This post will outline the soldering iron, solder, and soldering related tools I use, and why I recommend these products. Having the right equipment makes soldering and building quadcopters much easier.
Don’t forget to check out the tutorial on how to solder for beginners.
Table of Content
- Soldering Iron
- Iron Tips
- Third Hand
- Solder Remover
- Tip Cleaner
- Solder Smoke Extractor
- Reverse Tweezers
Where to Buy?
|TS-100||This is what I use and recommend! Compact and portable, powered by DC 12V-24V. See review for detail.||http://bit.ly/TS100-solder-iron|
|TS-80||Very portable with slightly better ergonomics than the TS100. However it can only be powered via USB-C. See review for more.||http://bit.ly/2EoSvjE|
|YiHua 908+||Cheapest basic soldering iron for the bench.||http://bit.ly/2hw3EQV|
|Weller WLC100||Another basic desktop iron, slightly better quality.||http://amzn.to/2vzEIlH|
|Hakko FX888||This would be my go-to iron for the bench if budget allows.||http://amzn.to/2xI8R1J|
What Makes a Good Soldering Iron?
You want to get a soldering iron that has
- adjustable temperature control
- maximum temperature of 400°C or higher
- minimum power of 40W, preferably 60W or higher
Adjustable temperature allows you to better handle works of different nature. Larger wires and soldering pads require more heat, while finer soldering requires lower temperature to avoid damage from overheat.
The wattage (power) of a soldering iron is an indication of how much heat it’s capable of producing. A higher wattage iron is usually better at “heavy duty” soldering, as it heats up faster with less temperature drop.
Soldering Iron Tips
You need steady hands, so don’t drink too much coffee before soldering :) This is a good tip, but we are actually talking about tips for your soldering iron!
A good soldering iron can be fitted with tips of different shape and size. Pointy tips generally are better for precise soldering. Larger and wider tips are effective for bigger jobs.
I personally only use two tips for building and repairing mini quad, a cone tip and a bevel tip.
I use a bevel tip most of the time because of its versatility. The large surface area helps to transfer the heat faster, especially helpful for larger jobs, like soldering heavy gauge wire to an XT60. The sharp edge is very handy for smaller jobs, which saves time without having to change tips frequently.
If you need to do any extremely fine soldering, like replacing micro surface mount components, or soldering tiny wires to a processor on a flight controller, the cone tip is great for that.
The TS-100 already comes with a cone tip, so you just need to invest in a bevel tip (TS-BC2): http://bit.ly/2GY0vZi
Using the right solder makes the whole experience much more enjoyable! I recommend 0.6-0.8mm diameter solder for the fine work we do when building quads.
There are different types of solder for various purposes (different alloys and elements). Our recommendation is rosin core 63/37.
If you can’t get your hands on 63/37, 60/40 (60% tin and 40% lead) is also very good.
Why use 63/37 solder?
When solder is heated up and melted, it takes time for it to return to solid. We call this period the plastic phase.
Movement during the plastic phase can create bad solder connections. Speaking from experience, this happens often when holding the wires or components by hand.
63/37 solder has a shorter plastic phase compared to 60/40 and lead-free solder, which means it solidifies more quickly, making it the superior option. If your soldering skills aren’t perfect, a shorter plastic phase can help improve the quality of your soldering joints.
There really isn’t any downside to 63/37 compared to 60/40, it is a bit more expensive, but the price difference is negligible.
Differences between “Rosin Core”, “Clean” and “No Clean” Solder
I find “rosin core” easier to work with than “clean core” solder, the flux helps with oxidation, especially for large gauge wires which aren’t tin plated.
Rosin core has more flux inside the solder than clean core, and is better suited for applications vulnerable to oxidation.
Rosin core can leave some “dirty” brown residue around the joints due to the larger amount of flux, this is easily removable with alcohol. This residue is not conductive anyway and will not affect your solder joints, so clean it or leave it, it’s your choice.
Clean core will not leave this residue, giving a shiny finish, but sacrifices the oxidization-removing property of the flux.
No Clean is similar to Rosin Core, and it basically means you don’t need to clean it as it should be safe to leave the residue on the solder joint.
Solder Wire Diameter
The soldering we do is usually quite fine and requires accuracy, making thinner solder wire preferable – I personally use 0.032″ (0.81mm), anything over 1mm might be a little harder to do fine work with.
Avoid Unknown Vendors
It’s important to get solder from a reputable manufacturer / retailer, I learned my lesson the hard way: how the quality of solder impacts quadcopter building.
Avoid cheap solder from eBay or Banggood, it is often low quality.
Brands I personally have had good experience with are Kester and MG Chemical. Many from Asia also recommend Asahi but I have no experience with it.
Good quality solder might be expensive, but a roll dedicated to building multirotors will last years :) It is a worthy long term investment!
Solder Paste / Flux
Where to buy
- Kester Flux pen for general soldering: https://amzn.to/2tLWZbT
- Flux in a syringe for precise applications: http://amzn.to/2zo0WVC
- Solder Paste in a can: http://amzn.to/2sttBJj
Flux is an acid or rosin based compound which helps with soldering. As the solder melts, the flux boils and flows to the outside of the molten solder, the heat activates the acid which removes impurities, manifesting as the “dirty” brown residue mentioned earlier.
When metal is heated, oxidation occurs on the surface, preventing heat from being transferred effectively into the solder joint. When this happens, solder becomes pasty and sticky rather than fluid, making it hard to work with. Flux helps by preventing oxidation, making the solder flow more easily.
Adding flux to a metal surface before soldering can make it much easier to work with. Don’t worry if you apply too much, it is not electrically conductive and you can clean the residue off easily with alcohol.
If you have a dull and grey soldering joint, that’s usually caused by the flux completely boiling away. You can fix that by adding more flux to the joint and heating it up again.
Soldering Third Hand
A “third hand” or “helping hand” is a very handy tool (forgive the pun) for holding component steady while soldering. A third hand usually has at least two small alligator clips, and often features a magnifying glass to give you the best view of your work.
- Simple third hand on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2zp6YoZ
- Here is a review of the RealACC soldering helping hand (6 arms)
Pro Tip: Get some blu-tack as well, it’s useful for holding small stuff like wires and tiny components.
There are times you want to remove solder, when you apply too much solder, or you want to apply fresh solder to the joint. De-solder wick, or a solder sucker are essential.
De-solder Wick acts like a sponge that absorbs molten solder, while solder sucker uses a small air vacuum to suck up solder out of a heated joint. If you don’t know what to get, I suggest getting the solder wick, as I’ve always found it more effective.
Or just get both as a bundle: http://amzn.to/2sta6QV
Where to Buy?
- Brass tip cleaner on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2BlfxT7
- Brass coil tip cleaner on Banggood: http://bit.ly/2C4mXMc
- Solder Sponge on Banggood: http://bit.ly/2hQLUjQ
- Sponge on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2A72VBe
After only a few minutes working with your iron you will notice black stuff building up around the tip. Cleaning your soldering iron tip removes impurities and residue, and ensures the best possible performance. The tip of your iron should always be clean and shiny when you start work.
A cheap and common cleaner is “heat resistant sponge” that is designed for soldering (make it slightly wet with water before using). There is also “brass coil tip cleaner” which lasts longer. Resist the urge to use a normal kitchen scourer – they are made of aluminium and will scratch your tip.
Alcohol and Cotton Swabs
Great for cleaning solder joints and removing residue after soldering.
Solder Smoke Extractor
Prolonged exposure to solder fumes can cause incurable asthma! To avoid breathing in fumes from melted solder, get an activated exhaust extractor, work in a well ventilated area or simply use a fan to blow the smoke away.
Where to Buy?
Or if you like DIY like me, you can build a solder fume extractor quite cheaply and easily :)
Don’t want to burn your fingers when soldering wires? I use a pair of reverse tweezers. It’s really the best for holding small wires as they squeeze and hold on to the wire when you let go, it’s effortless.
Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2SE4R9r
- Mar 2019 – Article created
- Jan 2020 – Updated info