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Soldering requires a number of tools, and an appropriate, well lit and properly ventilated working area. Leads Direct sells a huge range of such tools and associated products which you can view and purchase. There are also safety requirements to take into consideration. Here are the basics: Work Area: Your bench or work area is important, but it does not have to be elaborate or specially made. As long as you have a reasonable amount of clear space, and places to put your tools and components a kitchen table or a spare desk or even a workshop bench will suffice. You should make that you have suitable light, good ventilation (solder fumes can be dangerous), and of course access to properly earthed mains power. The height of the bench should be appropriate for your size and build, and choose a seat that does not cause you to hunch your back when working – that can cause a very sore back in not time at all… In soldering accuracy is essential, and in order to be accurate you need to be able to see what you are doing. Your work area should be well lit, with fluorescent light usually being best for electronic work because it produces a brighter, whiter light than standard light bulbs. An illuminated magnifying device can be useful if you are going to be soldering a lot of very small components. Ventilation is critical when soldering, since the fumes from the flux in the solder can be irritating or even harmful – there are specific Health and Safety rules for professional soldering and it does not hurt to follow those rules when soldering is your hobby. You will need power for your soldering iron, so if you do have a mains socket immediately adjacent to your bench you will need to get hold of a good quality three core mains extension cable, perhaps one with multiple sockets and of course a good quality earth connection for safety reasons. If you are using a space that is not dedicated to the task such as your office desk or kitchen table it is best to keep your tools and components in holders or plastic trays so they can be easily put aside when you are not working. These can be purchased very cheaply from hardware stores, pound shops, etc. Hand tools: Pliers: A pair of long nosed pliers would be useful for bending the leads on components and holding nuts whilst you tighten tighten or loosen bolts. Cutters: You will need a couple of pairs of cutters – flush cutters for circuit boards and side cutters for other tasks. Screwdrivers: A quality set of screwdrivers in a range of sizes is a good investment. You will certainly need at least two large screwdrivers, one with a straight tip for slotted screws, the other with a cross head, and a set of miniature screwdrivers. Knife: A hobby knife, with a razor-sharp blade, is useful trimming, opening, and otherwise modifying things. Use care, though, because it is very easy to cut yourself if you use the knife incorrectly. Test Meter: For checking continuity, current, voltages, and resistances, a digital multimeter with a “buzzer” to provide an audible continuity test is a good idea, and even inexpensive models have this feature these days. Magnifying Glass: A magnifying work lamp that clamps to the bench is ideal for checking solder connections and tracing circuit boards. Adaptor Leads: Short cables with alligator clips on the ends are handy for making temporary connections, whilst a ‘Safebloc’ allows mains power to be applied to or removed from a project during testing. Other Tools: If you going to be making entire projects rather than simple cables then hole saws, sheet metal tools, files and deburring tools can be useful. A heat-shrink gun is also handy for adding insulation where appropriate. Soldering tools: A soldering iron: That may seem obvious but it is the most important tool you will need. Molten metal in close proximity to delicate electronic components can be a safety issue and a good iron will help you to do the work properly and keep you and your project safe. You will need to apply a precise amount of heat for the right length of time to a very specific area, so choosing the right tool is vital! Your tool kit should include a 15-30 Watt soldering pencil with a fine chisel tip and at least one spare tip. You may need a much heavier iron (100+ Watts) if you are going to work with some types of heavy duty connector, but you need to make sure that you do not use such an iron on smaller like fine printed circuit boards as they can do serious damage! If you are going to do a lot of soldering it could be well worth investing in a solder station, preferably one with a temperature control rather than wattage control, which can replace several individual irons and leave you able to handle most jobs using a single tool. Solder: When choosing the solder you will use there are three factors to consider – metallic content, type of flux (core), and diameter, the combinations of which result in a huge range of solders available on the market. For now, if you are going to use a solder made with lead our recommendation would be that you start with 60/40 (60% tin, 40% lead) rosin core solder with a diameter of around 1mm. Lead free equivalents are now available, but will generally require more heat to use correctly and have a tendency to produce wisps of hairlike material which can lead to short circuits. However, lead free solder technology is improving all the time so it may well be that moving to it may not produce any problems for you. IMPORTANT: It is not possible to mix lead free with leaded solder – the resulting joints will not be stable if they work at all. If you are engaged in repair work you may need to ensure that you have both types of solder available to enable you to handle all types of work. Desoldering: There is no doubt that you will make mistakes – everyone does. There will also be times when you want to remove a component for testing, or to substitute a different one. Unless you want to invest in a professional desoldering station often the only practical way to desolder a connection is with solder wick. A ‘Solder Sucker’ may be useful in some situations, and has the advantage of being re-usable whereas a solder wick once used cannot be re-used, but such a tool is not always suitable. Professionals may use a vacuum desoldering station but these are very expensive and are normally not used outside industrial premises. Leads Direct sells a wide range of tools suitable for working with cables and electronic projects of all types – visit our Tools page to view or purchase them.
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