Introduction: Tool Tip: How to Salvage PCB Parts

Picture of Tool Tip: How to Salvage PCB Parts

If you're like me, you have a ton of PCBs laying around from things you've taken apart. Put them to good use and salvage the components from them.

Step 1: Stuff You'll Be Using

Picture of Stuff You'll Be Using

You need:
Either a desoldering iron, a soldering iron and desoldering pump, or a soldering iron with desoldering wick or braid.
Solder (It helps, trust me)
Helping Hands (Optional)
Magnifying glass (Useful if you're desoldering surface mount components)
PCB Board to get components from
Water Bottles (Optional, but you'll need them if you're making the containers)

Step 2: Using a Desoldering Iron or a Soldering Iron and Pump

Picture of Using a Desoldering Iron or a Soldering Iron and Pump

Find the component you want to take off, then flip your PCB over. Try to find the leads to your component, and hold your desoldering iron on the lead until the solder melts, then suck it up. If you can't get enough solder off, try adding a little. Weird, but it works. Make sure you squeeze the bulb BEFORE you stick the iron on the solder, otherwise you'll blow molten solder everywhere. And you do not want that.

Once you sucked up enough solder, break the leads away from the hole, then pull the component out. In the pictures, I'm desoldering a tact switch from an old stereo. I was lucky enough to have switches with only two leads.

Step 3: Desoldering With a Soldering Iron and Pliers

Picture of Desoldering With a Soldering Iron and Pliers

If you don't have a desoldering iron, you can desolder two-lead components using a normal soldering iron and needle-nose pliers.

Clamp the board in your helping hands, and grab the component you want to take out with your needle nose pliers. Heat one of the leads, and at the same time, tilt the component so you pull the lead out. What you'll get is a lopsided component. The idea is to do this while alternating sides until the component comes out. It's a good idea to use locking pliers.

Thanks to Zaen for this tip. Instead of using pliers, wedge a small screwdriver under the component while heating the leads.

Step 4: Create Containers

Picture of Create Containers

This step is for all you green people out there.

We are going to make containers for the components out of old water bottles. Recycling before recycling!

Using an x-acto knife, cut the bottom of the water bottle off, starting 3 or 4 bumps up. Stack three to create a set. Repeat this for as many water bottles as you like.

These containers are pretty stable, and are quite useful, too.

I find I am always wanting tact switches, for simple projects or more complicated ones. And who doesn't like LEDs? Salvaging parts is a great way to save money and get the parts you want. So that's it! Thanks for reading!


Zaen (author)2008-02-19

I do quite a bit of desoldering, and there I to things I want to suggest: 1. sometimes wedging a small screwdriver, or exacto-knife tip under the component you want while applying heat does a better job than pliers, especially if the leads are bent over. 2. when I do use pliers, I use a locking pair, that way I can let go of the pliers and free up my hands for holding the board and soldering iron. By the way, nice job!

pfred2 (author)Zaen2009-04-17

I mainly use a pick, or angled needle nosed pliers, roll them up for leverage, when I strip boards. I never use a soldering iron for component salvage. I hold the board itself with goose necked pump pliers over a pool of molten solder myself. I don't let go of my tools until the job is done.

nullsmack (author)pfred22009-12-14

How does this even work? Do you do this in a factory or something?

pfred2 (author)nullsmack2009-12-15

I do it in my garage. Using this:

ARJOON (author)pfred22010-09-21

what the heck is that i have never seen such a thing

pfred2 (author)ARJOON2010-09-21

It is called a solder pot. Now you have. It is also the tool I use for component salvage, having critically thought through the process. I've also used irons as well myself, and they are not the proper tool for the job. Maybe if parts only had one lead, or irons had more than one tip, but neither of those is often the case.

For all other situations the solder pot is the superior tool when it comes to the task of component salvage.

That's a whole new level and solves a lot of process problems - thanks pfred2!

1up (author)Zaen2008-02-19

Good tip! (# 1) I'll add that, giving you credit, of course.

waynesworldlydrawerings (author)2016-01-17

Thanks, nice job! I'm enjoying the fact that we can reclaim our old PC and electronics waste for something new. Another thought for organizing parts - use payment-return envelopes from bills you receive (the ones with the little clear window). Easy to label and I throw most of them away usually since I bill-pay it all. Here's to sustainability through Instructables!!!

blakehx (author)2015-08-20

If the leads are long enough I often attach hemostats to the components lead and then let gravity pull the part out when it's loose! Also helps dissipate heat!

BharathR1 (author)2015-01-13

Hey how are you supposed to heat the leads? Sorry if I sound stupid. I am a novice on circuit boards and salvaging :/

samsao (author)2010-11-08

yes, good idea

matroska (author)2010-07-27

Protip to add, based on experience:
If you want to salvage a large piece (like those IDE or those PCI-E connectors on old boards) and you do not have a desoldering iron, try using a heat gun and direct the heat so that the most pins are heated. Have the board attached firmly, upside down (components down, pins up) and using pliers, grab the components and pull it down slowly.

It may require patience though, since a heat gun does not heat as efficiently the solder as an iron does. However, once you are all setup, mass desoldering an old motherboard can go quite fast.

2nd Protip: For a workplace, I used a completely striped down computer case. I lay the board on the frame and arrange so that the component I want to extract is aligned with an opening (which there is everywhere when a case is striped down completely).

Good luck and have fun.

matroska (author)2010-07-27

Holy cow, that's a great instructable! All instructable should be as concise and helpful as this one!

Thanks bro, I was looking precisely for a good technique on how to mass salvage PCB, which I too have lying around after dismantling just about everything.

I thought about putting the PCB in the oven, since the solder is eventually all molten, but then, how to get the components out, hmm, haven't figured out yet!

I prefer your way much better! +1

katoplato (author)2010-04-20

Thanks for the "add a little more solder" tip. Worked a treat!

NT86 (author)2008-09-06

how to you figure out how many volts the LEDs run off without frying them

mage (author)NT862008-10-03

use a mulitmeter

Minifig666 (author)mage2009-12-02

 In exactly what way do you use a multimeter?

Derin (author)NT862008-09-06

all leds will work safely up to 3.3 volts,except the ones with built in resistors

I did not know about that, thanks for putting that on there (I really hate the smell of a fried LED)

NT86 (author)dagenius2009-04-21


np,happy to help someone(at last)

Patented (author)Derin2009-03-12

Thx too! I was wondering how to know

Minifig666 (author)2009-12-02

 Warping an elastic band around the pliers then clipping them to the component leaves a had free to apply more solder to the joints if needed. Watch  your toes though my pliers have hit them once and it hurts quite a bit!

hore (author)2009-09-29

can you tell me what did you do with the pcb board, or what people usually people do with the board , can it still be used .

xboxzombie (author)hore2009-10-09

I just throw them out, but you can use them in some kind of art project or try to reuse them for small projects. Except you need to be really creative with cutting and soldering in jumpers, and the traces may not like being reused multiple times depending on how thin or how old the board is.

hore (author)xboxzombie2009-10-13

how about project that involved electric with the board, making robot or something.or any electronic project.

tater killer (author)2008-09-06

will step 3 work with transistors

1up (author)tater killer2008-09-07

Probably not. You could, I guess, pull the outer two pins out, then heat the middle and pull it out, but that would bend the middle pin a lot and it may break.

Derin (author)1up2009-10-12

I just put the iron in a way that heats all three pins at the same time.

grodenbarg (author)2009-10-10

LOL, A blow torch set on low instead on of irons can get this job done really quickly, just be careful. ;)

jamesyg (author)2009-10-10

great 'ible wish i read this before i went at it myself and caused countless burns. prob the best and safest way a+

aqren550 (author)2009-09-28

Another tip you probably should add is that when salvaging, the older the better. the older something electronic is, the bigger its components and thusly the easier it is to both get them off the board and the easier it is to use them after you do get them off

xboxzombie (author)aqren5502009-10-09

True, except for the electrolytic caps. they begin to go out of tolerance after about 15-20 years depending on quality. not to mention the fact the newer electros are much smaller compared to similarly rated caps 20 years ago. Everything else is likely to be in good working order. And old PCBs dont have amy pesky SMD parts or lead free solder to cope with.

raykholo (author)2009-07-02

instead of cutting water bottles, i use a combination of the really small plastic cups and some sauce cups i took from the cafe works perfectly, and i just took an entire printer apart , and they also keep everything organized... then i put all the containers in some empty rocher boxes, close the lid, and everything is perfect

Derin (author)2009-06-19

Haha,I use sponges to clean my tip,NOT!Some acid flux does it real good.

miqt (author)2009-05-06

so how do you know how much voltage to use on the small led's and such? do you just go by average, like 3.5 volts or something? or do you look it up or what? *this question is for anyone who knows :)*

1up (author)miqt2009-05-06

Clear LEDs are usually 3-3.3v, diffused usually 2.5-2.7v.

miqt (author)1up2009-05-07

so if i were to have 10 led's, i could assume that i need like 30-33v ? and if i'm right with that, if i had exactly 30 volts with 10 led's, would i need a resistor (or multiple resistors?)....i think i may have a misconception about resistors :)...oh and since i'm on a newb asking spree lol i might as well throw this out there, what is the difference between parallel and in a series (i think that's what it's called) do they differ, and what is the difference of hooking them up? egh. i know....not really ready for ANY project yet :(

adaminc (author)miqt2009-06-08

This is probably a little late but there is a big difference in hooking up LEDs in series or parallel. In series, where you hook up the Anode(+) of one LED to the Cathode(-) of the next, the supply voltage needed is the sum of all the LEDs. So if you have 10 LEDs in series, and each one needs 1V, you need to supply 10V. But the current needed is only equal to 1 of the LEDs (Typical diffused Red LEDs are 20mA) In parallel, where you hook up the Anode(+) of one LED to the Anode(+) of the next LED (and Cathode(-) to Cathode(-)), the supply current needed is the sum of all the LEDs. So if you have the same 10 LEDs in parallel, and 1 LED needs 20mA to power it, 10 LEDs in parallel would need 200mA. But the voltage needed is only equal to 1 of the LEDs, so the supply would only need to be 1V. Regardless of how many LEDs you use, you will need to use resistors to limit the current to them. For pretty much most standard LEDs, the current rating is 20mA. You should check out Also, on standard through-hole LEDs, the cathode is the shorter lead.

miqt (author)adaminc2009-06-09

ah, i see...that pretty much answers my question perfectly. so to make sure i understand, when you wire in parallel, you add up the current of however many led's you have, but only 1 consistent voltage (1 v or 3 v). but in a series, you just add up voltage.....i think i understand. thanks.

Jojo007407 (author)miqt2009-06-04
fwfc4 (author)2009-05-31


Avasar10000 (author)2009-01-25

Which components are most likely to be affected by static? How would you store the static sensitive components using this system? This has been an informative Instructable. Thank you.

1up (author)Avasar100002009-01-26

Probably just IC's. If you have any antistatic foam, stick them in that then in the bottle.

ReCreate (author)1up2009-05-02

Ah no,Variable Regulators,transistors and a few other things like that are static sensitive

cwebsterl (author)2009-04-11

Dont to out and but a desoldering iron if you already have a regular soldering iron. Just go get a desoldering bulb, wick, or desoldering tool (the ones that are spring loaded). They work VERY well and if you have an iron already, save you money.

Shane1163 (author)2009-03-01

lol I have a couple of that exact same desolderer.. get it from radio shack? I have thousands of components I've pulled out of things.. I use those plastic containers with the separate compartments to sort out the components. I got a nice one at walmart like $15 or so, it's a tackle box thing it has 4 containers and they stack inside a carrying rack. you don't even need a pliers with the desolderer it's very quick just to pull them out with your fingers.. just be smart with it and don't burn yourself

tufty (author)2008-02-21

I've never bothered with individually desoldering components. I have an old grill tray with some movable standoffs made from 40mm woodscrews screwed through bits of alu plate. Put 3 standoffs under your board (component side down), shove it under the grill for a couple of minutes until the solder melts. Once the solder starts to melt, pull out the tray, and tap the board a few times - the majority of components simply drop into the tray, ready to be cleaned up and reused. Some components (especially through hole ones on old boards, where the legs have bent) might need a bit of "encouragement" (generally with a flat blade screwdriver), but you have a few seconds before the solder cools to the point where you can't get them off. Obviously, be careful, this involves handling hot materials, thin leather gloves are a good idea. Surface mount components are a bit more tricky, especially on boards that have components on both sides. For these, pick the components least likely to melt as the "top side", do as before but instead of tapping the board "in place", pick it up, turn it over, and bang one edge on the tray. that generally removes 95% of smt components from one side, leaving you able to replace the board and either do the same thing for the other side, or leave it component side down, gently tapping it from time to time whilst under the grill until components start to drop off.

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