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!

Solder at Room Temperature

Have you ever seen the science experiment (or magic trick?) where you get water supercooled to where it isn’t frozen, but then it freezes when you touch it, pour it, or otherwise disturb it? Apparently, ice crystals form around impurities or disturbances in the liquid and then “spread.” A similar effect can occur in metals where the molten metal cools in such a way that it stays melted even below the temperature that would usually cause it to melt.

[Martin Thuo] at Iowa University used this property to make solder joints at room temperature using Field’s metal (a combination of bismuth, indium, and tin). The key is a process that coats the molten metal with several nanolayers that protect it from solidifying until something disturbs the protective layer.

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Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?

Heathkit, the storied purveyor of high-quality DIY electronics kits that inspired a generation of enthusiasts and launched the careers of many engineers, has returned from the dead. We think. At least it seems that way from this build log by [Spritle], an early adopter of the rebooted company’s first offering. But if [Spritle]’s experience is any indication, Heathkit has a long way to go to recreating its glory days. Continue reading “Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?”

AirAsia Crash Analysis: Who or What Failed?

Just a few days after Christmas last year AirAsia Flight 8051 traveling to Singapore tragically plummeted into the sea. Indonesia completed its investigation of the crash and just released the final report. Media coverage, especially in Asia is big. The stories are headlined by pilot error but,as technologists, there are lessons to be learned deeper in the report.

The Airbus A320 is a fly-by-wire system meaning there are no mechanical linkages between the pilots and the control surfaces. Everything is electronic and most of a flight is under automatic control. Unfortunately, this also means pilots don’t spend much time actually flying a plane, possibly less than a minute, according to one report.

Here’s the scenario laid out by the Indonesian report: A rudder travel limit computer system alarmed four times. The pilots cleared the alarms following normal procedures. After the fifth alarm, the plane rolled beyond 45 degrees, climbed rapidly, stalled, and fell.

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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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A DIY Mobile Soldering Iron

Cordless soldering irons are, as a rule, terrible. A few months ago, you could pick up a cordless soldering iron from Radio Shack that was powered by AAA batteries. You can guess how well those worked. There are butane-fueled soldering irons out there that will heat up, but then you’re left without the requisite degree of temperature control.

[Xavier] didn’t want to compromise on a mobile soldering iron, so he made a desktop version portable. His mobile temperature controlled soldering iron uses the same electronics that are found in inexpensive Hakko clones, and is powered by a LiPo battery.

The soldering station controller comes directly from eBay, and a DC/DC boost converter accepts just about any DC power supply – including an XT60 connector for LiPo cells. A standard Hakko 907 iron plugs into the front, and a laser cut MDF enclosure makes everything look great. There were a few modifications to the soldering station controller that involved moving the buttons and temperature display, but this build really is as simple as wiring a few modules together.

With an off-the-shelf LiPo battery, the iron heats up fast, and it doesn’t have a long extension cord to trip over. With the right adapter, [Xavier] can use this soldering station directly from a car’s cigarette power port, a great feature that will be welcomed by anyone who has ever worked on the wiring in a car.

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Creating New Nintendo 3DS Hardware

For the last five years or so, Nintendo has been selling the 3DS, the latest in a long line of handheld consoles. Around two years ago, Nintendo announced the New Nintendo 3DS, with a faster processor and a few other refinements. The new 3DS comes in two sizes: normal and XL. You can buy the XL version anywhere in the world, but Nintendo fans in North America cannot buy the normal version.

[Stephen] didn’t want the jumbo-sized New 3DS XL, both because it’s too large for his pockets, and because there are no fancy cases for the XL. His solution? Creating a US non-XL 3DS with god-like soldering skills.

In manufacturing the XL and non-XL versions of the 3DS, Nintendo didn’t change much on the PCBs. Sure, the enclosure is different, but electronically there are really only two changes: the eMMC storage and the Nintendo processor. 3DS are region-locked, so simply swapping out the boards from a normal 3DS to an XL 3DS wouldn’t work; [Stephen] would also like to play US games on his modded console. That leaves only one option: desoldering two chips from a US XL and placing them on the board from a Japanese 3DS.

With a board preheater and heat gun, [Stephen] was able to desolder the eMMC chip off both boards. Of course this meant the BGA balls were completely destroyed in the process, which means reballing the package with solder bits only 0.3mm in diameter. With the US eMMC transplanted to the Japanese board, [Stephen] ended up with an error message that suggested the processor was reading the memory. Progress, at least.

[Stephen] then moved on to the processor. This was a nightmare of a 512 pin BGA package, with 512 pins that needed a tiny dot of solder placed on them. Here, sanity gave way and [Stephen] called up a local board and assembly house. They agreed to solder the chip onto the board and do an x-ray inspection. With the professional rework done, [Stephen] assembled his new US non-XL 3DS, and everything worked. It’s the only one in the world, and given the effort required to make these mods, we’re expecting it to remain the only one for a very long time.