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how to solder electronicsSo you are interested in learning how to solder electronics?

There are several fun kits you can build from scratch, and they require soldering the components onto printed circuit boards (PCBs). If you have never soldered before, the task may seem daunting, but soldering is a skill that you can easily learn.

You will need a few tools, a kit, a good soldering how-to or tutorial, and I won’t lie, some patience as well (ok, sometimes plenty of it). Some kits can have hundreds of solder joints!

Maybe thousands? Transistor Clock by KABTronics, anyone?

* Image source: Solder, by oskay on Flickr

Here’s a Short Collection of Resources to Get You Started

First of all, there are thousands of tutorials and how-tos online (Google and see for yourself!), and I won’t reinvent the wheel. I picked three resources that are well-presented, thorough, and fun to go through. A comic book created by mightyown.com, an excellent resource from ladyada.net and a series of three videos by Dave Jones of EEVBlog fame.

I also share the kit that I used myself to learn basic soldering skills (including a photo of my very first soldering job, yikes!), and when you’re ready to take the plunge, there are links to everything you need to get started, simple stuff that you can purchase from Amazon.com.

Enjoy the resources, and if you check out just one, make it the comic book, will ya? It’s only 7 pages long and a really fun read!

1st Resource: Soldering is Easy! Here’s How to Do It, an educative comic book

sobrought to you by mightyohm.com

Soldering Is Easy Comic Book

Now, you gotta love this comic book, even if you’re not interested in soldering! This creative tutorial was put together by Jeff Keyzer, Mitch Altman, and Andie Nordgren.

This image is a one-page sample of the manual, but you can get the whole comic book from mightyohm.com on the link I shared above. It is only 7 pages long and covers all you need to know about soldering.

At the time of this posting, contributors have translated the instructional comic into 22 languages!

If you speak a language not yet listed, you can download a version of the comic without text, and input the translation for submission as a contributor.

Did I mention it is a FUN read? Go ahead, check it out! And let me know in the comments at the bottom of this page how you liked it!

Soldering Tools

Here are the basic tools you will need to get started

A soldering station, some solder, a helping hand tool (also called third-hand tool), solder tip cleaner and a desoldering pump (for when you make mistakes). And of course, a bunch of kits that you can solder to practice the skills you just learned from the soldering comic book. Or just plain old proto-boards and some components you don’t mind parting with. (Orphan parts, scrounged components, odds and sods from grab bags you can find no use for, you get the idea).

Soldering Station

Everybody loves this Hakko soldering station! It is well-made, high-quality, and actually looks good on your workbench! I don’t have one yet, but I am doing my best to blow mine up so I need a new one.

(Somehow I still have not adapted to the American mentality that it is OK to buy a better version of something even though your current incarnation of that same something still works fine).

Hakko FX-888 Soldering Station

* adjustable temperature control
* small space-saving footprint
* temperature range 392°-896°F

Solder

This is the most common type of solder used for electronics, the 60/40 rosin core. It is 60% tin and 40% lead. It has a low melting point of 376°F. Lead-free solder is also available, but some say it does not work as well. I haven’t tried it. I live dangerously, I guess.

Here is more info on it from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solder#Lead-free_solder.

Alpha Fry AT-31604 60-40 Rosin Core Solder

* best selling solder
* composition: 60% tin and 40% lead
* 376°F melting point

Third-Hand Tool

When soldering you are going to be holding the soldering iron with one hand, the solder with the other, and the pieces to be soldered with another… wait! Yeah, it is common to wish for three hands, and for that reason the third-hand tool exists. It frees up one hand by “holding” the component or circuit board (or both) for you.

There are other more sophisticated styles of these holding tools, but I only own the simple one pictured, so I don’t feel comfortable recommending a specific model of the more expensive kind.

It is super useful and I absolutely cannot live without mine! The magnifying glass comes in handy, too.

SE MZ101B Helping Hand with Magnifying Glass

* heavy cast-iron base
* magnifying glass
* two alligator clips
* swivel mounts

Soldering Iron Tip Cleaner

Working with a clean tip is very important in creating good joints (SOLDER joints, people) and this one by Hakko is the winner in my book. Some soldering irons come with a sponge that you wet and rub the iron tip on, but the problem with that is you reduce the temperature of the tip each time you clean it. Not good!

Hakko 599B-02 Solder Tip Cleaning Wire and Holder

* shell design keeps solder from splattering
* maintains tip temperature

Desoldering Pump

So… you made a mistake.

Now, what?

Finally, desoldering pump to the rescue!

Also called solder sucker, this tool works by creating a vacuum and using it to suck the hot, molten solder from where it should not have been in the first place. And it works. I’ve taken an entire kit apart using one. Indispensable if you are going to be soldering kits. Or anything, really.

Aven 17535 Desoldering Pump with Locking Plunger

* heavy-duty plastic
* fully enclosed shaft
* high vacuum

And here are a couple of fun kits you can build

These are great practice for tackling bigger projects later on

Learn to Solder Kit by Elenco

If you just want the very basics, this simple soldering kit will get you on your way with electronics. It comes with a cheap soldering iron and a fun kit to put together. If you decide you want to continue working with electronics, you should later probably buy a better soldering station with adjustable temperature and a safe and sturdy stand.

* Includes solder, a soldering iron and wire cutters

Elenco AM/FM Radio Kit (Combines ICs & Transistors)

2nd Resource: ladyada.net’s Awesomeness

Basic Through-Hole Soldering Resources on ladyada.net

I love ladyada’s resources and tutorials, as well as her store, Adafruit. This how to solder electronics tutorials and resources page is a great one to bookmark and come back to often, so you can check out the resources that she recommends.

Keep this bookmark even when you’re done learning how to solder electronics. As you can see on the top menu, under “Learn”, there are several other super useful tutorials available as well.

My first soldering project

I started in hobby electronics in 2009, and for my first project, I chose the Scarab Robot Kit by Elenco. Elenco’s kits are educational and fun, and the scarab seemed like a perfect option to get started with soldering and putting things together.

The kit comes with detailed instructions and drawings of all parts so you can easily identify them and put the robot together. I had fun building it, and I was stoked when I was done and the thing worked!

The Elenco Scarab Robot Kit

The Elenco Scarab Robot Kit allows you to build a unique robot that crawls around the house flashing its eyes red and green while bumping into objects and then changing its course accordingly. You can set it up to reverse or turn left or right when it bumps into something.

My nephew loved how it moved kind of clumsily on my living-room carpet and played with it until the batteries were dead!

scarab kit bottom of board

The Scarab Robot Circuit Board, Bottom

It took a while to solder all these joints, but it was a pleasing sight when I was done! Soldering the circuit was just the beginning, though, as the robot requires mechanical assembly of the gears and other plastic parts.

It wasn’t the best soldering job around, but it was my first and at least the kit worked without needing any joints de-soldered and re-done.

3rd Resource: Dave Jones EEVblog Tutorials

How to Solder Electronics

I love Dave’s irreverent style and his unscripted videos. His channel on YouTube is EEVblog (Electronics Engineering Video Blog) and features more than 300 videos on pretty much every electronics topic you can think about. He’s an Aussie and I love his accent! (He has a different pronunciation of “soldering”).

caution sign

Important! Soldering Safety

Stay Safe While Soldering!

child soldering electronicsHere are a couple of things to keep in mind:

Solder can splatter, and when using wire cutters to clip off the excess length from the leads you just soldered, these can also come flying off at high speeds. Therefore it is highly recommended that you wear safety goggles when soldering.

Since solder contains lead, it produces noxious fumes when melted. Always work in a well-ventilated area, and if you have the extra room on your workbench, it is even better to use a fume extractor or fan.

* Image source: Circuit Soldering, by The Bakken Museum, on Flickr

The soldering iron gets extremely hot! We’re talking 392-896°F here, so whatever you do, DO NOT TOUCH the tip of your soldering iron!

Remember:

Soldering can be fun, but it is not free of hazards!

Always wear safety goggles and work in a well-ventilated area, or use a fume extractor.

Safety goggles!

Just wear them!

Wondering how to solder electronics like a pro? These goggles are well worth their price. They are comfortable, high-quality, and allow for a large field of vision. What is great in hot weather is that the lens has an anti-fog coating, and the goggles stay clear even if you start sweating.

Safety Goggles

Uvex S3970DF Stealth OTG Safety Goggles, Navy Body, Clear Dura-streme Hardcoat/Anti-Fog Lens, Fabric Headband

* panoramic field of vision
* wrap-around design
* all-day comfort with adjustable headband

How about those noxious fumes?

Fume extractor!

Highly recommended!

Solder Fume Extractor

Aoyue 486 Benchtop Solder Smoke Absorber

* traps noxious fumes
* fan provides plenty of circulation
* adjustable tilting base

In addition to having your windows open, having a fume extractor on your desk or workbench creates more safety from noxious fumes while you’re soldering. This model is affordable and does its job well.

So, ready to start?

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An Arduino Breadboard ProjectOK, so you’ve bought one of the Arduino boards, downloaded some development software, and figured out how to talk to the Arduino to do simple tasks. Now you want to introduce Arduino to the outside world, so you’ll have to learn something about electronics in order to keep that “magic smoke” (more like the odoriferous black cloud of doom!) from escaping from your new little workhorse.

The easiest way to get the Arduino practicing safe outside world contact is to use one of the many “shields” that are available. These are circuit boards which are especially created to interface the Arduino and plug right on to the Arduino board. [click to continue…]

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EEWeb electronics forumAs a computer scientist turned electronics hobbyist trying to fill the gaps in my knowledge of electronics, I find myself visiting the electronics forum over at EEWeb quite a lot these days. (I am a lurker not yet ready for my de-lurking move, though). They are a community of EEs eager to help others, sharing tons of online resources, news, projects and general electronics expertise. Whether you don’t know what a microcontroller is, or are looking for an affordable used oscilloscope on eBay, you are sure to benefit from the information on their forums.

Electronics Fun

Ready for a break? Check out Return to Zero, their comic strip.

Looking for a challenge? Check out their electronics quizzes!

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As I move to the next phase on the IPON project, and before I commit to a circuit to be implanted in the first plush object, I was considering the following:

In my last post I presented the circuit I’ll be implanting in the plush objects; it used a force sensor (FSR) to be placed on the plush animal’s nose, which when pressed, will trigger the behavior response to that. (By the way I connected the sensor to a digital input, which means that the force applied, an analog value, was translated to either a 0 or a 1; it would have been better to use an analog pin and calibrate it so that it wouldn’t require so strong a force. The cutoff used on the digital pin requires too much force to be used.)

I’m thinking instead of a FSR to use a push-button, as it will represent a savings of over $5 per plush object (remember, this project’s intended goal is to serve as electronics teaching to high-school at-risk students. So price is an important design factor). [click to continue…]

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IPON circuit with diffused RGB LED

On my last post I introduced the IPON project, and today I’m sharing the implementation of Phase 0 of this project. (You may want to refer to the previous post if you haven’t yet read it, as this post will probably make much more sense if you know what the IPON project is about).

In Phase 0 I have the complete circuit and sketch that make up Phase 1, except the circuit is not yet implanted in the plush object. It’s just a rough prototype to make sure things work before I go about murdering cutting up a dear plush companion.
[click to continue…]

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Plush ObjectThe Identified Plush Object Network is one of a few bigger projects that I want to work on this year. The idea is to create a network of small plush animals that interact with users, each other, and the Internet. I called it “Identified” because as a separate project I’m working with an RFID reader/writer module I want to create a simpler interface for, and once that piece is working each object in the network will be tagged as well.

The motivation for the project is non-profit work I want to do in the future with at-risk minority youth here in Orange County, CA. I want to create something that can be built in phases that get increasingly complex as the students learn, but that starts simple enough to enable hands-on participation from day one. Software improvements will be made in each iteration. [click to continue…]

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