Tools of the Trade – Through Hole Assembly

In our last installment of Tools of the Trade, we had just finished doing the inspection of the surface mount part of the PCB. Next in the process is the through hole components. Depending on the PCB, the order may change slightly, but generally it makes more sense to get all the SMT work done before moving to the through hole work.

Through hole used to be the standard, but as the need for size reduction and automation increased, SMT gained favor. However, there are still a lot of reasons to use through hole components, so they aren’t going away entirely (at least not any time soon). One of the biggest advantages of THT is mechanical strength, which makes it better suited for connectors than SMT. If you’ve ever popped a microusb connector off a PCB by breathing on it heavily, you’ll understand. So, how do we most efficiently get through hole components on a PCB, and how do the big boys do it?

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Desoldering Doesn’t Necessarily Suck

What’s your favorite way to fix soldering mistakes or get usable components off that board you found in a Dumpster? I’ve always been partial to desoldering braid, though I’ve started to come around on the vacuum pump depending on the situation. [Proto G] sent in an Instructable that outlines nine different ways to desolder components that take varying amounts of time and skill.

He starts with one that is often overlooked if you don’t have a solder pot. [Proto G] recommends this method only when you don’t want to keep the board. Cover the solder joints of the components you want to keep with flux and hold it over the solder pot while pulling out the components with pliers. The flux isn’t critical, but it makes removal faster and easier.

For boards in need of repair, [Proto G] uses a manual pump or copper desoldering braid that comes coated with flux. If you can afford one, a desoldering machine seems like the way to go—it combines the heat of a soldering iron with the vacuum of a manual pump. Desoldering tweezers and hot air rework stations look like great ways to remove surface mount components.

If you enjoyed this, check out [Bil Herd’s] guide on component desoldering. There are also few ways that [Proto G] doesn’t mention, like holding the board over an alcohol flame. Let us know your favorite desoldering method in the comments.

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A Small, 1000W Induction Heater

[Proto G] built a small, desktop induction heater that is capable of making small castings, melting small amounts of metal, and functioning as one of the best solder pots we’ve ever seen.

The induction heater is built from a custom Zero Voltage Switching (ZVS) driver and powered by a small 48V, 1000W power supply. While this makes for an exceptionally small induction heater, it’s still very capable. In the video below, it only takes a few seconds to heat a screwdriver up to a temperature that will melt solder.

While an induction heating machine is essentially useless for irons unless you have a few antique, unpowered, blowtorch-powered soldering irons, it does make for a great solder pot. [Proto G] replaced the working coil in his induction heater with litz wire. The actual solder pot is made out of steel conduit wrapped with aerogel-infused fiberglass insulation. Compared to his old solder pot, this machine heats up instantly, and is more than capable of wetting a few wire connections.

The future plan for this inductive heater is to make a few more attachments for different metals, and a [Proto G] has a few aerogel blankets he could use to make some small metal castings.

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Homebrew solder pot is too dangerous even for us

[rue_mohr] is building a hexapod robot, and that meant he needed to tin a whole bunch of ribbon cables with solder. Using a soldering iron for this task would take far too long, so he built a homebrew solder pot to tin all those wires quickly. While [rue] was able to get solder on all those wires quickly, we need to question his method – he used a halogen light and reflector to melt all that solder.

The build began with a recycled halogen light fixture. After taking apart the entire assembly, [rue] reassembled it into something resembling a solder pot; a concave reflector and halogen light bulb sit perfectly flat on the table, ready to accept pieces of solder.

After throwing the switch and putting a few bits of solder in the reflector, the solder pot surprisingly worked. [rue] was able to quickly tin his ribbon cables, and the halogen bulb and reflector didn’t break yet.

This is one of the least safe solder pots we’ve ever seen – the bulb could easily explode, and melted solder could come pouring out of the reflector at any time. [rue] is aware of the safety implications and make sure to wear a pair of goggles. If it works though, we really can’t complain.

Check out the video of [rue]’s solder pot (with an awesome temperature indicator light right in the middle of a pool of solder) in action after the break.

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Hackaday Links: July 31, 2011

Indestructible earbuds

We’re still waiting for our [Lt. Uhura] style earbuds. But until then, can we interest anyone in a set that will stand up to some abuse?

Solder Pot Scavenger

[Felicitus] says we should get a solder pot and use it to scavenge for parts. His method looks pretty easy and it’s cheaper than buying a rework station for this purpose.

Smartphone cooling

Turn all your hacking skills loose to beat the heat. That’s what [Stephanie] did when she added iPhone control for an oscillating fan.

Tunes calculator

Graphing equations and crunching numbers wasn’t enough for [Drew]. He went and figured out how to make his TI-84+ play music off of a thumb drive.


Don’t let anyone out-geek you at company parties. Beef up your arsenal with this resistor color-code necktie. And yes, you can wear it with a T-shirt!