Iron Becomes SMD Hot Plate

Few things have changed our workshops more than surface mount components. In 1980 it would have been strange to see a hobby bench with a microscope, hot air equipment, tweezers, and all the other accouterments that are a necessity today. [Electronoobs] wanted a reflow hot plate and decided that he could repurpose a consumer laundry iron for the job. You can see the results in the video below.

Opening the iron revealed surprisingly simple circuitry, so the build has some additional parts along with a controller and an LCD, of course. The power requirement for the heating element is significant — 13 amps — so the plate uses a solid state relay to turn things on and off.

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Can You Use An Easy-Bake Oven For Reflow Soldering?

The answer is yes, yes you can. As long as you have one made after about 2011, at least. In the video after the break, [Blitz City DIY] takes us briefly through the history of the venerable Easy-Bake Oven and into the future by reflow soldering a handful of small blinky boards with it.

You’re right, these things once used special light bulbs to cook pint-sized foods, but now they are legit ovens with heating elements that reach 350°F and a little above. The only trouble is that there’s no temperature controller, so you have to use low-temperature solder paste and an oven thermometer to know when to pull the little tray out. Other than that, it looked like smooth sailing.

If you’re only doing a board every once in a while, $40 for a reflow oven isn’t too shabby. And yeah, as with all ovens, once you’ve reflowed a board in it, don’t use it for food.

If you’d rather build an oven, high-powered light bulbs will still do the trick.

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Magnifying On The Cheap

If there is one thing we’ve learned during several years of running the Hackaday SMD soldering challenge it is this: Most people need magnification to do good soldering at a tiny scale. The problem is, like most tools, you can buy something as cheap as a $5 binocular headset or you can spend $1,000 or more on a serious microscope. What’s in between? [Noel] looks at some affordable options in a recent video that you can see below.

[Noel] started out with a cheap “helping hand” that has a simple little magnifying glass attached to it. The major criterion was to find something that would have no delay so he could solder under magnification. While it is possible to work under a scope with a little lag in the display, it is frustrating and there are better options.

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Robotics Club Teaches Soldering

Oregon State University must be a pretty good place to go to school if you want to hack on robots. Their robotics club, which looks active and impressive, has a multi-part video series on how to solder surface mount components that is worth watching. [Anthony] is the team lead for their Mars Rover team and he does the job with some pretty standard-looking tools.

The soldering station in use is a sub-$100 Aoyue with both a regular iron and hot air. There’s also a cheap USB microscope that looks like it has a screen, but is covered in blue tape to hold it to an optical microscope. So no exotic tools that you’d need a university affiliation to match.

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Inputs Of Interest: ErgoDox Post-Mortem

In the last installment, I told you I was building an open-source, split, ortholinear keyboard called the ErgoDox. I’m doing this because although I totally love my Kinesis Advantage, it has made me want to crack my knuckles and explore the world of split keyboards. Apparently there are several of you who want to do the same, as evidenced by your interest in the I’m Building an ErgoDox! project on IO. Thank you!

Well boys and girls, the dust has settled, the soldering iron has cooled, and the keycaps are in place. The ErgoDox is built and working. Now that it’s all said and done, let me tell you how it went. Spoiler alert: not great. But I got through it, and it keyboards just like it’s supposed to. I’m gonna lay this journey out as it happened, step by step, so you can live vicariously through my experience.

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The Art Of USB Dongle Repair

Faced with a broken USB dongle for our wireless devices, most of us would likely bin the part and order a replacement, after all the diminutive size of those things probably means hard to impossible repairability, right? Well, [The Equalizor] took it as a challenge and used the opportunity to practice his microscopic soldering skills just for funsies.

The wireless adapter in question, which came from one of his clients who accidentally bent it while it was plugged into a laptop, refused to be recognized by a computer under any circumstances. After sliding out the metal casing for the USB plug and snapping off the plastic housing, [The Equalizor] discovered that the slightly bent exterior hid a deeply cracked PCB. Then, with an inspection of the severed traces and lifted components, it was simply a matter of reflowing solder a few times to try to make the board whole again. Once the dongle was confirmed working, a new 3D shell was printed for it, replacing the original which had to be broken off.

It might not seem extraordinary to some people, but this video is a good example to show that repairs to delicate electronics in such a small scale are feasible, and can serve to reduce the amount of electronic waste we constantly dump out. Just because some electronics seem dauntingly elaborate or beyond salvaging, it doesn’t always mean there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel. You can see the work performed on this tiny dongle after the break.

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Solder SMDs With A Pan O’ Sand

For those that grew up working with through-hole components, surface mount parts can be challenging to deal with. However, there are plenty of techniques out there that are more than accessible to the DIY set. With the right gear, soldering SMD boards is a snap – just get yourself a hot pan of sand (Youtube link, embedded below)!

The process starts with a professionally manufactured PCB, and accompanying stencil. All major PCB CAD packages are capable of generating stencil files these days, and many manufacturers will throw in a laser cut stencil for minimal extra cost with a PCB order. The board is first mounted on a stable surface, and has solder paste applied, before components are placed with tweezers. Perfect placement isn’t necessary, as the surface tension of the molten solder pulls components into their correct orientations. The populated board is then placed on a bed of sand in a frying pan, which is placed on an induction cooktop. The board is then heated until the solder melts, and all the components are neatly reflowed. Once allowed to cool, the board is done!

The trick is that the sand helps evenly heat the circuit board, while keeping it a safe distance away from the heat source. Results are good, and the process is far quicker than hand soldering. It’s easy to keep an eye on the process too. Of course, the traditional method is still to use the humble toaster oven, but new techniques are always useful. We’ve seen it done with a Bunsen burner, too. Video after the break.

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