Soldering Tips

If you've never soldered anything before

  • Soldering is a way of joining two things together with a little blob of molten metal (solder). This is done using a soldering iron - a tool with a very hot tip that melts the solder so it can run over the two surfaces to be joined, forming an electrically-conducting join.
  • So, the first thing you'll need is a soldering iron and some solder. You can get a good quality one for £15 to £25 in any electronics shop. If you're wondering what type to buy, go for one with a fairly fine tip (diameter 5mm or less). This makes fiddly wiring easier to deal with. An iron with a power rating of between 15 and 25 watts will easily be adequate for most electronics projects, including anything on these pages.
  • The type of solder to go for is ordinary fluxed lead/tin solder. Flux is just stuff that's put in the solder to help stop it oxidising while it's on the end of your soldering iron (which you don't want to happen, because then it doesn't flow properly).
  • While you're there, a stand for the soldering iron would be a good investment.
  • When you've bought your soldering iron and solder, the first thing you should do is "tin" the bit. This means plugging in the iron and coating the tip with solder as it heats up. This just helps blobs of solder adhere better to the tip of the iron in the future.
  • A word about safety: Now, you probably realise this already, and I don't want to patronise anybody, but soldering irons get hot. Really hot. So don't touch the tip of a soldering iron with your fingers, for safety's sake. And when you're putting solder onto the tip, use a long piece of solder, with your fingers far, far away from the end that's about to melt. I say this because of personal experience of having painful holes burned in my hands from soldering accidents.

How to do the actual soldering bit

Still assuming you haven't done this soldering thing before, here's a step-by-step guide to soldering two things together.

  1. Get two bits of wire. Any old bits will do, so long as they're long enough for you to avoid burning your fingers while you solder them. Strip away the insulation from the ends of the wires (you can get wire stripping tools, but a sharp pair of scissors will do the job if you're careful).
  2. Heat up your soldering iron. You can test whether it's hot enough by touching a length of solder to the tip and seeing if it melts.
  3. Melt a blob of solder onto the tip of the iron. Not a big wobbly drippy blob, just a little one.
  4. Hold the wires you are going to solder firmly in place. This is going to be one of the many times when you'll wish you had three hands.
  5. Touch the tip of the soldering iron to the wires, letting the solder run over the wires.
  6. Take the soldering iron away from the new join. Keep the wires still for a few moments while the joint cools.

You should now have a fairly solid, strong join between your two pieces of wire. If not, read the tips below and try again with some more bits of wire. Soldering gets much easier after a bit of practice.

  • If you're having trouble holding the bits of wire together while wielding a soldering iron, try asking an obliging friend to hold them for you. If, like me, you have no friends, you can buy gadgets with clips on them to hold things in place for you, or even just use some strategically-placed blobs of Blu-tac.
  • Try "tinning" the ends of the wires before you try joining them. This just means holding the tip of the soldering iron against the wire and melting some solder over it so the end of the wire gets coated in a thin layer of solder. Tinned wires will join together more easily and more neatly.
  • A sort of variation on the above: Try holding the wires together, holding the tip of the soldering iron against them and melting a piece of solder over the wires. Because you're heating up the ends of the wires, the solder flows over them more easily. So you can actually make really neat joints this way. But it does take a fair bit of practice, and you'll definitely need some way of holding everything in place while you do the soldering.

Well, that's just about everything I know about soldering. Keep practicing, and before long you'll be able to solder anything to anything really neatly.

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