Soldering Tutorials part 1 – What You Need

This will be the first post in a series of tutorials on soldering for beginners, and it will be my first post 😛 In following soldering posts, I’ll introduce and explain the basics of soldering, techniques, and tips and tricks I learned. For more references, Soldering is Easy is a good read for soldering techniques. As always, practice makes perfect.

Now let’s start with the rights tools and materials so you will focus on your techniques instead of adjusting to the tools. Your learning experiences will only be that much better and easier!

Here I will list everything in my own soldering set up. This is the most basic set of tools and materials you will need to get started in soldering. I’ve used this set up on everything from doing through-hole components as a beginner all the way to soldering single bond wires onto 0.3mm x 0.4mm pads in desperation to get my project working. Everything on the list is basic and practical, no impulse buys here 🙂

This is my exact setup with approximate price, total cost is around $175:

  • Soldering station, $100 – Hakko FX888D, chisel tip (it’s some T18 series that came with the iron)
    • 650 F works for everything
    • 700 F is the max temperature you want to work at
    • a small chisel tip is generally more useful than a conical tip. Conical tips are for special cases beyond the 0402 parts. I soldered the bond wires with the chisel tip that came with the iron. The 0.3mm x 0.4mm pads, remember I said that earlier?
    • any soldering station with a temperature control is fine. Or even just a $10 iron that plugs into the wall will do if you are on a tight budget. Just remember – this statement can not be anymore truer for the electronics industry – you get what you paid for
  • Side cutter, $5 – CHP170
    • for trimming the excess leads left on the through hole component
  • Helping hands, $10
    • for those instances where you need an extra pair hands, or just one
  • Solder Wick, $2.50 – 2.5mm width
    • soldered down the wrong component? No worries!
    • be aware of solder wicks that don’t have flux in them, they won’t wick without flux. These are hard(er) to find, but just know that they exist.
  • Straight precision tweezers, $5
    • good tool for surface mount work and getting through hole components out of the hole(s)
    • the cheap ones will do just fine, and get a bunch of them!
    • I have never used the angled one I bought
  • Rosin core solder, $30 – 60/40, 0.031″ diameter (RA type flux)
    • 60/40 – 60% tin, 40% lead
    • Unleaded solder is not a good type of solder to learn on. Observe proper practices after handling leaded solder, i.e. wash your hands with soap before you eat.
    • ONLY buy RMA or RA type.
    • Either RMA or RA is okay, I just happened to bought the RA type
    • 0.031″ is good size for through hole stuff, workable for 0805, challenging for 0603, impossible for 0402, but of course you would use a different technique for SMD work! No?
  • 70% or above isopropyl alcohol, $5
    • clean the flux off your board
    • cleaning is generally not required for RMA flux. I’ve gotten away with not cleaning RA flux so far, the boards are still working after 2+ years.
    • good practice to do it anyways!
    • probably leave behind white streaks after the board dries
  • Extra RA or RMA type rosin flux (wiki article on rosin fluxes), $10
    • not required, but nice to have
    • paste or liquid is fine, I bought the paste because it was cheaper
    • good for SMD work
    • I put this stuff on everything I solder

Nice to haves that are not in my set up:

  • Small desk fan
    • it blows the smoke away from your face so you don’t have to it yourself
    • no the smoke is not lead! It’s from the flux. It’s still an irritant though. Some are even harmful (organic type flux).
  • Solder Cleaning Wire and Holder
    • should come with the soldering station, but if you’ve purchased just the soldering iron, this will be useful
    • a wet sponge will work too, but you subject the tip to thermal shocks
    • I bet the cleaning wires in the labs of my university are pieces of history. These things last a long time.
    • I already graduated

Hope this post helps in getting you started!

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