Introduction: How to Desolder Electronic Components From Circuit Boards - 7 Tips & Tricks | Free Parts for Projects!
Whether if you're a beginner at soldering, or are not but still have never come across the special time-saving tools you never knew you needed, I have created the perfect kit for you!: The Ultimate DIYer's Kit for Soldering & Basic Electronics Projects!⁽ᴼᵗʰᵉʳ ˢᵖᵉᶜᶦᵃᶫᵗʸ ᵗᵒᵒᶫˢ ʷᶦᶫᶫ ᵇᵉ ᶫᶦᶰᵏᵉᵈ ᶦᶰ ᵗʰᵉᶦʳ ʳᵉᶠᵉʳʳᵉᵈ ˢᵗᵉᵖˢ⁾
I had the urge to start this Instructable with so many puns, but I had a feeling that not everyone reading this at hΩ would know watt I'm talking about.
There are many reasons for why you'd want to desolder components from old PCBs (circuit boards). Need those old, high-quality components? Can't afford new components? Don't have time to wait for components to arrive in the mail? Want to annoy your (re)sister because she hates the smell of solder?
— Katsuro Kurosaki | #Respawn6 (@KatsuroKurosaki) July 1, 2017
I know many people relay on these Instructables because they have a tight budget, so I will now switch modes, before people start getting AMPed up, feeling as if they have been misLED.
Desoldering electronic components can be quite challenging sometimes. Not everything can be removed as easily as just placing the soldering iron on the leads of the part, and pulling, unfortunately. In this Instructable I will show you how to desolder even faster - and better! This Instructable is a collection of my top 7 tips which I have come up with after failing to desolder more components that I'd like to admit, and breaking them, ruining them, etc. Hundreds of PCBs too late :)
WARNING: Some older PCBs may contain lead in the solder, Always make sure you are aware of all of the dangers incorporated with any type of electronics work, and always wash your hands after handling any type of electronic component. Guess why the Romans that used lead as an "artificial" sweetener for their wine stopped consuming it?
Let's get started!
Tired of skipping through boring DIY videos? In case you don't already know, I now make short, tightly edited Youtube videos about homemade tools, tool hacks, woodworking, electronics, metalworking projects and much more - Subscribe to so you don't miss out! :)
Step 1: ...What Type of Soldering Iron Do I Need? THIS ONE!!!
This, in my opinion, is the best, cheapest #notsponsored soldering iron. Why?
Let's compare it with my (older) Antex soldering iron, which I had used for the past couple of years, and costs the same:
- You can adjust the temperature and it has a digital screen! Total game changer! Turn up the temperature for bigger components (+ it's also 60W), turn down the temperature for more sensitive components, and perhaps best of all, turning down the temperature so the flux doesn't burn as fast so the fumes aren't as bad.
- It heats up so fast. Less than 30 seconds and you can use it! Makes me wonder why it would take the Antex several minutes to warm up.
- It has an on/off switch on the iron itself, so I don't get lazy and leave the iron on when not in use, decreasing the life of the tip.
- The cable is way more pretty flexible, the Antex has a really thick cord and it was pretty difficult for me to hold it and maneuver it around tight corners, at sharp angles.
- And... Replacement tips* are half the price! (but let's ignore that)
...And it costs 20-$25.
I must admit when coming across this soldering iron I said to myself that $20, while it might not sound like a lot to you, is way over my budget, but now I can only regret not buying it earlier!
If you would like to get one of these soldering irons, you could do so, as always using this affiliate link that helps support my future projects: 60W 110/220V Digital Adjustable Temperature Soldering Iron
And speaking of cheap irons for beginners, I would advise against listening to all of the "professionals" that have flooded online forums, explaining why the "stick in the wall" pencil soldering irons without temperature control are absolutely horrible and useless. I've used many. Yes, when they try using them to solder components onto a $250 multilayer custom-made PCB they spent 4 months designing, of course they prefer a soldering station. But for the average beginner, they are fine. No need to waste your money.
*Get a cheap soldering iron tip set like the one linked above, see which ones you like using, and buy more of those. Personally, I like the D-tips (as explained best in JColvin91's Instructable: Uses of Different Desoldering Tips) since I do mostly "rough" soldering jobs. The B-tips are great for soldering components to PCBs, but transfer heat poorly and wear out faster from my experience.
Step 2: Build (or Buy) a PROPER Circuit Board Holder!
Last tool before we get started!
There are many options for circuit board holders that you can buy online, however, I have chosen to make my own over 2 years ago and have been using it ever since. I bought a cheap aluminum vise on eBay, cut it in half, and glued it onto a microwave transformer so I can use it to clamp circuit boards (or anything else) horizontally.
If you'd like detailed instructions and links to what I used to make it, click here to view the Instructable: WAVE - The Ultimate Helping Hands Vise!
After publishing the Instructable, I also added flexible arms (using a cheap broken Gorillapod tripod) with alligator clips in the back, and solder spool dispenser, and a container that holds brass wire that I use for cleaning my soldering iron tip, that attaches with a magnet. I also removed the coils from the transformer (which was used just as a weight) because I think it looks better without them.
If you are looking to buy a proper circuit board holder I've included several great options in The Ultimate Kit for Soldering & Basic Electronics. I can only be jealous if you get a Panavise!
Step 3: Solder - and Why You Actually Want to Add More!
Solder is cheap! The cheap solder that I buy is cheap, that is. And why does that matter?
Many times, there isn't enough solder on a circuit board for the soldering iron tip to make contact with. The solder just won't melt, making it really difficult to remove a component. Add a bit of solder, and you'll see for yourself how much of a difference it makes! I also like adding extra solder to some solder joints, because the more solder you add, the longer the glob of liquid solder will stay molten, and the more time you'll have for prying out the component. This can be a life saver when trying to desolder components with many /leads, relays especially.
Do it fast enough, and you won't damage the component due to excessive heat. Of course I'm saying this very confidently after never testing any of the components I've ever salvaged using this method! ;)
Step 4: "Wiggle" Components (electrolytic Capacitors, Relays, Etc.)
This trick works the best for through-hole components that are mounted flush with the PCB, especially electrolytic capacitors.
After adding a glob of solder as explained in the previous step, I melt the solder on one lead of the capacitor, and pull it out, as much as I can (which is normally about half way). Then, I melt the other lead, pulling it also as much as I can. I then repeat, and many times as it is necessary until I have freed the component.
See the video liked in the intro step for a better explanation, I can't show it properly in the pictures because someone needs to take pictures!
Step 5: A Blow-Torch!
I came up with the idea of using a blowtorch while brainstorming ideas for this Instructable, and when I first tried it just to see if it would actually work, I was shocked to see how fast I can desolder with it!
Seriously. I can use it to desolder huge capacitors that might take me a minute or two (for one capacitor) in a few seconds. I also had one circuit board that had dozens of the exact same relay, and instead of having it be repetitive and boring, it was repetitive but very fast. I had all of them desoldered in only a few minutes. After conducting a few unprofessional experiments and running out of PCB's, I came to the conclusion that the closer you are to the solder joint that has to be melted, the faster it melts without burning PCB, and the smaller the flame needs to be.
The gas canister/tank was purchased separately at a hardware store, but if you want to buy your own blow torch, I would advise against buying the really cheap ones because you are dealing with combustible gas. I couldn't find the exact one I got, however, I did find a similar torch from the same company, KOVEA, and a torch that looks exactly the same but costs a third of what we paid. The only difference is the logo so it probably is the same inside. I would love to also get a smaller Dremel pencil shaped soldering iron torch (to use without the soldering iron tip), or this Dremel mini standing torch, because right now I have the crazy powerful torch shown above, and a regular BBQ lighter, I need something in the middle.
Also similar to this, if you don't own a blow torch, try heating up the surrounding parts of the PCB with a hair dryer, the hotter the PCB is the less heat it will draw away from from the solder joint.
Important warning: Instructables member fstedie points out an important warning I somehow forgot to mention. PCBs, if burnt, produce fumes you don't want to be inhaling. I have found that getting the torch (lowest power) as close as possible to the solder joint (even if you're desoldering a component with many leads) works best to eliminate burning of the PCB. If you can't afford a proper solder fume extractor, I would suggest that you work outside, in a ventilated area. I've connected a powerful fan to a flexible IKEA lamp which I use to exhaust the fumes and it works really well, similar to what I made in my first featured Instructable. Don't read it. The electronics kit linked has you covered with what you need without making me feel... Let me know if you want to see a picture.
Step 6: Off With Their Legs! I Mean Rotary Tool Time!
I know you might think this one is kind of funny ...or ridiculous... But if you have components with really thick leads such as the connector shown above, a big transistor/IC, or one of those diodes with massively thick leads, desoldering can damage them, if it's even possible at all. Don't want to ruin the *precious* cutting edges of your wire cutters?
This is where a rotary tool comes to mind!
I used my 18,000 RPM Flex-shaft rotary tool (click for the 110V tool) with cutoff wheels, all linked in my kit, Dremels & Rotary Tools: All of The Accessories You Need, which I recommend checking out if you've never used a rotary tool, and need to know what to get. Let me know if you want me to make more kits of the stuff I use, I've already made a few and I hope you'll find them useful.
Just make sure to not cut into the PCB, and cut off only the leads (metal wires) of electronic components, without cutting into the solder joint accidentally because of the chance of creating and inhaling lead dust. Other than that, you shouldn't have any issues other than the occasional shattering of a cutoff wheel, but they are really cheap.
Step 7: Break the PCB
Yes, I know. Prolonged exposure to silica dust is far from healthy. But if you do it only once in a while, chances are y...
*Loses consciousness due to excessive amounts of silica in lungs*
Your last resort? Break it!
Large heatsinks are pretty much impossible to desolder, the solder never gets hot enough to melt because the heatsink absorbs all of the heat immediately. If you want those free heatsinks... You'll have to break the PCB! Just make sure to do it in a ventilated area.
Some more thoughts:
- I'd like to hear your thoughts on heat guns, soldering guns, desoldering pots, wicks/braids, solder suckers, and any other tool that helps you desolder components. Comment: Which would you recommend, and why? What is YOUR secret tip for desoldering challenging components?
- Keep your hands dusty! Yup! After grabbing hundreds of small components off of a PCB, you're bound to accidentally grabbing the tip of the soldering iron accidentally. I'm not the only one I know that has done that. The super thin layer of dust acts as insulation an makes the soldering iron slide right off, and you don't get burnt!
- This Instructable contains affiliate links, meaning that I earn a small percentage of what you paid, without any additional costs to you. If you want to know more about a specific tool/part that I used, need ideas for alternatives, or don't see something you think should be here, please let me know in the comments.
- And in case you're wondering those PCB's are from the electronic devices I took apart in the last 6 months. I think I got around 1kg of components, not bad!
- Lastly, if you are a beginner at soldering, I would actually recommend learning to desolder. It's way easier as you don't have to hold any parts steadily, don't have to worry about overheating the PCB or part, and you also get free components. It's great for practicing.
I read ALL comments, and reply to as many as I can, so make sure to leave your questions, suggestions, tips, tricks, and any other ideas in the comments below! - Thanks!