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General => Open Discussion => Topic started by: alanp on June 13, 2019, 09:49:40 PM

Title: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: alanp on June 13, 2019, 09:49:40 PM
Something I see across all electronics DIY forums of all stripes are "What iron should I buy?" threads.

There are always helpful responses on various brands and models of soldering iron, usually listing the pros (and, sometimes, the cons) of the replier's preferred iron.

Something quite a bit rarer is a reply stating that, as long as your iron has enough oomph behind it and a tip that can physically transfer heat to the particular size part you have, technique is something that the person should work on.

I'm curious as to you guyses thoughts on the matter.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: fair.child on June 13, 2019, 11:13:05 PM
Very important. In my working environment where RoHS, tinker whisker, and ESD products lay around the shop floor, it's really important to have certified soldering skills. From BGA, SMD, etc, I'd say yes. It is important and crucial for us to make a great product/service.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: juansolo on June 14, 2019, 01:17:16 AM
Looks over at triggers broom, an iron that's had every component other than the shell swapped at least once over the years. A 15w Antec plug in and go with it's stock tip (not particularly small)...

A decent iron would probably make life easier... God knows it took me so many years to buy a proper solder sucker and it's an utter revelation. That said, I do alright with the most basic iron out there still, so while it still works, there's no real drive for me to change.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: somnif on June 14, 2019, 02:58:28 AM
My first iron was a cheap "plug and play" iron from Home Depot, 40W. Simple as could be.

And it worked, but it was... frustrating. It was hot enough to work bloody quick, but it would build up this nasty scale of oxidized solder very quickly, and would burn through tips in no time.

I learned with that beast of a pencil. Work quick, know where you're gonna poke, get in and get out. And a hundred little quirks of that that I still catch myself doing these days.

Then my local electronics store had the Hakko fx888 on sale for 70$, I'd just gotten my first real paycheck, and I never looked back. I love the thing (other than its ridiculous 2 button interface). Heats up in under 2 minutes rather than the 10+ the old beast would take. Set it at any temp you feel. No need to worry about the tip cooling from working on a chunky component, it can handle it. Plus a wide range of cheap and readily available tips.

I'm still relatively picky about my personal technique. I want my joints to be smooth and shiny and damn any component that won't cooperate. That said my recent forays into SMD have humbled me immensely. Good lord I suck at SMD work.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: alanp on June 14, 2019, 03:04:00 AM
I will admit that that is one area that you lot are spanking me in.

I plug the iron in, and get back to it in five or ten minutes.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: WormBoy on June 14, 2019, 03:21:58 AM
I would say: tools are tools. It is often possible to get the job done with simple tools and good technique, but better tools may allow a less smooth technique and will make the job more fun (it is a hobby to most, after all). Whether people should buy better tools or work on their technique is up to them, though it is good to point out that it can be done with a simple tool. Same goes for guitars and pedals ;D.

That said my recent forays into SMD have humbled me immensely. Good lord I suck at SMD work.
Very recognisable ... I thought I was pretty decent at soldering until I tried SMD stuff. I will get back to it, but I just need to build up some mental strength to face more failure before I finally (and hopefully) get the hang of it, eventually.

Edit: if there was a 50 Euro tool that would make SMD soldering easier, I would be highly tempted to buy it to avoid the frustrations of having to work on my soldering skills  :).
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: Willybomb on June 14, 2019, 04:42:36 AM
I've had my 25? 30? 40w? iron for ever.  I don't even clean the tip properly I'm sure....  It's a jaycar cheapie.  I'm no gun solder monkey, but I'm not doing it for a living either...
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: TFZ on June 14, 2019, 05:33:24 AM
Something quite a bit rarer is a reply stating that, as long as your iron has enough oomph behind it and a tip that can physically transfer heat to the particular size part you have, technique is something that the person should work on.

It's really all that matters. I recently had to go back to my very first iron for a couple of days when my current JBC refused to work. It has temperature control via a simple thyristor adjusting the mains voltage. When I started out with electronics it was all I had, and I sucked, and I thought at least part of it was to blame on the iron. Now going back, I can work absolutely fine with it, really nothing to complain about its operation. Besides the 2-3min heatup time. The JBC is hot within less than a second, and I never want to use anything else again if I can avoid it. The slim handle, the vast choice of tips available and their durability are far superior of course as well. I have used the same three tips for over 7 years now.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: pickdropper on June 14, 2019, 06:35:33 AM
Technique is the most important thing, but a good iron will make things much easier and avoid some of the pitfalls you can see with lower quality irons.

I've used some low quality cheap irons in my life and some of there were hard to work with, even with good technique.  I had an old Radio Shack iron that just ate up soldering tips.  The window of having a properly functioning tip was fairly short.  With better irons, the tips tend to last much longer, except when RoHS solder is used, which has a tendency to cause premature wear on tips.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: thesmokingman on June 14, 2019, 06:41:44 AM
technique all day long. I've seen guys work with one of those wood burning irons before but they had a light hand and did quick work. there were certain revelatory pieces of gear that made things better but in the end, it is the technique that gets the job done.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: jjjimi84 on June 14, 2019, 07:23:50 AM
I agree with all of you that technique is the most important. I learned on a crappy pencil soldering iron and would probably still have it except that it had a cord that was stiffer than the weight of the iron so it would move and fall out of the holder. My wife saw it happen once and demanded I upgrade for fear the house burning down. I bought the Hakko FX-888D and I love it, heats and cools quickly and makes thing generally easier.

I feel like there may even be a correlation to soldering technique and iron to playing technique and gear..............

Maybe I should practice more.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: cooder on June 14, 2019, 04:36:16 PM
Technique is the most important thing, but a good iron will make things much easier and avoid some of the pitfalls you can see with lower quality irons.

I've used some low quality cheap irons in my life and some of there were hard to work with, even with good technique.  I had an old Radio Shack iron that just ate up soldering tips.  The window of having a properly functioning tip was fairly short.  With better irons, the tips tend to last much longer, except when RoHS solder is used, which has a tendency to cause premature wear on tips.
I'd fully agree on this, same experience here. Only difference is that the equivalent of Radio Shack was called Dick Smith down here. They also are non-existent any more.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: Willybomb on June 14, 2019, 04:42:54 PM
Jaycar try to cover the Dick Smith experience these days.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: cooder on June 14, 2019, 05:08:19 PM
Jaycar try to cover the Dick Smith experience these days.
Yeah, Jaycar, that's when I go and marvel at the display when I want to have a real experience or epiphany... :o
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: ahiddentableau on June 14, 2019, 05:46:58 PM
It's important to me because an intermittent solder joint is probably the single worst thing to troubleshoot in our hobby.  If good solder technique can keep me from going there, then I'm a fan.

I was wondering how often you guys change the tip on your irons.  Because I've been using the same one for a long time now--counting age in years--and it's still going strong.  Leaded solder on a good quality station (I have a Hakko but it's the older one with the dial for temperature control), and I'm a hobbiest so it's not like I'm using it for hours every day.  But it's surely got hundreds of hours on it.  I bought a new tip a few months ago out of a sense of obligation, but I haven't installed it yet.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: gordo on June 14, 2019, 05:59:13 PM
Sort of the classic "power of the magician and not the wand" scenario.  It's really nice to have good gear and makes life so much more comfortable but at the end of the day its just heat.  I think a good iron makes you WAY more efficient and you think about what and why you're doing what you're doing as opposed to "how" you do it.

Fairly similar to a good guitar vs mediocre guitar.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: alanp on June 14, 2019, 06:02:35 PM
I was wondering how often you guys change the tip on your irons.  Because I've been using the same one for a long time now--counting age in years--and it's still going strong.  Leaded solder on a good quality station (I have a Hakko but it's the older one with the dial for temperature control), and I'm a hobbiest so it's not like I'm using it for hours every day.  But it's surely got hundreds of hours on it.  I bought a new tip a few months ago out of a sense of obligation, but I haven't installed it yet.

I have never, EVER changed a tip on a soldering iron in my life. I used sandpaper on once once, when it was unutterably slagged up, and also tightened up the grub screw when that backed off, but never changed any tips. I've also never, ever set a temperature on a soldering iron, either :)

I have set temperature on my hot air station, but that involves a lot of guesswork on my part and swearing. "Melt, you little b*st*rd!" Verdict: pain in the arse to use, but it's the only real option for reworking anything SMD with three or more pins.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: EBK on June 14, 2019, 06:11:46 PM
A long time ago, I used some horrendous soldering techniques, loading up the iron tip with solder before it even got anywhere near the place I wanted to make a solder joint.  At the same time, my knowledge of electronics was very subpar, so it is difficult to say exactly where I went wring with the things that didn't work.  However, around the time I was finishing up my if-it-results-in-solder-sticking-to-the-parts-then-it-must-be-ok phase, I did successfully complete my first guitar pedal.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: cooder on June 14, 2019, 07:23:23 PM
It's important to me because an intermittent solder joint is probably the single worst thing to troubleshoot in our hobby.  If good solder technique can keep me from going there, then I'm a fan.

I was wondering how often you guys change the tip on your irons.  Because I've been using the same one for a long time now--counting age in years--and it's still going strong.  Leaded solder on a good quality station (I have a Hakko but it's the older one with the dial for temperature control), and I'm a hobbiest so it's not like I'm using it for hours every day.  But it's surely got hundreds of hours on it.  I bought a new tip a few months ago out of a sense of obligation, but I haven't installed it yet.
When I started with crap 10 bucks iron the tips went very quickly crummy and in newbie mode I sanded them, which actually makes things of course worse and you can just dump them.

I then bought a good Antex 25 watt iron, nice but I thought that the tips didn't last very long, needed replacing after 12 months. Lost the iron while on tour somewhere, so time to replace with a Chinese Weller knock off, which is still my backup but haven't used it since I got that mini TS100.
On that TS100 the tip seems to last very well, haven't replaced it and not the slightest sign of need to do so in a year of regular use.
The cool thing about the TS100 is that it powers up to full heat in a mega quick 15 seconds or so, has an automatic sleep mode which cools it down to preset changeable temp and as soon as you pick it up it goes back to full temp in 10 sec or so. That helps the lifespan of tip as well I guess.
Another thing I do is to clean and freshly tin the iron when I shut it down so the tip is nicely coated with fresh solder when sitting around.
TS100 also has auto shut off after 10 min(can be adjusted), so no leaving on by accident... did that a few times with earlier irons. Not good.
Yes I'm a fan boy of that thing and no, I'm not affiliated (sigh).
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: selfdestroyer on June 14, 2019, 08:54:14 PM
I was talking about this recently with a buddy of mine that wanted to learn to soldier. I likened it to, when I learned how to play guitar on a nylon string acoustic. The neck was FAT and the action was high and it was a struggle to play anything. But, after a month or so, I picked up a standard strat and I felt unstoppable. Everything felt so easy.. I still was not good but it was so much easier to play.

When I first learned to soldier it was with a huge, cheap, one setting radio shack iron from the 80's that my dad had. I was trying to soldier mod chips (PICS) on original Playstation consoles. It worked, but it was ugly. Fast forward to mid 2000's and I picked up a Weller WESD51 and life was changed. all of a sudden I felt like I can soldier ANYTHING. haha then I started working with SMD and instantly got humbled again.

All this to say, there is definitely importance with your technique but don't underestimate good tools also. I think they go hand and hand.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: alanp on June 14, 2019, 09:00:45 PM
All this to say, there is definitely importance with your technique but don't underestimate good tools also. I think they go hand and hand.

Absolutely, I just started the thread because the usual forum tendency is to say, if I buy a new iron/guitar/frying pan then my solder joints will be perfect/I can play Paganini's Caprices/I can make stroganoff without burning it!
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: selfdestroyer on June 14, 2019, 09:10:03 PM
All this to say, there is definitely importance with your technique but don't underestimate good tools also. I think they go hand and hand.

Absolutely, I just started the thread because the usual forum tendency is to say, if I buy a new iron/guitar/frying pan then my solder joints will be perfect/I can play Paganini's Caprices/I can make stroganoff without burning it!

Totally agree!
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: lars on June 16, 2019, 12:13:16 AM
RoHS. The four letter word. RoHS has made soldering technique irrelevant. RoHS has made electronics into throw-away technology where the DIY'r has to wither into a sea of stupidity. It's funny that now we throw all this stuff away when it breaks, because it's so hard to fix; which fills up the landfills. This is what RoHS is supposedly aimed to prevent: environmental contamination.
Sorry, RoHS. Nobody is dumping Gibson GA-40s or old Fuzz Face's into your landfills, that have lead-based solder...OMG!!!!!. We're throwing out your RoHS-compliant 50" TVs that break after only 2 years and are too expensive to work on.
Great success!
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: juansolo on June 16, 2019, 12:54:03 AM
RoHS. The four letter word. RoHS has made soldering technique irrelevant. RoHS has made electronics into throw-away technology where the DIY'r has to wither into a sea of stupidity. It's funny that now we throw all this stuff away when it breaks, because it's so hard to fix; which fills up the landfills. This is what RoHS is supposedly aimed to prevent: environmental contamination.
Sorry, RoHS. Nobody is dumping Gibson GA-40s or old Fuzz Face's into your landfills, that have lead-based solder...OMG!!!!!. We're throwing out your RoHS-compliant 50" TVs that break after only 2 years and are too expensive to work on.
Great success!

This with big bloody knobs on!

I've been keeping running 30+ year old computers and broadcast monitors of late. I can do that because they are absolutely repairable. By virtue of this they're NOT going into landfill and will possibly keep on trucking another 30+ years.

Our current attitude of build it cheap and bin it when it fails irks me greatly for all the reason above. It's just wasteful. I spent a bit of time in India and their attitude toward repairing things may go a little to extremes (there are things they keep running that they really shouldn't, and their wiring can be a tad terrifying), but they repair EVERYTHING. The idea of binning something that's absolutely fixable is alien to them (electronics are really expensive there). It's a skill here in the UK that's vanishing rapidly with the disposable culture we've adopted. All down to super cheap, sub par goods, mainly from China and not being prepared to pay for quality.

All of which creates monumentally more waste than leaded frickin' solder!
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: m-Kresol on June 16, 2019, 01:12:20 AM
I don't see the throw-away-when-broken-society as a result of RoHS standards. RoHS has some good points and goals, but obviously they come with disadvantages. Much of the new stuff is purely digital, which makes repairing it much harder than the older purely analog stuff.

In my opinion, the mentality of just replacing broken stuff has mainly two reasons:
1) the new stuff and electronics in general are just too cheap. The amount of technology, development and machinery that gets you to a simply component like a capacitor is tremendeous. The problems I face at work are details of that process, but we are trying to squeeze out every bit of improvement. On the other hand, the product needs to be produced for less than 5 cents a piece just to have some profit margin. Also, customers usually want to have fixed prize contracts over 5-10 years, with a fixed price discount every year. How the hell is one supposed to guarantee this? A simple increase in costs for base materials such as copper or aluminum will drive this into a no-profit deal. *rant over*
2) Many people are afraid that they don't have the skills to fix this, "because this is technical". My mom refused to learn how to set the clock on the microwave. The thing had just one button and a knob. Basically this is a hen and egg problem. If you never try, you will never learn. Since I picked up the DIY electronics hobby, I have fixed quite a few things for me, my parents and friends. Just much more ecological. Even if the replacement battery costs a bit, I refuse to buy a new "whatever", if the rest is still fully functional. Ecology over economy for me.


Getting back to the initial question of soldering technique: it is important, because bad technique (which is often just lack of experience imo) will likely result in some failures (which is part of getting experienced). Obviously good equipment helps, but it's not everything. Just yesterday I cleaned our lab soldering station and had to throw out a tip, that was utterly destroyed. basically it broke off due to to much water in the sponge and to aggressive use. the copper sponge was clustered in huge blobs of soldering tin, and this is a super fine soldering station we're talking about. apparently, one of my collegues likes to drain their pcbs and iron in tin. Also found some more than obvious bad solder joints where the tin did not wet the pad at all.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: Muadzin on June 17, 2019, 02:32:53 AM
I reckon its like with tone. Fanboys will obsess endlessly about what gear their guitar hero uses to sound like him, while give that guitar hero any guitar and any rig and he'll still sound just like him. If you have good solder technique you can work with anything. And getting better high end soldering gear just makes things easier. A Dutch saying has it that one should learn how to ride a bicycle by using an old bike. Not because its easier but because its harder.

As for RoHS, all those circuit boards look the same. I'm sure they are marvels of technical design, but whenever I see an old school circuit board it looks like a work of art. Because it is, both of design and technical craftmanship. And it doesn't hurt you can pilfer the old school board for rare unobtainium parts.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: pickdropper on June 17, 2019, 05:48:19 AM
I reckon its like with tone. Fanboys will obsess endlessly about what gear their guitar hero uses to sound like him, while give that guitar hero any guitar and any rig and he'll still sound just like him. If you have good solder technique you can work with anything. And getting better high end soldering gear just makes things easier. A Dutch saying has it that one should learn how to ride a bicycle by using an old bike. Not because its easier but because its harder.

As for RoHS, all those circuit boards look the same. I'm sure they are marvels of technical design, but whenever I see an old school circuit board it looks like a work of art. Because it is, both of design and technical craftmanship. And it doesn't hurt you can pilfer the old school board for rare unobtainium parts.

Can you show examples of the work of art on non-RoHS vs. RoHS? 

RoHS solder is just a formulation difference.  While I prefer lead based solder given the choice, RoHS doesn't dictate board layout.  If you're referring to SMT vs. Through-Hole, that would be here regardless of whether or not RoHS existed.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: Muadzin on June 18, 2019, 04:18:07 AM
Can you show examples of the work of art on non-RoHS vs. RoHS? 

RoHS solder is just a formulation difference.  While I prefer lead based solder given the choice, RoHS doesn't dictate board layout.  If you're referring to SMT vs. Through-Hole, that would be here regardless of whether or not RoHS existed.

Then I meant SMT. Sorry for the confusion. I don't solder much these days anymore.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: pickdropper on June 18, 2019, 05:04:33 AM
Can you show examples of the work of art on non-RoHS vs. RoHS? 

RoHS solder is just a formulation difference.  While I prefer lead based solder given the choice, RoHS doesn't dictate board layout.  If you're referring to SMT vs. Through-Hole, that would be here regardless of whether or not RoHS existed.

Then I meant SMT. Sorry for the confusion. I don't solder much these days anymore.

It's cool, I just wanted to understand.
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: mozz on June 21, 2019, 07:41:56 PM
Learned on my dad's Ungar with the cork handle in about 74'. Still have it here somewhere. Probably have 10 irons, 4 guns, only use 2 or 3 though. 4 different sizes of solder. I love my Wellers, digital temp controlled or the WTCPT with the different temp tips. Am certified IPC J-STD-001 and a few others but we need that for work.

As for technique, i was taught, get in get out. Also need the physical connection before the soldered connection. I've seen some boutique pedals that just pushed a wire through a pot lug and soldered it. Garbage build in my book, you need to loop it through and also cut off any excess. I've also seen them that looked like my dog soldered it, terrible.

Good soldering equip is like having a Fluke meter, Tektronix scope, etc.


Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: somnif on June 21, 2019, 07:50:23 PM
I've seen some boutique pedals that just pushed a wire through a pot lug and soldered it. Garbage build in my book, you need to loop it through and also cut off any excess.

See, I've trained myself OUT of that "loop it" mentality. Once its soldered, its electrically sound, and if its a part that isn't going to move, that's all you need. All the looping of a wire accomplishes is making it a hell of a lot harder to de-solder in the future if you ever want to modify/repair it.

These days, for large connections, I just lay the wire on the surface and solder in place. Easy on, easy off, and the electrons don't care either way.

(Of course if its a part that is going to wiggle/wobble/wibble the rules change, or if its going to see a lot of heat, but those situations don't happen much on my bedroom floor)
Title: Re: How important is soldering technique to you?
Post by: mozz on June 22, 2019, 12:26:05 PM
That's where we differ. I see that as lazy and just waiting to break.  :o I stopped doing things i see as half assed, whether it's working on cars, my house, money etc. I'm going to retire in 5 years so my train of thought is way different than it was years ago.   8) If i ever have to rework something or mod it, the loop is trivial with proper desoldering equipment whether it's a sucker, desoldering braid or a Pace desoldering station (which is on my buy list right now). Working on military equipment for a living you get ingrained with failproof connections. You see extra wires in harnesses that aren't connected to anything but are there for possible future upgrades, you see multiple ground wires. You see teflon wire, which is what i mostly use now for everything sonce i came across 2 full boxes at a auction. You have inspectors checking your work, nicked wire from stripping, failure. Too much or too little solder, fail.

I make pedals for a few local guys, that's about it, hopefully they last a long time.

Going to mod stuff or tweak, i have gone to a breadboard. I have seen many older stock pedals (with grand reputations) that were put together by ladies on a assembly line, thrown together but still working, not sloppy but built for ease of assembly. No 90 degree bends that look so nice, no need for that, i'd rather see a 105c cap or 5%.

 I like nice heavy pcb traces, not the crap like Fender (no offense) sells today. Built many Heathkits with my paper route money and that was the greatest practice, seeing your skills improve and your product working first time.

As to the electrically sound, no problem, but i see it as it could have been done better for trivial amount of time. If it's a pot, jack, battery connector, ribbon cable, if it can move, it will, and it will fail at some time.