Before we talk about specific sections of the site, the first thing you should learn is the “Art of Soldering.”
We have articles and “do-nothing” projects that teach the art of soldering, as well as surface-mount projects and kits to help you solder these tiny components.
This is the way electronics is going. Surface-mount assembly is faster, cheaper and smaller than conventional through-hole design and eventually conventional components will dry-up from the market.
Until that time comes, we can take advantage of both types of components and enter the wonderful world of electronics.
The first skill you will need to master is soldering.
All POPTRONICS Interactive kits are supplied with fine solder and this is one of the most important items to improve your soldering skills. Fine solder improves your workmanship 100%. It does this by allowing you to feed a smaller amount of solder onto your iron and creates a much smaller connection.
And here’s a point no-one has ever mentioned before: If you add solder to a connection while the board is almost upright, the amount of solder remaining on the connection will be less than if the board is placed flat on the work-bench. This is one way to create very small connections.
The other essential item is a soldering station. It doesn’t have to be a station, but the soldering iron must be temperature-controlled and you must have a holder for the iron. It’s absolutely disastrous to have a soldering iron floating about on the work-bench.
It really boils down to a soldering station as they are low-cost and fully adjustable. A suitable one is available HERE.
You will also need some fine solder.
Once you have a soldering iron, you will want to know how to select the correct temperature.
It’s simple: Turn the temperature down so that the solder just melts when it touches the tip of the iron. This is loosely called the “melting-point.”
This is not hot enough. The temperature must be increased for two reasons.
When it is increased, the flux melts faster and the joint is cleaned more-thoroughly and the time to make the connection is REDUCED.
This is another point that has never been mentioned before. It’s actually quicker to solder at a higher temperature, and the parts stay COOLER! That’s why you need a temperature-controlled iron. You must be able to adjust the temperature of the tip fairly precisely so the temperature can be correctly-set to achieve quick soldering.
If your iron has a digital readout, a temperature of 325°C is suitable for delicate work as soldering can be performed very quickly and the components don’t have time to heat up.
Each connection should be soldered as fast as possible. It should be complete within one second. If you push each component against the PC board with your fingers, you should not get “burnt fingers.” This is the simplest and easy way to make sure the components are not getting damaged.
Many components can withstand high temperatures for a few seconds but some are easily damaged. LEDs can lose their brightness, transistors can lose their gain, electret microphones will become “noisy,” and air trimmers will melt at the slightest increase in temperature.
By holding a component, you are adding a heat-sink and reducing the temperature rise.
Now we come to the construction-side of things.
There are two areas.
You can start with simple projects or look at our Test Equipment section.
All our projects are built on fibreglass boards with an overlay (component identification) and solder mask. This means only the solder lands are visible and this prevents solder spreading to adjacent lands. The lands are also pre-tinned to help with a quick connection.
However it is absolutely impossible to make a quick solder-joint without the assistance of flux.
The flux cleans the lead and the land to create a shiny connection. It also helps to make the final connection very small in size.
If the iron is a little hotter than you think it should be (as we suggest), the connection is also kept very small. By tilting the board as mentioned above, the connections are also kept to a minimum.
When you are fitting the components, add only one or two at a time and snip the leads after soldering.
Never snip the leads before soldering as you may snip them too short and they won’t get connected.
Don’t bend a lead more than 45° as this makes it difficult to snip. It also make the component difficult to remove, if it needs to be replaced.
This is just the start to learning how to solder.
All you have to do is develop your skills by putting a project together.
Once you are confident you can put a project together without “lifting the lands” or damaging a component, you will want to put more of them together. It’s just a matter of starting.