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Offline berserkfan

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The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« on: Fri, 19 December 2014, 23:40:40 »
The Gutzy Guide to Soldering

I have been seeking to wind down my activities on geekhack recently since I have largely determined what is suitable for me. Iím no longer interested in conventional keyboards and am merely awaiting for Samwisekoi, Dorkvader, Acidfire and Wcass to produce the things I do want. (As well as some other people to do the necessary casings.) But it seems this forum has magneticism, and I keep being drawn back. I canít extricate myself from the little world of geeks! Now a newbie has requested advice on soldering, and I have decided to write a guide of my own.

Please be aware that this is intended to be a practical guide for people who do not intend to take exams and get certified. This is a hand holding, spoon feeding guide for noobs, written by one of geekhackís least competent and most inept modder. I have done plenty of reading, so I know some of the theory, but I know most noobs arenít going to invest that much time in reading and they want useful info right from the start. So Iím going to give them that.

To a pro, most of what I say may be a joke. But itís what worked for me or what I found right after many painful and expensive experiences, and so Iím going to share what I have.

Whatís my competence? Over 10,000 solder joints either soldered or desoldered on dozens of keyboards of varying ages and quality with under 20 pads lifted and under 10 traces damaged. Quite a number of small repairs successfully done. A few hundred SIP sockets and LEDs soldered or desoldered. Iíve seen at least 50 different keyboard PCBs by now. New stuff like Ducky Shine 3, Filco Majestouch 2 bluetooth, all the way to Qtronix and Cherry keyboard PCBs over 20 years old. I donít think this is a great record or anything, but it shows I am not coming in with the experience of only having done 84 solder joints on a brand new GH40.

I will assume that the reader knows nothing and doesnít really want to spend hours knowing everything. He just wants to be able to build his keyboard quickly and painlessly. He doesnít care about professional quality; he just needs something serviceable and usable without spending too much money and time. You are expecting to use your keyboard at home and in the office, and not in outer space or extreme environments.

Since I canít cover everything and really donít have time to answer questions, I hope that other people can step in and offer their views and experiences in the areas that I donít cover.

The Gutzy Guide to Soldering

ONE: Your workplace and tools

You need a nice flat table, stable and resilient and capable of enduring burns. Didnít I say this was a spoon feeding guide? I donít want you to burn a hole in your table or set it on fire the minute you drop your soldering iron. Needless to say, please have common sense and do not cover it with newspaper when you solder. Use something more durable and less flammable. Do not walk away with the soldering iron turned on.

Some of you geeks have very nice glass tables. I suggest you find some plywood or other tough, sacrificial material to cover your table if you do not want to damage it by accident. Solder does splatter at times so I suggest not having that prized HHKB with $500 of keycaps sitting nearby.

Gloves. Again, common sense please, cotton/hemp/fabric gloves not rubber that melts and sticks to your skin when you touch the soldering iron by accident.

Dry rags or heavy cotton napkins to clean your soldering iron which you need to do so every 5-10 joints. I really do not recommend a wet sponge, as it will cause rust on your soldering iron.

A metal stand to keep your soldering iron tip from touching anything else. Many cheap soldering irons donít come with a stand. Beware! (I use a flat biscuit tin to hold the iron in addition to the stand.)

A solder sucker in case you make mistakes. You WILL make mistakes.

A little metal (or non flammable) pan to hold solder bits if you have to desolder something. I use a biscuit tin cover usually.

Solder wick when you make a mistake and have to desolder.

0.4mm or 0.6mm roisin core solder wire. If you are in Europe or some place where leaded solder is banned, try your best to buy leaded solder from Taobao and ship it to your country. Youíre a noob, donít go for unleaded solder if you can! 

A note on the purchase: you donít need a lot of solder to do one keyboard. You can just buy the smallest spool they have available. However, due to quality concerns, you should buy at least two small spools from different sellers, made by different companies. That way you lower the chance of running into solder wire that does not work. Sometimes it happens. Nothing you can do about it.

Itís not a question of saving money. Itís a question of getting leaded solder from the (less developed) countries where it is still not banned. Unleaded is harder to work with.

Soldering iron. You can just get any cheap one, but best to buy two because they often fail. You donít need much power. Even 20, 30W soldering irons will work with leaded solder. Remember that the keyboard is a precision instrument and the solder joints you need to make are smaller than the more industrial applications that use powerful soldering irons. Most 60W and above tips are too big for keyboard use. Also try not to use 40W tips for soldering or desoldering LEDs or diodes. These are also too powerful and are more likely to lift pads. Small sharp tips are better. The large majority of all pads that I have ever lifted are LED or diode pads, because they are small and more vulnerable.

If you are soldering a teensy, I very strongly suggest leaded solder and a 20W or sufficiently small and sharp tip. Teensy is teeny weeny and a big pain to solder. And if you choose to brave it and use unleaded solder, better pray you donít make a mistake, because desoldering a Teensy mistake is very hard.

Stanley has a wedge shaped tip that I have found superior to conventional sharp tips, but I canít find a local replacement in Singapore and did not desire to incur huge shipping costs to get a similar tip from the US. Those CONUS people should find it much cheaper with practically everything shipped free CONUS. If you are buying a soldering iron online and already expect to do quite some soldering, I suggest buying a couple of tips as well. Tips oxidize and can no longer be used, no matter how you try to take care of them. If you take care, a tip can last 10 keyboards. But eventually it will die. Iíve changed 6 tips in the course of several dozen keyboards/ PCBs. Along the way I did some Brasso-ing until even that failed to produce a reliable tip.

XXX

TWO Your soldering iron

The main thing to remember with the soldering iron is that while it is a simple tool, keeping it useful and in tip (pun intended) top condition is not so simple.

The iron must be kept clean and rust free. The way to do so is to keep cleaning it and tinning the tip. So you must constantly clean the iron on your rags, then apply solder to the tip to form a thin layer so that the tip is shiny (this is called tinning). Thatís right, before you even solder your first joint, you must first solder your soldering iron! The solder that adheres to the tip will keep the tip from rusting, and also help to conduct heat. Because the temperatures are high, rust forms quickly Ė literally in seconds. So you must always have a layer of solder protecting the iron tip underneath.

The more black the tip is, the worst it is. You will end up having impurities and rust that makes it hard to transmit heat or transmits heat unevenly and in an unexpected manner (eg causing solder to ball up on your soldering iron tip). Whenever you find this happening with your soldering, STOP ALL WORK and let the iron cool down. You must restore the tip to shiny status first. Otherwise you are not just wasting your time, you may be overheating the pad, depositing impurities on your pad, or cause damage that is hard to fix.

Be obsessed with cleaning your tip and tinning it ALL THE TIME. When you have finished soldering, always make sure your iron has a shiny tip of freshly coated solder when you put is away. That way it wonít rust.

At this point Iím not even talking to you about the solder pad or the keyboard. These can take care of themselves. Pay attention to your soldering iron tip first!

If your soldering iron is new and in good shape, DO NOT use sandpaper on it or anything rough. Many irons come with a thin protective covering that is easy to wear off.
However, if your soldering iron starts to perform badly, it will have lost whatever protective covering it once had. Turn it off and let it cool down. Then you can go ahead and attack the rust with your favourite instruments Ė sandpaper, steel wool, brasso, whatever works for you to remove all the rust. Then once the rust is off, tin the iron again so that you have a thin layer of tin (solder) covering the iron tip.

As my experiences have taught me, do all these even before you attempt to solder your first joint. A perfectly working tip is essential for all soldering!

XXX

THREE Soldering your first joint

All soldering (and desoldering) must be done quickly. Do not panic and fumble as the iron is hot and dangerous Ė but do not tarry. Take the soldering iron, press it against the pad at an angle that touches both the pad and the component to be soldered (eg the switch contacts or the legs of the leds). Make sure you heat both; otherwise the solder will only adhere to the thing that you heated. Then bring the solder wire over and touch the area that you want soldered. The wire should melt all over both the pad and the component. If it melts over only one part, that means you have heated them unevenly and need to adjust the position if your soldering iron.

A good solder point looks like one of Hersheyís kisses. Most of you readers are CONUS; donít you dare tell me you donít know what I am talking about! Do not create balls, mushrooms, or anything else on your solder pad. It means the joint was poorly formed and there may be air pockets or poor contact underneath. You donít want your keyboard to suddenly fail a week later because some solder joint broke after a few days of usage.

Now how much time do all these take place in? Within 2 seconds. Donít go for a third second. If you can solder within one second, even better. Most of my best solder joints were done within 1 second. The joints that took two or more tries to do, that took more time to do, were often inferior joints!

Do remember that every few solder joints you should re-tin the tip on your iron. That ensures you have fresh, clean solder that can act as a good bridge to transmit heat to your pads and contacts.

Intimidated? Get out your ancient computer or something with a PCB. Instead of throwing it away, do some practicing on it. That way you donít need to use your precious keyboard as a sacrificial victim.

XXX

FOUR Flux and other things

Some of you will have read about things like flux and PCB cleaning fluids and what not. I agree they all have their use, and I have used them before in situations where they were needed. But you donít need them unless there are complications Ė such as a dirty PCB or non-working solder wick when you are desoldering. If you are just soldering a brand new Poker keyboard after which you no longer want to solder anything ever again, donít bother with these other things.

XXX

FIVE Reworking

Sometimes in the course of soldering you notice a joint is poor. Such as forming a ball, mushroom, etc like mentioned above. What do you do? You can reflow the solder, by heating the joint again until the solder has melted and moved to form a better looking joint.

If this doesnít work within 3 seconds, STOP. Do not heat the pad for too long. If there is still poor contact, it may be because of 2 reasons. 1) Impurities have gotten in 2) the pad is damaged eg a corner has been lifted which explains the inability of the solder to form that nice Hersheyís kiss on top of the PCB.

Often when that happens the only solution is to remove the solder and try again.

If the pad is clearly damaged and no longer able to offer contact for forming a suitable joint, you will have to grab a wire and make your own trace. This will be the subject of another post, preferably by someone who has more experience than me. (I have fixed only about 10 traces and generally my soldering was not very nice looking so I prefer more experienced people to offer their views.)

XXX

SIX Desoldering

Donít be afraid to desolder. This is one of the most important things to remember. In the course of soldering, you will always come across times when you made a poor solder joint. Donít court future trouble with that joint. Take out your solder sucker and get to work. Sometimes an ugly joint will work for weeks until you have that all important project and are typing up a storm Ė then it will assert itself!

Desoldering is always more troublesome than soldering. The main problem is with heating the pad and with removing the solder effectively. To avoid heating the pad too long in one spot I suggest moving the soldering iron a bit over the joint. This spreads the heat around also. Then, move the tip to one side (but still in contact with the solder joint), place the solder sucker totally over the pad, and press the button to suck up the solder.

If not all the solder gets sucked up, you might find it better to resolder and try again. It is often easier to remove a moderate bit of solder, than a tiny amount of solder.

Always remember, never more than 3 seconds of continuous heating on any solder pad. Preferably 2 seconds or less. It takes practice, so try it out with your sacrificial PCB first if you like.

If a joint is ugly and blackish it means there are impurities that will make desoldering hard. You can use cleaning agents of course, but in general, isopropyl alcohol with a toothbrush is sufficient to clean most nasties off the solder joint and the surrounding area. Remember, this is a guide for noobs who arenít going to invest heavily in soldering equipment. Iím looking for simplicity and cost effectiveness here.

XXX

SEVEN Aftercare

After all your soldering is done, always remember to clean the tip of the soldering iron and add fresh solder to it before you turn off the iron. By doing so, you are covering the tip and protecting it against rust whilst in storage. Never put away your soldering iron without tinning the tip. Your iron should always have a shiny tip, regardless of whether you are using it!

XXX

Thatís all I have to say for now. Hopefully this guide will be useful to most newbies. If you find it useful, you can always ask the mods to make this a sticky or something. Or maybe over time it will generate some discussion and in future the accumulated wisdom could be turned into a better entry.
« Last Edit: Fri, 19 December 2014, 23:42:59 by berserkfan »
Most of the modding can be done on your own once you break through the psychological barriers.

Offline PocoLoco

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #1 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 11:58:14 »
Thanks Gutz nice turial ill give it a thorough read

Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #2 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 13:06:16 »
Great guide! Thank you for writing it. I haven't done much soldering, but i have been wanting to try some more custom work which will require it. This will definitely come in handy :)

Offline heedpantsnow

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #3 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 13:13:02 »
Wow bro looks like an incredible resource. I'm not a noob but I learned quite a bit in the few minutes I read from the beginning. I look forward to reading the whole thing!
I'm back.

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Offline iAmAhab

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #4 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 18:06:32 »
Very nice guide, would like to add that desoldering can be a bit easier if you first add some solder to the joint you want to desolder. Makes it more likely to suck all the solder cleanly on the first try.

Offline mkawa

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #5 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 22:02:00 »
there are many issues with this guide. no offense to beserkfan; he was very clear about his experience and huge props for the guts to make this guide! however, soldering is a particularly difficult thing to do, and there are a huge number of things that i've learned from breaking things for the last 20 years and then breaking more things and then burning myself and electrocu

ok you get the idea. the upshot is that there's no one bible on soldering. even soldering robots and wave soldering devices don't make perfect joints with a probability of one. learning to use a tool as complicated as a hot pointy stick with nothing but drawn metal alloy with corrosive fluid inside to assist you is, well, exactly as complicated as it sounds. we hide behind the work "soldering", but that's only because the long-form explanation is scary and no one would ever even try it if they were given an extremely precise brain dump from the get-go.

to all the brilliant friends who have left us, and all the students who climb on their shoulders.

Offline mkawa

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #6 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 22:03:20 »
anyway, i'll continue to address issues in the living soldering thread.

to all the brilliant friends who have left us, and all the students who climb on their shoulders.

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #7 on: Sat, 20 December 2014, 22:29:04 »
Note: living soldering thread is over here:
first page: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=42824
last page: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=42824.new

Ming: are there any basic (relatively compact) guides for beginners that you would endorse?

Offline berserkfan

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #8 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 01:26:12 »
anyway, i'll continue to address issues in the living soldering thread.

Note: living soldering thread is over here:
first page: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=42824
last page: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=42824.new

Ming: are there any basic (relatively compact) guides for beginners that you would endorse?

Actually, I think the time has come on geekhack for the administrators to start a new mod sub-occupation, 'archivist'. The combined geekhack knowledge is enormous, but too disorganized and too copious to handle.

We need some experienced volunteers to take on some of these threads and properly collate the information so that it becomes useful for the people who need it most.

If you're a professional with certification, you don't really need to read that thread. It'll add at most 1% to your knowledge. But for every such professional there are probably 200 noobs who just want to solder their GH60 and be done with all soldering for the next year.

For instance, although I know that the living soldering thread is far superior to anything I have, asking a noob to plow through the hundreds of thousands of words from so many different people is impossible. I know from having teaching experience in different countries, that regardless of race, culture, age or gender, very few people are ever going to spend that time reading so much sometimes contradictory stuff in disorganized manner. You need to give them information in a manner that they can process. It doesn't have to be perfect information worthy of a doctorate. It just has to be useful and valid within the limitations of constraints such as time and cost.

For instance, whatever 'guide for noobs' the archivist finally produces, it should not discuss soldering stations. It is totally infeasible that a noob spend more money on a soldering station than he does on a CM Quickfire. If someone is prepared to spend that much money, he is investing for the longer term, and should also be prepared to invest at least several hours learning how the pros do soldering (and therefore not need to read any inferior noob guide.)

Don't make the mistake of assuming everyone wants to do perfect professional soldering. As I discovered very early, students will switch off and snooze if the teacher gets too encyclopaedic.
Most of the modding can be done on your own once you break through the psychological barriers.

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #9 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 03:14:10 »
We need some experienced volunteers to take on some of these threads and properly collate the information so that it becomes useful for the people who need it most.
Are you volunteering? :)

Quote
For instance, whatever 'guide for noobs' the archivist finally produces, it should not discuss soldering stations. It is totally infeasible that a noob spend more money on a soldering station than he does on a CM Quickfire. If someone is prepared to spend that much money, he is investing for the longer term, and should also be prepared to invest at least several hours learning how the pros do soldering (and therefore not need to read any inferior noob guide.)
There are basically two choices:
(1) waste a *lot* of time, burn yourself a whole bunch (and hopefully donít injure yourself any worse than that), do a lot of terrible soldering, probably wreck some expensive components, and have a really hard time doing even basic stuff
(2) buy some decent tools, and suddenly everything is smooth and easy

I think Mingís suggested Edsyn CL1481 is a pretty good starter soldering iron for someone who prefers option #2. https://www.massdrop.com/buy/learn-to-solder-kit?mode=guest_open

I do agree that it would be nice to have a set of videos helping people get the most out of their $20 Radio Shack heat sticks and offering up some clear advice about why other options might be better. Maybe there are some already on YouTube? I havenít searched around too extensively.

As one example:
Quote
Tips oxidize and can no longer be used, no matter how you try to take care of them. If you take care, a tip can last 10 keyboards. But eventually it will die. Iíve changed 6 tips in the course of several dozen keyboards/ PCBs. Along the way I did some Brasso-ing until even that failed to produce a reliable tip.
Iíve used one tip on a Hakko 888d to desolder and solder at least 30 keyboard plus a bunch of other electronics over the course of the last year, and as far as I can tell itís still in perfect condition. Iíve never had to use any kind of rough abrasive on it and itís very easy to keep clean and tinned. Both the brass sponge and the regular wet sponge that came with the soldering station work just fine to clean it. I donít see any obvious reason why a good tip, treated properly, couldnít last effectively forever, or at the very least stand up to years of heavy use.
« Last Edit: Sun, 21 December 2014, 03:40:44 by jacobolus »

Offline mkawa

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #10 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 07:26:42 »
Note: living soldering thread is over here:
first page: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=42824
last page: https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=42824.new

Ming: are there any basic (relatively compact) guides for beginners that you would endorse?
i haven't really read any. i respond to the living soldering thread reactively.

happ to look at pointers.

to all the brilliant friends who have left us, and all the students who climb on their shoulders.

Offline fohat.digs

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #11 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 11:09:00 »

Stanley has a wedge shaped tip that I have found superior to conventional sharp tips,

but I canít find a local replacement in Singapore

If you are buying a soldering iron online and already expect to do quite some soldering, I suggest buying a couple of tips as well.

But eventually it will die. Iíve changed 6 tips in the course of several dozen keyboards/PCBs.


I am heavy-handed and walk over some of the smaller details.

My original soldering iron was cheap when I bought it in the 1970s and still works fine, even though I have changed tips many times and the tip socket threads are about gone. It is still my favorite for small jobs because it is small and light. I have better irons that I treat more respectfully, but I am rude and crude with this one.

Tips are cheap and quickly disposable. I use a wet sponge and don't care if they rust.

I keep several tips around, all of which started off with points. I clean and re-shape them with sandpaper and files. After a few rough treatments like that I give up on the point and file it into a wedge. From there, if the tip gets ugly I just file a new wedge down to bare metal. After the tip has been filed so much that it is half its original length, I get embarrassed and throw it away, if the base threads are not already worn out.
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The American dream endures. We must once again have full faith in our country Ė and in one another. I believe America can be better. We can be even stronger than before. Let our recent mistakes bring a resurgent commitment to the basic principles of our Nation, for we know that if we despise our own government we have no future. We recall in special times when we have stood briefly, but magnificently, united. In those times no prize was beyond our grasp.
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Offline berserkfan

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #12 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 12:32:24 »
Bs.



I am heavy-handed and walk over some of the smaller details.

My original soldering iron was cheap when I bought it in the 1970s and still works fine, even though I have changed tips many times and the tip socket threads are about gone. It is still my favorite for small jobs because it is small and light. I have better irons that I treat more respectfully, but I am rude and crude with this one.

Tips are cheap and quickly disposable. I use a wet sponge and don't care if they rust.

I keep several tips around, all of which started off with points. I clean and re-shape them with sandpaper and files. After a few rough treatments like that I give up on the point and file it into a wedge. From there, if the tip gets ugly I just file a new wedge down to bare metal. After the tip has been filed so much that it is half its original length, I get embarrassed and throw it away, if the base threads are not already worn out.

Fohat you have my very deep interest here.

Firstly, can I ask if your experience means it's ok to just treat the soldering tip as another piece of metal that we can change to our liking? When I say a tip dies, it means that tip often becomes too black that brasso doesn't work and also misshapen and bent.

But does your experience mean that it's ok to keep filing, polishing, and tinning to keep the tip working well, until it becomes too small to be useful? It sounds that I have many tips that could actually be reused this way - I never thought about filing them.

Secondly, what do you mean about the base threads? You mean the part of the tip that screws into the base of the iron, on some models of iron? (These are many models of irons I have come across but all use a basic design and that is to use a screw to hold the tip in place.)

Thirdly, do you think I can/ should buy tips from the USA and use them in my Chinese made cheapo irons? You see, my irons actually all work. The only iron that genuinely died was my second most expensive one, a Goot. It's the tips that die, and I can't find suitable replacements locally because the custom here is to buy a new iron. But if it's just a question of buying any tip with a size that fits the iron, then my options are better.
Most of the modding can be done on your own once you break through the psychological barriers.

Offline swill

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #13 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 12:38:39 »
Thanks for doing this berserkfan, it is a good starting point for people who need some basic knowledge.

I am a self professed noob when it comes to soldering. I have only soldered about 4 boards and a few cables, but I have read a lot on the topic.

I found the Pace videos to be very good for basic knowledge. Ignore the old school production value and just pay attention to the details. A surprising amount is still relevant.

http://m.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL926EC0F1F93C1837

I tried with my last couple builds to outline some of the things I have learned along the way. Keep in mind that some of this is still pretty noobish. I have too much solder on some of my smd joints and such, but it might be a practical bit of info for other noobs.

https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=58969.msg1349714#msg1349714

Something that I did not realize until I tried it is the fact that all 63/37 solder is not created equal. I found that the kester 44 solder was substantially better than the other 63/37 rosin core solder I had tried. I think it had to do with the quality of the rosin because the kester flowed SOO much easier/better. Worth noting if you are buying solder.
« Last Edit: Sun, 21 December 2014, 14:17:39 by swill »

Offline berserkfan

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #14 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 13:15:02 »
Swill I think your thread is awesomely helpful on all aspects of keyboard building!

that said, I think it really is not a problem with SMD soldering to have more solder. The chances of a short are really not high. It's more of a problem with SIP sockets and LEDs where the pads are so close together.
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Offline swill

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #15 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 14:16:09 »
Swill I think your thread is awesomely helpful on all aspects of keyboard building!

that said, I think it really is not a problem with SMD soldering to have more solder. The chances of a short are really not high. It's more of a problem with SIP sockets and LEDs where the pads are so close together.

Cool, thanks for the feedback.  I initially tried to do it with minimal solder, but it was taking to long and was too much of a PITA, so I just started doing what was easy because there were a crap load of solder joints I had to get through...  :)

Offline berserkfan

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #16 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 15:48:51 »
Swill I think your thread is awesomely helpful on all aspects of keyboard building!

that said, I think it really is not a problem with SMD soldering to have more solder. The chances of a short are really not high. It's more of a problem with SIP sockets and LEDs where the pads are so close together.

Cool, thanks for the feedback.  I initially tried to do it with minimal solder, but it was taking to long and was too much of a PITA, so I just started doing what was easy because there were a crap load of solder joints I had to get through...  :)

But what do you mean by minimum solder?

From my experience the only way to add minimum solder is to have very thin wire diameter + touch the iron to the pad for the shortest time. Fortunately the pad acts as a mini-limiter on how much solder you can add since more solder won't adhere so well.

For me the main problem is actually being unable to properly control the solder on the tinned tip. Sometimes that will flow down, adhere to the pad also, or it will form a sticky bridge, etc. I think only the experts can tell us how to avoid that.
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Offline fohat.digs

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #17 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 15:53:18 »

your experience means it's ok to just treat the soldering tip as another piece of metal that we can change to our liking?

But does your experience mean that it's ok to keep filing, polishing, and tinning to keep the tip working well, until it becomes too small to be useful?

It sounds that I have many tips that could actually be reused this way - I never thought about filing them.

Secondly, what do you mean about the base threads? You mean the part of the tip that screws into the base of the iron, on some models of iron?


My experience is that the tip is a very cheap and pliable little piece of metal.

It is about as "dumb" as a nail and I have no qualms about grinding, filing, bending, or doing anything else to it. This is a one dollar item, brand new.

My old Radio Shack soldering iron has a screw socket that tip simply screws into - it does not even have a set screw or retaining piece of any kind. Like I said, it is the lowest of the low tech.

I recommend that you file or grind your old tips into whatever shape you want, then test them. Either they will work, or they won't.
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The American dream endures. We must once again have full faith in our country Ė and in one another. I believe America can be better. We can be even stronger than before. Let our recent mistakes bring a resurgent commitment to the basic principles of our Nation, for we know that if we despise our own government we have no future. We recall in special times when we have stood briefly, but magnificently, united. In those times no prize was beyond our grasp.
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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #18 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 16:00:05 »
your experience means it's ok to just treat the soldering tip as another piece of metal that we can change to our liking?

But does your experience mean that it's ok to keep filing, polishing, and tinning to keep the tip working well, until it becomes too small to be useful?

My experience is that the tip is a very cheap and pliable little piece of metal.

It is about as "dumb" as a nail and I have no qualms about grinding, filing, bending, or doing anything else to it. This is a one dollar item, brand new.
Most tips are iron-plated copper. If you take a file to them, you remove the iron plating, and then they oxidize much more easily. The iron plating is much easier to prevent from corroding, and if you keep the iron plating on the tip it can last a very long time.

If your tip is just solid copper, file away.

Offline fohat.digs

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #19 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 16:31:49 »

Most tips are iron-plated copper. If you take a file to them, you remove the iron plating, and then they oxidize much more easily.


As I have said, I am a bull in a china shop.

I do try to take care of things when they are new, but after they pass some threshold of wear and erosion, I assume that they are expendable and "fair game" and hack away at them.

My "better" soldering iron is one that I am far more careful with, and I cannot speak to Berserk Fan's issues of mounting and attachment between various irons and manufacturers.

But a cheap little cylinder of corroded metal that was almost in the waste basket anyway - why not file it into something useful for one last run before the grave?
"We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles." Ė The bold and brilliant dream which excited the founders of this Nation still awaits its consummation. Ours was the first society openly to define itself in terms of both spirituality and of human liberty. It is that unique selfĖdefinition which has given us an exceptional appeal, but it also imposes on us a special obligation: to take on those moral duties which, when assumed, seem invariably to be in our own best interests.
The American dream endures. We must once again have full faith in our country Ė and in one another. I believe America can be better. We can be even stronger than before. Let our recent mistakes bring a resurgent commitment to the basic principles of our Nation, for we know that if we despise our own government we have no future. We recall in special times when we have stood briefly, but magnificently, united. In those times no prize was beyond our grasp.
But we cannot dwell upon remembered glory. We cannot afford to drift. Our Government must at the same time be both competent and compassionate. Our Nation can be strong abroad only if it is strong at home. And we know that the best way to enhance freedom in other lands is to demonstrate here that our democratic system is worthy of emulation. To be true to ourselves, we must be true to others. We must not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home, for we know that the trust which our Nation earns is essential to our strength. 
Ė excerpts from Jimmy Carter inauguration speech 1977

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #20 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 17:00:43 »
But a cheap little cylinder of corroded metal that was almost in the waste basket anyway - why not file it into something useful for one last run before the grave?
Oh sure. Thereís nothing wrong with filing down whatever soldering iron tip you want to, especially if the alternative is to throw it out. Iím just pointing out that if thereís iron plating on there, a file could remove it pretty easily, and iron is easier to maintain than copper, from what I understand.

Offline swill

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #21 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 18:15:28 »
Swill I think your thread is awesomely helpful on all aspects of keyboard building!

that said, I think it really is not a problem with SMD soldering to have more solder. The chances of a short are really not high. It's more of a problem with SIP sockets and LEDs where the pads are so close together.

Cool, thanks for the feedback.  I initially tried to do it with minimal solder, but it was taking to long and was too much of a PITA, so I just started doing what was easy because there were a crap load of solder joints I had to get through...  :)

But what do you mean by minimum solder?

From my experience the only way to add minimum solder is to have very thin wire diameter + touch the iron to the pad for the shortest time. Fortunately the pad acts as a mini-limiter on how much solder you can add since more solder won't adhere so well.

For me the main problem is actually being unable to properly control the solder on the tinned tip. Sometimes that will flow down, adhere to the pad also, or it will form a sticky bridge, etc. I think only the experts can tell us how to avoid that.
By minimum solder basically what I meant was that when I tinned the first smd pad, I tried to use a small amount of solder. I had problems getting nice joints because the solder did not wick all the way up the face of the smd when I pushed it into the puddle and heated the end of it.

When I started making a little bit bigger puddles when I tinned the pads, it made the solder wick all the way to the top of he face of the smd when it was heated.

In my build log you can see that my initial tin of the pads (for the 75%) has too much solder on it. After about 100 of these joints I started to find a nice sweet spot and could reduce the amount of solder a bit from what is shown in that picture.

As for solder dripping down, I did not have that problem because I stab a brass sponge in between every joint to keep my tip tinned and nice and clean. I have found this to be a great way to keep my tip in a nice working state. The little extra solder gets spread out over the tip when I stab the brass sponge and it has been a good system for me.

I know some people hate the brass sponge because they say it damages the tip (obviously not nearly what sandpaper would do, which I have never had to do).  I have witnessed mkawa rant on this topic more than once.  He is MUCH more experienced than I am and I am sure all his points are valid, but for me the brass sponge does exactly what I want to the tip and gives me a comfortable working environment.  IMO the tip can never be damaged if it is always perfectly tinned and you don't leave the iron on for more than 3-4 minutes without using it. I have a hakko which heats up in about 30 seconds, so I turn it off if I will not be using it for more than a couple minutes.

Offline berserkfan

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #22 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 19:32:11 »
Most tips are iron-plated copper. If you take a file to them, you remove the iron plating, and then they oxidize much more easily. The iron plating is much easier to prevent from corroding, and if you keep the iron plating on the tip it can last a very long time.

If your tip is just solid copper, file away.

How do you figure this out?

By now the tips are all misshapen, have odd bumps and blackened so I can't tell by sight. I suppose the condition and the lack of functionality is telling you that it is ok to attack with file and rough instruments?

I am also wondering if all the cheapo irons I buy (and their cheapo tips) have only copper tips if what you say is true. They seemed to get misshapen after just normal usage, and I was always wondering why that could happen. But copper has a lower melting point.

In response to Swill, I think brass sponges work well on good tips but destroy most cheap tips. I had a brass sponge work great on one tip and terrible on many tips. (Remember that I was using the cheapest Chinese made irons in many cases, so possibly they all had no iron plating or ultra thin iron plating that was degraded in no time by the brass sponge.) Also significant was that my best tip was fine on a brass sponge for several keyboards - it was the tip with a visible blue layer of protective coating. I was worried the sponge would wear off the coating, but it was ok for quite a while.
« Last Edit: Sun, 21 December 2014, 19:44:22 by berserkfan »
Most of the modding can be done on your own once you break through the psychological barriers.

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #23 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 19:46:01 »
By now the tips are all misshapen, have odd bumps and blackened so I can't tell by sight.
Sounds like some combination of cheap tips + maybe not keeping them tinned all the time. Iím not an expert on this, you should ask mkawa.

When you get a new soldering tip, the first thing you need to do is tin it (though some are pre-tinned I believe). The working part of the tip should always have a thin layer of solder on it, and should stay bright and shiny.

If tips start to get corroded and solder isnít wicking onto the surface, those jars of tip tinning paste stuff (Hakko FS-100 or equivalent) can be useful.
« Last Edit: Sun, 21 December 2014, 19:49:19 by jacobolus »

Offline mkawa

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #24 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 19:50:06 »
only very very cheap tips are iron plated. good tips are copper with a thick tin plating.

cheap tips are just like whatever happened to be in the crucible at the time. :|

and yes, you need to keep your tip tinned at all times. this isn't some complex technical thing. literally, you need a layer of tin on your iron tip at all times. luckily, solder is mostly tin. hence, melt solder onto your tip between nearly every joint and wipe the excess off on your damp sponge (HEY REMEMBER HOW EVERYONE WAS LIKE OH I LOVE BRASS SPONGES OOOH AAAH< WELL THIS IS WHY YOU NEED AN ACTUAL SPONGE)

wait, where was i

oh, yah, so you're basically constantly melting solder onto your tip. if you get crud on your tip, wipe it off and melt some solder on. if you have bits of tip that aren't tinning, that is, they're not taking up tin when you melt solder on them, you have oxidized copper (or worse if it's a cheap tip) on your tip and you need to kill the oxidized layer. take a brass brush and, while the iron is at temperature, scrub that sucker, then melt solder onto it. if that doesn't work, you need to use an aggressive solvent. that's what those little pots of tip cleaner are. they're flux, yes, but they're incredibly toxic kill everything flux. dip your iron tip into that, melt some try tinning again. if you cannot save the tip, then toss it and put a new one on.
« Last Edit: Sun, 21 December 2014, 19:55:27 by mkawa »

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Offline swill

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #25 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 20:21:28 »
only very very cheap tips are iron plated. good tips are copper with a thick tin plating.

cheap tips are just like whatever happened to be in the crucible at the time. :|

and yes, you need to keep your tip tinned at all times. this isn't some complex technical thing. literally, you need a layer of tin on your iron tip at all times. luckily, solder is mostly tin. hence, melt solder onto your tip between nearly every joint and wipe the excess off on your damp sponge (HEY REMEMBER HOW EVERYONE WAS LIKE OH I LOVE BRASS SPONGES OOOH AAAH< WELL THIS IS WHY YOU NEED AN ACTUAL SPONGE)

wait, where was i

oh, yah, so you're basically constantly melting solder onto your tip. if you get crud on your tip, wipe it off and melt some solder on. if you have bits of tip that aren't tinning, that is, they're not taking up tin when you melt solder on them, you have oxidized copper (or worse if it's a cheap tip) on your tip and you need to kill the oxidized layer. take a brass brush and, while the iron is at temperature, scrub that sucker, then melt solder onto it. if that doesn't work, you need to use an aggressive solvent. that's what those little pots of tip cleaner are. they're flux, yes, but they're incredibly toxic kill everything flux. dip your iron tip into that, melt some try tinning again. if you cannot save the tip, then toss it and put a new one on.
Why do we need a wet sponge again?  I think I missed that.

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #26 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 20:38:07 »
Ming, would you be willing to make a video sometime on how to tin your soldering iron tip when you first get it, how to keep the tip tinned as you work, what the tip should look like when you finish work for the day, how to tell when a tip isnít properly wicking solder, what to do if it starts getting corroded/covered in crap, etc? Ideally such a video could show what to do on a variety of irons from the $20 Radio Shack kind up through nice $500 stations.

Or do you know a video that covers such stuff with good reliable advice? I looked briefly around YouTube and a lot of the videos there are either questionable advice or somewhat irrelevant to a typical hobbyist setup.

I would try to do it, but I donít trust myself as enough of an expert to get it all right.

Offline berserkfan

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #27 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 22:14:35 »
Ming, would you be willing to make a video sometime on how to tin your soldering iron tip when you first get it, how to keep the tip tinned as you work, what the tip should look like when you finish work for the day, how to tell when a tip isnít properly wicking solder, what to do if it starts getting corroded/covered in crap, etc? Ideally such a video could show what to do on a variety of irons from the $20 Radio Shack kind up through nice $500 stations.

Or do you know a video that covers such stuff with good reliable advice? I looked briefly around YouTube and a lot of the videos there are either questionable advice or somewhat irrelevant to a typical hobbyist setup.

I would try to do it, but I donít trust myself as enough of an expert to get it all right.

Except for "what to do if it starts getting corroded/covered in crap, etc?" the rest are self explanatory. To me, the What To Do is 98% the most important.
Most of the modding can be done on your own once you break through the psychological barriers.

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #28 on: Sun, 21 December 2014, 22:52:28 »
Except for "what to do if it starts getting corroded/covered in crap, etc?" the rest are self explanatory.
Iíve seen people do these all kinds of dumb/wrong ways, and a lot of the information and advice available about the topic on the web is contradictory. I donít think itís really all that self-explanatory.

As an example, your post at the top of this thread (like some other sources Iíve seen online) advocates wiping a tip with a dry cloth rag, whereas several resources Iíve seen online claim that you should never do that for any reason. Likewise, you advocate turning the soldering iron off before re-tinning it. What Iíve seen other experts advocate is to just keep feeding solder onto the tip while itís hot, and possibly using a brass sponge if the solder stops wicking onto the tip, or some tip cleaning flux paste if that doesnít cut it, all still while the iron/tip are hot.

To tin a new tip, Iíve seen suggestions to put a bunch of flux on the (cold, with the iron off) tip and wrap a few winds of solder wire around it, then heat it up, to make sure the solder melts right when it can and thoroughly covers the tip. Other sources just recommend turning the iron on and feeding reasonably thick (to ensure sufficient flux) rosin-core solder into the tip as it heats up (basically, as soon as itís hot enough to melt the solder). Yet other sources recommend heating the iron up to full temperature, twirling it around in some tip cleaner paste for a bit, and then feeding some solder onto the surface.

After work is done for the day and the iron is turned off, Iíve seen sources that recommend putting a big blob of solder on the tip, thickly covering it in solder, and other sources that recommend putting some solder on and wiping off all excess on a wet sponge before putting the tip away.

Now probably many of those varying techniques will work okay, and perhaps thereís no problem with following any of that advice, but it would be nice to have some authoritative advice from an expert along with an explanation of why to follow one particular method or another, or in what circumstances various approaches are warranted.
« Last Edit: Sun, 21 December 2014, 23:07:51 by jacobolus »

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #29 on: Mon, 22 December 2014, 00:53:10 »
« Last Edit: Mon, 22 December 2014, 02:26:45 by jacobolus »

Offline mkawa

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #30 on: Mon, 22 December 2014, 07:55:36 »
Ming, would you be willing to make a video sometime on how to tin your soldering iron tip when you first get it, how to keep the tip tinned as you work, what the tip should look like when you finish work for the day, how to tell when a tip isn�t properly wicking solder, what to do if it starts getting corroded/covered in crap, etc? Ideally such a video could show what to do on a variety of irons from the $20 Radio Shack kind up through nice $500 stations.

Or do you know a video that covers such stuff with good reliable advice? I looked briefly around YouTube and a lot of the videos there are either questionable advice or somewhat irrelevant to a typical hobbyist setup.

I would try to do it, but I don�t trust myself as enough of an expert to get it all right.

i don't like the adafruit guide because it's like "melt solder! it's magic!"

i have been meaning to do some LTS videos. may take some time.

to all the brilliant friends who have left us, and all the students who climb on their shoulders.

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #31 on: Mon, 22 December 2014, 08:24:18 »
Making my own custom board is definitely on my to do list and this thread served a good basis to start. Thanks for the guide  :thumb:
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Offline swill

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #32 on: Mon, 22 December 2014, 09:48:13 »
Ming, would you be willing to make a video sometime on how to tin your soldering iron tip when you first get it, how to keep the tip tinned as you work, what the tip should look like when you finish work for the day, how to tell when a tip isn�t properly wicking solder, what to do if it starts getting corroded/covered in crap, etc? Ideally such a video could show what to do on a variety of irons from the $20 Radio Shack kind up through nice $500 stations.

Or do you know a video that covers such stuff with good reliable advice? I looked briefly around YouTube and a lot of the videos there are either questionable advice or somewhat irrelevant to a typical hobbyist setup.

I would try to do it, but I don�t trust myself as enough of an expert to get it all right.

i don't like the adafruit guide because it's like "melt solder! it's magic!"

i have been meaning to do some LTS videos. may take some time.

I ran across it when I was learning to solder and I found the same thing.  I found it to be very useless...  PACE videos FTW...

Offline mkawa

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #33 on: Mon, 22 December 2014, 16:47:34 »
PACE are good people.

fun fact: PACE and Edsyn are the only US soldering tools companies that still produce their tools in the US

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #34 on: Mon, 22 December 2014, 20:40:14 »
At this rate I should be making a 'guide to high end soldering' post, but this is totally the wrong forum for that for the time being :P

Though I'll give my two cents in that IMHO brass wool balls is better than wet sponge (and certainly combustible rags) for keeping tips clean. There's no thermal shock, so the tip plating won't degrade as quickly. Also, plating often has a layer of chromium over the iron to protect the iron.. that protects the copper. This may be only in higher end tips, so keeping them well maintained is much more important.

Well, three cents: I'd never use 0.4 or 0.6mm solder for through hole components - you're simply not getting enough flux properly in there with such thinness, and it's inconvenient to keep feeding it into the joint while keeping the iron there (which shouldn't be done for long). 0.031"/0.8mm is what I typically use for through hole parts. And yes, try to get 63/37 no clean solder with good flux. I usually grab cheap rolls on ebay as I need them - alpha, kester, indium, etc. I do avoid chinese generic solder like the plague, because who knows what they really put in there...

Offline Parak

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #35 on: Mon, 22 December 2014, 20:47:46 »
fun fact: PACE and Edsyn are the only US soldering tools companies that still produce their tools in the US

American Beauty still does as well, but they are kinda sorta not really targeting the electronics soldering space anymore.

Offline Lpwl

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #36 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 02:52:43 »
Thank you to all those who are contributing here and in their own threads !

I'm trying to gather my own "recueil" (= collection) of how-to and best practice on the subject so this guide is very timely.

As jacobolus said :
Quote
[...] a lot of the information and advice available about the topic on the web is contradictory. I don't think it's really all that self-explanatory.

On top of this, since lead is prohibited by RoHS here in Europe, there is no "easy way" to start building my first keyboard.

For example, finding some adequate tools costs much more. In the US, the sale price of the praised Hakko FX-888D soldering station is ~90$ but in EU, it can't be found below 130€ shipped (⇔ ~160$).

Good advice starts with good listening so here I am :p
« Last Edit: Tue, 23 December 2014, 02:56:13 by Lpwl »

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #37 on: Tue, 23 December 2014, 03:40:00 »
On top of this, since lead is prohibited by RoHS here in Europe, there is no "easy way" to start building my first keyboard.
You should try to get leaded (63/37 or 60/40) solder anyway. The lead-free stuff requires working at much hotter temperature with more aggressive flux, making it probably less safe overall for a hobbyist (the fumes are nastier), in addition to being more difficult to work with and harder on your soldering iron.

Just donít eat solder flakes, make sure to wash your hands when youíre done working, and stay away from the lead while pregnant.

Offline DrHubblePhD

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #38 on: Sun, 28 December 2014, 14:46:15 »
I just wanted to share a solution I found recently for dealing with a lifted pad. I bought a poker II that i knew had a broken switch, however to my horror when I got it I found that the PCB had a lifted pad on the s key. Thankfully only one of the pads was pulled so I decided to try something new. with the switch removed, I put solder on to the top of the pcb (through the plate) which had a pad still. then while heating the solder from the other side I pressed the switch in and got both pins through. After applying some solder to the normal spots on the back of the pcb it worked. I know this is a bit confusing, and im not sure how consistently this would work, but I felt like it might be useful to some of you!

Offline jacobolus

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #39 on: Sun, 28 December 2014, 16:20:43 »
I just wanted to share a solution I found recently for dealing with a lifted pad. I bought a poker II that i knew had a broken switch, however to my horror when I got it I found that the PCB had a lifted pad on the s key. Thankfully only one of the pads was pulled so I decided to try something new. with the switch removed, I put solder on to the top of the pcb (through the plate) which had a pad still. then while heating the solder from the other side I pressed the switch in and got both pins through. After applying some solder to the normal spots on the back of the pcb it worked. I know this is a bit confusing, and im not sure how consistently this would work, but I felt like it might be useful to some of you!
Sounds to me like you got lucky with a double-sided PCB with plated-through holes, and the relevant trace attached on the opposite side of the board.

Offline berserkfan

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #40 on: Thu, 31 March 2016, 02:05:47 »
work, but I felt like it might be useful to some of you!
Sounds to me like you got lucky with a double-sided PCB with plated-through holes, and the relevant trace attached on the opposite side of the board.
[/quote]

Found my old thread while looking for something else.

It's Poker II, right? That isn't luck.

When modding my KBTs and Pokers I was really gratified to be working with these PCBs. No wonder so many people like them.
Most of the modding can be done on your own once you break through the psychological barriers.

Offline bmilcs

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Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #41 on: Fri, 11 August 2017, 15:42:27 »
It's been probably 2 years since I used this guide & youtube to learn to solder. Just wanted to thank you and let you know if no one else found this useful, your time wasn't wasted ;).

I started off by desoldering & ergo-clearing my KUL ES-87... a total of 4 times with different springs. I then ergocleared a Pok3r. Then I built a Planck... Ergodox, and then modified that, and finally a KBD75.

Kudos!
  
TGR.JANE.V2 #40/40 <3 // TOKYO60 #1 // KBD75  #1 #2 #3 #4 // ES87  #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
INCOMPLETE  Duck Orion v3, 2 pcb black on black (might sell, pm me)  | SOUTHPAW.65

Offline fanpeople

  • Posts: 967
Re: The Gutzy Guide to Soldering
« Reply #42 on: Fri, 11 August 2017, 18:28:24 »
It's been probably 2 years since I used this guide & youtube to learn to solder. Just wanted to thank you and let you know if no one else found this useful, your time wasn't wasted ;).

I started off by desoldering & ergo-clearing my KUL ES-87... a total of 4 times with different springs. I then ergocleared a Pok3r. Then I built a Planck... Ergodox, and then modified that, and finally a KBD75.

Kudos!

Gutz bailed a while ago...