I started fixing electronics a long time ago around the time when the Xbox and Gamecube first hit the market because the wires in my controllers kept breaking. After awhile I got sick of buying new controllers and decided to just learn how to fix what I had. A good way to start learning basic soldering techniques is learning how to solder a wire to a circuit board, so in this article I will walk you through each step you should take to learn how to solder. If you don’t own a soldering iron yet you can purchase a basic 25 watt soldering iron for around $15. The last thing I will mention before we start is that you need to make sure that you are working in a well ventilated area because after awhile the fumes can start to get to you.
Learning Basic Soldering techniques
Step 1- Getting the right Tools: Before you get started you will need a few items to get the job done. Some basic items you should have on hand is either a pocket knife, X-Acto knife or a special wire stripper tool to get the outer plastic cover for wires off. You will also need Alligator clamps to hold your items for you. You will need a small spool of solder to solder your electronic parts together, everyone has their own preference but 60/40 tin and lead rosin core solder will do just fine; most hardware stores sell it. The two numbers on the solder represent how much material was used to make the solder, in this case it is made up of 60% tin and 40% lead. You will need either a desoldering wick or a desoldering pump, both pretty much do the same thing to help remove solder. And the last thing you will need is a slightly damp sponge to help keep your soldering iron clean.
Step 2- Heating up: Plug in your soldering iron and let it heat up. Depending on the iron this may take anywhere between five and ten minutes. A hot iron works better to help the solder flow and will also make the job easier.
Step 3- Removing the plastic sheath: While the soldering iron is heating up you can start prepping your wires. Take your cutting tool (in this case an X-acto knife for me) in one hand and the wires in your other, and place the knife close to the wire’s outside plastic cover and very carefully cut a shallow slit into the top of the plastic and slowly rotate the wire around in a circle while holding the knife still.
As you rotate the wire in a full circle the knife will cut into the plastic to reveal the inside copper core wire. How much plastic you cut off all depends on how much wire you have to work with. Just make sure you cut off enough plastic so that you can solder the wire without any problems. If you have wire strippers it will make the process faster and easier. to remove any plastic tendrils that are still connected, gently cut them away with your knife until you can pull the plastic free from the wire; it should slide right off. Be careful not to cut your fingers or the inside core copper wire.
Step 4- Tin the Soldering iron: By now your soldering iron should be nice and hot. This step is pretty easy, all you need to do is touch a small amount of solder to the tip of the iron. You will notice the solder will start to melt onto the hot soldering iron, so spread the solder around a bit to turn the tip silver.
After the soldering iron tip is coated and silver, wipe it clean on your damp sponge to remove any excess globs of solder. This process is called “tinning the soldering iron”, it is used to help keep the iron clean and keep the solder flowing smoothly. If you don’t clean the soldering iron and put a bit of solder on it it will turn black and will no longer conduct heat properly.
Step 5- Tin the wires: Now that your wires are stripped you need to get them ready for soldering. For the basic soldering 101 article I will use the example of soldering wires to a circuit board. You will take your soldering iron and hold it in one hand and hold your spool of solder in the other hand. I recommend you have something like alligator clamps to hold your wire in place for you in case you need a helping hand. Hold the soldering iron close to the bottom side of the copper wire and drop a small amount of solder to the wire to melt it down. While the solder is still hot, use the tip of the iron to paint the solder onto the wire until it is completely silver. You don’t want a big glob of solder, a thin coat will work just fine.
Coating the copper wire with solder is called “Tinning the wires”, this process helps the wires stick better and hold any future solder. When you are done, dab the hot soldering iron on your damp sponge to wipe the old solder off.
Step 6- Soldering the wires: You will now move the tinned wires close to the circuit board’s conductive track. I recommend you use your alligator clamps to help at this point because you will need to hold the soldering iron close to both the wire and the conductive circuit board track and then apply more solder to the wire to hold it in place. Attempting to hold all three items might be tricky with only two hands.
I should also note that you don’t want a huge glob of solder holding the wires together; just enough to make sure the connection is strong and sturdy. Because you tinned the wire it should stick to the circuit board without any problems. Make sure to clean the soldering iron tip once more before moving on to the next step.
Step 7- Finishing touches:
Some folks will leave a small glob of solder on the tip of the iron so that the next time they use it they can start by cleaning it off again. Make sure to unplug your soldering iron and make sure that it cools down before putting it away.
You can use these basic steps for any type of soldering projects. In the future I will go in more detail for more specific soldering projects, such as putting capacitors on a circuit board or building costume cables and wires for electronics.
If you have any comments, post them below.