How To Desolder

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While soldering is an important skill, being able to desolder (that is, remove solder from a joint) is also important. In some cases, it can be even more important than soldering itself.

This document attempts to teach soldering through a few simple steps. Tips and tricks are also provided at the end.

How To Desolder

Step 1: Equipment
Desoldering requires two main things: a soldering iron and a device to remove solder. Soldering irons are the heat source used to melt solder. Irons of the 15W to 30W range are good for most electronics/printed circuit board work. Anything higher in wattage and you risk damaging either the component or the board. Note that you should not use so-called soldering guns. These are very high wattage and generate most of their heat by passing an electrical current through a wire. Because of this, the wire carries a stray voltage that could damage circuits and components. The choice of your solder removing device is also important. There are two main ones; vacuum pumps (solder suckers) and solder wick. They both do the same thing, so what you use will depend on your personal opinion or experiences. I suggest keeping both on hand though, as you may find that each works well in different situations. Solder suckers usually look like large syringes. There is a spring loaded plunger, and a button to release it. The plunger is pushed down. When you want to suck up the solder, you position the nozzle over the molten solder and hit the button. The plunger moves up, creating a vacuum and sucking up the solder. Solder wick, on the other hand, has no moving parts. It looks like wick used in oil lamps, except that it is made of copper. To use it, you put the wick over the joint and heat it. One thing to note about solder wick is that it is expensive, and because it is expendable, a solder sucker may be a better choice if you plan to do a lot of desoldering. I personally prefer to use a sucker to remove most of the solder, then finish up with the wick.

Remember that when desoldering, the resin in the solder and the coating on the board may releases fumes. These fumes are harmful to your eyes and lungs. Therefore, always work in a well ventilated area. Hot solder is also dangerous. Be sure not to let it splash around because it will burn you almost instantly. Eye protection is also advised.

Step 2: Surface Preparation
There isn't really too much to worry about when removing solder. Just make sure to get any grease, varnish or glue off the joint before you start heating. If you don't, you will probably foul the tip of your soldering iron pretty quickly.

Step 3: Apply Heat
Lay the iron tip so that it rests against both the component lead and the board. Normally, it takes one or two seconds to heat the component up enough to solder, but larger components and larger soldering pads on the board can increase the time.

Step 4: Remove Solder
Solder Sucker
Push down the plunger so it locks into place. Usually, you will feel or hear a click. If the tool has been used before, a small "plug" of solder may be pushed out of the nozzle. Once the solder sucker is cocked, put the nozzle into the molten solder and press the button. The plunger will pop up quickly take the solder with it. This should remove most, if not all, the solder from the joint. Don't worry if the tip softens a little, but don't melt it. You may need to repeat this step a few times in order to get all the solder.
Solder Wick
You will probably want to heat the wick first. Before applying any heat to the joint, lay the wick over it and put the tip of the iron on the wick. It will take a second or two to heat up, but once it is hot you will feel the wick slide. You should also see the solder flow into it. You probably won't have to repeat this step. Once a section of wick is filled with solder, it is used up and must be replaced. Since the wick comes on a spool, all you need to do is cut off the used sections and take some more off the spool.

Step 5: Clean Up
You may wish to clean the solder pad and surrounding pad to remove any resin and left over solder. There are commercial products available to take off the resin, but 000 steel wool works well of you are careful.

Damaged Solder Pads

Occasionally, you may damage a solder pad in your efforts. Usually, this just involves lifting the pad from the board, but not actually separating the traces. If this is the case, then it should be fine if you just leave it. If this is not the case and you actually break the trace, you will need to use a small piece of wire to connect the pad to where it is supposed to go. Just follow the trace until you find a suitable location for soldering. Usually, this is the next closest solder joint. Then, jumper the wire between the two points.

Tips and Tricks

Desoldering is just like soldering in that it is something that needs to be practiced. These tips should help you become successful quickly.

  1. Use heatsinks. Heatsinks are a must for the leads of sensitive components such as ICs and transistors. If you don't have a clip on heatsink, then a pair of pliers is a good substitute.
  2. Keep the iron tip clean. A clean iron tip means better heat conduction. Use a wet sponge to clean the tip between joints.
  3. Check the pads. Use a continuity tester to check to make sure you did not damage the pad or trace when you removed the solder. If you did, then follow the steps above to fix it.
  4. Use the proper iron. Remember that bigger joints will take longer to heat up with a 30W iron than with a 150W iron. While 30W is good for printed circuit boards and the like, higher wattages are great when desoldering heavy connections, such as those to a chassis.
  5. Use both a solder sucker and solder wick. Use a solder sucker to remove the majority of the solder, then follow up with the wick to finish things up..

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