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Tip for beginners like myself: soldering irons
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Music Tech DIY  
Author Tip for beginners like myself: soldering irons
I recently started building my first DIY Eurorack modules, the AI Synthesis multiple, mixer and looping ADSR, fun projects! A tip for any beginners: everybody tells you it's important to invest in a good soldering iron, but it's sooo tempting to get that $25 one from Amazon with tons of good reviews...

I learned it the hard way, ignoring the advice. The looping ADSR is working fine, but it was super hard to get nice joints soldered, they look like crap. Then I got the Hakko FX888D and what do you know, soldering is a breeze. I'm suspecting it was the lack of consistent temperature that was the culprit.

Just want to emphasize it's true what everyone says: invest in a good iron!

Happy soldering w00t
Adafruit sells a surprisingly good cheap soldering iron.
A wise choice. I also, invested in a Hakko FX888D when embarking on DIY - An excellent soldering station.

I found what is just as important it using good solder. I started out using some cheap solder from Amazon that was highly rated, but was having inconsistent results. I then bought some Kester solder. That made a huge improvement in my soldering.
There is some parts especially in the SMD world that you will instantly destroy if you use a soldering iron without temperature regulation because some of them get ridiculously hot. Also for electronics you want a relatively small tip, not the chisel-type that some general purpose soldering irons come with.
OH yeah man. I had a Radio shack $20 one for years that I struggled with.

Then I plopped $140 on a Weller WESD-51 and never looked back. Investing in good tools may not be as fun as buying new toys, but it's VERY rewarding when you start using them. smile
When you noticed the improvement after switching to Kester, that difference was due to the flux. Just as pouring concrete is 95% carpentry, making solder is 95% making flux. All of Kester's intellectual property is in their flux. Kester 44 is a brand of flux, not a solder formulation. The world of flux is wide and deep.

Myself and some other builders use two types of flux, a "no-clean" type such as 44, and an organic, water soluble "must-clean" type (I use Kester 331). Immersible components are installed with the water soluble stuff, followed by a hot water bath and removal of all that flux (which would otherwise damage the work). The no-clean flux is then used for pots, switches, jacks, wire terminations, anything that could be contaminated or degraded by water contact. This two stage process results in a greatly reduced amount of flux present in the finished product. Note: you can still remove no-clean flux, but not by immersion and not with water.

Incentives to minimize flux:

1. Old flux may attract and hold contaminants that interfere with operation. No clean fluxes are formulated to be chemically stable in the sense that they don't react with electrical components. However, those compounds may not be stable across decades, or may still react if exposed to unexpected conditions. This is not a general concern for synthesizers, but more for harsh operating conditions, or servicing limitations, such as in aerospace. You will encounter, however, a range of opinion regarding this.

2. Accumulation of flux can obstruct inspection, and may allow visually apparent defects to pass. For example, when building SMD, I always remove the flux, and inspect under strong magnification. Recently, and after cleaning up an 0603 build, I found an MLCC (capactor) that had cracked from overheating. Its a thing with SMD caps.

3. Organic flux must be immediately and thoroughly removed. It is acidic and will damage your work if left in place.

While on the topic of flux: For the amateur, it is a good practice, and for the professional, it is a dead requirement, that flux fumes be ventilated away, or extracted. Even a small cheap fan simply blowing the fumes away from your face is a big improvement because airborne flux cools and precipitates out, or sticks to whatever it comes into contact with, quickly.
I forgot to mention I got a roll of Kester solder too. Makes me wonder now if the improvements were mainly because of the iron or the better solder. I'm going to say it's the combination hmmm.....

Thanks for the in depth flux info, fuzzbass smile
Yes good ventilation is important. I run a small fan to blow any fumes away from me when soldering and I do my soldering in a non-living space.
And watch out for those pesky flying solder blobs.
I had one fly off the tip when I was cleaning it in the brass wool. Hit me right below the eye.
Safety goggles!
Here is my guide for tools:

There are two soldering irons I suggest, one cheap and one nice.
abelovesfun wrote:
Here is my guide for tools:

There are two soldering irons I suggest, one cheap and one nice.

I saw that and went first for a cheap one different than the one you recommended (bad choice!) and then got the Hakko which I like a lot.

I love how helpful your website is by the way - it definitely makes a soldering noob feel less lost. And the modules are awesome. I just ordered the filter too which will be the fourth one to build.
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