Tuesday, July 13, 2021

learning to solder at 74 yo

Well, you have to have a good reason, the right frame of mind, to learn something new.

Slowly it dawned on me that maker ed was the way to go for both school and community reform for the 21st C.

Soldering, although not absolutely essential, was a highly desirable skill, that would extend my ability to make new things. I'm still at the stage of making things driven by microcontrollers and soldering is required quite often for that.

So, right frame of mind, tick.

Next, you need good tools. I wasn't too sure what tools exactly but over a period of time of exploring the adafruit site, that became clearer. I have now ordered these tools for myself. In the interim because we setup a new Artbotics course at school and ordered tools for that I have access to those tools right now (all prices in USD)
  • Hakko FX 888D soldering station $129.95
  • Hakko 20-30 AWG wire strippers $14.95
  • Flush diagonal cutters CHP170 $7.25
  • Helping third hand magnifier $6.00
  • solder sucker $5.00
  • Multi coloured heat shrink various sizes $4.95
  • solder wick $3.00
  • Simple pliers $3.00
  • TOTAL USD$174.10
  • ROUGHLY AUD$226 (multiply USD * 1.3 exchange rate)

Good tools, tick

There is still a lot of hands on learning to do. Fortunately, there are excellent resources including YouTube videos out there.

I read the Hakko Soldering Station Instruction Manual and took notes. I read some online tutorials and watched some YouTube videos.

I did the same for wire stripping techniques. Check the leads you have bought for wire thickness in AWG (American Wire Gauge)

I practised with joining 2 bits of copper wire together, using the helping hand.

My first real soldering job was wiring up a GEMMA M0 to a neopixel LED dots strand for the neopixel fairy crown project. This one is relatively easy since the holes on the GEMMA are so big.

My next job was to achieve through hole soldering for the neopixel jewell 10 minute necklace. The holes on the jewell are much smaller and the solder is meant to fill the holes. If you are a beginner, like me, don't be fooled by the racy video which shows the whole thing being made in 10 minutes. It took me 2 days!

By the time I started the neopixel jewell soldering I had become a little complacent and overconfident and so made a complete botch of it. There were 3 leads of hook up wire to solder. One of them I fluked but for the others the solder didn't go into the holes and there were big blobs on the surface. I wish I had taken a pic to show you but probably it was too much of a shame job!

I hadn't learnt the technique. It's a matter of paying ATTENTION, close attention to what is being displayed in the YouTube videos.

Initially, I thought it was a disaster. But luckily I had a thin blade in my flat and realised I could clean up the mess with a bit of scraping.

In attempting to learn the technique, I drew some pictures in my notes. From what I had read and watched I thought I was meant to simultaneously heat up the metal pad around the hole, the lead or wire going into the hole and the solder itself. ie. don't just heat the solder, heat all the parts that need to join together.

I tried this a few times but it didn't work! The solder didn't melt even when I turned up the temperature of the iron to 400 degrees C.

Eventually, I realised, that the tip of the iron didn't generate enough heat to warm everything up. The instructions hadn't said this but when I went back and rewatched the videos I could see it was more like this, heating with a broader section of the iron.

This was the biggest hurdle I had to jump (so far) in learning to solder.

I learnt to slow down, take it step by step and refer back to the experts on YouTube whenever a problem arose.

My final neopixel jewell, wired up to a GEMMA M0, looks like this.

The final product of course doesn't show the trials and tribulations I went through.

At the end my feelings were part punching the air triumphant and part relieved that I had jumped what was for me a high hurdle.

Ultimately, to learn a new technique, to learn something new, you need to be motivated by a goal you want to achieve. For me that goal is to become a 21st C maker. That goal is a motivator to persevere and keep learning when difficult problems arise.

I'm wondering how I can communicate these lessons to my students when I go back to teach.

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