So 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
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!
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).
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).
* adjustable temperature control
* small space-saving footprint
* temperature range 392°-896°F
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.
* best selling solder
* composition: 60% tin and 40% lead
* 376°F melting point
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.
* 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!
* shell design keeps solder from splattering
* maintains tip temperature
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.
* 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
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!
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”).
Important! Soldering Safety
Stay Safe While Soldering!
Here 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!
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.
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.
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?
Solder Fume Extractor
* 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?