The Ultimate Guide on How to Solder

man learning how to solder
If you're looking for a how-to guide on soldering, you've come to the right place. Soldering is the process of melting and flowing a filler metal into a joint to join two metals. This can be done using a soldering iron, torch, or other heat sources. Soldering is commonly used in electronics to create electrical connections between components. It can also be used in other applications where two metals need to be joined together, such as plumbing and metal jewelry making.

This how-to guide will teach you everything you need to know about soldering, from choosing the right equipment to learning how to solder properly.

Table of Contents

  1. Choose the Right Equipment
  2. Start with a Clean Surface
  3. Match the Wire Solder Size to What You're Soldering
  4. Match the Soldering Tip to What You're Soldering
  5. Select Your Solder and Flux Carefully
  6. Keep Your Tip Clean and Tinned
  7. Select a Suitable Soldering Temperature
  8. Hold the Soldering Tip to the Lead and Contact Point
  9. Apply Enough Solder to Ensure Proper Soldering
  10. Trim Your Leads with a Sharp Shear Lead Cutter
  11. Clean Flux Residues from the Soldering Area
  12. Conclusion — Learn More About Soldering at Jameco Electronics

1. Choose the Right Equipment

If you're new to soldering basics, the most important thing is choosing the right equipment. Soldering irons come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and it's important to choose one that's comfortable for you to use. Solder comes in various thicknesses, and it's important to choose the right size for the job you're doing. The equipment you'll need includes:

  • A soldering iron
  • Solder
  • Flux
  • A desoldering tool (optional)

2. Start with a Clean Surface

Before you learn how to solder, you need to have a clean surface to work on. Any dirt, grease, or oxide on the soldering area will prevent the solder from adhering properly. You can clean the soldering area with a number of different cleaners, such as isopropyl alcohol, acetone, or even just soap and water.

Once you've chosen your cleaner, apply it to a lint-free cloth and wipe down the area you'll be soldering. If you're cleaning with isopropyl alcohol or acetone, make sure you're in a well-ventilated area, as these cleaners can be harmful if inhaled.

3. Match the Wire Solder Size to What You're Soldering

The next thing you need to consider when it comes to learning how to solder is what size wire solder to use. Generally, the rule of thumb is to match the thickness of the solder wire to the width of the PCB trace that you're soldering. For example, if you're soldering a 0.76mm (30 mil) wide trace, then you would want to use 0.76mm (30 mil) diameter solder wire.

There are some exceptions to this rule, however. If you're soldering to a large ground pad or power trace, you may want to use a thicker solder wire so that the joint will have more mechanical strength. Conversely, if you're soldering SMT components, you may want to use a thinner solder wire so that the joint won't be too bulky. These are some soldering basics you need to keep in mind.

4. Match the Soldering Tip to What You're Soldering

To learn how to solder like a pro, you need to match the soldering tip to what you're planning to solder. The size and shape of the soldering tip will determine how much heat it can transfer, how fast it can transfer that heat, and how long it will stay hot. There are three main types of soldering tips:

  • Conical: The most common type of soldering tip, conical tips are great for general soldering.
  • Chisel: Chisel tips are good for soldering larger components or areas.
  • Beveled: Beveled tips are good for getting into tight spaces.
We recommend using a conical soldering tip if you're just starting out with learning how to solder. These tips are good for most types of soldering and are relatively easy to use.

5. Select Your Solder and Flux Carefully

The quality of your soldering will only be as good as the materials you use. Be sure to select a lead-free solder with a low melting temperature and an appropriate flux for the job at hand. When it comes to flux, there are two main types:

  • Water-soluble fluxes — These are great for general soldering applications, but they can be corrosive if not cleaned properly after use.
  • Rosin-based fluxes — These are less corrosive and, therefore, a good choice for delicate soldering jobs.
The application will also determine the type of solder you use. For example, lead-free solder is required for soldering electronic components to printed circuit boards. A low-melting-point solder is ideal for soldering jewelry.

6. Keep Your Tip Clean and Tinned

To learn how to solder, you must also learn how to keep your soldering iron tip clean and tinned. A clean and tinned tip will make soldering easier and produce better results. To clean your soldering iron tip, simply wipe it on a wet sponge or cloth. You should do this every time you start to solder and whenever the tip gets dirty.

To tin your soldering iron tip, apply a small amount of solder to the tip and then wipe it off with a wet sponge or cloth. As part of understanding soldering basics, this will help to prevent the solder from sticking to the iron and making a mess. It will also help improve the solder flow and make it easier to work with.

7. Select a Suitable Soldering Temperature

Before practicing how to solder, you need to first understand how to select a suitable soldering temperature. The soldering temperature is determined according to the type of solder you are using as well as the metals you are joining together. For example, if you are working with lead-free solder, then you will need to use a higher temperature than if you were using leaded solder.

In general, the soldering temperature should be between 350°C and 400°C. If you are using a lead-free solder, then you should use a temperature between 375°C and 400°C. For leaded solder, the ideal range is between 350°C and 375°C.

8. Hold the Soldering Tip to the Lead and Contact Point

The lead is the metal wire that protrudes from the electronic component. The contact point is where the lead and circuit board touch. Understanding this is critical to learning how to solder. Apply a small amount of pressure to hold the soldering tip against the lead and contact point. You want a tight connection so that heat can transfer quickly. Too much heat can damage the component, so don’t keep the soldering tip pressure applied longer than you need.

9. Apply Enough Solder to Ensure Proper Soldering

One of the most common mistakes people make when learning how to solder is not using enough solder. This can cause your connection to be less than ideal and may even cause it to break completely. Make sure you apply a generous amount of solder to each joint so that there is a strong connection.

Another mistake is using too much solder. This can cause your joint to be clogged, making it difficult to heat up properly. If this happens, you may need to use a soldering iron with a smaller tip to remove the excess solder. Always ensure you're applying the right amount of solder to each joint as you learn how to solder.

10. Trim Your Leads with a Sharp Shear Lead Cutter

circuit board with no soldering
As part of learning soldering basics, you should always remember to trim your leads. A lead that's too long will make it difficult to heat both the lead and the pad simultaneously, while a lead that's too short may not make good contact. After you’ve soldered the joint, use a sharp pair of shear-type lead cutters like these to get a nice, clean cut close to the body of the component.

If you have a lot of leads to trim, you can use a lead cutter with a built-in guide. This type of cutter has a stop that you can set to help ensure all your cuts are the same length.

11. Clean Flux Residues from the Soldering Area

Now that you've learned how to solder, you need to know how to clean up afterward. When you are finished soldering, removing all flux residues from the soldering area is important. Flux is a substance that helps to clean the metals and promote better solder flow. However, if flux residues are not removed, they can cause corrosion. There are a few different ways to clean flux residues. You can use isopropyl alcohol, rosin-based cleaners, or commercially available flux removers.

Learn More About Soldering at Jameco Electronics

These are just some of the basics when it comes to soldering. If you're looking for more information, Jameco Electronics has a great selection of resources, including how-to guides, videos, and more. As a leading electronic components and parts supplier, we have everything you need to get started with soldering.

So, what are you waiting for? Get started today and learn how to solder like a pro.