Useful Hardware Hacking Tools
This page will specify some useful hardware hacking tools and advice.
- What (does it do): Your soldering iron heats up the solder to melt it.
- Why (get a good one): A number of reasons!.
- Any iron worth its salt will have adjustable temperature. If you're soldering at a temperature that's too hot, you could end up taking the copper pads off the board, leaving you with nothing to solder to. A temperature that's too low will result in defective, hard to make solder joints.
- You should also get an iron with a silicone cable. PVC cables (what you usually see on power cables) are very difficult to effectively maneuver, and if you accidentally touch your iron to them, they'll melt! Silicone cables flex much more easily and can withstand higher temperatures.
Cheap option: PINECIL ($25) https://pine64.com/product/pinecil-smart-mini-portable-soldering-iron/. Make sure to get a silicone USB-C cable! There's one available on their store.
Pricier option: Quicko/Quecoo ($50) T12-956/952. 952 is cheaper and I'm not totally sure the difference. I'd go for the option here with the metal handle. https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32803295956.html
- What: Solder is an conductive alloy with a low melting point, usually some combination of tin and lead. When in liquid form (i.e. when you touch your iron to it), it binds to copper surfaces. When you remove your iron, it quickly hardens and creates a solid electrical connection between whatever it's bound to.
- Why: Bad solder may lie on its packaging about what it's made of, or contain impurities. Good quality solder will flow better and contain flux (see below) that will assist you when soldering.
I'd recommend Kester solder, but it's not available in small quantities. If you're just starting to read this page, you neither want nor need to buy a pound of solder. I'm going to defer to the expertise of my fellow Exploitee.rs Discord member "Myself" and recommend Chipquik solder in its place: https://www.chipquik.com/store/index.php?cPath=600_610
Purchase 63/37 solder at a diameter of 0.031". Go with whichever quantity you can afford. 63/37 (63% tin, 37% lead) is a "eutectic" alloy, meaning that it goes from liquid to solid at a single temperature. The alternative, 60/40, undergoes a gradual transition where some of the metal is crystalline and some is molten. During this process, the joint has to be held perfectly still during the transition or you end up with a gray "cold" joint where the structure is disrupted, it's mechanically weak, and it may even silently unstick from things. Using a eutectic sidesteps all that and gives perfect joints a lot more easily. 0.031" is good for most work you'll be doing: it'll be pretty clear when you'll need larger or smaller solder.
(Thanks again to Myself for the above explanation.)
- What: Flux helps heat and solder flow.
- Why: When you use flux, your joints will be stronger, look better, and be easier to make. It's optional in the same way that boots are optional when walking through 2 feet of snow.
- When (to use it): Always. There is no such thing as too much flux. (As you solder more, you'll eventually settle on the "right" amount to use that balances clean-up with ease of use.)
AMTECH flux is my personal favorite. Breathing it at least doesn't make it feel like it will kill you, and it's relatively easy to clean up. (Not that you need to: it's no-clean! You can leave it on the board with no consequences!) Buy it from the wonderful Louis Rossmann: https://store.rossmanngroup.com/amtech-nc-559-v2-30-cc-16160.html Check the "plunger-needle" option, but ALSO grab a set of dispensing tips from ChipQuik: https://www.chipquik.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=906002. These can be extremely useful if you need to add more or less flux when soldering. The plastic tips also require much less force to dispense.
- What: Removes harmful solder fumes in the air.
- Why: Dying ten years early from inhalation of toxic fumes means ten years less of soldering.
- When: Whenever you're soldering in a poorly ventilated area.
I'm admittedly terrible about this, moreso than I should be. If you can crack a window open and turn on a fan, do that. Fresh air is better than any fume extractor, and it's good for you anyway!
If you can't open a window, you can at least pretend you care by buying a cheap fume extractor, which is basically just a computer fan with a carbon filter on top of it.
I personally use the Aoyue AO486: https://www.sra-solder.com/aoyue-486-fume-extractor-and-smoke-absorber-fan
- What: Holds your iron and your iron cleaner.
- Why: Cheaping out on a stand poses a major safety issue (not a remote, far-off, "better safe than sorry" one!) and a usability issue.
Wow, does it seem easy to cheap out on this. Don't! Cheap stands will have open iron holders that are really easy to accidentally stick a finger or hand in. You will burn yourself if you use those. And don't settle for a stand that includes a sponge as a cleaner. Sponges do not work well for iron cleaning. Even if they do for some, they're much more of a pain to use.
Go for an iron holder with a good, solid, shrouded holder and a brass wire cleaner. My personal recommendation is the Hakko 633-01 holder. https://hakkousa.com/633-01-iron-holder-with-599b-tip-cleaner.html
As Myself put it (smart guy!): "it's twice the price of the cheapies and ten times as nice. Making it nice and heavy is important so the cord doesn't pull it off the table."
- What: "Wicks" up excess solder.
- When: When there's just too much solder on the board and you can't redistribute it without making a mess or creating solder bridges.
- Why: Bad wick will fall apart easily and have too few copper strands (meaning you'll need to use more wick for the same amount of solder)
Solder wick is like high school. It can be useful, but no one I know has a good experience with it. I get my wick from NorthridgeFix. (https://northridgefix.com/product/premium-desolder-braid-wick-10ft-length/) Their stuff can be overpriced, but the wick is good and their videos are a fantastic free resource so it's worth sup[porting them.