Learn How to Solder, with These Simple Tips and Projects

Guy McDowell 20-04-2015

If you want to start working with electronics Beginner's Electronics: 10 Skills You Need to Know Many of us have never even touched a soldering iron - but making things can incredibly rewarding. Here's ten of the most basic DIY electronics skills to help you get started. Read More , you’re going to need to learn to solder. It would be prudent to learn about electricity and electronics a bit more, too. Are you a little intimidated by the thought of a hot iron and molten metal? No problem – we’ll show you how.


Safety First

You’re working with hot metal, so there are some obvious safety concerns. Make sure that you have a safe place to set down your soldering iron. Soldering stations with iron holders are inexpensive and worth having. Check out the best soldering irons for beginners The 9 Best Soldering Irons for Beginners If you have an interest in electronics, you'll need a soldering iron. Here are the best soldering irons for you. Read More to get the right one for you.


You’ll also want to make sure that your working over a flat, solid surface. A workbench or your homemade desk DIY Sitting / Standing Desk Read More works, but you may want to put something on top of it to prevent burn marks. There are special soldering boards, or a piece of cheap plywood works well.

Heat Resistant Soldering Board
Heat Resistant Soldering Board

Speaking of splatters, you need to wear safety glasses – these can be had for just a few dollars. If you wear prescription glasses, you may want to invest in a nice pair of prescription safety glasses. There are some really nice looking ones these days, not just the Buddy Holly style ones your dad might have had.


deWalt Safety Glasses

All these things will help prevent burns to you and your surroundings.

But there is one other danger: Solder and flux can give off noxious fumes when heated. Most flux smells pretty bad anyway, but it’s recommended that you use a fume extractor when soldering. Basically, it’s a fan with a charcoal filter that sucks the bad fumes away from you and filters out most of the odors. The video below shows the Xytronic 426DLX fume extractor in action.

Once you’ve got all these things in place, it’s soldering time.


Soldering Pro Tips

Tin the Tip

Soldering irons don’t transfer heat as nicely to things as you might suspect. But by tinning the tip of the iron, the heat transfer will be much more even and efficient. Plus, it’s easy to do. Once the tip of the soldering iron is just warm enough to melt solder, touch the tip to your soldering wire. It will melt and flow up and around the tip, giving it a nice smooth and shiny finish. Any excess solder can be wiped off with a damp soldering sponge. Don’t use an ordinary cleaning sponge, as it’ll melt. Soldering sponges are made out of cellulose, which is more heat resistant than your standard plastic sponge.

Get a Helping Hand

Soldering takes at least four things: a soldering iron, solder, and the two things you want to solder together. But you’ve only got two hands. There’s a device called helping hands that are worth getting. It’s a little stand with two alligator clips, and sometimes a magnifying glass. Another handy holder to have is a mini-vice.

Helping Hands with Magnifying Glass



Start Soldering

When you solder two things together, you’re doing that so that they join together solidly and conduct electricity easily.

The biggest beginner’s mistake is putting the iron directly on the solder: it only beads up and makes a mess. If you heat the part you want the solder on first, then touch the solder to it, it will flow over the surface of the part. As it flows, it does so smoothly and into every little nook and cranny.

Remember tinning the soldering iron? If you tin the leads of your wires or components, that helps the solder flow even better. As a bonus, if you’re using stranded wires, it keeps the strands together while pushing them through a circuit board. For this all to work really well, use a thin soldering wire (about 1/32 of an inch) with a resin or flux core. That resin, or flux, helps the solder flow even better, plus it cleans the surface of the metal for a better bond.

Rosin Core Solder
The Rosin is in the Middle



When you put the leads of your component through the circuit board, bend them out slightly. That will help hold the component in place and closer to the board. Not only does that prevent components from accidental damage, it makes a more professional looking package.

Bend leads out slightly

When you go to solder the component lead to the board, place your soldering iron tip at that point where the lead and the board meet, at a 45 degree angle. That heats the lead and the pad on the board. Gently push your soldering wire into the same point – it will melt and flow around the lead, just like in the picture below.

Pull the solder away before you pull the iron away – this will prevent little peaks of solder protruding off your joint. Those peaks can lead to shorts between components, and they don’t look very nice.

Soldering Technique

If you’re having a hard time being accurate with your soldering iron, try setting up your work so that the side of your soldering hand can rest on something solid, just like in the picture above. You’ll find it much easier to be precise.

This video, from Adafruit, is an excellent introduction to soldering components to circuit boards. It’s not rocket science. Okay, it sort of is, but the really easy part of rocket science.

Signs of a Solid Solder Joint

With practice, you’ll be able to avoid making mistakes most of the time. Until then, examine every joint after you solder it, and before moving on to the next one. A good solder joint will be smooth, shiny, and make full contact between the two parts. If the solder is dull, rough looking, clumped, or there are gaps between it and either part, your joint is going to fail.

Common Soldering Problems

Don’t worry, most soldering problems are easily fixed. You can re-heat the solder and remove it with a solder sucker.

Solder Sucker

Some Starter Soldering Projects

You might have some broken electronics around the house. That’s not a bad place to start, if it’s something simple like repairing a set of broken headphones How to Fix Broken Headphones Despite having a reasonable pair of Sennheisers and looking after them, my headphones broke recently — like they always do. Rather than replace them, I decided to repair my headphones. Here's how. Read More . Or maybe you want to scavenge some parts from an old laptop Disposing Of An Old Laptop - What To Recycle, What To Keep Laptops are a treasure trove of parts that can live more than one life. Whether they continue a life as spare part or become the subject of a DIY tech project, you can get a... Read More or parts from other gadgets 7 Things You Can Do to Recycle Old Electronic Devices We all have them in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere; outdated or broken electronic devices. Are they even good for anything now? Surprisingly, they can be quite valuable! Read More  for a future project. That’s good practice in using a soldering iron and solder sucker.

Or you could finally get to making something!

3D LED Christmas Tree

The spirit of the holidays should be with us everyday, so why not a Christmas tree project? It’s a fun project that will hone your soldering skills, teach you something about LEDs, and is a great DIY project to do with kids too. It comes with different colored LEDs, and it blinks! Who doesn’t love blinky LEDs? The tree mounts on the same 9v battery that powers it.

Velleman 3D LED Christmas Tree Kit

Too easy? Try the next kit.

MintyBoost Kit

For a beginner’s project, this is a great one! It’s simple, and it’s also very practical. You’ll make your own smartphone charger that you can power up with ordinary AA batteries. Fewer parts than the Christmas tree, but a little more challenging to solder. This is a handy one to keep in the car, as you can get AA batteries at gas stations and corner stores everywhere.

Adafruit Minty Boost Kit

Not quite tough enough for you? How about a radio?

FM Radio Kit

It is what it says it is. Build yourself a nice single-speaker FM radio that can tune in stations from 88 to 108 FM. With plenty of parts to solder, new components to learn about, you’ll also learn a thing or two about radio technology.

Elenco FM Radio Kit

If you can build a radio, there’s nothing you can’t build. Put it in a nice clear case and be the envy of friends and family alike.

The End Result

Soldering is a basic skill needed for DIY’ers, whether you want to build your own electronics or just do some simple repairs. It’s an inexpensive and simple skill to learn. There are plenty of electronics kits to practice on, and you can start designing your own electronics projects before long.

Be safe, be smart, and have fun!

Just getting into DIY electronics? How’d you like the article? Are you a bit of a pro already? Share your tips and tricks with others. Know of some really fun kits to help the beginner learn? Feel free to mention them in the comments.

Image Credits: Solder Via Shutterstock, 3D LED Christmas Tree, Minty Boost Kit, FM Radio Kit, Solder Board, DeWalt Safety Glasses, Helping Hands with Magnifier via Amazon, Common Soldering Problems via Adafruit, Solder Sucker, Rosin Core Solder via Wikimedia, Soldering LEDs, Jeff Keyzer, Soldering with Elements Morgan, via Flickr.

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  1. Robert
    April 24, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    Thought I would let you know about the time my soldering iron went on the blink.
    We had a portable TV and there was a loose joint on the On/Off Switch.
    So not to be out done I took out an old fork from the kitchen rapped the handle with a cloth and placed the fork end into the gas fire, waited until it was hot enough and placed it on the joint, with a strip of solder I had the TV working in minuets.
    Not the recommended way to repair a fault on a TV, but it worked and I had been using a soldering Iron for 18 years previous to this.

    • Guy
      April 28, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      Hey Robert,

      Love it! Sometimes you have to use what you've got where you are. Been there a couple times in the field.

  2. g.m.nelson
    April 24, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    DO NOT USE PASTE FLUX on electronics unless specifically designed for it, most paste flux is acid base and for metal working only, it will corrode electronics. the same goes for the solder, use only solid wire or rosin core solder made for electronics.

    --retired military electronics tech--

  3. paul
    April 24, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    Masking tape can be your friend (for a helping "hand").

  4. Sastry Dasigi
    April 24, 2015 at 8:56 am

    A small conflict in the recommended technique: the article suggests heating the joint first and then applying the solder, but the video suggests melting the solder on the iron while lowering it to the joint. They agree on the rest, namely that the solder leaves first and then the iron, all in no more than a couple of seconds.

    Wonder which is easier for a beginner.

    • Guy
      April 24, 2015 at 11:54 am

      The method of heating the joint first is the correct one. Or at least the one NASA and the RCAF prefers.

      I find that applying the solder to the iron first means that you have to paint the joint with the tip of the iron, which never works well for me.

      Somehow I missed that in the video, else I wouldn't have included it.

      Painting the joint can result in several different issues:
      - Uneven flow or reflow
      - Adhesive inclusions
      - Bridging
      - Cold solder
      - Insufficient wetting
      - Dewetting
      - Excess solder
      - Splatter
      - Accidentally touching the component with the iron

  5. John Williams
    April 24, 2015 at 12:23 am

    I've been soldering for 47 years. I suppose I could do an AMA on Reddit but for now I'll just say that safety glasses are far more essential when desoldering to pull stuff apart - that's when hot metal flys around. Also, when you cut the wire end off a part, look out for the bit you cut off - it will be moving very fast and can take your eye out.

    Crocodile clip helping hands are pretty useless, buy a small clamp on bench vice. Look for coiled brass tip cleaning stuff - much better than a wet sponge. Buy some flux paste. Look at jeweller's and dental tools on ebay. Tweezers, locking forceps and dental picks are all very useful, as is Blu tack.
    Get a head mount magnifier and a big bright light and finally - but controversionally: Lead free solder is for people working bench on an 8 hour shift. Amateur, novice and infrequent solderers should use tin / lead 60-40 solder. It is quicker, cooler and gives a visual assurance of a good shiny silvery joint. Lead free always looks like a "dry" joint even when it is OK.
    Infrequent soldering does not warrent the cost of charcoal filtered air extraction. It's only lead, not plutonium. Did you know that "lead free" petrol is so toxic they have to vacuum the fumes away from the filler nozzle while you're filling the tank?
    Try to adopt a zen like trance of exhaling as you solder ......

    • Guy
      April 24, 2015 at 11:33 am

      Hi John,

      Excellent tips! All things I would have loved to jam in there.

      When cutting leads, I cup the excess end with my hand to make sure I catch it. At least whenever it's possible to do that.

      Your explanation of when to use 60-40 or lead free is also great. Wish I wrote that.

      Folks who do infrequent soldering probably don't really need a proper fume extractor, but having a small desk fan blowing the fumes away would be a good idea. I wanted to err on the side of caution.

      I also agree with the helping hands/mini vise comparison. The former is okay for the infrequent solderer, while the vise is indispensable for the pros.

      And yes, I should have mentioned a head-mount magnifier and bright light. I'm a fan of the magnifier with a light ring on an articulated desk mount. I just found that my eyes didn't get as strained when I could easily focus on a distant object every 20 minutes or so.

      The exhaling is something I would have missed. I didn't even realize that I do that, until you mentioned it. No idea where I picked up that habit. Funny. A steady exhale also helps steady a hand for tricky spots to solder.

  6. Anonymous
    April 21, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Isn't all electronics including laptops uses lead-free solder? That probably mean that it will most likely lead to failure in the near future?

    • Guy
      April 22, 2015 at 12:07 am

      Depends on where it was made, what is was made for, and where it's being sold.

      I know California has strict lead-free laws, but China? Not so much. And since that's where so much of this comes from, well, lead-free is more of a suggestion.

      You can definitely use lead-free solder. It's becoming a less expensive alternative. Personally, if I've got a fume hood, I'm not too worried about it. Add in a good face mask like a NIOSH N99 or at least N95 and I think that's reasonably safe. At least for myself.

      It's up to you what you feel safe with. And whatever health & safety regulations apply where you are.

  7. EEEnthusiast
    April 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Could you recommend a better helping hand than the one listed? I've purchased that exact one and it is just too flimsy for some of my arduino projects. I am looking to invest around 30$ into a solid and reliable tool.