Hacklet 99 – Soldering Tools

If there is one tool every hardware hacker needs, it’s a good soldering setup. Soldering irons, heat guns, reflow ovens and the like make up the tools of the trade for building electronic circuits. Spend enough time working with a tool, and you’ll find a way to improve it. It’s no surprise that hackers, makers, and engineers have been hacking their soldering tools for decades. This week’s Hacklet features some of the best soldering tool projects on Hackaday.io!

hakkoWe start with  [Kuro] a Hakko 907 based Soldering Station. Hakko 907 and 936 soldering station clones from the Far East are available all over the internet. While the heaters work, none of them have very good temperature controllers. [Kuro] turned a problem into a project by building his own soldering station. These irons are rated for 24 V. 24 volt power supplies are not very common, but it’s easy to find old 19 volt supplies from discarded laptops. [Kuro] found that the lower voltage works just fine. An Arduino nano controls the show, with user output displayed on a 2 line LCD. The finished controller works better than the original, and probably would give a real Hakko model a run for its money.

reflowNext up is [Sukasa] with Reflow Oven. When MakerSpace Nanaimo needed a reflow oven, [Sukasa] jumped in with this design. The idea was to create an oven that looked unmodified – just think of it as the toaster oven of the future, or the reflow oven of today. A Netduino plus 2 is the main controller. User information is displayed on a color TFT LCD. This oven is even internet connected, with an internally hosted web page and JSON data feed. The Netduino controls two beefy Solid State Relays (SSRs). The SSRs handle the dirty work of switching the oven’s heating elements. Two fans keep air moving to avoid hot spots. Precision temperature sensing is achieved through a pair of Adafruit MAX31855 breakout boards reading thermocouples.

plateNext we have [Jaromir Sukuba] with Soldering preheat plate. When soldering surface mount components, like QFN or BGA parts, it helps to pre-heat the whole board. There are commercial products to do this using hot air and other techniques, but it really comes down to making a hotplate. [Jaromir] figured he could do a pretty good job at this, so he built his own with a 3mm aluminum plate. Heat comes from 6 resistors in TO-220 cases. A Microchip PIC18 monitors a thermocouple and keeps things from getting too hot. For power, [Jaromir] had the same idea as [Kuro] did, and used a 19V power brick from an old laptop.

gooseFinally we have [Alex Rich] with Locking ball and socket gooseneck system. [Alex] came up with the Stickvise, so it’s fitting that he comes up with an awesome upgrade for it. We’ve all fought with “helping hands” while soldering. You never get them at quite the right angle. This system fixes that with a simple ball and gooseneck setup. [Alex] saw a similar design and printed it out. While it worked, the pieces popped apart too easily. [Alex] redesigned the system, adding a threaded locking ring. These new goosenecks stay put, holding your work exactly where you want it.

If you want to see more soldering tool projects, check out our brand new soldering tools list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

BGA Hand Soldering Video

By 2016, most people have got the hang of doing SMD soldering in the garage–at least for standard packaging. Ball Grid Array or BGA, however, remains one of the more difficult packages to work with [Colin O’Flynn] has an excellent video (almost 30-minutes, including some parts that are sped up) that shows exactly how he does a board with BGA.

Continue reading “BGA Hand Soldering Video”

The Internet of Reflow Ovens

Using a toaster oven to reflow solder isn’t a new idea. But [Sukasa] wanted something that had more features and improved appearace. So he married a Netduino, a toaster oven, and some solid state relays to made a clean-looking reflow oven. His goal was to have nothing look like an overt modification to a casual observer. Inside, however, the oven now has a network connection for system status via a Web browser or JSON.

The new brains of the oven are a Netduino Plus 2 and an I2C port expander that connects to a few extra I/O devices. The challenging I/O, though, is the heaters. When cold, the oven can draw over 16 amps, so a pair of 12A solid state relays in parallel handle that load. There are also two fans: one to keep the electronics cool and another on software control. An IGBT allows the controller to pulse width modulate the fan’s output. A pair of MAX31855s read the thermocouples that report the temperature.

lcdThe controller was a mashup of the existing oven’s keypad and an add-on LCD display (see right). One thing we didn’t see was a schematic. Of course, you can read the code and figure out how it is all connected and (unless you use the exact same oven) you are probably going to need to modify things to suit your particular setup, anyway.

We’ve seen other good looking reflow oven and controller builds in the past, including one with a touchscreen. It is also worth noting that you can find reflow ovens at relatively low prices now if you don’t feel like rolling your own.


[Will] had a few reasons for turning a toaster oven into a reflow oven – he needed a project for an ECE lab, the lab’s current reflow oven was terrible, and the man is trying to keep [Will] down by not allowing toaster ovens in dorm rooms. What was born out of necessity actually turned into a great project – a reflow oven with touchscreen controls.

The toaster oven used for this build is a model [Will] picked up at Sears. It’s actually pretty unique, advertised as a ‘digital toaster’. This isn’t marketing speak – there’s actually a thermistor in there, and the stock toaster is closed loop. After disassembling the toaster and getting rid of the guts, [Will] whipped up a PCB for a Teensy 3.1 and the Adafruit capacative touch shield.

With the Teensy and touch screen, [Will] came up with an interface that looks ten times better than anything you would find on a Chinese auction site. It’s a great build, and since it’s kept in the electronics lab, will certainly see a lot of use.

Overhauling a 3-Zone Reflow Oven

[Ed] owns a 3-zone reflow oven (which he coincidently uses to manufacture reflow oven controllers), but its performance has gotten worse and worse over time. The speed of the conveyer belt became so inconsistent that most boards run through the oven weren’t completely reflowed. [Ed] decided to rip out the guts of the oven and replace it with an Arduino, solving the belt problem and replacing the oven’s user-unfriendly interface

When [Ed] was looking into his belt speed problem, he discovered that the belt motor was controlled by an adjustable linear regulator with no feedback. Although this seems a bit sketchy by itself, the motor also had some mechanical issues and [Ed] ended up replacing it entirely. After realizing that closed-loop speed control would really help make the oven more consistent, [Ed] decided to overhaul all of the electronics in the oven.

[Ed] wanted to make as little custom hardware as possible, so he started out with an Arduino Mega and some MAX31855’s that measure multiple thermocouples in the oven. The Arduino controls the belt speed and runs PID loops which control heating elements in each of the oven’s 3 zones. The Arduino can be programmed with different profiles (stored in EEPROM) which are made up of 3 zone temperatures and a conveyor speed. Don’t have a 3-zone oven of your own to hack? Check out some DIY reflow oven builds we’ve featured before.

Improving the T-962 Reflow Oven

The T-962A is a very popular reflow oven available through the usual kinda-shady retail channels. It’s pretty cheap, and therefore popular, and the construction actually isn’t abysmal. The controller for this oven is downright terrible, and [wj] has been working on a replacement firmware for the horribly broken one provided with this oven. It’s open source, and the only thing you need to update your oven is a TTL/UART interface.

[WJ] bought his T-962A even after seeing some of the negative reviews that suggested replacing the existing controller and display. This is not in true hacker fashion – there’s already a microcontroller and display on the board.

The new firmware uses the existing hardware and adds a very necessary modification: stock, the oven makes the assumption that the cold-junction of the thermocouples is at 20°C. The controller sits on top of an oven with two TRIACs nearby, so this isn’t the case, making the temperature calibration of the oven slightly terrible.

After poking around the board, [WJ] found an LPC2000-series microcontroller and a spare GPIO pin for a 1-wire temperature sensor. The temperature sensor is placed right next to the terminal block for the thermocouples for proper temperature sensing.

All the details of updating the firmware appear on a wiki, and the only thing required to update the firmware is a serial/USB/UART converter. A much better solution than ripping out the controller and replacing it with a custom one.

Toaster Oven Reflow Controllers

With a lot of people who are suddenly too cool for through hole and of course the a few generations of components that are only available in SMD packages, it’s no surprise the humble toaster oven has become one of the mainstays of electronic prototyping. You’re gonna need a controller to ramp up those temperatures, so here are two that do the job quite nicely.

[Nathan]’s Zallus Oven Controller is a bit different than other reflow controllers we’ve seen on Kickstarter. He’s offering three versions, two with different sized touch screen displays, and one that is controlled with a PC and push buttons. The display for these is beautiful, and of course you can program your own temperature profiles.

If Kickstarter isn’t your thing, [Dirk] created his own reflow controller. Like the Zallus, this has a graphical display, but its homebrew lineage means it should be simpler to maintain. It uses a K-type thermocouple, and unlike every other reflow controller we’ve ever seen, [Dirk] is actually checking the accuracy of his temperature probe.

No, reflow oven controllers aren’t new, and they aren’t very exciting. They are, however, tools to build much cooler stuff, and a great addition to any lab.