Probably The Simplest Electronic Temperature Controlled Soldering Iron

We’re all used to temperature controlled soldering irons, and most of us will have one in some form or other as our soldering tool of choice. In many cases our irons will be microprocessor controlled, with thermocouples, LCD displays, and other technological magic to make the perfect soldering tool.

All this technology is very impressive, but how simply can a temperature controlled iron be made? If you’re of an older generation you might point to irons with bimetallic or magnetic temperature regulation of course, so let’s rephrase the question. How simply can an electronic temperature controlled soldering iron be made? [Bestonic lab] might just have the answer, because he’s posted a YouTube video showing an extremely simple temperature controlled iron. It’s not the most elegant of solutions, but it does the job demanded of it, and all for a very low parts count.

He’s taken a ceramic housing from a redundant fuse holder, and mounted it on a metal frame to make a basic soldering iron holder into which the tip of his unregulated iron fits. To the ceramic he’s fitted a thermistor, which sits in the gate bias circuit of a MOSFET. The MOSFET in turn operates a relay which supplies mains power to the iron.

Temperature regulation comes as the iron heats the ceramic to the point at which the thermistor changes the MOSFET and relay state, at which point (with the iron power cut) it cools until the MOSFET flips again and restarts the process. You may have spotted a flaw in that it requires the iron to be in the holder to work, though we suspect in practice the thermal inertia of the ceramic will be enough for regulation to be reasonably maintained so long as the iron is returned to its holder between joints. Nobody is claiming that this temperature controlled iron is on a par with its expensive commercial cousins, instead it represents a very neat hack to conjure a useful tool from very few components. And we like that. Take a look at the full video below the break.

Continue reading “Probably The Simplest Electronic Temperature Controlled Soldering Iron”

A Desk Lamp Solder Fume Extractor

Those of us who have spent a lifetime building electronic projects have probably breathed more solder smoke than we should. This is not an ideal situation as we’ve probably increased our risk of asthma and other medical conditions as a result.

It has become more common over the years to see fume extraction systems and filters as part of the professional soldering environment, and this trend has also started to appear in the world of the home solderer. As always, where commercial products go the hardware hacker will never be far behind. We’ve seen people producing their own soldering fume filters using computer fans.

A particularly neat example comes via [Engineer of None], who has posted an Instructable and the YouTube video shown below the break for a filter mounted on a desk lamp. A toaster is used to heat a piece of acrylic. The softened plastic is then shaped to fit the contours of the lamp. The lamp’s articulated arm is perfect for placing light and fume extraction exactly where it is needed. It’s not the most complex of hacks, but we’d have one like it on our bench without a second thought. We would probably add an activated carbon filter to ours though.

Continue reading “A Desk Lamp Solder Fume Extractor”

The Healthy Maker: Tackling Vapors, Fumes And Heavy Metals

Fearless makers are conquering ever more fields of engineering and science, finding out that curiosity and common sense is all it takes to tackle any DIY project. Great things can be accomplished, and nothing is rocket science. Except for rocket science of course, and we’re not afraid of that either. Soldering, welding, 3D printing, and the fine art of laminating composites are skills that cannot be unlearned once mastered. Unfortunately, neither can the long-term damage caused by fumes, toxic gasses and heavy metals. Take a moment, read the material safety datasheets, and incorporate the following, simple practices and gears into your projects.

Continue reading “The Healthy Maker: Tackling Vapors, Fumes And Heavy Metals”

Electronic Message In a Bottle

We remember going to grandfather’s garage. There he would be, his tobacco pipe clenched between his teeth, wisps of smoke trailing into the air around him as he focused, bent over another of his creations. Inside of a simple glass bottle was something impossible. Carefully, ever so carefully, he would use his custom tools to twist wire. He would carefully place each lead. Eventually when the time was right he would solder. Finally he’d place it on the shelf next to the others, an LED matrix in a bottle.

led-message-in-a-bottle-assemblyWell, maybe not, but [Mariko Kosaka]’s father [Kimio Kosaka] has done it. In order to build the matrix, he needed tools that could reach inside the mouth of the bottle without taking up too much space to allow for precise movement. To do this he bent, brazed, twisted, and filed piano wire into tools that are quite beautiful by themselves. These were used to carefully bend and position the LEDs, wires, and other components inside the bottle.

Once the part was ready, he used a modified Hakko soldering iron to do the final combination. We wonder if he even had to be careful to solder quickly so as not to build up a residue on the inside of the bottle? The electronics are all contained inside the bottle. One of the bottles contained another impressive creation of his: an entire Arduino with only wire, dubbed the Arduino Skeleton. Batteries are attached to the cork so when the power runs low it can be removed and replaced without disturbing the creation.

It’s a ridiculous labor of love, and naturally, we love it. There’s a video of it in operation as well as one with him showing how it was done which is visible after the break. He showed them off at the Tokyo Maker Faire where they were surely a hit.

Continue reading “Electronic Message In a Bottle”

Almost Fail of The Week: Doing Surface Mount Reflow Wrong In Every Possible Way and Still Succeeding

Sometimes the best way to learn is from the success of others. Sometimes failure is the best teacher. In this case we are learning from [Tim Trzepacz]’s successive failures in his attempt to solder one board to another using a reflow oven. They somehow cancelled each other out, and he ended up with a working board. For those of you who have used a reflow oven, there will be eye rolling.

[Tim]’s first mistake was to use regular solder instead of paste. We can see how he got there logically; if you hand solder an SMD you melt solder onto the pads first to make it easier. However, the result was that he had two boards that wouldn’t sit flat on each other thanks to the globs of solder on the pads.

Not to be deterred, he laid the boards on top of each other and warmed up the oven to a toasty 650 degrees. Well, not quite. The dang oven didn’t turn to eleven, so he figured 500 would probably work too. Missing the hint entirely, he let his board bake in a nearly 1000F oven until he noticed some smoke which, he intuitively knew, definitely shouldn’t be happening.

The board was blackening, the solder mask was literally bubbling off the substrate, people were coming over to see the show, and he decided success was still possible. He clamped the heated boards together with a binder clip until they cooled. Someone gave him a lesson on reflow, presumably listened to through reddening ears.

Ashamed and defeated, he went home. However, there was a question in his mind. Sure it looks bad, but is it possible that the board actually works? After a quick test, the answer was yes. It loaded some code and an time later he was happily hacking away. Go figure.

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?

Continue reading “Tools of the Trade – Through Hole Assembly”

DIYing Huge BGA Packages

One day [Andy] was cruising around eBay and spotted something interesting. Forty Virtex-E FPGAs for two quid each. These are the big boys of the FPGA world, with 512 user IO pins, almost 200,000 logic gates, packed into a 676-ball BGA package. These are not chips designed for the hobbyist. These chips are not designed for boards with less than six layers. These chips aren’t even designed for boards with 6/6mil tolerances from the usual suspects in China. By any account, a 676-ball package is not like a big keep out sign for hobbyists. You don’t turn down a £2 class in advanced PCB design, though, leading to one of the most impressive ‘I just bought some crap on eBay’ projects we’ve seen.

halfbuiltThe project [Andy] had in mind for these chips was a generic dev board, which meant breaking out the IO pins and connecting some SRAM, SDRAM, and Flash memory. The first issue with this project is escape routing all the balls. Xilinx published a handy application note that recommends specific design parameters for the traces of copper under the chip. Unfortunately, this was a six-layer board, and the design rules in the application note were for 5/5mil traces. [Andy]’s board house can’t do six-layer boards, and their design rules are for 6/6mil traces. To solve this problem, [Andy] just didn’t route the inner balls, and hoped the 5mil traces would work out.

With 676 tiny little pads on a PCB, the clocks routed, power supply implemented, too many decoupling caps on the back, differential pairs, static RAM, a few LEDs placed just for fun, [Andy] had to solder this thing up. Since the FPGA was oddly one of the less expensive items on the BOM, he soldered that first, just to see if it would work. It did, which meant it was time to place the RAM, Flash, and dozens of decoupling caps. Everything went relatively smoothly – the only problem was the tiny 0402 decoupling caps on the back of the board. This was, by far, the hardest part of the board to solder. [Andy] only managed to get most of the decoupling caps on with a hot air gun. That was good enough to bring the board up, but he’ll have to figure some other way of soldering those caps for the other 30 or so boards.

Continue reading “DIYing Huge BGA Packages”