[BLOG POST] 2. Tools—for the beginner and beyond…

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,165
This is the discussion thread for the upcoming second installment in The Neophytes Guide to Hand Soldering. After a year, I am finally working to get this part posted and you can help!

The format of the post is an answer to the question “what should I buy?” along with additional information about “extra” tools, etc. This is not about solder, flux, and the like which will be in the third part—rather about irons and whatever else might be needed.

An excerpt:

One of the most controversial topics in the realm of hand soldering is tools. Opinions about this area run strong and deep. They vary considerably based on a person’s technical background and experience, available funds, and even their focus of their interest in the hobby of electronics.
It would be very helpful indeed if you’d be willing to answer a few questions about your own situation and what you have found to be best for you. A part of this entry will be to help people decide on what to buy considering who they are and what they hope to do.

Another excerpt:
If someone asks ‘what do I need to buy for electronics hand soldering?’ they will get nearly as many answers as the number of people asked. It is very hard to find “authoritative“ information of just what is the “right” answer to this question. The truth is, there are many correct answers and they are most easily understood if we forget getting the “right” one.
Avoiding what amounts to dogma, the proper response to this question must take several things into account:
  1. Who is asking
  2. What they will be soldering
  3. Where they will work
  4. Why they are doing it

So, if you could take a little time and let us listen in to you giving the best advice to yourself that would be really helpful. Breifly (or not) answer the four questions—

Who are you? That is, are you a lover of tools for their own sake, or a strongly practical person for whom tools are just a means to the end you have in mind—or some combination.​
What do you solder? Are you working on through-hole, SMD (new, rework, &c), wires and connectors, &c.—or whatever combination or other thing you solder.​
Where do you work? Do you have a dedicated bench, a shared workbench with other hobbies, kitchen table squatter’s rights, a live out of your backpack lifestyle? Where do the tools you’ve settled on find their ideal environment. Of course, you might have more than one of these.​
Why do you solder? This is probably less important for those of you answering (thank you) than a cold question from a visitor to AAC. This is because it is mostly meant to distinguish solderers-by-choice from those forced to do some soldering they otherwise have no interest in (e.g.: a repair they have no intention of repeating). But, if you have something to add to this question, please do!​

Once you’ve answered these questions, please tell us which tools you’ve settled on to fit the bill. You might have more than one of something (e.g.: portable vs. fixed use), that’s fine. Imagine you are giving yourself advice on what to buy. It would be great to organize it into three categories:

  • Essentials (can’t work without it)
  • Enhancements (work better with it, an essential once you own it)
  • Extras (not needed but nice to have)

As I said solder, flux, and other consumables will be in part 3 or elsewhere but if you want to mention them that’s fine. You can be as detailed or cursory as you think is worth your time but it would be especially appreciated if you’d include:

  • Specific makes and models
  • Approximate costs
  • Links to vendors, datasheets, &c
  • Images useful for illustration (with source links if possible)

Again, I appreciate anything you can add, so don’t skip answering if you don’t want to do that much work, just answer as much as you are willing. I consider your time valuable and your “donation” of it generous, no matter how much you choose to give.

Thanks for reading and I do hope this can provoke some discussion that will help diversify the opinions expressed in the blog post when I make it live.
 

MisterBill2

Joined Jan 23, 2018
18,519
Soldering, as in electrical soldering, covers the realm. From soldering half-inch welding cable into cast copper lugs to soldering the 008x01 diodes onto a circuit board, Always the requirement is to be able to apply enough heat in the right place to melt the solder so that it adheres to the material to be attached. Always the challenge is to get enough heat to raise the temperature of the material just a bit above the solder melting point. The explanation of that process will certainly be challenged by those who read the book written by one who had never ever soldered anything to anything.
 

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
6,798
Who are you?
I'm paid to design and build control systems for industrial production equipment, which is mostly programming and control panel wiring, not much soldering. My hobbies are CNC (less about the machining and more about the machines), welding, generalized tinkering, and starting projects that I don't finish.


What do you solder?
All kinds of stuff. Surface mount, through-hole, water pipes, etc. I don't solder every day and I don't solder for the sake of soldering. I try to avoid it. I don't buy or assemble kits. I buy modules if they are available, to avoid designing and soldering custom boards. Not that I don't like soldering or that I'm not good at it, it's just time consuming and for me is just a means to an end. If there is a more efficient means I prefer it. I know how to knit, too but I prefer to buy my socks rather than knit them.


Where do you work?
I have an electronics workbench with power supply, oscilloscope, standalone soldering iron, hot plate, solder pot, rework station, and multiple kinds of fixtures, vises, probes, etc. I also have a butane powered soldering iron and corded iron I keep in the truck for field work.

Why do you solder
Because "they" don't make what I need so I had to make it myself. Or they made it badly so I must modify it to suck less. Or because something is broke.

Essentials (can’t work without it)
Soldering iron
Solder
Flux
It's actually that simple.
You don't even need that 36 pack assortment of different tips. The one that comes on the cheapest iron you can find, will work just fine for 90% of whatever might come up.

Enhancements (work better with it, an essential once you own it)
PCB vise.

Big illuminated magnifying glass on an articulated arm.

I bought this rework station 10 years ago and felt pretty stupid afterwards. It was an impulse purchase. I didn't need it, couldn't afford it, and after unboxing it became convinced I would never use it. I was wrong. I use it all the time. I know what I would do without it, and it would be a pain. This thing has a solder sucker vacuum pump that sucks while heating, as opposed to the traditional plunger sucker where you have to remove the iron real fast and then suction. The heat gun is awesome. The iron tip is excellent quality, I've been using the original tip for 10 years. Granted I usually use my Weller soldering iron so the iron on this station doesn't really have 10 years of daily use on it, but it does have several weekends worth of time left on when I walked away and forgotten about it.

Extras (not needed but nice to have)
Solder pot.

USB microscope.
 

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,165
I'm paid to design and build control systems for industrial production equipment, which is mostly programming and control panel wiring, not much soldering. My hobbies are CNC (less about the machining and more about the machines), welding, generalized tinkering, and starting projects that I don't finish.



All kinds of stuff. Surface mount, through-hole, water pipes, etc. I don't solder every day and I don't solder for the sake of soldering. I try to avoid it. I don't buy or assemble kits. I buy modules if they are available, to avoid designing and soldering custom boards. Not that I don't like soldering or that I'm not good at it, it's just time consuming and for me is just a means to an end. If there is a more efficient means I prefer it. I know how to knit, too but I prefer to buy my socks rather than knit them.



I have an electronics workbench with power supply, oscilloscope, standalone soldering iron, hot plate, solder pot, rework station, and multiple kinds of fixtures, vises, probes, etc. I also have a butane powered soldering iron and corded iron I keep in the truck for field work.


Because "they" don't make what I need so I had to make it myself. Or they made it badly so I must modify it to suck less. Or because something is broke.


Soldering iron
Solder
Flux
It's actually that simple.
You don't even need that 36 pack assortment of different tips. The one that comes on the cheapest iron you can find, will work just fine for 90% of whatever might come up.



PCB vise.

Big illuminated magnifying glass on an articulated arm.

I bought this rework station 10 years ago and felt pretty stupid afterwards. It was an impulse purchase. I didn't need it, couldn't afford it, and after unboxing it became convinced I would never use it. I was wrong. I use it all the time. I know what I would do without it, and it would be a pain. This thing has a solder sucker vacuum pump that sucks while heating, as opposed to the traditional plunger sucker where you have to remove the iron real fast and then suction. The heat gun is awesome. The iron tip is excellent quality, I've been using the original tip for 10 years. Granted I usually use my Weller soldering iron so the iron on this station doesn't really have 10 years of daily use on it, but it does have several weekends worth of time left on when I walked away and forgotten about it.



Solder pot.

USB microscope.
Thanks, @Strantor—perfect, very much appreciated.
 

MisterBill2

Joined Jan 23, 2018
18,519
I have done a whole lot of soldering with the cheap "soldering irons" that Radio Shack used to sell for $4.95. I also used a VARIAC brand variable transformer to reduce the power a bit. Unfortunately those soldering irons now cost much more..
I also make my own soldering tips sometimes, using #10 copper wire, threaded to screw into the heating element, and filing the tip to a shape that suits the particular application.
The solder and the flux matter very much. The best flux magically allows the solder to wet the surface to be soldered when the temperature is right, and the mass of the tip made for the application is able to deliver enough heat so that the solder melts quickly. And the solder first provides the bridge for the heat to pass from the iron's ti to the joint being soldered. So it is the combination of temperature and available heat energy that produces the good connection. The expensive soldering station and the adjustable temperature make that part easier but mostly the selection of tip shapes does not provide enough mass to make larger joints solder well.
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
5,045
My parents made the mistake of giving me a children's tool kit for Christmas when I was 3-4 years old. The screwdriver proved very handy in removing all the doorknobs in the house. The pliers were able to loosen the joints on all the P-traps under the sinks. And wonder of wonders was the small crowbar that was excellent at popping the asbestos shingles off of the outside walls of the house. The carpenter's saw was so dull that I was never inclined to saw the legs off of any of the chairs, which is probably the reason I survived to work another day. So, I've been using tools since a very young age and soon discovered that good tools make the job easier.

I didn't start soldering until I was 11 years old using a Weller soldering gun to build a Knight Kit Space Spanner radio. It got the job done but was NOT the right tool for the job and was all that I had available at the time. It was a couple years later that I was given another toolbox full of open-end wrenches with a ratchet and sockets plus various other tools. I kept adding tools until there was no more room in the box and had to buy another larger one. That process has continued up until today.

Good tools are far better than bad tools and worth spending a bit more on even on a low budget such as mine. I've replaced a LOT of bad tools over the years.

Today I solder to build and repair using a Hakko FX-888 and don't think I will need to upgrade it. I also use hot air and a desoldering suction gun. Recently bought an 850W hot plate as well since I've been getting into designing and building surface mount PCBs. I also use a small "helping hands" with a couple of adjustable alligator clips as well as a Panavise I use to hold boards. Along with an assortment of various clips, hemostats, assorted styles of tips, and plenty of solders and fluxes depending on what is needed. Also, a small butane powered soldering iron for outdoor work where power is not available.

I primarily work in my 10' x 12' "Office/Ham Shack/Electronics Bench" where I have 12' bench, two 20A 120V power sources (with four 15A 12 outlet surge suppressed power strips), and plenty of bookcases, drawers, plus wall mounted parts cabinets. Variac, isolation transformer, and dim bulb tester along with all my various bench instruments, USB Microscope, and power supplies. Also have a "Bulkhead" pass through installed in one of the windows for antenna cables and grounding to outside dedicated ground rod. Along with a couple of large tool boxes as well as a Dremel drill press plus a "bench-top" 1/2" drill press. And a few computers plus all my ham/marine/shortwave/broadcast band/CB radios and such.
 

ElectricSpidey

Joined Dec 2, 2017
2,779
Who am I...
Just a hobbyist with a formal basic electronics education, whose opportunities in life led me into printing instead of electronics.

What do I solder...
Mostly thru hole circuit board components, but anything required.

Where do I work...
I have three dedicated rooms to do my work.
Computer and board population.
Electronics bench and storage.
Fabrication shop. (drill press, table saw...etc.)

Why do I solder...
Because duct tape doesn't work. :p
I have actually moved more towards more solderless construction techniques due to bad eyesight and health concerns.

Essentials...
My computer and the software I use to do my work.
Magnifying lamp and magnifying safety glasses.
Lots and lots of stock.

Enhancements...
The multitude of jigs that I have created over the years.

Extras...
Air conditioning, music and a nice chair.

Solder...
Mostly common 60/40 rosin core no clean, no particular brand but always a top brand available at Digi-Key...etc.
 

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,165
My parents made the mistake of giving me a children's tool kit for Christmas when I was 3-4 years old. The screwdriver proved very handy in removing all the doorknobs in the house. The pliers were able to loosen the joints on all the P-traps under the sinks. And wonder of wonders was the small crowbar that was excellent at popping the asbestos shingles off of the outside walls of the house. The carpenter's saw was so dull that I was never inclined to saw the legs off of any of the chairs, which is probably the reason I survived to work another day. So, I've been using tools since a very young age and soon discovered that good tools make the job easier.

I didn't start soldering until I was 11 years old using a Weller soldering gun to build a Knight Kit Space Spanner radio. It got the job done but was NOT the right tool for the job and was all that I had available at the time. It was a couple years later that I was given another toolbox full of open-end wrenches with a ratchet and sockets plus various other tools. I kept adding tools until there was no more room in the box and had to buy another larger one. That process has continued up until today.

Good tools are far better than bad tools and worth spending a bit more on even on a low budget such as mine. I've replaced a LOT of bad tools over the years.

Today I solder to build and repair using a Hakko FX-888 and don't think I will need to upgrade it. I also use hot air and a desoldering suction gun. Recently bought an 850W hot plate as well since I've been getting into designing and building surface mount PCBs. I also use a small "helping hands" with a couple of adjustable alligator clips as well as a Panavise I use to hold boards. Along with an assortment of various clips, hemostats, assorted styles of tips, and plenty of solders and fluxes depending on what is needed. Also, a small butane powered soldering iron for outdoor work where power is not available.

I primarily work in my 10' x 12' "Office/Ham Shack/Electronics Bench" where I have 12' bench, two 20A 120V power sources (with four 15A 12 outlet surge suppressed power strips), and plenty of bookcases, drawers, plus wall mounted parts cabinets. Variac, isolation transformer, and dim bulb tester along with all my various bench instruments, USB Microscope, and power supplies. Also have a "Bulkhead" pass through installed in one of the windows for antenna cables and grounding to outside dedicated ground rod. Along with a couple of large tool boxes as well as a Dremel drill press plus a "bench-top" 1/2" drill press. And a few computers plus all my ham/marine/shortwave/broadcast band/CB radios and such.
Thanks, @SamR! Very helpful.

You reminded me about how I learned to solder. I was 6~7 years old and my father was building an FM tuner and a stereo amp (not just hi-fi, the 1967 bleeding edge of stereo). He was working on the dining room table, the biggest flat, open space in the house.

I was absolutely fascinated by the soldering. It was practical magic and being able to do it seemed so powerful. He was taking a break and asked me if I wanted to try soldering. Of course I said yes! So he grubbed around and found one of those phenolic terminal strips—the kind that mounts to a chassis with a single screw. He also found some resistors and some random lengths of hook-up wire.

The iron was the classic 25W Weller for “miniature” work—

1705421498934.png
The handle was blue, the solder was 60Sn/40Pb rosin core. He showed me how to do it and said he’d be back in a while. I spent the next couple of hours soldering things. I learned a lot, including the first rule of soldering:

Don’t touch the hot end!
Though I didn’t learn easily… I was so focused on getting the work set up that I reached over blindly and picked up the iron, yep—from the working end. I didn’t notice right away, but I knew something was wrong because of a bad smell. Then the pain receptors broke through the fog—OUCH.

But I really wanted to learn thoroughly so before the end of my first soldering lab I‘d done it twice. I am glad to report the second time was the charm for this and I‘ve never done it again.
 

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
9,165
Who am I...
Just a hobbyist with a formal basic electronics education, whose opportunities in life led me into printing instead of electronics.

What do I solder...
Mostly thru hole circuit board components, but anything required.

Where do I work...
I have three dedicated rooms to do my work.
Computer and board population.
Electronics bench and storage.
Fabrication shop. (drill press, table saw...etc.)

Why do I solder...
Because duct tape doesn't work. :p
I have actually moved more towards more solderless construction techniques due to bad eyesight and health concerns.

Essentials...
My computer and the software I use to do my work.
Magnifying lamp and magnifying safety glasses.
Lots and lots of stock.

Enhancements...
The multitude of jigs that I have created over the years.

Extras...
Air conditioning, music and a nice chair.

Solder...
Mostly common 60/40 rosin core no clean, no particular brand but always a top brand available at Digi-Key...etc.
Thanks, @ElectricSpidey—very helpful information. I didn’t think I would ever move away from THT, and maybe I won‘t ever drop it entirely, but to my surprise I am used SMT now as well fairly often. My first experience of SMT hand soldering was when I was working at the university and one of our labs (a radio research group) had a technician that laid out and built SMT-based boards for them.

He wasn’t young—actually a bit older than me, but he used a Mantis bench scope and a good Hakko rework station and I saw that is was actually possible. Then I did it myself and was surprised at how small I could go. Not the smallest but with my Amscope (low cost) binocular microscope and good iron/tip I can do it.

I know that many people aren’t able to work on such small things because of challenges with vision or stability of their hands and I can see that possibility for me, too, eventually. I am just going to roll with it.
 

ElectricSpidey

Joined Dec 2, 2017
2,779
Yea, the reason I never transitioned over to surface mount was mainly because I never actually needed to, and fortunately when most thru hole products did start to entirely disappear, I was well on my way to using PSoC dev boards and my last 12 or so projects are based on them.

This is my go to board.
CY8CKIT-059 Infineon Technologies | Development Boards, Kits, Programmers | DigiKey

I still have need for DIP chips and other thru hole components but like I said...Lots and lots of stock. :)
 

KeithWalker

Joined Jul 10, 2017
3,095
My first adventures in soldering were when in 1949, when I was eleven. I had read the book "The Boy Electrician" from my Dad's bookshelf. He was a chartered accountant and an accomplished artist with no interest in electronics. I tried out all of the projects in the book. That aroused my interest in electricity which I found fascinating. I read every electronic publication that I could get my hands on. I decided that I should try to build a super-regenerative reflex radio. I built it using an inverted rectangular tobacco tin for a chassis and a very large battery powered pentode. This is where my soldering skills all started, using a soldering iron that I heated on the gas stove. It had a large tapered copper bit. I found some paste flux and core-less solder. I have no idea what the composition was. The radio was such a success that I added a push-pull output stage and a mains power supply, all made using components I rescued from old junked radio sets.

My hobby turned into my career, and because of my deep interest in electronics, I became a very successful technical consultant, designing and building systems to test all kinds of manufactured products on the assembly line. I used my knowledge in my hobbies to design and construct radio controI circuits from the late 50s onwards and for pioneering in R/C electric flight in the 70s. I also designed and built my own hi-fi audio components. That's probably why I need to use hearing aids now. I used a variety of simple soldering irons with powers from 20W to 80 W. Finally I standardized on 40W Weller irons with temperature controlled bits and 60/40 cored solder.

I retired in 2003 and bought a small house with a large finished basement which became my Electronic workshop, computer center, art studio and entertainment center. I have a permanent workbench with extensive storage space, test equipment and hand tools.

Workbench 001.jpg



A few years ago I decided to build my own temperature controlled soldering station on the cheap. I used mostly AliExpress components, including a digital voltmeter module and a Hakko style soldering iron handle, a 40W element with built-in thermocouple and a conical bit. I recently re-built it using a mains powered 24V 2A DC supply module instead of a transformer and rectifier. The controller now runs cool. It works exceptionally well and I have no wish to replace it with something much more expensive. I use it for assembling through-hole circuits.

SolderingStation 003.jpg





For heavier jobs like braiding and large copper lands, I have the original one I built, using a 3/8" chisel tip. I tried using lead-free solder but found that, even at higher temperatures, it didn't flow as well as the old 60/40 leaded solder which I use exclusively now.
 
Last edited:
Top