Join Karen as she shares her enthusiasm for teaching STEM subjects, gives you what you need to know to get started on electronics projects, and more.
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The main options for soldering tools are soldering pencils and soldering stations. If you’re just getting started soldering or if you’re on a budget, you can start with a cheap handheld soldering iron. Ben cautions on going too cheap on a soldering iron. They start at around 15 watts and can go up to 80 watts, more wattage than you'd want to use for electronics. According to Ben, 20 to 40 watts is probably the sweet spot. Wattage refers to the current your soldering tool draws, letting you know how much power it has in order to melt solder. The higher the wattage, the more solder it can melt or the faster it will melt it. One thing you need to check for is that the plug for your soldering iron has a ground pin. If a device has exposed metal then it’s good for it to have a grounded plug because that allows static to discharge into the earth instead of building up on your tool. Reasons you’d want to get a soldering pencil is that they are cheaper, they are easier to store, and they come with a stand which you want to be sure to use. You don’t want to set a soldering pencil on the table. Some of the drawbacks include the fact that they don’t have a variable temperature control.
Ben and Karen take a look at three different models of soldering stations. If you’re using a soldering station, you always have a place to store your soldering iron, and many of them come with a place to put a sponge or a brass pad. Each station has some sort of temperature control, how fine that is will depend on the model. The uses knob control that goes from yellow up to red, so you don’t get the exact temperature. The has a digital display. Karen likes it because it gives you three preset temperatures but also allows you to fine-tuning of the temperature. Ben notices that it has a transformer in it. This is good because a transformer allows you to have higher current faster, allowing it to heat up quickly. If a soldering iron is “heavy” that means it has a nice transformer in it which is going to get you up to temperature quickly. The next soldering station that they look at is the . Ben uses a Weller with digital knob control at his desk because he likes the tip options on it. He appreciates the digital readout on the Weller WD because oftentimes he will go back and forth between set temperatures.
Once you select your soldering tool, you’re going to want to make sure you get some spare tips. Its important to have a good clean tip when soldering and if you’re a beginner, it’s really easy to accidentally corrode and ruin your tips. But it’s not just about replacing tips if they go bad. You’re going to also want to have different tips for different applications. A finer point tip can be used for detailed work while a larger tip is used to transfer heat more quickly. Recently, Felix has been using a tip that is tapered and kind of like a blade. This is nice because it offers more surface area and heats pads really well. Karen goes over some additional things you should look for when selecting your soldering tip. Make sure you get a tip that matches the tool you have because tips can vary wildly by manufacturer.
As mentioned earlier, keeping your soldering tip clean is important in soldering. There are two main products you can use to do this. You can get a sponge which you can get damp or you can get a brass pad. Ben prefers to use a sponge because he can actually see everything coming off. If you need more than a sponge or a brass pad you can purchase tip tinner and cleaner. You could also use soldering paste flux on the tip. You can also purchase solder that has flux in it. There are two main types of solder are leaded solder and lead-free solder. Leaded solder is kind of the old fashioned way of doing it’s sometimes a little bit easier because lead has a lower melting point than the lead-free solder. However, there’s a slight health risk as lead is not good for you. If you’re going to be using it then make sure you’re not touching your face, eating or drinking while using it, and wash your hands when you are done. Sometimes you need a little more than a sponge or a brass pad to clean your tip.