General DIY Soldering Questions

Having been intrigued and swayed by a number of folks doing DIY electronics projects, I'd like to give a few a go myself. I have not used a soldering iron in about 30 years (no electronics-based experience) and seek some advice. I do plan to buy a couple of cheapo kits first to hone a few skills. Before doing so, I respectfully seek answers to the following questions:

1. While likely a matter of personal taste, is there a consensus on which soldering iron to buy for electronic use(wattage, tip style, etc.)?

2. Is there a solder of choice for most electronics applications?

3. I know from memory that things must be very clean and that flux was generally used. Is the flux contained within the solder sufficient or do most of you use additional flux?

4. I assume rosin-based flux solder is preferable. Yes? No?

5. I recall my grandfather using copper (I think) heat sinks to protect surrounding areas while soldering. How big of an issue is this?

5. What are the myriad questions that am I blithely and that should be answered before beginning?

I would suggest doing a google search for soldering techniques, as there's a bunch of good info, i.e.:

I prefer a pencil type soldering station, as the pencil is easier to hold than a soldering gun. Also, I like a temp. controlled model. I use a Hakko 936-12 but there are many others to choose from. I also like Cardas solder, as it flows easily. Again, many good brands to choose from.

The main thing I can suggest is to tin the tip & use a wet sponge to clean off the tip on a frequent basis. I would also suggest practicing with some scraps before starting a DIY project.

I always use heatsinks on everything other than cables. You can even use a small pair of needle nose pliers w/a rubber band around the handle to keep a grip on the wire.

Have fun!

Check out:
I use a 30W Weller iron and Cardas solder. Being able to solder opens up a world of possibilities for modding equipment. I've done capacitor and clock upgrades to my DVD player and replaced caps and resistors in my speakers among other things. This is a cost effective, fun and satisfying way to improve performance.

You might want to start by replacing the OEM capacitors on the tweeter of your PSB's with some Auricaps. I did this on a pair of Stratus Mini's a while back and it really helped to clear up that somewhat "dark" sound. Good luck!
Wow... This is cool. On audio asylum's FAQ: animated soldering instructions:
Here's a link to what is probably one of the most commonly used professional grade solder stations in the world. I have and use this Weller Solder Station at work for 8 - 12 hrs per day and they work very nicely.

If that is a little too "rich" for your blood at this point in time, here's a simple but highly effective Weller Soldering Pencil that should do what you want it to do for less money.

As for solder, I personally like Wonder Solder and also use Cardas. Wonder Solder is the easiest to work with, flows much better than Cardas and may be more available though, so that is what i would probably start off with. My personal experience is that it Wonder is much easier to make a good connection with than if using the Cardas. Either way, you'll have to get the Wonder or Cardas from somewhere like Michael Percy Audio, so that would mean a separate order. If you want to pick up some good utility solder while ordering the soldering equipment for all around use, i would recommend using this Kester model. When it comes to soldering, finding the right size and type can make a world of difference in terms of how easy it is to work with and how good your connections are. The specific size of solder recommended here and the formulation makes for both ease of use AND good long term connections.

Other than that, all i can say is to practice, practice, practice. Keep the solder tip clean and try to make a good mechanical connection between components previous to using solder. In other words, the components should be able to make a connection without using the solder as a conductor. Think of solder more as a "glue" than as conductor. The more that you rely on the solder to make the connection, the more important the quality of solder / soldering job becomes. Sean
Sean, you're 100% right about selecting soldering irons or stations. I realized when I used RadioSnack soldering 20...40W station. It burned down after 10hours of using and figured more expencive for a good quality one is actually alot cheaper.
Mmmmmmm, RadioSnacks. Marakanetz I agree with you about the cheap irons. With the better equipment you also get a bigger variety of tips and accessories.

Thanks for the informative post Sean.
yeah, some more tips:

make sure that your connection looks sexy and shiny thus you'll make sure that you've no cold joint. do not apply too much wind for the ventilation since you can get the cold joint.

also make sure that you leave no bubbles after filling up the joint and if you do use desoldering pump to suck them off and fill the joint again so it will look like nice and shiny cone.

an adjustable soldering station is a very helpful tool whre you can adjust the heat whenever you see more or less dencity of elements arround. i use usually a few clipping heat sinks for the next-standing elements and 30W on iron(tin/silver solder will not be overheat and less-likely will become cold as well).

use file to periodically send-out the iron tip and have replacement tips of different shapes or to substitute the old ones. use desoldering pump to suck out the excessive solder on the iron tip as well.

and finally read basic electronics to know how elements are connected and how to distinguish DC path from signal and how to locate the elements that you want to replace or modify. read also the safety rules of an electrician and electronic technician not to get yourself electricuted.