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Author Topic: Best general purpose soldering iron and solder?  (Read 2483 times)
NZ5N
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« on: February 16, 2008, 06:27:55 PM »

I have been having trouble making up PL-259 and male N connectors for 9913 and LMR-400 coax.  Just couldn't seem to get the solder to flow on the thick solid center conductor.  Have had trouble with other soldering jobs as well.

I thought I was just a poor solderer, so I took my coax and connectors to another ham and he popped them on in less than a minute.  Then he said, "You try the next one."  To my surprise, it went on easily.

So, maybe the problem is my equipment, not my lack of soldering talent?  I have both a 35w iron and 100w gun, both from Radio Shack, also tried both the thin and thicker 60/40 solder, and have used plenty of flux.  The gun and iron seem to get hot enough, and I can solder stranded coax without much difficulty.  

Would a nice Weller or some other type of better equipment make things easier for me?  Any recommendations?

73, Bill NZ5N  
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W7ETA
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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2008, 06:51:46 PM »

Ask your friend what iron he used.

I found 200 and 300 watts irons, from China, cheap on eBay.

73
Bob
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W5CWG
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2008, 07:24:40 PM »

try 63/37 and a good iron. I use a craftsman 150/400 watt iron.
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KZ1X
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« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2008, 08:25:31 PM »

In general, a soldering gun (especially the ones you have) are not the ideal tools for that job.  I can show you how to make them work -- and in fact my Weller 8200N gun is the tool I use for this purpose myself ... but I also have 35 years' experience, as well as some terrific Elmers way back then.

I also have a $800 Metcal station.  I am not suggesting you get one of these, either, unless you really need it!!

While technique is more important than the tools you use, there's nothing like the right tool for the job.  That leaves the question:  is this the only job?

Will you be doing anything other than soldering RG-8 type center conductors with this iron?  If so, please tell what else you might want to tackle, so a suggestion or two could be made for the tool to be able to cover more than one task.

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NZ5N
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« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2008, 09:01:54 PM »

At the moment, I have no projects pending other than PL-259 and male N coax jumper cables.  But just about anything could come up in the future, which is why I was asking about something for general purpose use.

The guy I visited seems to have vanished, otherwise I would have asked him.  I recall that it was a pencil-type iron, not a gun, only 50w or so, and the coax flowed nicely down the LMR-400 center conductor in less than 10 seconds.  With my equipment, even when the center conductor is good and hot and covered with flux, the solder just balls up and falls off, will not stick.

The shield was crimped on, and I know that it takes a lot more than 50w to solder the shield to a standard PL-259.  My gun can't get the solder into the holes.

Thanks for the replies,
Bill NZ5N
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K4MC
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« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2008, 11:03:54 PM »

Several tips:

1. Use only quality, silver plated PL-259s.  The ones with the bright chrome like finish are near impossible to solder to.  If you are using adaptors for RG-58 or RG-8X and can't get silver plated ones, you can use a fine file to expose the brass under the chrome finish on the barrel.

2. You will need two soldering irons.  First, an iron of around 100 watts is needed to solder the shield braid to the PL-259 (and adaptor, if used).  The iron will provide a lot of heat quickly to do the soldering without overheating the connector body dielectric. Work quickly and only solder one hole, or two if you are fast, then allow it to cool before doing the other two. A gun or smaller iron takes longer, and can overheat, and thus melt, the dielectric.  The second iron, one of a standard size, is used for the center conductor.

One often overlooked source for a 100 watt iron is a stained glass studio or craft shop.


K0BG has a good article on the subject and it can be found at:

http://www.eham.net/articles/5071

or

http://www.k0bg.com/coax.html



Wendell
K4MC
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NZ5N
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« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2008, 11:16:12 PM »

Thanks Wendell, good tips.

Anyone used Solder-It Paste to connect a PL-259?  I've heard claims it is much easier to use than regular solder because it melts at a lower temperature.  If so why isn't everyone using it?  See http://www.solder-it.com/solderpaste.asp and
http://www.solder-it.com/PL-259.asp
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AC5E
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« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2008, 12:38:11 AM »

Even a 50 Watt soldering pencil has far more available heat than a 250 Watt Weller. A PL-259 shell will soak up an astonishing amount of heat, and guns do not have enough stored heat to do a satisfactory job. You need a tip with more mass, and therefore more available heat

A 80 to 100 Watt pencil iron from Ungar, Hexacon, American Beauty, or other maker will be OK, but 100 Watt and larger soldering irons are often available at flea markets and garage sales for five dollars or less. These will have enough heat in the tip to heat a PL-259 shell to soldering temperature and melt the solder. Just make sure the removable tip is in usable condition, they are currently in the fifteen dollar range.

Now, eutectic solder; 63/37 or whatever you want to call it is OK - but it's often hard to find and it's pricey when you do find it. 60/40 "low melting point solder" is often easier to find. The softening point of either solder is 361 degrees F. Eutectic softens and liquefies at 361, while 60/40 liquefies at 363 F or so, and the difference is not noticeable in practice.

The real difference in solders is the flux. Oddly, acid flux has its uses, even in electronics, but PL-259's are not a place you want to use it. Bluntly, even a little moisture will combine with the residue and "eat H!" out of your shield.

You want "high activity non-corrosive flux." It's often described as "organic resin" on the spool label. You can sure tell the difference between active flux and the poor variety often incorporated in the chain store brands.

I rather suspect your old timer's "magic touch" amounts to no more than enough heat to do the job, combined with solder containing a very active flux. But if you are forced to make do, a bottle of liquid rosin flux, a tin of grease based non corrosive flux - or in a pinch a few drops of baby oil - will give lazy flux a boost.

73  Pete Allen  AC5E
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G3RZP
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« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2008, 12:40:57 AM »

I use a Weller TCP iron - 40 watts. For PL259s, I heat them up with a hot air paint stripping gun, and then use the Weller. No problems. But stick to silver plated 259s, and as advised earlier, if you have to use the bright shiny adapters, use a needle file to remove the plating.
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AC5UP
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« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2008, 05:20:09 AM »

"Anyone used Solder-It Paste to connect a PL-259? I've heard claims it is much easier to use than regular solder because it melts at a lower temperature. If so why isn't everyone using it?"

Low temp solders tend to be softer mechanically. That's not a major consideration today as the typical surface mount part has about as much solder bonding area as the area of the part itself, but back in the days of point-to-point wiring it was SOP to make a secure mechanical connection before soldering.

In the case of a PL-259, a proper coax install will minimize mechanical strain on the connector lest the center pin try to pull itself out of the sleeve. I've been tearing down junk lately and found the easiest way to scrounge toroid cores from computer power supplies is to pry them off the board with a flat blade screwdriver. Not unusual for the leads to pull through the solder bond and come out without breaking. Haven't broken any cores, either.

60/40 solder (or 63/37) is easy to work with but not very strong mechanically, 40/60 solder is stronger but needs more heat to flow properly. There's a trade-off in everything. 60/40 solders easy, 40/60 tends to stay soldered... I should research this, but have a hunch the newer lead-free solders are not as stout as the traditional Sn/Pb alloy.
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WD4CHP
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« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2008, 05:44:27 AM »

There is no good all around soldering iron without spending big bucks.

I use three.

I have a modified iron with a needle point tip for the real small jobs. A 40 watt one for the general jobs. And a 300 watt one for the big ones.

All you have to do is lift a land from a circuit board to appreciate using the right iron for the job.
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AC5E
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« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2008, 06:06:17 AM »

Actually, there is no great difference in mechanical strength between a proper joint made with lead free (usually SnAG solder in one proportion or another) solder and 40/60; 50/50; or 60/40 SnPb solder. The yield strength of a properly soldered lap joint in tension varies by less than 20 percent with any common solder.

Ideally, the mechanical strength of a joint should not depend on solder at all. That is why I was taught all wires should wrap its terminal at least once before solder was applied.

For repairs, all excess solder should be removed, the leads to a defective part should be removed, the leads from the replacement part should either wrap around the terminal, or if possible go through the terminal and then back around the standing terminal before soldering. After repairs, the joint itself should be identical to the original factory joint.

A properly installed PL-259 will have at least 1/8th inch of joint at the pin tip, and require a great deal of force to pull the center conductor out of the pin. The shield of RG8 size coax is secured either by a secure mechanical connection between the jacket and the threaded portion of the coax; and smaller coax by the shield folded back over the adapter and soldered before assembly.

It's worth remembering that once the shield braid is folded over the adapter "nose" and the adapter tightened there is little chance of the coax coming out of the PL-259. Even a little solder on the folded shield greatly increases the amount of force it would take to pull the coax out. But with or without solder, the braid usually fails before the adapter releases the captured portion of the shield.

And yes, a high powered heat gun will heat the shell enough so a smaller iron can be used. In fact, a paint stripper size heat gun will provide enough heat for soldering.

For more, and more definitive information let me suggest "Solders and Soldering" by Howard H. Manko. This is pretty much the "bible" of the industry, and if it's not in there you will probably have to try it and see.

73  Pete Allen  AC5E
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AI4WC
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« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2008, 07:16:26 AM »

I have three soldering devices: a Craftsman 150/400 watt Professional gun, for the heavy stuff like PL-259s; a Weller 100 watt gun (that is 46 years old - purchased in 1961) for medium sized jobs; a Solomon SL-10 soldering station, for circuit and fine soldering.  I have found that the key to good soldering is CLEANLINESS.  First, I always keep the soldering iron tip clean and well tinned, then I use a stainless steel brush and circuit grade isopropyl alcohol (not regular rubbing alcohol) for cleaning the joint before soldering.  I use a little rosin soldering paste from Radio Shack on the joints because all solder does not contain enough flux.  This is stuff is cheap and it really works; then, when you are done, just wipe the soldered joint off with an alcohol rag.  I use all brands of solder, from the older lead types to the newer non-lead types.  All seem to work equally well, but I confess to liking the older ones best - just habit I guess.  It goes without saying that good soldering technique is necessary too.  There are a number of good soldering lessons on the web.  Just Google up "soldering" and you will find them.  Good Luck!
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KZ1X
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« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2008, 07:43:41 AM »

It looks like others have already chimed in with some very good advice.

You probably want to have several tools, none of which are necessarily expensive unless you buy them at full retail ... and even then, cared for properly they will be purchased just once, so, the value is still a good one.

No matter what you get, remember that a cleaned and tinned tip transfers heat the best.  Most of the success I have had teaching people to solder properly stems from the ability to have them master this concept.

Here are my recommendations for somebody whose tasks list looks like yours.  These recommendations are quite specific and this isn't done on caprice.  Rather, it's information based on literally thousands of dollars of try-and-buy experimentation from somebody who does this sort of thing daily, for work and pleasure, and has been doing it since age 11.  Some of the items listed are idealized for cost effectiveness and others are simply the best I've found at any price.

Armed with this gear, you will be able to tackle 90% of anything that comes your way, from surface-mount kit building, to conventional construction and repair of PCB and point-to-point wiring, to assembling connectors, to homebrewing PCB-cube RF enclosures:

** For construction projects and soldering the center conductor of connectors, my frugal recommendation is the time-proven Curie-effect irons such as the Weller WTCPN.  Used, in top condition, these can be had for around $75 and new tips are around $4.  You'll want at least a PTC7 tip, and others as you learn what you need.  New, the WTCPT is around $130.

** For soldering the barrel of a PL259, and other similar thermal-mass-sensitive work you can try the Weller WELSP80L, which sells new for around $35.  Others may advise you to go up to the 120W version, but I won't.

** Want the solder off?  Use the Edsyn Soldapullt DS-017.  There are cost-effective manual desoldering tools, and then, there's this one.  They are NOT all the same.  Accept no substitutes.

** For flux, once you use a Kester 2331-ZX pen, you won't go back.  Best ever.

** To prep an oxidized tip, use a tin of Edsyn LT-1 or the exact same thing sold under a number of other brands.

** For solder, Kester 0.031" #24-7150-8800 62/36/2 '245 type' No-Clean 50-Core is the #1 favorite out of the nine (yes, nine, I counted) different solders I use in my shop.  A 1 lb. roll will set you back nearly $60 but will last for the rest of your life.

** Finally:  cleaning.... a Hakko 599 tip cleaner may be the most important and least-expensive item on this list.


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AC5UP
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« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2008, 08:48:44 AM »

A5CE Wrote: "A properly installed PL-259 will have at least 1/8th inch of joint at the pin tip, and require a great deal of force to pull the center conductor out of the pin. The shield of RG8 size coax is secured either by a secure mechanical connection between the jacket and the threaded portion of the coax; and smaller coax by the shield folded back over the adapter and soldered before assembly."

Agreed.

However... A few years back I worked in an office tower that had a cosmetic exterior comprised of vertical aluminum strips anodized in a gold tone. Intended effect was a tower of gold, and, yeah, it was designed for a well-known TeeVeeVangelist.

From the inside looking out the trim strips gave the impression of a jail cell (not that I'd know about such things) but they did illustrate the concept of thermal expansion and contraction. On a cold winter morning the vertical gap between sections was on the order of 3/4" or more. On a cool summer morning it was closer to 1/2" or less. On a smokin' hot August afternoon some of the gaps could be measured with a spark plug gap tool. They were that close.

If a ~20' strip of aluminum can display that much thermal expansion, consider a 100' run of RG-213 that may see a temperature delta of 100 degrees or better over the course of a year. Even during a typical day with a 20 to 30 degree temperature spread the line shrinks a bit at night then stretches out during the day. The braid should have plenty of 'gimme' to accommodate this, but the center conductor?
 
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