Soldering 101: for the Beginner

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Intro: Soldering 101: for the Beginner

In this instructable I will try to teach you the basics of soldering.

I have been soldering for about 14 years. I have soldered everything from 0 gauge wire to the smallest SMD connectors.

Things I will go over

  1. Things you will need
  2. Solder irons
  3. Solder
  4. Getting your solder iron ready
  5. Making your first solder connection
  6. Clean up

Step 1: Things You Will Need

  1. Soldering iron (Read Step 2)
  2. Solder (Read Step 3)
  3. Soldering iron tip cleaner. Some soldering irons come with either a sponge and or a cleaning wire
  4. Something to solder If you are just starting out I would try to solder some wires (cheap and easy)

Step 2: Soldering Irons

There are may different type out there, I will cover the basics here

20 - 30 Watts for PCB (Printed circuit boards), IC (Integrated circuit)...

40 - 60 Watts for Speakers, switches, wires...

70 - 100 Watts when a large heat capacity is needed (Large wires, big connections...)

If you have one or you are buying a soldering iron that is thermostatically controlled you don't have to worry as much, get at lest a 60 Watt unless you planing on soldering large wires.

A thermostatically controlled soldering iron can be set to a temperature just above the melting point of solder (About 188C 370F) although I have mine set at 350C 662F.

NOTE: If you have a regular soldering iron that is more then 40 Watts you may damage your small delicate parts on a PCB.

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Step 3: Solder

Some of the common types of solder

  1. Lead Based
  2. Lead Free
  3. Rosin core/flux core

Lead Based:

Solder based on lead was universally used in the past. It was made of
a mixture of tin and lead. Usually a 60/40 (tin/lead) mix, that melts at around 180-190C degrees.

Because lead has some damaging effects to our health, the industry is moving away from lead and towards lead-free solder.

Lead based solder works better in high heat. Example the PS3 red light of death caused from the PS3 over heating and cracking the lead free solder causing a bad connection.

Lead Free:

Lead-free solder is solder without lead. EU requires commercially
available electronics to use lead-free solder (RHoS) because of the health hazards of lead.

It has a higher melting point, so it is a bit harder to work with, but usually not a problem.

Comes in many different mixtures.

Rosin core/Flux core

Solder wires usually have a core inside the wire containing flux.
Flux is designed to improve electrical contact and mechanical strength in solder joints.

There are mainly two types of flux cores. Acid core and rosin core. Acid core is used for plumbing and rosin core is used for electronics.

DO NOT USE ACID CORE FOR ELECTRONICS!!!

I think Rosin core would be the easiest to learn with and Lead free should be your next and only choice.

If you do use lead based solder make sure you have GOOD ventilation. They make special air purifiers to remove lead fumes. Also Make sure you get tested for lead poisoning periodically.

Step 4: Getting Your Soldering Iron Ready and Solder You First Connection.

First thing you will need to do it make a clean area with room to work. You don't want to burn anything.

Plug in or turn on you soldering iron and want a few minutes or until you soldering iron reaches the set temp.

Once you soldering iron is hot clean your tip either with you sponge or your wire cleaner

Sponge:

Get sponge wet and rub you tip on both sides to remove any solder and or dirt

Wire Cleaner:

Stick your soldering tip in the cleaning wire a few times until clean.

Never scrape your tip with sand paper, knife, Etc. This will take the outer layer of the tip off causing dirt to build up and cause performance issues.

When ever possible make a good mechanical connection before soldering. This will make a stronger connection.

Tin you tip, Do this by applying a small amount of solder on the tip of the soldering iron before trying to solder anything. Once you have tinned the tip you will want to make you solder connection as quick as possible. The longer you want the harder it will be to solder. worst comes to worst re clean the tip and tin again. Tinning the tip will increase the surface space and the connectivity allowing more heat to be transferred to the metal you trying to solder. You want to clean and re tin your tip after a few solder connections. You never want to leave your tip untinned. This will cause performance issues and oxidation on the tip. Using a soldering iron with out tinning the tip will ruin the tip.

After you have tinned the tip you want to touch the tip to the metal you trying to solder. As the tip is on the metal you want to slowly add some solder until you see the solder run to the metal. Once you see the solder moving on the metal you can add the solder a little faster until you have a good amount of solder and the connection is made.

Once you have made the solder connection you want to remove the soldering iron and do not move your connection until to solder has hardened. If you move your connection right away you connection will either fall apart or you will cause a cold solder joint. A cold solder joint is a bad connection and you will want to resolder it.

Once you have made a good solder connection and you done with the soldering iron you need to clean up...

Step 5: Cleaning Up

Just like before when you started clean your tip either with your sponge or your wire cleaner


Sponge:

Get sponge wet and rub your tip on both sides to remove any solder and or dirt.

Wire Cleaner:

Stick your soldering tip in the cleaning wire a few times until clean.

Then put your soldering iron in the stand.

Turn off the power and or unplug the soldering iron

NOTE: Even though you have turned off and unplugged your soldering iron It will still be hot for some time. Never leave a hot soldering iron unattended.

Once you soldering iron is cool you can either leave it out if you going to be using it often or you can store it in a case.

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    38 Discussions

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    Nicola Tsien

    1 year ago

    Thank you for your sharing, it's good to beginners like me?

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    bevin.chu

    2 years ago

    I'm soldering only wires such as 12 gauge lamp cord, and wires found in household appliances.
    I never solder delicate electronic circuit boards.
    What wattage soldering iron should I get?
    60W? 70W? More?
    Thanks in advance for any recommendations.

    9 replies
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    SherylinRMbevin.chu

    Reply 2 years ago

    I would also add that using the correct solder helps as well. I have used extremely thin wire for years and a 30 watt soldering iron for electronics with no problem.

    I always remember to flux everything.

    I make sure the iron is actually at full heat before using.

    I tin the wire and also the diode or whatever I am soldering.

    I then solder them together by touching the wire and heating the wire and for me this has worked out fine.

    However others might have more and better info.

    Hope this helps :)

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    robmawe91bevin.chu

    Reply 2 years ago

    Between 40-60 Watt should work great. Much more could heat the wire to much.

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    bevin.churobmawe91

    Reply 2 years ago

    That low?

    I'm surprised.

    Thanks for the advice.

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    robmawe91bevin.chu

    Reply 2 years ago

    I would say any gauge bigger then 8 gauge you should get a higher wattage. I have soldered 10 gauge wire with my old 44 watt soldering iron.

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    bevin.churobmawe91

    Reply 2 years ago

    I was worried that it would take too long to make the wire hot enough to melt the solder when it touched the wire.

    I was worried that by then the plastic insulation would already be melted.

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    robmawe91bevin.chu

    Reply 2 years ago

    Just keep the tip on about the middle of the stripped part of the wire. If you have it right next to the insulation you might start to melt it. If your soldering iron has to much power you will melt the insulation before you have enough time to solder a joint. Its better to have a soldering iron slightly less powerful then it should be rather then a soldering iron with to much power.

    As I talked about above there are thermostatically controlled soldering station out there. There are I little bit of money. I don't know you budget but if you are going to be soldering a lot you might want to consider getting one. You can control the temp of the soldering iron so you will never have it to hot and if its not hot enough you can always turn up the temp. I have a 60 Watt one and I have it set to 350C 662F most of the time unless I'm working on something delicate. Just keep in mind when buying a soldering iron solder melts around 188C 370F so if you are buying a 40 watt soldering iron that can reach temps of 482C 900F with a small thin tip it will take longer to heat a wire then one with a big or wide tip. More surface contact will transfer heat quicker.

    If you can't afford or want a thermostatically controlled soldering station I would stick with a soldering iron between 40-60 Watt with interchangeable/replaceable tips.

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    bevin.churobmawe91

    Reply 2 years ago

    Duly noted.

    Thanks.

    I will probably go with a 60W soldering iron with changeable tips.

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    robmawe91bevin.chu

    Reply 2 years ago

    That will do the trick. Good luck and be safe.

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    SherylinRM

    2 years ago

    Thanks. Been doing this for decades myself but it never hurts to review a primer :)

    Good work.

    Thanks for this:)

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    Dave1ssi

    2 years ago

    I was a design engineer at NASA for 8 years. All engineering, techs and assemblers had to undergo their 3 day soldering and mechanical assembly course. A good solder joint starts with clean surfaces. Whether you are soldering wire, connectors, circuit boards, etc. all surfaces need to be cleaned of oxidation and oils from fingers and hands or packaging. Denatured alcohol was used with an acid brush to clean all surfaces prior to soldering. Tin and clean your iron as usual, but clean your surfaces with alcohol and then apply solder. You will be happy with the results.

    1 reply
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    robmawe91Dave1ssi

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks for the tip! Would rubbing alcohol work? I use it all the time to clean CPU's, GPU's and heatsinks before applying thermal compound. I also heard you can clean PCB's with rubbing alcohol to remove dust and dirt and it won't hurt anything if you let it dry over night. Never tried it though.

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    ZeeshanZulfiqar

    2 years ago

    hi i am looking forward to solder small components so any tip for that... also i was having very much problem soldering a small wire(like the one used in toys) to a connection in pcb from middle..the solder dosent stick with the copper.. its just stays with the tip..pls help me in both problems.. thanks..

    3 replies
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    robmawe91ZeeshanZulfiqar

    Reply 2 years ago

    Don't heat the components to much you can damage them. Some flux wouldn't hurt if you are using a old board. Make sure you double check your work before applying any power. As for the wire it could be dirty. Did you try cutting off the end and striping? You want the wire to have a copper shin to it. Heat the wire up while adding a little solder once you see the solder flowing to the wire you add more solder to cover the exposed wire. then let cool before putting any stress on the joint.

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    ZeeshanZulfiqarrobmawe91

    Reply 2 years ago

    thanks for the tip but pls tell me that if i want to solder a wire to existing connection in a pcb so what i should do?? i actually scraped the green lamination(or whatever it is) with a screw driver until copper is exposed then tried to solder the wire but it dosent stuck with it.. it tried it with both solder gun(well it was very old gun) and bought a new soldering iron(40 W) but it did no better.. pls help..

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    econjack

    2 years ago

    Very useful. If you're working on PCB's, the thinner the diameter of the solder, the better. Radio Shack sells a .022 diameter solder that is 62/36/2 (tin, lead, silver) that is very good, but getting hard to find. If you do find it, stock up since no one knows for sure how long RS will be around. eBay also sells a similar product, but you need to buy a pound at a time, which would last me several lifetimes. If you're in a club (e.g., ham radio), go in with several other members to lower the cost.