A New Handle For An Old Soldering Station

About 20 years ago, [Simon] spent a few week’s pay on a soldering station, a Micron W/2172. It served him well for the past few decades, but lately he hasn’t been able to find a supply of new tips for it. The Micron went into a cupboard and he upgraded to a newer Hakko soldering station.

The old Micron was still sitting in the cupboard when [Simon] realized both stations use a 24V supply for the heater, and you can buy replacement Hakko handle for a few bucks. Having two soldering stations would be handy, so [Simon] set out to convert the old Micron station to accept Hakko handles.

The only technical challenge for this modification was to figure out how the old circuit board in the Micron would read the thermistor  in the new handle. The original circuit used a dual op-amp, with one side used to amplify the thermocouple and the other to compare it to the temperature set point. After measuring the set point and a bit of Excel, [Simon] had a small circuit board that would replace the old op-amp. After that it was only a matter of wiring the new handle into the old station, calibrating the temperature settings, and enjoying the utility of two soldering stations.

Extreme Repair of an All-in-One PC

While browsing a local auction site, [Viktor] found himself bidding on a beat up Lenovo A600 all-in-one PC. He bid around $50 and won. Then came the hard part – actually making the thing work. The front glass was cracked, but the LCD was thankfully unharmed. The heat pipes looked like they had been attacked with monkey wrenches. The superIO chip’s pins were mangled, and worst of all, the MXM video card was dead.

The first order of business was to fix the superIO chip’s pins and a few nearby discrete components which had been knocked off their pads. Once that was done, [Viktor] was actually able to get the computer to boot into Linux from a USB flash drive. The next step was bringing up the display. [Viktor] only needed a coding station, so in addition to being dead, the video accelerator on the MXM wasn’t very useful to him. The Lenovo’s motherboard was designed to support video on an MXM card or internal video. Switching over meant changing some driver settings and moving a few components, including a rather large LVDS connector for the display itself. A difficult task, compounded by the fact that [Viktor’s] soldering tools were a pair of soldering guns that would be better suited to fixing the bodywork on a ’57 Chevy. He was able to fashion a hot wire setup of sorts, and moved the connector over. When he was done, only one tiny solder bridge remained!

The end result is a new coding battle station for [Viktor] and a computer which was a basket case is saved from the landfill. If you like this hack, check out [Viktor’s] low power PSU, or his 1 wire network!

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.

SMT and Thru-Hole Desoldering

My introduction to electronic manufacturing was as a production technician at Pennsylvania Scale Company in Leola PA in the early 1980’s. I learned that to work on what I wanted to work on I had to get my assigned duties done by noon or thereabouts. The most important lesson I had learned as a TV repairman, other than not to chew on the high voltage cable, was to use your eyes first. I would take a box of bad PCB’s that were essentially 6502 based computers that could count and weigh, and first go through inspecting them; usually the contents were reduced 50% right off by doing this. Then it was a race to identify and fix the remaining units and to keep my pace up I had to do my own desoldering.

Desoldering with IR System
Desoldering with IR System

It worked like this; you could set units aside with instructions and the production people would at some point go through changing components etc. for you or you could desolder yourself. I was pretty good at hand de-soldering 28 and 40 pin chips using a venerable Soldapulit manual solder sucker (as they were known). But to really cook I would wait for a moment when the production de-soldering machine was available. There was one simple rule for using the desoldering station: clean it when done! Failure to do so would result in your access to the station being suspended and then you might also incur the “wrath of production” which was not limited to your lunch bag being found frozen solid or your chair soaked in defluxing chemicals.

Continue reading “SMT and Thru-Hole Desoldering”

Homemade Soldering Stations for Cheapy Irons

Homemade Soldering Station for cheap Soldering Irons

Everyone reading this post has had a cheap pencil-style soldering irons that plug straight into the wall at some point in their lives. Even if you’ve upgraded to a professional soldering station, you probably have one of these cheapy irons kicking around that are slow to heat up to an unknown temperature. [Pantelis] thought he could fix the latter problem with his Homemade Soldering Station for those basic soldering irons.

Since the intent of the soldering station was to control the temperature of the iron [Pantelis] had to figure out a way to sense the temperature. He did this by strapping a thermocouple to the iron near the tip. The wires were run back through the handle and then along the power cord.

Homemade Soldering Station for cheap Soldering Irons

Both the stock iron plug and the thermocouple leads plug into a box put together specifically for this project. In the photo you’ll notice the LCD screen that displays both the target and actual temperatures. The linear potentiometer below the LCD screen is used to set the target temperature. The LED to the right alerts the operator that the iron is heating up and when it is at temperature and read to go.

Although there isn’t a lot of schematic or part list information, [Pantelis] did do a good job photo documenting his build. Check it out, it’s worth a gander.

How To Laser Cut Mylar Solder Stencils

Solder Stencil

When you think about the difficulties of working with surface mount components, the first thing that often comes to mind is trying to solder those tiny little parts. Instead of soldering those parts by hand, you can actually apply solder paste to the pads and place all of the components on at once. You can then heat up the entire board so all of the parts are soldered simultaneously. It sounds so much easier! The only problem is you then need a solder stencil. You somehow have to get a thin sheet of material that has a perfectly sized hole where all of your solder pads are. It’s not exactly trivial to cut them out by hand.

[Juan] recently learned a new trick to make cutting solder stencils a less painful process. He uses a laser cutter to cut Mylar sheets into stencils. [Juan] appears to be using EagleCAD and Express PCB. Both tools are available for free to hobbyists. The first step in the process is to export the top and bottom cream layers from your CAD software.

The next step is to shrink the size of the solder pads just a little bit. This is to compensate for the inevitable melting that will be caused by the heat from the laser. Without this step, the pads will likely end up a little bit too big. If your CAD software exports the files as gerbers, [Juan] explains how to re-size the pads using ViewMate. If they are exported as DXF files, he explains how to scale them using AutoCAD. The re-sized file is then exported as a PDF.

[Juan’s] trick is to actually cut two pieces of 7mil Mylar at the same time. The laser must be calibrated to cut all the way through the top sheet, but only part way into the bottom piece. The laser ends up slightly melting the edges of the little cut out squares. These then get stuck to the bottom Mylar sheet. When you are all done cutting, you can simply pull the sheets apart and end up with one perfect solder stencil and one scrap piece. [Juan] used a Full Spectrum 120W laser cutter at Dallas Makerspace. If you happen to have this same machine, he actually included all of the laser settings on his site.

The Electrostatic Theory of Metal Whiskers

wiskersThanks to that wonderful ROHS stuff the EU passed more than a decade ago, we should be seeing a few high-profile failures of electronic components due to tin whiskers. These tiny hair-like extrusions of metal found most commonly in lead-free solder have destroyed billion dollar satellites and shut down nuclear reactors, despite no one knowing exactly how these whiskers form. Now there’s a new theory of metal whisker formation (abstract, unless you have access to APS) that actually has predictive power. Here’s the free version of the paper

[V. G. Karpov] from the University of Toledo suggest these whiskers are formed by differences in charge induced by metallurgical anomalies – contamination, differences in the grain of the solder, and oxides. Because of the difference in charge, the whiskers are extruded, for lack of a better word, out from the surface of the solder.

The theory of whisker growth is generally consistent with observed rates of whisker growth and other properties. With this theory, it should even be possible to grow tin whiskers. Why anyone would want to do that other than, ‘because it’s cool’ is anyone’s guess, but there you go.