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Old 06-08-2006, 12:02 PM   #1
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OMGHi2U Soldering/Electrical FAQ

Soldering/Electrical FAQ

Soldering/Electrical Tools & Sundries

Solder There are many, many types of solder. The best solder is one of a 63% tin, 37% lead composition. The reason for this is 63/37 solder does not have a eutectic (or plastic) state. This means that while the soldering iron is on the material, it is a liquid. The moment you remove the iron, it hardens instantly. Other solder ratios or types all have a plastic state where you have to solder the connection, remove the iron, and hold/wait for the connection to harden before continuing on. The downside to 63/37 solder is that it is actually hard to find, as most stores do not carry it. To find it, you generally need to go to specialized electronics stores (NOT Radio Shack) or purchase it online. You can use other types of solder, but it really is worth you time to use 63/37. Unlike many things in life, it truly is the best in the world of soldering. Many companies make 63/37, with Kester probably being the “big name” in the business. Lead based solder is sadly being phased out due to environmental concerns though, so don't be fooled by the newer "blingy" silver or other types of solder.

Solder also comes in sizes such as .030, .060, and .090 depending on the manufacturer. If its more cost effective for you, it is wiser to get the “angel hair pasta width” .090 rather than the “spaghetti width” .030 as you can always double or triple up the width to make it equivalent to the thicker solder, or just use more of the thinner stuff. A “perfect” soldering kit would have .030, .060. and .090 for use in all occasions though.

As well, the 63/37 solder should have a RMA rosin core.

Flux Flux aids in the flow of solder. To put a visual on the benefit of flux, imagine joining two bare wires and soldering them. Without flux, the solder joint will on the outside with very little interior penetration. By using flux, it will aid in the wicking action allowing the solder to flow to 100% of the interior of the joint resulting in a stronger and longer lasting connection. The best type of flux to use is a liquid RMA (Rosin Mildly Activated) flux as it has the least amount side effects in wiring or electronics. While it can create a sticky mess, it is easily cleaned up using isopropyl alcohol.

Isopropyl Alcohol Used for cleaning solder, wiring/solder connections prior to working on them, and removing flux residue. This can be obtained at electronics stores or by visiting the make-up removal section of your local drug store. While 100% pure isopropyl would be the best, you can get away with 70-90% content for far cheaper that is sold in drug stores.

Low lint/lint free rags/wipes and Q-tips/foam swabs These are used in conjunction with isopropyl alcohol in the cleaning process. In a perfect world, you’d lean towards true lint free wipes and foam swabs as they totally assure a clean and dust/lint free surface during preparation. In actual practice, you can use common items such as Q-tips, cotton T-shirt material, or tissue paper as suitable substitutes. Kleenex and paper towels do not cut it.

Wire strippers Many manufacturers make these and all work about equally as well. Some of the bigger names are Klein Tools, Snap-On, Gardner-Bender, and Craftsman. There really isn’t a lot of variation in design or functionality, so choose what looks best to you. The key to remember is that a properly working wire stripper will not nick the conductor. A nick is a weak spot and a future failure spot. The best type of wire stripper is known as an automatic wire stripper.

The reason for this is this type of stripper comes with replacement blades for the stripping portion and are engineered so the wire is stripped at a 90 degree angle and from the correct side. Replacement blades mean you always have a sharp cutting surface and are cheaper to replace than an entire set of wire strippers.

Side cutting wire strippers are fine when used correctly.

These strippers must be used with the flat side towards the cutting side so the cut edge is a 90 degree angle.

These are the only two types of wire strippers worth spending money on. Universal, “as seen on TV”, or one size fits all strippers are NOT worthwhile and should only be used in emergencies. As well, always remember the wire stripping rule: use the tool to cut the insulation, use your fingers to remove it. Do not nick/strip in one sweeping motion as you can damage the conductor. Using a knife or your teeth is best left to hillbillies.

Solder wick Solder wick is a thin copper mesh on a round roll. When used in conjunction with flux, it is applied to areas of too much solder. Once heat is applied to the wick, it allows the solder to flow into it, removing excess solder from your joint. This is sold in various widths, but probably the most commonly used size is the 1/8” width. Many companies make solder wick, with Soder-Wick probably being the “big name” in the business.

Heat shrink Heat shrink is best bought in different sizes and is one part where quality matters. 3M makes the best heat shrink, hands down. No names give you inconsistent shrinkage, tend to split, and generally are more trouble than they are worth. Get off the wallet for your heat shrink. Black is generally the “go to” color, though you can color match with today’s colored heat shrinks. Also read the manufacturers instructions with regard to shrinking techniques, size of shrink to use with different wire gauges, and amount to use. Generally speaking though, you should use the smallest heat shrink that will fit over your wire and use a length that is twice the width of your open connection.

Replacement wire A nice selection of wire is man’s best friend when doing electrical work. You should have a suitable selection in the most commonly used gauges for your application. You should also preplan which colors match your scheme and always err on the side of the better insulation types such as Teflon. You never know when you will have to run wiring close to hot engine components rather than a cooler interior for example. While wire is wire, it is usually a good bet to lean towards Teflon jacketed wire as it is tougher and resists higher temperatures than it’s inferior cousins. Electrical problems usually occur at the weakest point in the circuit and aside from slightly greater costs, it is almost never wrong to lean on the side of bigger/better when it comes to wiring.

Wire nuts Just say no when it comes to automotive applications.

Electronics tester A simple volt meter is all you really need. The pinnacle company though is definitely Fluke. While using a Fluke ScopeMeter 190 graphing multimeter would be the best, all one really needs is an inexpensive Fluke like a 23 or 77, which may be obtained on eBay. If cost is an issue, you use any brand even an old school Simpson analog meter, but remember the more functions your meter has, they more use you will have for it. Testing AC and DC with a continuity check function should be considered the bare minimum when meter shopping.

Test light Terribly useful tool to determine the presence or non-presence of 12V in automotive wiring. Without a doubt, the essential tool for any wiring project. Need to find which wire in a 25 wire bundle actually controls the rear wiper signal? The test light is your friend. Though possible with a multimeter, a test light is smaller and easier to manipulate in tight spaces and provides an easier indication of the presence of voltage via a light vs a digital or analog readout from a traditional meter. Though cheaper alternatives exist, spending the extra money on a Snap-On/Blue Point test light is money well spent.

Electrical tape Same applies for this item. 3M is the best, buy no other brand than genuine 3M electrical tape. Black is generally the “go to” color, though you can color match with today’s colored electrical tapes. 3M also sells various types for specific temperature applications. When used with a tight, neat wrap, their normal electrical tape is suitable for 95% of your electrical tape needs though.

Sponge A wet sponge aids in the cleaning process of the soldering iron tip as well as thermally shocking the iron. Thermally shocking the iron forces it into it’s maximum heat cycle allowing faster soldering and less time heating the component.

Soldering iron A soldering iron is a pencil shaped device used to heat materials that need to be soldered. Notice the use of heat materials, as you should not melt the solder onto the material, but rather heat the material so that solder melts onto it. For most wiring, a soldering iron in the 25-35 watt range should be suitable. These can be obtained very inexpensively at almost any store. For more advanced users, strongly consider a unit with replaceable tips and an adjustable heat control. Weller is probably the best known brand for this application as they are good units with reasonable pricing. Other great and cheaper options are the "Tenma" line of products from MCM Electronics and the ZD Electronic Tools line of products from MPJA Online

Soldering gun A soldering gun is a larger pistol shaped device. Though the purpose and practical application is the same as a soldering iron, soldering guns should only be used on large applications where high amounts of heat are needed to get the solder flowing. Possible uses of a soldering gun are in car stereo power wires of 0 gauge as the thicker wire acts as a heat sink. For most automotive users, a soldering iron is preferred, but the gun is mentioned in case you plan on lots of large soldering jobs.

Soldering Technique

Cleanliness is terribly important with soldering. You should always clean the items to be soldered, your solder, and your soldering iron prior to any work. Any contaminants on these items may find their way into your solder joint creating a pit, crack, or other weak spot. Wipe down with alcohol your solder as it probably has a thin layer of corrosion from sitting around a warehouse. Wipe any/all connections to be soldered. It may seem silly (for example) to wipe down a freshly exposed wire, but corrosion can occur inside insulation.

Last edited by Unabomber; 10-29-2006 at 09:33 AM.
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