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Basics of Soldering: The Kit Explained

The soldering kit is a collection of accessories required in soldering usually bought as a single unit. The kit has various components which may vary from one manufacturer to the other. However, some of these are standard and include:

Soldering iron (http://www.amazon.com/iCooker-Soldering-Iron-Watt-Solder/dp/B01774KARE): It is in essence a small, often hand-held tool that could be power or gas operated depending on a variety of factors that melts solder from a source of heat to join various elements known as work-pieces. A soldering iron is made of four components, the power cord –for electric soldering irons- , the tip, thermostat control and the grip. For gas operated or cordless soldering irons, the power cord is replaced by a small internal tank that contains combustible gases such as butane to provide the heat.

Soldering base: A soldering base is in its most basic configuration a box that has dials or buttons used to control the temperature for a soldering iron. Digital soldering iron bases have buttons and a display that shows the current settings while analogue bases have knobs and dials used to adjust the heat.

Soldering cradle: This cradle has a trough for holding the soldering iron and a brass or regular sponge base for holding the tip. The brass sponge is unparalleled in its quality and effectiveness as a tip cleaning component. However, these cradles are still relatively rare with majority of cradles being the regular sponge cradles. If your soldering iron kit did not ship with a brass sponge cradle, you could always purchase one from hardware stores or the online market.

These are the most basic components of any soldering iron kit. However, with advancements in technology, modern kits are even more equipped with additional components.

4 Best Soldering Iron Kits

#1 The iCooker Soldering Iron Kit

#2 Mudder 6-in-1 Electronic Soldering Kit

#3 Weller 40-Watt WLC100 Soldering Station

#4 Neiko Soldering Iron Kit

Common Reasons for Soldering Iron Defects

You have probably experienced a small problem with your soldering iron at some point within its lifetime. This could range from anything between faulty tips, thermostat, and heating element to an entirely faulty soldering iron. Here we will look at the most common causes for soldering iron defects.

Use of incorrect voltage

Most soldering iron manufacturers usually specify the operating range of voltage suitable for the iron. Operating above or below this range will almost certainly ruin your heating element or thermostat. This usually results in cold irons or tips delivering insufficient heat or no heat at all. It is important to familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s recommended voltage levels for the iron to avoid tip damage.

Poor maintenance

This encompasses everything from cleaning to storage. Many people for example make use of wet sponges to clean the soldering iron tips. However, this causes irreversible damage to the tip eventually. Cleaning should be done using a brass sponge, fine-grain sandpaper, tinning or through the use of solder. Storage on the other hand should ideally be on a soldering cradle since this comes with elements that extend the life of the soldering tip.

Overexposure

Thermostat-equipped irons usually cut off the current flow to the heating element once a certain set temperature is achieved. However, even with this mechanism, exposing the soldering iron to current over a very long period of time will eventually lead to overheating and may damage one or more components of the iron.

Poor handling

This involves pulling the cord instead of the plug from the power source, dropping and banging the iron, exposure to excess humidity and dust. All these among other activities shorten the life of your soldering iron drastically.

Metals Used in Soldering: Bismuth

Bismuth has among the lowest melting points among all elements used in soldering making it ideal for use with small-scale soldering activities. However, most bismuth-based alloys expand on cooling and are therefore unsuitable for use in soldering due to lifting of soldered components. However, with the reduced use of technologies such as the through-hole technology, bismuth-based alloy solders have regained popularity. The main advantage is the low liquidus exhibited by the alloys.

Bismuth in its pure form has a melting point of about 520 degrees Fahrenheit and a boiling point of 2847 degrees Fahrenheit. Similar to antimony and a few other metals, bismuth is denser in its liquid state than it is in its solid state. At very high temperatures, the element combines with oxygen to form bismuth trioxide. However, this is rarely possible within the heat ranges of regular soldering procedures. Bismuth is extracted from bismuthinite ore and is relatively abundant within the earth’s core.

Bismuth has no unique traits that may prompt changes in the soldering process. Once your soldering iron is hot, it is placed on the work-pieces that should ideally be fixed on the working space. Holding the iron on one hand and the solder on the other, feed the solder on the contact of the soldering iron tip and the work-pieces. This   should melt the solder which will then flow consistently to form a hill-shaped mound. It is important to ensure that this shape is consistent and that the work-pieces do not move before the solder dries up completely. Like antimony, bismuth is still not widely used in soldering processes as compared to metals such as zinc, silver and copper.

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