Thomas Popp answers a question about what type of soldering equipment to purchase when you are just getting started!
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Soldering Iron Station
This is the tool that heats up and causes the solder to fuse our cable to the connectors. The most common purchase is usually a soldering station, which hosts not only the gun, but also a variable temperature knob to control the heat of the iron.
One of the most common questions people ask when picking out a soldering iron is what wattage to get. IS 25 Watt enough?! Heres the truth. Wattage does not correlate to how hot the gun will get. It instead measures how fast the iron will “recover” from heat loss.
In terms of a soldering iron for our Production Sound needs, stick with something in the 40-80 watt range. You really don’t need anything higher than this.
If you purchase a system with a Temperature Control base, put the thermostat at at temperature that heats solder when touched to the tip within a split second of touching it. If it takes longer than what you see, you may need to adjust your heat. These temperature controls allow the device to keep the temperature right where it needs to be, not get hotter and burn up the iron in-between use.
More is not better, it just means oxidation and replacing your iron tips sooner than later. So the bottom line is, do you really need a temperature control base? No, but it definitely helps.
Here is is, the famous question. What solder should I use?
Solder is literally metal, shaped into a wire that has a “low” melting point compared to other metals (meaning the soldering iron at your local electronics store when heated will be able to melt the solder. )
There are a few different kinds – and they generally all consist of mixing a few different metals in order to make the consistency needed to melt and adhere at the temperature needed. You need to know which kinds will work so you don’t cause damage to the cables or electronics you are trying to solder. There are also new types of solder which are lead free, which means a safer process for everyone. The down side? Not much, basically the lead free kind may need a little more heat in order to reach its own melting point, but thats it.
Now not only do we have to be concerned with the types of metal in the solder, we also need to be concerned with the FLUX inside the metal. Flux is a material that has an even lower melting point to solder – and it helps to get all the gunk off the metal you are attempting to solder to ensure a proper solder joint.
There are a few different types of flux – look at the kinds that have Rosin core, unless you plan on soldering pipes for plumbing; for plumbing you would use acid core. Don’t worry, the only way to screw this up is to be in the plumbing section rather than the electronics section. Acid flux will not be available in the electronics sections or stores because it will eat through the metals.
Around 2006, there was a new standard for safety called the 2006 ROHS standards. These standards restricted the use of hazardous substances. When this happened, people started using lead free solder, or even other solders with silver and copper.
If you look hard enough, you can probably purchase both kinds, but I recommend to just start using lead free solder. It is safer and has no audible difference in conductivity.
Wire brushes are a quick and down n dirty way to clean the tip of your soldering iron if you have too much excess solder on it. Too much solder can cause a messy joint when trying to adhere to metals together, so if you ever see a blob of solder on your soldering iron, use one of these tools to quickly scrape the excess off.
This tool is not meant to be scraped back-and-forth as hard as you can to get the oxidation off of the tip. It’s only meant to wipe the tip of excess solder.
Wire cutters are great for chopping off the excess cable that you have at the end where you are trying to work. If you are using a used piece of cabling, or at the end of a new roll, it may be bent up. Just chop off an inch or two and start fresh.
I recommend getting a pair of big and small cutters. Diagonal cutters are my personal favorite because they can cut really close to the action. Use the big cutters for the thick hard cable. Then use the little more delicate diagonal cutters for the inner tiny conductor wires
Wire strippers are used to help get the insulation off of the conductors inside the wire you are about to solder. You absolutely need a pair of these (and pretty much everything else, but without this you have to resort to the chipmunk method….)
The tip in using wire strippers is to get the grip and feeling of the tool and how it bites the cable. You want a good clean cutter on your tool to be able to strip away the insulator easily. This is especially important when you are dealing with cables that are extremely small and delicate.
If you find yourself having trouble getting the feel of the wire strippers down, there are automatic strippers – but I really implore you to practice and learn how to strip the cables without having to use these automatic tools. It is all in how you hold the tool and twist. Bite down just as hard as you need to rip the insulator off, and not the conductor.
Precision Diagonal Cutters
Helping hands is another tool that is absolutely indispensable. You will not be able to do this job without one. You can try, but you will come back with burnt fingers… trust me.
These systems allow you to hold the cable in certain positions and angles to help make the soldering process easier. I have tried to solder without one and only become frustrated and in pain from burning myself repeatedly.
My recommendation is to get an extremely solid version like the units we have. These have a good base which wont move on you or cause issues when you are soldering. This allows you to work without any issues such as the helping hands falling over or you getting burned while you’re working. You want a solid foundation so the only variables that move are your hands and the iron.
One of the biggest mistakes I see being made are beginning solderers trying to get through an entire cable without any sponge or any way to cool the tip of your soldering iron. This is bad!
Doing this will only damage your equipment. A simple sponge that is damp, not even wet, is an effective way to clean the tip of your soldering iron as well as reduce the heat as to not overheat your soldering iron or soldering joint to be!
You should be cleaning the tip of the iron and cooling it down everytime you pick it up and every time you put it down.
A fume extractor is used to make sure the solder fumes are not breathed in during the soldering process. If you are using lead solder, you should pick one up with a carbon filter to protect yourself and your lungs. However, like we said before, switch to lead free solder regardless! Using a fume is safer for your health regardless of which type of solder you use though, so don’t think that because the standard doesn’t have lead anymore that it is safe to solder without following safety precautions.
This device will suck the fumes into the carbon and help to keep the air clean in the room.
Regardless of using this device or not and seriously – get one – you do not need to be breathing hot metal fumes… just DONT solder in an enclosed space. Make sure there is ventilation or some open window.
Portable Soldering Package
If you work on set, you need a portable package that can get you by if you are in a remote location. If you are working on a production with a full electric crew, then having a standard soldering iron station kit is great.
However, you can also get a portable soldering iron that can save you a lot of time and hassle, as well as, waiting time while the soldering iron heats up. These are great to throw in the drawer and have ready for when you need to do a quick fix.
Thats if for the equipment needed. IF you guys think I missed anything, let me know and I will add it to the video soon!