Toaster oven reflow project goes way overboard

This project may take the cake on high-end reflow retrofits. It’s a HUGE project which uses a toaster oven to reflow surface mount circuit boards. And the fact that it bursts with features makes us giddy.

So what parts have we come to expect on these devices? Obviously a heat source which usually comes from a reused toaster oven. Then you need a way to switch the heating elements on and off based on feedback. Since solder profiles have precise timings and temperatures a clock is usually involved. All of this can be done with a temperature probe on a multimeter and a smartphone as the timer. But what we have here is full-automation and then about a thousand more features.

The driver above has a full user interface. It’s got its own PID routines which help to ensure proper holding temperatures and accurate ramping when going from one temperature to the next. The cable exiting the controller below the red buttons is providing feedback via a thermocoupler.  So program in your solder profile and let it go. But wait, don’t you want to record and graph what actually happened during this reflow run? Well that’s what the serial connection is for. In fact, you can even load new profiles and control all aspects of the device from a PC interface.

Switching for the toaster oven is done in a different way as well. Instead of just switching mains power, the circulation fan and the heating elements have been electrically separated. This way the fan can run whether the elements are on or not.

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.

A very detailed reflow oven build


If you do a lot of SMD soldering, a reflow oven is the fastest and most efficient way to get all those tiny components attached to your PCB. [Frank Zhao] saw the reflow ovens we featured here over the last few weeks and figured he might as well show off his rig as well. We’re certainly glad he did, because his very thorough writeup is a great stepping stone for anyone looking to construct a reflow oven of their own.

Like many others, he started off with a used toaster oven, modifying it to be controlled directly via the power cable rather than the oven’s dials. He built a small PCB to regulate the oven, which features an ATmega32u4 and thermocouple to keep the temperature in check. Control of the heating element is done using a solid state relay, for which he built his own heatsink.

He studied the reflow profile of the solder he would be using, programming the microcontroller to regulate the heating/cooling process without requiring any user input, aside from turning the oven on.

Check out the video below to see a brief overview of his system, and be sure to swing by his writeup to take a look at all the build details. There are a handful of additional videos along with plenty of pictures there, walking through each step of the process.

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Toaster oven reflow control without modifying the oven

[Eberhard] wanted his own reflow oven but didn’t really want to mess around with the internals that control the heating element. He put his microcontroller programming experience to work and came up with an add-on module that controls the oven by switching the mains power.

The image above shows a board in the midst of the reflow process. If you’re not familiar, solder paste usually comes with a recommended heat curve for properly melting the slurry. [Eberhard] managed to fit three of these temperature profiles into his firmware.

The ATtiny45 which makes up the controller samples oven temperature via the thermistor seen next to the board. A PID algorithm is used to calculate when to switch mains power on and off via a relay. One button and one LED make up the controller’s user interface for scrolling through the three preprogrammed temperature profiles.

It looks like it works great, see for yourself in the clip after the break.

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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.

Baking an HP LaserJet 1522 Series back to life


[Thice] had himself a problem. As luck would have it his HP laser printer died shortly after the warranty period expired, and HP was ready to charge him €350 to repair it. Since that would pretty much buy [Thice] a new one, he decided to try fixing the problem himself. He scoured the Internet for a solution to his problem, and luckily discovered that his printer might be recoverable.

The entire LaserJet M1522 series is apparently pretty prone to breaking, with the formatter board being the usual point of failure. To fix his printer, he disassembled the outer shell, removing the formatter board from the unit. Once the onboard battery was removed, he constructed a set of standoffs using aluminum foil, and set the board in his oven at 180°C (~356°F) for about eight minutes.

After cooling, he reinstalled the board, and his printer behaved as good as new. [Thice] says that the only problem with his fix is that he needs to bake the board every 6 months or so, making this a great hack but not the most ideal solution in the long term.

Toaster oven forgoes Pop-Tarts, reflows solder

For SMD work, solder paste and a heat gun is great. Heat guns aren’t the cheapest thing, so [Karel] decided to make cheap reflow oven out of a toaster oven. With a PCB taken from a laminator temperature control board, the build was fairly successful, so [Karel] decided to add a thermistor to his oven.

There was a problem with placing this thermistor near the board: solder melts in a reflow oven, so [Karel] needed to figure how to connect the thermistor to the control board outside the oven. The solution was crimping thin copper tubing to the thermistor leads and passing that tube through the wall of the oven. Epoxy was used to avoid an electrical short. A low tech solution, but very effective. After applying some solder paste and going in the oven, this board looks very clean. There are a few solder bridges, but nothing a wick can’t take care of.

[Karel] is now working on an update to the temperature controller that controls the oven over a serial connection. Check out the video of a few temperature cycles after the break.

[Read more...]


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