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Solder and Soldering

Any serious electronic hobbyist should know how to solder. While soldering looks superficially like welding it is actually quite different. The idea behind welding is to cause the two work pieces to flow together into a single unit creating a join that's as strong as the original material. Soldering makes no such promises. Both pieces remain separate, joined by a filler material with a lower melting point.

How to Solder

The basic principles of soldering are simple. You touch the heated soldering iron to the two pieces of metal you want to join, usually electrical connections. This heats the workpiece above the melting point of the solder. You then touch the solder to the connection so that it flows around the joint. This creates a conductive path between the two pieces. It's not a good mechanical joint, but it's an excellent electrical one. Don't expect solder to hold two pieces of wire together on its own.

Solder

There are two basic types of solder, leaded and lead-free. Traditional solder is 67 per cent lead and 37 per cent tin, melting at 183 degrees Celsius. It works very well for the task, but has fallen out of favour due to issues with the toxicity of the lead involved. Since the Restriction of Hazardous Substances, or RoHS regulations have come into effect, there's been an overall change to lead-free solder. It's not as easy to work with because it needs higher temperatures, but it's much healthier.

Soldering Needs

Before you start, it's a good idea to make sure you have all your essential soldering and desoldering equipment near to hand. For most casual users that includes a soldering iron, solder, a desoldering pump, braided copper wire and flux. While a standalone soldering iron is enough for most people, anyone doing a lot of soldering should consider a soldering, desoldering and rework station instead.

Good Practices

The key to soldering is moderation. You want enough solder for a durable connection, but not so much that it flows over to the next pin. Don't worry if you do use too much, you can either wick it up with your braided copper wire or use a desoldering pump to suck the excess away.

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