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How to Solder   

                                                                                                                                
April, 2014
Getting Started With Soldering…Right Now!

So you want to learn how to solder, eh? If the thought of wielding a small, cylindrical tool hot enough to burn through your flesh in less than a second frightens you, don't worry because here we'll give you the lowdown on what steps you need to take to create a masterful soldering job.
We'll start off by running you through the basics of using a soldering iron, and then we'll talk about the precise steps you'll want to take if you plan on showing off your newfangled soldering skills any time soon.

The Basics: Soldering for the First Time

A soldering iron is a pretty basic tool for many hobbyists who are interested in toying around with electronics and various contraptions that require different parts to be joined together. Soldering isn't just for casual tinkerers, though. Professional metalworkers, electricians, and engineers all use soldering devices for a variety of purposes. Even Tony Stark makes use of soldering when he starts to create the suit he's nicknamed after (that would be Iron Man). Learning how to properly use a soldering iron, then, will be huge if you have a passion for creating sophisticated - or not so sophisticated - gadgets.
The first thing you'll want to know is this: there are two central components to the soldering process. You need the soldering iron (which will, in all likelihood, be plugged into an electric outlet in order to get the necessary amount of heat) and the solder. The solder is the stuff that you'll melt to form joints and connections among the parts of the gadget you're building. When packaged, solder looks like wire wrapped into a tight coil, and solder can be purchased at most hardware stores (and, of course, online). The soldering iron and the solder are just about all you will need to begin your soldering journey (and of course, something to actually solder together - it would be kind of pointless to go through life melting solder to no end).
There are a few more tools that will be extremely helpful, though (that's code for “your life will be a whole lot easier if you have these tools”). Make sure you have the right soldering tips for your project. Soldering tips come in different sizes, and if you're doing precision soldering, you should probably look into getting a very narrow soldering tip. Additionally, you'll find that it's very handy to have a sponge on hand (to clean the tips, of course), as well as a holder for your soldering iron to rest when it's not in use. Also, don't forget to have some wire working tools nearby, as these will be very important when it's time to snip off pieces of solder in just the way you want.
Once you have your soldering iron and your solder, take these steps to successfully carry out a soldering task.
1. Plug in your soldering iron and wait for it to heat up. Some soldering irons are cordless, so if this is the case with yours, then simply turn it on. Now then, the temperature of the soldering iron will start to rise, and pretty soon it'll be hot enough to burn a hole through - well, your finger. Just be careful when you handle your soldering iron and you'll be fine.

2. Lop off a piece of solder with a cutter and hold it steadily with a pair of pliers (or a similar tool). This piece shouldn't be too large or you'll end up using more solder than you need (and it can get quite messy).

3. What you do next depends on what exactly you're soldering. If, say, you're soldering two strips of wire together, then it's advisable to first twist these pieces of wire into one wire, and then proceed to apply the melted solder to the joint. On the other hand, suppose you're soldering joints on some electrical component (such as those found on typical circuit boards). In this situation, all you really need to do is make sure the electrical component will stay in its place while you apply the solder (an easy way to do this is with clips).

4. Now comes the tricky part. You definitely do not want what's affectionately termed a cold solder joint. A cold solder joint is what happens when you just melt the solder onto your item of interest, with the end result being a lumpy joint that not only looks unattractive (seriously) but might also interfere with the function of the gadget you're working on. Cold solder joints can be avoided easily enough by first heating up the wire of interest and melting the solder into that wire. A similar principle applies to electrical components. Instead of letting that solder ooze all over the place, direct it to the area where it's needed - but only after you've heated the metal contacts on the circuit board.

5. You're almost done. Once you've finished soldering your joints into place, feel free to cut off any excess wires or leads. And don't forget your safety precautions - don't leave your soldering iron plugged in (or on) if you're finished with your little project.

Seems simple, right? That's the great thing about soldering - once you've practiced it for a bit, it won't be long before you get the hang of it and can solder like a pro. So get out there and start to work on that mysterious, classified piece of technology you've been dreaming about.