Things to Know Before Buying a Soldering Station
Soldering is the process of joining or taking apart things that are held together with solder. Solder is a metal alloy used mainly in electronics. It can also be found in crafts as diverse as stained glass window and jewellery making. If you want to work well with solder, then you need the best soldering station.
The key element in soldering is the metal alloy that is liquified by the soldering iron. This liquid metal creates connections between components to allow electricity to flow. Like welding, solder is also used by plumbers to seal copper pipe connections. There are plenty of different types available, but here are the most common:
Lead based solder is the oldest type still used. It’s mixed with tin in different amounts to produce different types of bonds. It has a low melting point and is easy to work with. Lead, however, can be dangerous to work with.
Lead free solder is more common nowadays, due to the dangers of working with lead. It’s less harmful to users as well as the environment, and still produces excellent results. The only downside is the relatively high melting point.
Different Soldering Tips
Depending on the size of the pool of solder you’re working with, you’ll need different tips. They’re often attached to the end of the soldering iron with a plastic nut that squeezes them into place.
They’re labelled with letters that roughly correspond to their shape or use:
B series, or conical tips are common. They’re good all rounders that can work on a range of soldering jobs at any angle.
I series or needle tips are ultra-fine for working on tiny components or anything that requires a high level of detail. They’re obviously not the right choice for working on large areas.
D series chisel tips are another one of my favourite all-rounders. Offering more surface area than conical tips, they’re ideal for beginners and quick DIY electrics jobs. The flat tip is easy to control.
There are plenty of other specialist tips out there, but unless you’re really getting into soldering, the ones above are enough for DIYers.
One of my favourite things about modern soldering stations is temperature control. The soldering irons of old were crude, you’d plug them in, and they heated up to a certain temperature. Not any more though! With some soldering irons ranging from 50 – 480° C, you can use different types of solder and work on delicate circuit boards without damaging them.
Hot Air Guns
Some of the more versatile soldering stations come with hot air guns attached. They’re a brilliant bit of kit to have on hand if you’re working with electronics or other crafting jobs. They use an internal fan and a heating element to fire a blast of air with pinpoint accuracy.
Commonly used for reworking circuit boards, they get hot enough to melt solder for making repairs or removing rough bits of solder. You can fit different types of head onto the hot air gun wand for different uses as well, like heat shrinking cable wrappers.
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Soldering Station FAQs
What is soldering?
The word “solder” has its roots in Latin. It means “fasten together”. This fastening together is achieved by melting filler metal and using it to bridge gaps between two components.
What’s the correct temperature for soldering?
There’s no one correct temperature for soldering. Depending on the type of component you’re working on or the type of solder you use, different temperatures work best. Check the labels on your roll of solder for the melting point and set the soldering iron to just above that.
Is soldering dangerous?
There are obvious dangers to working with molten metal and high temperature soldering irons. Always use a soldering iron cradle and keep any flammable materials well away from the working area.
The less obvious, but more hazardous, parts of soldering come from inhalation and ingestion of dangerous fumes. Always make sure you solder in a well ventilated area and invest in a carbon filtered extraction fan if you’re not able to open a window.
Lead based solder is more potentially harmful than lead free, so try to use it as often as possible.
How do I make strong solder joints?
The first thing to choose is a quality solder with a mixture of 60% tin and 40% lead. The higher the tin content, the more strength your joints will have, but they’ll also be less flexible.
If you’re using lead free solder, one of the best ones around for strong joints is SN100C. It has a high melting point but creates extremely durable joins.
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