Reflowing With A Hair Straightener

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Around here, reflow ovens usually mean a toaster oven, and if you’re exceptionally cool, a thermistor and PID controller. There are, of course, a thousand ways to turn solder paste into a solid connection and [Saar] might have found the cheapest way yet: a hair straightener with a street value of just £15.

We don’t expect the majority of the Hackaday demographic to know much about hair straighteners, but [Saar] has done all the work and came up with a list of what makes a good one. Floating plates are a must to keep the PCB in contact with the heating element at all times, and temperature control is essential. [Saar] ended up with a Remington S3500 Ceramic Straight 230 Hair Straightener, although a trip to any big box store should yield a straightener that would work just as well.

One modification [Saar] added was a strip of Kapton tape to one of the ceramic heating elements. It’s not a replacement for a toaster oven or real reflow oven, but for small boards it works just as well.

Video below.

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A Pair of Toaster Reflow Oven Builds

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For some reason or another, the Hackaday tip line sometimes sees a short burst of submissions for the same project. The latest one of these was for toaster oven reflow stations. They’re both great builds and different approaches to making a useful tool out of home appliances.

First up is [Richard]‘s build. he ended up with a fairly high-end build using a Rocket Scream Reflow Oven Controller Arduino shield. This shield accepts a normal K-type thermocouple and controls an external solid state relay with the Arduino’s PID library. [Richard]‘s build has a few neat additions – a properly dremeled enclosure, computer fan, and a welding blanket for insulation. Now that we think about it, it’s odd we’ve rarely seen any sort of insulation in these reflow oven builds.

Next up is [Ray]‘s version of a Black & Decker reflow oven. While not as fancy as [Richard]‘s build, this one does have a few features that make it very interesting. Instead of messing around with thermocouples, [Ray] simply took a digital kitchen thermometer – a neat tool that already a thermistor in a compact metal probe – and read the analog value with an Arduino. To control the power, [Ray] is using a cheap 433 MHz radio transmitter to control a few remotely operated power sockets. It’s a very clever and inexpensive replacement for a SSR, especially since [Ray] had these power sockets just lying around.

So there you go. The same tool, built two different ways. A great demonstration of how you can not only build anything, but you can build anything any way you want.

Reflow oven courtesy of hurricane Sandy

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The Makerbar, Hoboken’s Hackerspace, was in desperate need of a reflow oven. Hurricane Sandy did a number on a whole bunch of household appliances, so when [Kush] saw a neighbor throw out a broken toaster oven, the Makerbar crew sprung into action.

The storm waters shorted the electronics board, fried the existing controls, and basically turned the oven into a metal shell with heating elements. It was the perfect platform for a toaster oven – every part that was going to be thrown out was already destroyed.

[Zach] over at the Makerbar ordered the Sparkfun reflow toaster conversion kit along with a few arcade buttons and set to work. After plugging the heating elements into the mains power to make sure they still worked, [Zach] attached these elements to the relay on board the controller. Three arcade buttons were wired up to the controller, and a whole bunch of code was written.

With the included thermocouple, [Zach], [Kush], and the rest of the Makerbar gang now have a very accurate and reliable reflow oven. There’s also settings for Sculpey clay and shrinky dinks, just in case anyone at Makerbar is feeling a bit creative.

Toaster oven reflow soldering roundup

SMD components have a lot of advantages over the through-hole parts our fathers and grandfathers soldered. Working with these tiny surface mount components requires a larger investment than a soldering iron and a wire-wrap gun, though. Here’s a few reflow ovens that were sent in over the past week or two.

[ramsay] bought a 110 V toaster oven off of eBay. Even though [ramsay] is in England and has 230 V mains, everything in the oven is mechanical and works just fine with a higher voltage. His first test didn’t go quite as planned; the solder paste wasn’t melting at 120° C, so he cranked up the temperature and learned that the FR in FR-4 stands for flame retardant. Never deterred, [ramsay] decided to build a controller so the temperature ramps up and cools off at the right rates for the flux and paste to do their thing.

Solder paste has a temperature profile that requires the board to be kept at a temperature between 150° and 180° C for a minute or so before climbing up to 220° for a second so the solder will melt. [Nicolas] had the interesting idea of putting a USB port in his toaster oven and storing the heating profiles on his desktop. The build uses an MSP430 microcontroller to turn the relays powering heating elements on and off. [Nick] is working on a C# desktop app to monitor and regulate the oven temperature from his computer, so we’re fairly interested in seeing the final results.

Watching the SMD self-alignment videos on YouTube is a lot more fun than messing around with tweezers, stereo microscopes, and extremely fine soldering irons. If you’ve got a better idea for a toaster/reflow oven, send it in on our tip line and we’ll check it out.

Solder reflow toaster oven

[Sebastian] needed a small solder oven so he bought himself a small toaster oven (Spanish, Google Translate). It’s not the kind of thing we’d make our breakfast in now, but for soldering it’s a very nice oven.

After a little bit of research on Google, [Sebastian] discovered that the best technique when dealing with reflow ovens and solder paste is following a specific temperature curve. Ideally, Tin/Lead solder needs to preheat from room temperature to 150 degrees C, then level off so the flux can activate. After that, a quick jaunt above 183 degrees C makes the solder flow. To get his toaster working optimally, [Sebastian] stuck a thermistor in the toaster and measured the temperature profiles of different ‘modes.’

The correct temperature curve was calculated using different heater elements and [Sebastian] was off to the races. He did have a few problems on his first few boards – solder bridging, mostly – but that’s not the fault of the oven. An LCD display (translate) was added recently so accurate real-time temperature monitoring is available.