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I (Still) Really Suck at Soldering

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  • I (Still) Really Suck at Soldering

    The last time I remember soldering electronic components was probably circa 1973- when I built a Dyna ST 70 as a stop gap for my Quads until I could afford Audio Research gear.
    I recall that I set out on the project with great enthusiasm, but hit many bumps in the road, mainly due to my lack of technique and skill in soldering. (Actually, I hadn't thought much about how miserable I was until today, when I embarked on what should have been a quick easy job).
    I bought a decent soldering pencil with adjustable heat and multiple tips and some silver solder. My goal was simply to make a low voltage DC power cable using a barrel plug. Got a decent Switchcraft plug; it had little holes in each of the connectors, but after I tinned the wire (16 gauge), the wire was too thick to fit through the hole. The hole was also now gunked up with solder, and I didn't have any desoldering tools handy (shoulda bought that kit, but it had a lot of stuff I already owned of better quality than the kit). So, I grabbed another inner plug (I bought several) and tried fitting the wire through the hole bare-assed naked. Still too big. I wound up peeling off some of the strands at the contact point-- which effectively narrowed the gauge of the wire considerably. Since I didn't have one of those "helping hand" desktop devices, I used some tools to position the parts, tinned the wire, the connection point on the plug and just soldered a good joint- shiny, no globby cold solder joint. The whole thing is micro-sized, so I checked my work with a magnifier, and decided to stick some electrical tape between the two connectors, just to prevent a possible short if the wires got jiggled and once the outer jacket of the plug was screwed down; of course, the wire, solder, and electrical tape didn't not want to go into the plug jacket; it started to thread unevenly, but then straightened out and I managed to screw the plug jacket down fully. I plugged the wire into my bench power supply and checked continuity using my Fluke meter-- bingo. Good. But man, this process made me wonder how I've managed to get this far in life as an incompetent nincompoop. My wife's take: forget how easy it looks when people do it on a YouTube video, you solder stuff what- once every 40 years? and maybe it isn't your strength. But, for Jah's sake, this isn't a complicated exercise, the materials and process are very straightforward and I spent an hour getting it right when I suspect a competent (or even incompetent) tech school student could do this in five minutes.
    So, the moral of the story: if you really suck at something when you are 18 years old, chances are, when you are in your sixties, you're still gonna suck at it. (Maybe not true with all things in life, I certainly got better on a couple fronts with age and experience). But, it's kinda pathetic. It's like Don Delio's character in White Noise who is an expert in Hitler studies, but can't read or speak German. I hope quality soldering skills are not required for the audiophile test. Otherwise, I'm gonna flunk.

  • #2
    Bill, solder flux is your friend particularly when starting out and esp if using a low wattage iron for tinning and terminating large gauge speaker wire (10 AWG or greater).

    Comment


    • #3
      At least you didn't solder cotton balls to your fingers!
      Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
      Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
      ________________________________________

      -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
      -Goldmund Telos 300 stereo amp
      -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
      -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
      -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
      -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
      -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga Mk. 2, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
      -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
      -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 6, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
      -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz 3 racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA OHIO Class 2.1+ platforms.

      Comment


      • #4
        I also hope my non-existent soldering skills (well, pretty good at melting the leads of axial resistors when attempting to fashion a phono loading plug!) are not a prerequisite for anything I'd enjoy.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Rob View Post
          Bill, solder flux is your friend particularly when starting out and esp if using a low wattage iron for tinning and terminating large gauge speaker wire (10 AWG or greater).
          Thanks Rob. I just ordered some specifically meant for electronics soldering. And 1/2 dozen more of those Switchcraft barrel plugs. My job today works, but I want a clean, neat professional job that I'd be proud of- I was honestly kind of mortified at how much trouble I had with this. Ironically, we know a lot about gear, but when it comes down to the simplest task related to electronics, I proved to be incompetent. Thus, my determination to learn how to do this right.

          Comment


          • #6
            I use to solder for a living, now I inspect others soldering, you must have the right gear. Get a Weller soldering station some solder that has flux in it and that half the battle, the other half is the correct temp for the job...

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by jcmusic View Post
              I use to solder for a living, now I inspect others soldering, you must have the right gear. Get a Weller soldering station some solder that has flux in it and that half the battle, the other half is the correct temp for the job...
              Couldn't have said it better. Tools make the man. And not all things are easy to solder. Take some of these heavy, solid RCA jacks. They seem to really dissipate the heat and take forever to heat up and allow the solder to flow.
              Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
              Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
              ________________________________________

              -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
              -Goldmund Telos 300 stereo amp
              -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
              -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
              -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
              -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
              -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga Mk. 2, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
              -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
              -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 6, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
              -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz 3 racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA OHIO Class 2.1+ platforms.

              Comment


              • Johnny Vinyl
                Johnny Vinyl commented
                Editing a comment
                Tools make the man! Never heard from her again.

              • MylesBAstor
                MylesBAstor commented
                Editing a comment
                I heard that women like big guns (biceps). 🤣

            • #8
              Originally posted by jcmusic View Post
              I use to solder for a living, now I inspect others soldering, you must have the right gear. Get a Weller soldering station some solder that has flux in it and that half the battle, the other half is the correct temp for the job...
              Can you provide a suggestion for solder with flux?
              Speakers: Vandersteen Model 7s, 4 M&K ST-150Ts, 1 VCC-5; Amplification: 2 Vandersteen M7-HPAs, CI Audio D200 MKII, Ayre V-6xe; Preamp: Doshi Audio Line Stage v3.0; Phono Pre: Doshi Audio V3 Phono Pre; Analog: Wave Kinetics NVS; Durand Telos and SME 3012R Tonearms, Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement v2; Miyajima Zero; Reel to Reel: Technics RS-1500; Doshi Tape Pre-Amp; Studer A810; Studer A812; Tascam BR-20; Multi-channel: Bryston SP-3; Digital: Custom PC> Lampizator Pacific

              Comment


              • #9
                Originally posted by Bill Hart View Post

                Thanks Rob. I just ordered some specifically meant for electronics soldering. And 1/2 dozen more of those Switchcraft barrel plugs. My job today works, but I want a clean, neat professional job that I'd be proud of- I was honestly kind of mortified at how much trouble I had with this. Ironically, we know a lot about gear, but when it comes down to the simplest task related to electronics, I proved to be incompetent. Thus, my determination to learn how to do this right.
                If you really want to do it right, you should take solder training from a source like IPC.
                Micro Seiki SX-8000 table with flywheel, SME 3012R arm, SME 312S arm, Lyra Etna SL and Dynavector XV-1S cartridges, ARC Ref 3 phono stage, Otari MX-55 tape deck, Ampex 350 repros, Roon Nucleus Plus server, PS Audio DSJ DAC, ARC Ref 6 pre, ARC Ref 75 amp, JBL 4345 speakers, and Def Tech Ref subs.

                Comment


                • #10
                  Originally posted by Bill Hart View Post

                  Thanks Rob. I just ordered some specifically meant for electronics soldering. And 1/2 dozen more of those Switchcraft barrel plugs. My job today works, but I want a clean, neat professional job that I'd be proud of- I was honestly kind of mortified at how much trouble I had with this. Ironically, we know a lot about gear, but when it comes down to the simplest task related to electronics, I proved to be incompetent. Thus, my determination to learn how to do this right.
                  there's an applicator attached to the cap, not unlike nail polish. a small dab on the wire you're tinning or the solder end of a connector will assit with the eutectic properties of the solder you're using (melts quicker and more uniformly). I keep cotton swabs and acetone on my bench to clean up the sticky residue left behind by the the rosin. also consider the correct gauge of solder for the job at hand. working with anything less that 16 awg wire or with lead out wire on small components you'll never need anything larger than 22 awg solder. For beginners I also recommend solder with eutectic properties that allow it to 'melt' at lower temps than other types. TRT Wonder solder in 22 awg is the way to go. for larger jobs like tinning wire >12 awg I double up the 22 awg TRT fold it over and twist it together.


                  Comment


                  • Rob
                    Rob commented
                    Editing a comment
                    I should mention there are a few types of soldering flux for electronics. the one I suggest is liquid and the consistency of real maple syrup ( as opposed to the thick fake stuff ) It brushes on, use judiciously only a small dab is needed in most cases. the other type is a paste that comes in a jar or squeeze tube not unlike toothpaste. some brands have the constancy of a thick gel others are less viscous. squeeze out a small dab on your work surface and then use a toothpick or the like and apply to your wire or the solder end of the connector.

                • #11
                  +1 on the right tools, proper heat, and solder. Once you have them, like anything else, the best way to get better is practice. I usually only solder 4 or 5 parts max in a channel at a time and test the piece out so if something goes wrong there's no too much work to find it. Also, some things are just more difficult. Double-sided circuit boards and circuit traces with small lands are a PITA. For the former, you need a little more heat. My hands and eye sight aren't as steady as they used to be on the latter.

                  Getting components off a circuit board without overheating and ruining it can also be a challenge too. More likely to occur if you're desoldering and testing different parts in the same location over and over to find the best sounding part. I recently bought a Hakko desoldering tool which makes that kind of work a lot easier, although it's kind of expensive if you don't DIY much.

                  Good luck!

                  Comment


                  • MylesBAstor
                    MylesBAstor commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Some of those circuit traces in older high-end electronics wasn't so sturdy and that trace occasionally got pulled off. 😥

                • #12
                  Originally posted by Rob View Post

                  there's an applicator attached to the cap, not unlike nail polish. a small dab on the wire you're tinning or the solder end of a connector will assit with the eutectic properties of the solder you're using (melts quicker and more uniformly). I keep cotton swabs and acetone on my bench to clean up the sticky residue left behind by the the rosin. also consider the correct gauge of solder for the job at hand. working with anything less that 16 awg wire or with lead out wire on small components you'll never need anything larger than 22 awg solder. For beginners I also recommend solder with eutectic properties that allow it to 'melt' at lower temps than other types. TRT Wonder solder in 22 awg is the way to go. for larger jobs like tinning wire >12 awg I double up the 22 awg TRT fold it over and twist it together.


                  Thank you for all that. I had bought a small roll of silver solder; the flux I bought is in a syringe, and specifies that it is appropriate for electronics- i gather some use acids? and may not be so good. Your exact product is available online, but not instantly! (We now have same day delivery here which I use if available for a product, this one wasn't, but still, there's something to be said for instant gratification).
                  I will note that the soldering pencil I got, fairly cheap, had 5 different points and temperature control on the handle. The problem when I did that 'job' the other day was, while handling the handle, I was inadvertently dialing down the heat. If I do more of this work, I'll spring for that Weller station that JC mentioned. Right now, I wouldn't even put myself into 'hobbyist'-- I'd say I'm to soldering or circuit building as Crosley is to turntables--not to be taken seriously. (Not to dump on Crosley).

                  Comment


                  • Rob
                    Rob commented
                    Editing a comment
                    acid core solder is for copper plumbing pipe its highly corrosive and should never be used for electronics. The ubiquitous weller 40W fixed temp iron is what I cut my teeth on, it can use interchangeable tips. years ago I graduated to a variable temperature Weller similar to a WES51. it doesn't have an LED temp readout but does everything I need. the Hakko Barry mentioned are really nice and priced so, its overkill for what I do.

                • #13
                  Originally posted by Barry View Post
                  +1 on the right tools, proper heat, and solder. Once you have them, like anything else, the best way to get better is practice. I usually only solder 4 or 5 parts max in a channel at a time and test the piece out so if something goes wrong there's no too much work to find it. Also, some things are just more difficult. Double-sided circuit boards and circuit traces with small lands are a PITA. For the former, you need a little more heat. My hands and eye sight aren't as steady as they used to be on the latter.

                  Getting components off a circuit board without overheating and ruining it can also be a challenge too. More likely to occur if you're desoldering and testing different parts in the same location over and over to find the best sounding part. I recently bought a Hakko desoldering tool which makes that kind of work a lot easier, although it's kind of expensive if you don't DIY much.

                  Good luck!
                  I also bought a kit of tools which includes a desoldering pump. I may try it on the first two plugs I did. The rest of the tools look like the stuff a dentist would use. If I do more of this, I'll go big! Thanks, Barry.

                  Comment


                  • #14
                    Originally posted by Bill Hart View Post

                    I also bought a kit of tools which includes a desoldering pump. I may try it on the first two plugs I did. The rest of the tools look like the stuff a dentist would use. If I do more of this, I'll go big! Thanks, Barry.
                    You can desolder component leads from delicate PCBs using the same liquid flux and a solder wick (they come in various widths and thicknesses). the flux liquefies the solder instantly when you touch it with your iron and the wick works like blotter paper. I hardly use my solder sucker for most desoldering jobs. the desoldering station like the hakko are de rigueur for manufacturing and production work but its overkill for my needs.

                    Comment


                    • #15
                      The worst wire ever to work with was the old MIT hookup wire. It was impossible to get the dielectric off without damaging the end of the wire. Why I let Mike Percy do it when he made that tripled up strands to wire my old Maggie 3As. I think they used to use a solder pot to work with that cable.
                      Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
                      Senior Editor, Positive-Feedback.com
                      ________________________________________

                      -Zellaton Plural Evo speakers
                      -Goldmund Telos 300 stereo amp
                      -Goldmund Mimesis 37S Nextgen preamplifier
                      -Doshi EVO and Goldmund PH3.8 phonostage
                      -VPI Vanquish direct-drive turntable
                      -VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy dual pivot tonearm, VPI 12-inch 3D Fat Boy gimballed and SAT LM-12 arm
                      -Lyra Atlas SL Lambda, Fuuga Mk. 2, vdh Colibri Master Signature, MutechHayabusa, MOFI Master Tracker, Sumiko Songbird cartridges
                      -Technics RS1506 with Flux Magnetic heads, Doshi V3.0 tape stage (balanced)
                      -Assorted cables including Transparent XL Gen. 6, Skogrand, Viero, Kubala-Sosna, Audience Au24SX, Genesis Advanced Technologies and Ensemble Power Cords
                      -Accessories including Stillpoint Aperture panels, Cathedral Sound panels, Furutech NCF Nano AC receptacles; Silver Circle Tchaik 6 PLC, Symposium ISIS and SRA Craz 3 racks, Audiodharma Cable Cooker, Symposium Ultra and assorted SRA OHIO Class 2.1+ platforms.

                      Comment

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