Written by: Daniel Gleich
Soldering is a technique used to join two metal surfaces together. It's commonly done in the electronics industry to join wires and make connections on circuit boards, and it's also used in plumbing and jewelry-making. Soldering uses a filler metal, known as solder, which is melted and cooled at the joint to create a permanent bond.
You'll need a few basic tools to get started with soldering. A soldering iron is the most important tool. It is a hand tool with a wedge-shaped tip that supplies heat to melt solder. Soldering irons can be found in different types, but most beginners should find that a pen-style soldering iron in the 15-to-30-watt range works best. Your iron should come with at least one tip; tips are usually made of copper plated with iron, and they're usually either chisel- or cone-shaped. It's also a good idea to invest in a soldering iron stand, which can hold the hot soldering iron when you're not using it.
Soldering also requires solder. There are many types of solder that are made of alloys of different metals, like tin, lead, copper, gold, silver, and antimony. The right type of solder will depend on the materials you're soldering together. You'll also need a pair of safety glasses. A few other tools can also be helpful for soldering but aren't always necessary, like a pair of tweezers and a solder sucker or wick, which you can use to help remove solder from a joint.
Since soldering involves heating and melting metallic substances, it can present a few types of safety hazards. The most obvious one is the potential for burns. Always be very careful not to touch the tip of the soldering iron, which can reach temperatures of more than 600 degrees. You also have to be careful not to let the tip touch anything that you're not soldering; you could easily melt other tools or set your workbench on fire. You should also wear long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes as well as safety glasses.
The solder itself can also be dangerous. Always work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling smoke and fumes. The smoke formed during soldering can cause lung irritation and even respiratory diseases and damage. You should also use lead-free or low-lead solder whenever possible, since lead can be particularly toxic.
Electronic components are the building blocks used in electronic circuits and devices, including transistors, resistors, switches, and diodes. These components are soldered to a printed circuit board, which physically connects them to the board and can also connect them to conductive parts of the board to create a circuit.
Before you can begin soldering, you should always start by cleaning your materials, including the circuit board you'll be soldering things onto, to remove any oxidation or contamination. You can use isopropyl alcohol to clean a circuit board.
Tinting is the process of coating your soldering iron tip with a thin layer of solder. This creates a protective layer that prevents your soldering iron tip from oxidizing. It also creates better heat transfer between the tip and the material you are soldering.
Soldering is intended to be permanent, but the process can be undone if it's necessary. De-soldering is the process of removing solder in order to disconnect two components, which allows you to replace a broken component as needed. To do this, you'll need to heat up the connection to melt the solder, then remove it using a solder sucker or a solder wick.
Cleaning your soldering iron is important for maintaining it in good condition. You can use a wet sponge to clean the soldering iron tip, which is the most common and convenient method. Simply wetting a sponge and gently rubbing the tip of the soldering iron can help remove any contaminants from the tip.
When you're just starting out with soldering, make sure to use the right iron tip shape and size for the task at hand. You should also always remember not to blow on cooling solder, no matter how much of a hurry you're in; if the solder cools too fast, it can become brittle. Above all, remember that like with any skill, learning to solder well takes practice. If your first few attempts don't come out well, just remove the solder and try again.