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Thursday, January 6, 2011

How-To: The Hacker’s Soldering Station - Hack a Day

How-To: The Hacker's Soldering Station

posted Aug 5th 2008 5:20am by Adam Harris
filed under: classic hacks, how-to

A good soldering station and fume extractor is a must for anyone interested in hacking and modding, but not everyone can afford the expensive professional models on the market. This How-To and the tips within it will guide you through the process of building an inexpensive homebrew fume hood complete with built-in time and temperature controlled soldering station and all the soldering tools you need.

We'll begin by building the solder fume hood. Yes, we said "hood", not just "extractor". While there have been some nice fume extractors hacked together, this system integrates all of your soldering tools into and around the fume hood.

The purpose of a fume hood is to draw solder fumes away from the person soldering. Besides the health risks, these fumes are really annoying as they follow that pesky law of the universe: "No matter where you happen to be sitting, solder fumes will float directly towards your face."

To start, let's gather materials:

Part Supplier Cost
18 Gallon clear Rubbermaid Container (about 18″x18″x16″) Super Store $7.00
4″ Metal Fan Super Store $5.00
12″ Fluorescent Under-Cabinet Lamp Super Store $9.00
Surge Protector Super Store $3.00
Activated Carbon Filter Super store or Online Electronics Boutique $3.00
Small Sheet of Acrylic (7″x15″) (optional) Scrap Free

Once all the materials are gathered, we can begin cutting the plastic of the Rubbermaid container. To cut this material, use a plastic scoring tool. When you make your cuts, make sure to repeatedly score the line you want to cut until the blade goes all the way through the plastic. Do not try to score it and snap it like acrylic. This material has a bad tendency to crack in places you didn't intend. If your plastic cracks, all is not lost. Since the plastic is soft, you can weld the cracks back together by touching it with the tip of a high temperature hot glue gun.

First, we need to cut a hole for the fan in the top of the hood. Take off the cover of the fan and use it to make a hole slightly smaller than the inside diameter of the fan cover in the top center of the hood. The fan is actually going to hang from the top of the hood and pull the fumes out of the hood when turned on.

Once the big hole is made, drill smaller holes for the screws used to hold the fan together. With the nuts on the outside, screw the fan assembly to the top of the hood.

To reattach the top cover of the fan, use some scrap solid core wire or twist-ties to connect the spars on the top cover to the spars on the bottom fan assembly. We used only three twist ties as this is plenty to keep the fan cover in place.

Now we are ready to mount the light. Mark a good place to attach the light in the back top of the hood. It is likely that the mounting screws that came with the lamp are too long. Additionally, the lamp might get too hot. To prevent the lamp from melting the plastic, we cut about five half-inch spacers out of some of the plastic cut off earlier. To make life easier, pre-drill holes in the center of each of the spacers. Use a couple of the spacers on the inside to lower the lamp away from the top of the hood, and then use a few on the outside to cover the sharp points of the protruding screws. Alternatively, encapsulating the screw points on the outside of the hood with hot glue works just as well.

Next, cut the main window of the fume hood. Ours goes all the way across the front and is about 7 inches high. It's a good idea to start with a smaller hole and expand it to see what feel comfortable for you to use. Make sure it is easy to reach the top back wall of the hood. This is where the controls will go later.

At this point, you can use zip ties to attach the active carbon filter to the top of the fan.

Plug the fan and the light into a powerstrip. Make sure the fan and the light are turned on so you can turn the entire hood on and off from the strip. Plug in the soldering iron and you are ready to go. The adjustable base of the fan is used here to hold the excess wire from the soldering iron; keeping it out of the way.

A slightly more advanced option for the front is to cut another smaller window (about 6.5 by 13.5 inches) just above the first one and add a piece of acrylic. This greatly improves visibility. Make sure to cut the acrylic about a half inch larger than the window to give yourself a surface to glue. Attach the acrylic on the inside of the fume hood with hot glue.

To improve your soldering iron set-up, you can get a professional soldering station. But why spend $50 on a temperature controlled soldering station when you can build your own for cheaper! Afrotechmods has a rough guide to building a great adjustable temperature soldering station.

To install this soldering station into the fume hood, simply cut a hole in the back of the hood large enough to stuff the dimmer and the socket through it from the front side and small enough to make sure the mounting holes still have some plastic to mount to. The box will be attached to the back of the hood, but the faceplate needs to be on the inside.

You'll notice that there is a different knob on the dimmer switch. We used a scrap knob with a flat bottom (comes complete with cool numbers) on the dimmer switch instead of the stock knob.

Regardless of what soldering station you use, if it doesn't have auto turn off (which is good for fire prevention), put a grounded AC appliance timer inline with the iron. These timers allow you to automatically turn on or off any AC appliance at any time you want within a 24 hour period, but don't rely on it to keep your iron turned off, as it will turn it back one every 24 hours. It's better than nothing and is a cheap option, as they run between 5 and 10 bucks at local hardware and super stores. The one we use has increments of about 15 minutes. Setting it for 30-45 minutes works well.

For some reason, the designers of these timers want to take up all the plug space they can by placing the plug practically in the center on the back of the timer. Luckily, the scrap dimmer knob we found has a low profile, and allows the timer to plug in with little interference to the dimmer. A better option is to get an aquarium timer. These are designed with a better form factor and generally only cover one socket.

Many cheap soldering irons come with a sponge to clean the tip. If you think about it, it's not really the best idea to use a sponge to clean your soldering iron; it works, but it also cools down the tip of the iron every time you clean it. If you are doing delicate work and clean your tip once every couple of soldering points, this can lead to cold solder joints and bad connections.

Professionals use a flux covered wire mesh to clean the tip. This method draws off the solder and uses flux to clean the tip. Every now and then, you just kind of stab the mesh with your iron a couple of times to clean it off. The problem is that this method costs around $10.

Instead of buying some job specific wire mesh, just use a copper coated scourer to clean your soldering iron tip. Usually used for cleaning pots and pans, these little guys can be picked up at your local grocery store for $1 or so a pack. The copper mesh isn't coated with flux, but the copper itself will draw the excess solder from the tip of the iron. Do not get the steel scourers, as they are only good for cleaning dishes.

A great addition to our ti
p cleaner is the use of a simple $1 "locker organizer" picked up from the dollar aisle of the local super store. Just shove the scourer into the organizer to keep it from sticking to the iron. The magnet on the bottom will also weigh it down enough to keep it on the table when you make spastic stabs at the scourer in frenzied hacking sessions.

Surface mount soldering is becoming more common amongstl hackers and hobbyists. This work is notorious for being one of the most tedious and annoying practices known to man. Of course, having the right tools for the job helps. The cheapest surface mount rework stations cost upwards of $100. In the past, our own [Will O'Brien] showed how to make your own surface mount reflow iron.

A reflow iron or pen isn't the only tool you need for surface mount soldering. Sometimes you'll need a hot plate or oven.

For smaller jobs we've found that using a candle warmer can be useful. We got ours for $5 from a super store. The plate might not get completely hot enough to melt the solder by itself, but it does help a lot when you use a soldering iron or a reflow iron by decreasing the time and effort it takes to warm the joints. The sweet spot on these warmers is usually directly in the middle of the black steel plate.

Simply place a PCB in the center of the candle warmer and allow it to raise the temp of the solder joints. Use a reflow pen or soldering iron to heat the particular joint you want the rest of the way. It will take a lot less time to melt the solder this way. This is especially useful when placing surface mount parts, but can also be useful when taking them off of a PCB.

Placing all of these components together inside the fume hood, the Hacker's Soldering Station is complete. With this project we set out to make a simple, cheap solder fume hood complete with a time and temperature soldering station. We ended up with a great soldering station and fume extractor set up. In fact, this has now replaced one of the WLC100 soldering stations we usually use.

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These Links have More interesting info on this subject...

How-To: The Hacker's Soldering Station
How-To: The Hacker's Soldering Station - Hack a Day
How-To: Make a surface mount soldering iron -- Engadget
Weller WLC100: Weller Soldering Station
Hakko 599B/P Tip Cleaner, Discount Prices on Hakko 599B/P Tip Cleaner
Cheapass Professional Soldering Station
Solder fume extractor
Window-mounted solder fume extractor (not just for RVs!)
Fume Extractor, MG100S, Filtronic - Wassco
Stahl Tools SSVT Variable Temperature Soldering Station |

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