

I hate having to carry a whole spool of solder into the field. When I first started having a need to do these tasks in the field I would just cut off a couple of feet and throw it in the bag. It soon became a tangled mess. So I came up with this. You will need:

1 ink pen (metal tiped is the best)
2 feet of thin solder

First take the pen apart and cut it down so it fits in the tin. Next wrap the solder around the ink cartridge that you just removed from the pen. Pull the solder off the pen and insert it into the portion of the pen that you have retained. Cap off the end with the pen cap or whatever you have. I got a ton of these little platic caps (shown in the picture) someplace that are my favorite. I like the metal tips the best because they don't melt if you use this with a regular iron. The result is a compact solder dispenser! I'm always amazed just how much solder you can fit in one of these suckers.

Step 2: Helping Hand

Picture of Helping Hand

If you've soldered much you know that this is necessary. There isn't much to instruct on here. There have been many instructables on making these but, this one folds flat. This is how I built mine. Very simple. Heavy gauge copper wire with an alligator clip. Very easy to use, just bend the clip up over the base. (picture in a moment)

Step 3: Rounding Out the Kit

Picture of Rounding Out the Kit

You will some additional things to complete the kit:

1 nail clippers (great foldable small gauge wire cutter)
1 lighter
various lengths and diameters of heatshrink tubing

The nail clippers are the cheapest and most compact flush wire cutters that you can buy. After 9/11 I was in a surveillance engeniering class and they took all my tools for the course at the gate at the airport. A nice aiport cop held them for me but, I was still without tools for the course. A quick trip to wally world yielded a cheap multi tool and nail clippers for $6. I've been a fan ever since.

Step 4: Using the Kit

Picture of Using the Kit

First you have to twist the wires to be connected together. A good eletrical connetion is impartaive before you can solder. Next place the connection in the helping hand. I like to wrap the solder around the connection prior to heating. This makes the heating process very easy in the field and yields a great distribution of solder over the joint. Fold the joint over and heat shrink it. I couldn't have done it better in the shop.


buckminsterfullerene (author)2011-05-13

Thank you so much for this. During the middle of my english exam, my calculator broke and I needed to solder some of the wires back together. I couldn't find an outlet to plug the soldering iron I keep in my backpacK into so if it weren't for you, I would have never been able to finish it! Thank you!

You were using a calculator during an English exam?

Nova_Freak (author)drevt2016-12-27

It was probably one of those hacked calculators that you can play Gameboy games on

swilus (author)drevt2011-06-01

hahaha good follow up question!

You bring a soldering iron to school?

potterrandy (author)2010-02-11

 I love how everyone just corrects each other in these after posts

You forgot your period.

GScience (author)FueledbyRamen2014-12-19

uh oh...

spystealth1 (author)2011-11-07

Really cool instructable! I built one, but with a few changes:
1. I didn't use a butane lighter; instead, I used a mini, normal lighter. The normal lighter didn't really effect the soldering process, it was just difficult sometimes not to burn the insulation right off the wire, or overheat something. It sure helped heat the hot glue though.
2. I used a mini nail clipper (wire cutter).
3. Using a mini lighter and nail clipper gave a lot of extra room, so I included a hot glue stick which can be heated with the lighter, then smeared onto the area where it's needed. It can also be used as wire connection insulation.
4. More room was still available, so I add a small spool of various wire.
5. I modified the (awesome) helping hands so it was basically a thick solid wire (not stranded) with aligator clips on both ends so I could clip one to the tin, and the other would be free for holding. I could probably even secure the middle of the wire down to the tin with a magnet or hot glue so both helping hands are free.--(Maybe I can put a magnet in the tin so stuff won't clink around...hmm...)
I still have a lot of room in my tin so any more suggestions on what I can stuff in mine is welcomed.

Akin Yildiz (author)spystealth12014-12-09

what if we used a windproof torch lighter instead or as an extra tool? it may help better to reach in different areas..

Akin Yildiz (author)2014-12-09

i woke up this morning thinking what if the world went dark (no electricty) and we had to make our own electrical equipment to produce electricity/heat.. and then I was like how can we solder to make these things if there is no electricity.... i imagined it would be possible with a lighter, and I also imagined that there would be an instructable about it... and of course there is one, actually a few. and it is a pocket sized solution as well !! thank you for sharing, very nice stuff

Mariska Botha (author)2013-09-04

Amazing idea.

BunnyRoger (author)2013-09-03

Read the warning label people, lol, keep away from children!!

Amanda Culbert (author)2013-09-02

Nifty, handy, super cool...

MAApleton (author)2013-08-29

Very cool instructable!!!

Kjata1013 (author)2012-06-07

This is easily the coolest kit I've seen so far.

riobpz (author)2009-12-26

 also adding fine grain sand paper is a good idea so that you can get a better connection

Project-er (author)riobpz2010-03-28

Why fine grain sand paper? I'm new to the whole soldering thing and I don't quite understand. Could you please explain?

MaXoR (author)Project-er2011-03-03

Oh yeah, since you are new, there is another point I want to make, soldering copper wire is 50% easier than the aluminum stuff. It also holds solder better in my experience.

1) Solder "Wick" isn't worth your money, a solder sucker IS!
2) Don't use a 60W soldering iron, get a 90W and you'll thank me.
3) Remember to use flux, if you don't already have flux core solder.
(If it smokes when you solder, it contains flux, if it doesn't really smoke to much or at all, then it's flux-less.)

And remember to put your shrink tubing on BEFORE you solder.... sounds funny to say, but you'll be surprised how many times you, memories!

dog digger (author)MaXoR2011-09-21

Even better than a 90w iron: get a soldering station with thermostat temp controll. Best thing I have ever bought!

tledgerwood (author)MaXoR2011-09-07

i agree with the last bit. i onece spent an hour soldering a circuit at school and i then went to get the heat shrink then i asked my teacher wow that must be fairly complicated stuff! i wonder how i get it on the wire! ( my first time soldering)

MaXoR (author)Project-er2011-03-03

Sandpaper is used to clean the wires before soldering. If there is any grease, or dirt on the wire, including skin oils, it will make a bad connection. Sanding a little on each bare wire will allow a quick, solid connection to form.

x86Daddy (author)riobpz2010-03-03

Adding to this good suggestion: I stock emery boards (found near nail clippers as disposable nail files) with my soldering gear...  and they'd be easy to break a couple in half to fit in this kit with the added benefit of rigidity.

stone3408 (author)x86Daddy2010-03-04

Great idea as you can pick these easier than sand paper.

MaXoR (author)stone34082011-03-03

tell me "Pick" doesn't mean "steal"

Roblazed (author)MaXoR2011-06-27

I'm hoping he meant "Pack"

dgerszewskiq (author)2011-09-11

I think that a quick substitution of a (admittedly more expensive) butane jet lighter for the cheap disposable lighter would provide more pinpoint heat and a lot less wasted heat that ends up heating the entire work area.

Other than that, this is absolutely brilliant. I'm making a pen holder for use all the time.

tledgerwood (author)2011-09-07

i love this!! all the essentials for quick repair on the go, and no electricity needed ( apart form in the device, of course!)

1ofakindwork (author)2011-09-07

Nice to know!

pbman123 (author)2011-07-21

might i suggest adding a small amount of electrical tape, i have been in situations where i was out of solder and heat shrink and electrical tape works fine

blade97 (author)2011-07-16

If you heat up the wires with the lighter first and then rub the wire on it the solder goes deeper into the wires giving a stronger and more lasting connection

SasquatchKid (author)2011-06-23

Hi this kit is great at scout camp this helps a great bit for our battary powered item some time the wires disconect and i pull this out and the are amazed on how far i fix the problem but i added a micr screw driver for unscrewing als i have to helping and attatched to the lid

Matrix-technician (author)2011-06-04

A better lighter choice would be an El Cheapo butane cigar lighter. It has a much higher btu output and therefore heats faster and because it's butane it has a focused flame. I put this kit together and the lighter I chose has a metal casing and fits perfect inside the tin.

BGreenHVAC (author)2011-04-03

this "kit" doesn't do me any good, because I usually need to solder on a circuit board, but it is a good idea when you need to solder wire ti wire. It's nice to see people actually use shrink tube instead of electrical tape.
Good idea.

I see people mentioning sandpaper and emery boards. Personally I perfer the sandpaper. You can just wrap it around the bare wire and pull in an easy step. The emery board would be more cumbersome on a wire to wire connection.

I have a similar kit, but I have the little leatherman wire stripper from Radio Shack instead of the nail clippers. It works great for tiny tasks and cramped spaces. I have used nail clippers in a pinch, but only if I have to.

Thanks for the instructable. (author)2009-10-03

Very handy, i was wondering if anyone knows, can you get metal, heatable syringes? Because if you can you could heat one of those up full of solder then... well, its obvious. ty in advance

Pocket Universe (author)mr.space2009-10-23

Even if you could, you'd have to re-heat the whole syringe in order for the solder to become liquid. I don't know about you, but I'd hate to handle a red-hot syringe.

MaXoR (author)Pocket Universe2011-03-03

and it would have to remain hot or you have to re-heat every time you need to use the smallest bit of solder.

Friscky (author)2010-06-29

My first thought on seeing this was McGyver.

Kanellos (author)Friscky2011-03-01

I thought that as soon as I saw the picture.

TheAntiHeroHimself (author)2011-01-12

To those who are crazy about doing things really specifically(like me, haha), the pen he used is a PaperMate FlexGrip. By the way, I bought a bag of tiny alligator clips from RadioShack to make a helping hand, and I was thinking; Wouldn't it be more useful if instead of using just 2 clips(1 on each end), you would take 2 pieces of wire(whatever length you want as long as they are the same length), and solder an alligator clip to only 1 end of each wire individually, and then put the 2 no-clip ends of these wires and solder them both onto 1 (possibly bigger)alligator clip? It would be shapped like a V(or a Y, whichever you want), and you would clip 1 clip part on either the altoid tin,(or if you're working somewhere with a lot of wires, onto another wire[as a base]), and clip the other 2 clips onto the 2 wires you're soldering together. I was also thinking of maybe taking a really flat, thin magnet, soldering something that and alligator clip could clip on onto the magnet, and then when you need it, you could just clip the base clip of the V onto the magnet. With this, you could put it inside the tin and it would/could keep all the metal contents from rattling around.

Tl;dr 2 identical, same length wires, solder them in a V shape(or more of a Y shape) and solder alligator clips onto all 3 ends, and clip base clip to altoid tin/something close to where you're working.

Also, either clip base clip onto a flat magnet(which would've been equipped with something to be clipped on) and magnet to altoid tin or any metal surface(for table soldering) or onto a metal surface if you're working on a job somewhat vertical, like a wall mounted fuse box or something. Magnet inside tin would keep metal contents from rattling.

jweirs (author)2010-11-29

if you're feeling really special, you can adapt a mechanism for a mechanical pencil to spit out 3 inch solder sticks!

19charbel96 (author)2010-11-19

great idea!!! 5 stars

nutsandbolts_64 (author)2010-07-29

2x more effective than my friend's emergency kit, but his is the size of a matchbox! because he keeps the kit in a matchbox in the first place lol. Nice kit btw.

frodobot (author)2009-01-24

1 prob. :-( how would you solder PCBs with method? i mean, the lighter would really burn your fingers.

stone3408 (author)frodobot2009-01-26

This would not be very effective on a pcb.

frodobot (author)stone34082009-01-27

exactly my point, it wouldn't be very effective on PCBs because of various reasons.

idea, heat a paper clip, straightened, to red hot, use that as a substitute iron. but it woudl get pretty hot. and would need reheated often.

idea to not burn yourself with a paperclip: put some heatshrink or blue tack on the hand where you hold it.

good idea. never thought of that. but it seems that the bluetac would melt...

oops, bad idea then. lol.

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