Into the world of SMT - What tools?

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by nDever, Dec 21, 2014.

  1. nDever

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Jan 13, 2011

    I'm about to delve into the world of surface-mount technology and I have been researching the tools and equipment that I need; the result of my research is a list that I wrote. Here is what I have so far.

    - Tweezers/Forceps
    - Vacuum pick up tool
    - Soldering iron
    - Solder flux
    - Wick/Braid
    - Hot air iron

    Is there anything that you guys would like to add or comment on? In particular what brands do you guys trust?
    I'm working from a budget of about a few hundred bucks, so is it possible to build a good SMD workstation for maybe under $500?
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2014
  2. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
    $500 should be more then enough.

    - Tweezers/Forceps: essential. I have many tweezers about, some fine tips, some a little wider to handle wire.

    - Vacuum pick up tool: I have a cheapie, like under 5 bucks off EBay (I get most of this stuff thru there from China). I use it very occasionally, say when I have a quad flat pack with no firm edges to list with tweezers, otherwise I just use tweezers.

    - Soldering iron: I have a Kendal 898D which has both a conventional tip and a hot air tip, all under $100. Either tip may break at any time but spares are available (and I keep spares on hand in my spares box).

    When it comes time to reflow an entire board there are lots of tricks to use: single sided boards can be done on most anything, I've even done them on a stove top. Double sided need some sore of oven for hot air, but "bottom side" components need not be glued down, the wet solder will hold them in place.

    - Solder flux: Pick most any. I have a Keester pen I believe that works well.

    - Wick/Braid My role of Chemtronics fluxed works well, the width is something like .08"

    My solder spool is the thinnest I could find. A syringe of fluxed solder balls is also handy but not essential (use it when making whole boards).

    What is also very very necessary is some sort of magnification. A microscope is good but lately I've switched to those magnifying headbands. With the LED light on top it is all I need to see the smallest feature, even with my old man eyes.
  3. nDever

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Jan 13, 2011
  4. MrChips


    Oct 2, 2009
    Here are the minimum tools I use:

    Weller WTCPT with the finest tip you can buy.
    A second WTCPT with normal sized tip.
    Small diameter solder.
    Flux pen
    Microscope (something similar to this).


    You can try a USB camera and LCD screen.

  5. jpanhalt

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 18, 2008
    Is that list specific additions for SMD or is it just for general PCB assembly? For example, the only items on your list that are relatively specific for SMD are the vacuum pick-up tool and hot-air gun. Even those can also help for TH component assembly.

    What volume of SMD work do you plan to do and how important a factor is cost? If it is only once in awhile, you can probably get by with a lot less equipment. I switched to SMD almost exclusively about 10 years ago, bought no new tools, but made one. That was a simple piece of music wire (hard-drawn carbon wire) about 3" long and 0.032" dia. The tip is ground to a roughly rounded point. I use it to hold pieces down (described below).

    Comments on your list:

    - Tweezers/Forceps -- be sure you have at least one tweezers that is non-magnetic and anti-static. Mine is black plastic.
    - Vacuum pick up tool -- don't have one and see no need for it with my low volume of work
    - Soldering iron -- must be temperature regulated and fine tip
    - Solder flux -- I use Kester's paste. The paste is a little sticky and helps hold components. Apply very sparingly. I basically wipe it on the entire board with a lent-free towel, e.g., Kimwipe.
    - Wick/Braid -- yes! Get a couple of sizes,
    - Hot air iron -- don't have one. Would be most useful for desoldering components.

    1) Magnifying visor -- Mine came with an accessory lens for higher magnification. It is more often in the way than useful.
    2) Steel wire (mentioned above) -- For positioning and holding components in place while getting the first joint soldered. I often put a really small spot of solder on a pad, position the part with the wire, then apply pressure with the wire while heating the pad. Part melts into place and rest of pads can be soldered easily. As a final step, I re-solder the original pad to remove stress and be sure it is not cold soldered.
    3) Cyanoacrylic glue (CA,optional) -- A microdot of CA will hold many components in place so they can all be soldered without having to solder, stop, place component, solder,stop...etc. I will put a drop of CA on clean copper (scrap PCB), which is usually pretty stable for 20 minutes or more. I use a steel wire, just like the one used for placement, to apply a microdot. Place component, get it exactly where you want it, then either wait or apply a little pressure to make the CA set.

    Last edited: Dec 21, 2014
    #12 likes this.
  6. ErnieM

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 24, 2011
    Yepper, that is the one I use. I've replaced the iron side once (simple it screws on and off) and have a replacement for the hot air gun in waiting (which takes a bit of screw driver surgery).

    It takes Hakko tips, I prefer 900M-T-0.8D types as these seem to be the smallest.

    EBay is your friend for spare parts.
  7. ian field

    AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 27, 2012
    Quite a while ago; Elector magazine published a project to convert a pizza oven - don't try to do it manually, there's a specific profile for pre-heat, reflow and cooling phases.

    For harvesting SMD parts off scrap boards I use a modellers pencil blowtorch, but it scorches the board. If you're desperate enough and want to save the board, you can try a hot air gun - but with great care, they're easily capable of scorching or blistering the board!

    For soldering individual ICs, you can flow a bead of solder along the row of pins once you've tacked a couple of corners - the secret is loads of flux to minimise solder bridges and ease removal of any that do form. Apparently you can get a soldering iron bit made for this job, it has a groove to hold a reservoir of solder.

    Some chips like BGA and others with solder pads completely inaccessible - I've heard of people heating the board on an electric hot plate, but I imagine you'd want to practice quite a lot on boards that don't matter before trying it for real!
  8. Dr.killjoy

    Well-Known Member

    Apr 28, 2013
    Remember to buy quality solder flux and solder paste has to be refrigerated and has short life span... Dave jones did a good job on a review of a cheap hot air rework station... It has some bugs but can be fixed...