Soldering is the method you use to make semi-permanent connections between components as you build a circuit. Instead of using glue to hold things together, you use small globs of molten metal called solder applied by a device called a soldering iron. The metal provides a conductive physical joint, known as a solder joint, between the wires and component leads of your circuit.
You’ll be glad to know that you need only some pretty simple tools for soldering. You can purchase a basic, no-frills soldering setup for under $10, but the better soldering tools cost a bit more.
At a minimum, you will need the following basic items for soldering:
A soldering iron, also called a soldering pencil, is a wand-like tool that consists of an insulating handle, a heating element, and a polished metal tip. Choose a soldering iron that is rated at 30-60 watts, sports a replaceable tip, and has a three-prong plug so that it will be grounded. Some models allow you to use different size tips for different types of projects, and some include variable controls that allow you to change the wattage.
The stand holds the soldering iron and keeps the (very hot) tip from coming into contact with anything on your work surface. Some soldering irons come with stands. (Usually, these combos are known as soldering stations.) The stand should have a weighted base; if not, clamp it to your worktable so it doesn’t tip over. A stand is a must-have — unless you want to burn your project, your desk, or yourself!
Solder is a soft metal that is heated by a soldering iron and then allowed to cool, forming a conductive joint. Standard solder used for electronics is 60/40 rosin core, which contains roughly 60 percent tin and 40 percent lead and has a core of rosin flux. (Avoid solder formulated for plumbing, which corrodes electronic parts and circuit boards.) The wax-like flux helps to clean the metals you’re joining together, and it improves the molten solder’s ability to flow around and adhere to the components and wire, ensuring a good solder joint. Solder is sold in spools, and we recommend diameters of 0.031 inch (22 gauge) or 0.062 inch (16 gauge) for hobby electronics projects.
You use this to wipe off excess solder and flux from the hot tip of the soldering iron. Some soldering stands include a small sponge and a built-in space to hold it, but a clean household sponge also works fine.
Solder removal tools
A solder sucker, also known as a desoldering pump, is a spring-loaded vacuum you can use to remove a solder joint or excess solder in your circuit. To use it, melt the solder that you wish to remove, quickly position the solder sucker over the molten blob, and activate it to “suck up” the solder. Alternatively, you can use a solder (or desoldering) wick or braid, which is a flat, woven copper wire that you place over unwanted solder and apply heat to. When the solder reaches its melting point, it adheres to the copper wire, which you then remove and dispose of.
Tip cleaner paste
This gives your soldering tip a good cleaning.
Rosin flux remover
Available in a bottle or spray can, use this after soldering to clean any remaining flux and prevent it from oxidizing (or rusting, in unscientific terms) your circuit, which can weaken the metal joint.
Extra soldering tips
For most electronics work, a small (3/64-inch through 7/64-inch radius) conical or chiseled tip, or one simply described as a fine tip, works well, but you can also find larger or smaller tips used for different types of projects. Be sure to purchase the correct tip for your make and model of soldering iron. Replace your tip when it shows signs of corrosion, pitting, or plating that is peeling off; a worn tip doesn’t pass as much heat.