When you say “recapping” it conjures up an image of a dusty old chassis with point-to-point wiring with a bunch of dried-out old capacitors or dodgy-looking electrolytics that need replacement. But time marches on, and we’re now at the point where recapping just might mean removing SMD electrolytics from a densely packed PCB. What do you do then?
[This Does Not Compute]’s answer to that question is to try a bunch of different techniques and see what works best, and the results may surprise you. Removal of SMD electrolytic caps can be challenging; the big aluminum can sucks a lot of heat away, the leads are usually pretty far apart and partially obscured by the plastic base, and they’re usually stuffed in with a lot of other components, most of which you don’t want to bother. [TDNC] previously used a hot-air rework station and liberally applied Kapton tape and aluminum foil to direct the heat, but that’s tedious and time-consuming. Plus, electrolytics sometimes swell up when heated, expelling their corrosive contents on the PCB in the process.
As brutish as it sounds, the solution might just be as simple as ripping caps off with pliers. This seems extreme, and with agree that the risk of tearing off the pads is pretty high. But then again, both methods seemed to work pretty well, and on multiple boards too. There’s a catch, though — the pliers method works best on caps that have already leaked enough of their electrolyte to weaken the solder joints. Twisting healthier caps off a PCB is likely to end in misery. That’s where brutal method number two comes in: hacking the can off the base with a pair of flush cutters. Once the bulk of the cap is gone, getting the leads off the pad is a simple desoldering job; just don’t forget to clean any released schmoo off the board — and your cutters!
To be fair, [This Does Not Compute] never seems to have really warmed up to destructive removal, so he invested in a pair of hot tweezers for the job, which works really well. But perhaps you’re not sure that you should just reflexively replace old electrolytics on sight. If so, you’re in pretty good company.