Soldering Tools

A friend just asked about soldering equipment. Adafruit has an excellent starter’s guide that includes explanations and soldering how-to, but I thought I’d also share a list of what’s in my kit. (Links will open in a new window).

SOLDERING IRON – I have a Weller WLC100 soldering iron/station, with a conical tip (it comes with a flat tip). This is a 40-Watt iron that plugs into an adjustable base, and sells for around $50. A step up would be the Weller WES-51 (more like $128), although for occasional work you could do with something like the 30W iron that Adafruit sells for $22. Temperature regulation is nice, and a fine tip is key.

SOLDERING STAND – Irons with a separate temperature control like the Wellers I mentioned have holders for hot irons built in. If you get an iron without a base, be sure to buy a stand.

BRASS SPONGE – I’ve never used a wet sponge to keep the iron clean. A brass sponge is like steel wool. Jab the tip into it while soldering to prevent build-up.

HELPING THIRD HAND – Essential for holding the things you’re soldering.

FLUSH CUTTERS – tiny snips for cutting wire or leads after you’ve soldered them through a PCB.

WIRE STRIPPER – For stripping and cutting wire. The standard/nice one has holes for different wire gauges, although I prefer the simpler one that relies on finesse to not destroy the wire.

SOLDERING WICK – Useful for desoldering parts from a PCB.

SOLDER SUCKER – Vacuums up a big blob of solder.

FUME EXTRACTOR – I don’t have one of these, although it would be nice. I use a fan and window to keep from breathing fumes.

DIGITAL MULTIMETER – Most useful in the mode that goes “beep,” to make sure that connections you want are connected, and ones that you don’t aren’t.

SOLDER – There are unleaded versions, but a good leaded blend with rosin core does it right. 0.031″ gauge is good for general work.

HOOK-UP WIRE – 22 gauge wire is standard for making connections between parts. There are two kinds: solid and stranded. Solid is easier to thread through holes and keeps its shape, useful for making jumpers on a breadboard or PCB. Stranded is more flexible and good for longer runs. You usually want to twist the end and “tin” it with solder. I have both kinds on hand.

SAFETY GOGGLES – I grabbed some from the hardware store. Tinning and snipping sometimes makes lead and sharp metal fly.

Other basics include SMALL SCREWDRIVERS, NEEDLE-NOSED PLIERS, and ELECTRICAL TAPE.

There are other things like spacers and standoffs, screws, headers, power sockets, resistors, a hot glue gun, calipers, etc. that are good to have around, although it all depends on how much you do.

To make things easier, electronics websites have kits with most of what you’d need to start, like this from Adafruit.

Here’s a list of electronics RESOURCES:
Adafruithttp://www.adafruit.com/ – My favorite electronics supplier and community hub. They design products and offer tutorials and support.
Sparkfunhttps://www.sparkfun.com/ – Another DIY supplier, with big inventory.
Jamecohttp://www.jameco.com/ – A giant supplier of electronics parts and tools.
Digikeyhttp://www.digikey.com/ – Another giant supplier of electronics parts and tools. I’ve only dealt with them once, but they had incredible customer service.
Pololuhttp://www.pololu.com/ – Seems to be the place to go for motors.

And while I’m at it, here are a few more resources I’ve used:
Make Magazine
O’Reilly Media (tech books)
Machine Project (LA)
NYC Resistor (NY)