The Modern Analog Soldering Station

There is a certain sense of accomplishment one gets when building their own tools. This is what [Alejandro Velazquez] was going for when he built his own soldering station. Sure you can get a decent station for a pittance on Amazon, or eBay. You can even build your own microprocessor controlled station. [Alejandro] is currently interested in analog electronics, so he went that route to build his own closed-loop station.

The handle is a 50 watt, 24-volt affair with a thermocouple. You can find this handle on many Hakko 907 clone soldering stations, often referred to as the 907A. The station itself is completely analog. A triac switches the current going to the heater. The triac is controlled by a PWM signal. The PWM itself is generated and regulated by an LM324 quad op-amp, which is the heart of the station. The op-amp compares the setpoint with the current temperature read from the soldering handle’s thermocouple, then adjusts the duty cycle of the PWM signal to raise, or lower the temperature.

It’s a classic control system, and the schematic is definitely worth checking out if you want to understand how op-amps can be used to create complex operations.

You can find plenty more information on analog electronics right here on Hackaday — we’ve covered thermocouple amplifiers, as well as instrumentation amps. If you’re more of a digital man, check out this Arduino controlled soldering station!

Seeing a Webcam’s PCBs in a Whole Different Light

When it comes to inspection of printed circuits, most of us rely on the Mark I eyeball to see how we did with the soldering iron or reflow oven. And even when we need the help of some kind of microscope, our inspections are still firmly in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Pushing the frequency up a few orders of magnitude and inspecting PCBs with X-rays is a thing, though, and can reveal so much more than what the eye can see.

Unlike most of us, [Tom Anderson] has access to X-ray inspection equipment in the course of his business, so it seemed natural to do an X-ray enhanced teardown and PCB inspection. The victim for this exercise was nothing special – just a cheap WiFi camera of the kind that seems intent on reporting back to China on a regular basis. The guts are pretty much what you’d expect: a processor board, a board for the camera, and an accessory board for a microphone and IR LEDs. In the optical part of the spectrum they look pretty decent, with just some extra flux and a few solder blobs left behind. But under X-ray, the same board showed more serious problems, like vias and through-holes with insufficient solder. Such defects would be difficult to pick up in optical inspection, and it’s fascinating to see the internal structure of both the board and the components, especially the BGA chips.

If you’re stuck doing your inspections the old-fashioned way, fear not – we have tips aplenty for optical inspection. But don’t let that stop you from trying X-ray inspection; start with this tiny DIY X-ray tube and work your way up from there.

Thanks for the tip, [Jarrett].

Soldering Like It’s 205 BC

Did you ever stop to think how unlikely the discovery of soldering is? It’s hard to imagine what sequence of events led to it; after all, metals heated to just the right temperature while applying an alloy of lead and tin in the right proportions in the presence of a proper fluxing agent doesn’t seem like something that would happen by accident.

Luckily, [Chris] at Clickspring is currently in the business of recreating the tools and technologies that would have been used in ancient times, and he’s made a wonderful video on precision soft soldering the old-fashioned way. The video below is part of a side series he’s been working on while he builds a replica of the Antikythera mechanism, that curious analog astronomical computer of antiquity. Many parts in the mechanism were soldered, and [Chris] explores plausible methods using tools and materials known to have been available at the time the mechanism was constructed (reported by different historians as any time between 205 BC and 70 BC or so). His irons are forged copper blocks, his heat source is a charcoal fire, and his solder is a 60:40 mix of lead and tin, just as we use today. He vividly demonstrates how important both surface prep and flux are, and shows both active and passive fluxes. He settled on rosin for the final joints, which turned out silky smooth and perfect; we suspect it took quite a bit of practice to get the technique down, but as always, [Chris] makes it look easy.

If you’d like to dig a bit deeper into modern techniques, we’ve covered the physics of solder and fluxes in some depth. And if you need more of those sweet, sweet Clickspring videos, we’ve got you covered there as well.

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Fail of the Week: Solid State Relay Fails Spectacularly

A lot of times these days, it seems like we hackers are a little like kids in a candy store. With so many cool devices available for pennies at the click of a mouse, it’s temptingly easy to order first and ask questions about quality later. Most of the time that works out just fine, with the main risk of sourcing a dodgy component being a ruined afternoon of hacking when a part fails.

The stakes are much higher when you’re connecting your project to the house mains, though, as [Mattias Wandel] recently learned when the solid-state relay controlling his water heater failed, with nearly tragic results. With aplomb that defies the fact that he just discovered that he nearly burned his house down, [Mattias] tours the scene of the crime and delivers a postmortem of the victim, a Fotek SSR-25DA. It appears that he mounted it well and gave it a decent heatsink, but the thing immolated itself just the same. The only remnant of the relay’s PCB left intact was the triac mounted to the rear plate. [Mattias] suspects the PCB traces heated up when he returned from vacation and the water heater it was controlling came on; with a tank full of cold water, both elements were needed and enough current was drawn to melt the solder build-up on the high-voltage traces. With the solder gone, the traces cooked off, and the rest is history. It’s a scary scenario that’s worth looking at if you’ve got any SSRs controlling loads anywhere near their rated limit.

The morals of the story: buy quality components and test them if possible; when in doubt, derate; and make sure a flaming component can’t light anything else on fire. And you’ll want to review the basics of fire protection while you’re at it.

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Benchtop Fume Extractor Cuts the Cord, Clears the Air

What good is safety gear that isn’t used because it’s annoying and gets in the way of getting the job at hand completed? None, really, and the solder fume extractor is one item that never seems to live in harmony with your workspace. They’re often noisy, they obstruct your vision, and a power cord draped across your bench is a sure way to ruin your soldering zen.

To fix those problems, [Nate] has built a nice battery powered solder fume extractor that’s so low profile and so quiet, you won’t mind sharing a bench with it. Based on a standard 80-mm case fan, the extractor has a built-in 18650 battery for power and a USB charging port. There are nice little features, like a speed control and a low-battery indicator. The fan mounts to a pair of custom PCBs, which form the feet for the fan. [Nate] claims to have run the fan for 12 hours straight on battery before needing a charge, and that it’s so quiet he needs to add a power indicator to the next version. Also making an appearance in rev 2 will be a carbon filter to catch the fumes, but as [Nate] notes, better to spread them around for now than let them go directly up his nose.

Are you in the hacking arts for the long haul? Let’s hope so. If you are, make sure you’re up on the basics of mitigating inhalation hazards.

VFD Puts the Suck Back into Desoldering Station

A dedicated desoldering station is a fantastic tool if you’re in the business of harvesting components from old gear. Having heat and suction in a single tool is far more convenient than futzing with spring-loaded solder suckers or braid, but only as long as the suction in the desoldering tool has a little oomph behind it. So if the suction on your solder sucker is starting to suck, this simple VFD can help restore performance.

Luckily for [Mr. Carlson], his Hakko 470 desoldering station is equipped with an AC induction motor, so it’s a perfect candidate for a variable frequency drive to boost performance. He decided to build a simple VFD that boosts the frequency from 60-Hz mains to about 90-Hz, thereby jacking the motor speed up by 50%. The VFD is just a TL494 PWM chip gating the primary coil of a power transformer through a MOSFET. Duty cycle and frequency are set by trimmers, and the whole thing is housed in an old chassis attached to the Hakko via an anachronistic socket and plug from the vacuum tube days. That’s a nice touch, though, because the Hakko can be returned to stock operation by a simple bridging plug, and the video below shows the marked difference in motor speed both with and without the VFD plugged in.

We’ve marveled at [Mr. Carlson]’s instrument packed lab before and watched his insider’s tour of a vintage radio transmitter. Here’s hoping we get to see more of his hopped-up solder sucker in action soon.

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Think You Know Everything About Soldering?

[Joshua] has frequent discussions about his soldering techniques with viewers of his YouTube channel. He finally decided to interview [Randy Rubinstein] who is the president of SRA Soldering. In nearly an hour, they talk about everything from solder alloys to proper temperature. They also talk about lead exposure, flux cleaning, and lead-free solder.

They also talk about strategies for rework with lead-free and using special solder for removing SMD components. Honestly, although the first frame of the video says “your solder sucks,” we didn’t really find any earth-shattering revelations about something everyone’s doing wrong. We did, however, find a lot of good advice and some interesting details about things like the uses for different solder alloys.

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