Those who have the right tools usually get the job done right the first time. A recent email prompted me to cover the tools required for soldering.
Like any job, soldering can be simple or complex. This article outlines the basic tools for the job.
All soldering irons are not the same. Just because Aunt Bea uses a soldering iron for her paper-clip sculptures, that doesn't mean it's the right iron for you.
Consider these four points;
First, higher wattage does not necessarily mean a hotter soldering iron. And hotter isn't always better. High wattage irons have power available for soldering big solder joints. A low wattage iron will most likely lose temperature on a big solder joint. The problem is it's loosing heat faster than it can create it. For audio connectors, look for something in the 40 watt range.
And leave the soldering guns to James Bond. They can get too hot for soldering cable.
Second, look for adjustable temperature irons if you don't mind paying a little more. Remember that a joint should be soldering in less than three seconds. Therefore, adjust the temperature accordingly.
Third is POWER! The options available are battery, gas, and electrical. Battery and gas means more stuff to buy / recharge. Consider a nice desktop electrical iron.
Fourth is usage. You lose portability with electrical but gauge that against the probability of where you would be required to do the soldering. If you are making XLR cables for a few hours, you "should" be sitting at desk with the equipment you need around you and working in a safe manner.
Additionally, consider picking up a soldering station. This can include the iron, heatproof stand, and a cleaning pad. They can also provide a variety of soldering tips. For work such as XLR cables, a large tip is required.
There are two types of solder; rosin core and acid core. Rosin core is best for the beginner. Acid core requires a bit more work and isn't very forgiving.
Rosin core solder comes in three main types – 50/50, 60/40 and 63/37. These numbers represent the percent of tin and lead in the solder. The lower the lead percent means a lower melting point.
You can also buy solder based on diameter. Use a thick diameter for cable work.
Finally, get the most helpful tool you can – a clamp stand. You could rig up something with a vise but it comes down to this. Soldering with only two hands isn't easy. A clamp-stand or other devise gives you a second set of hands. It's better than hot solder on skin.
[note: check with guitarists for soldering help. Some guitarists work on their electric guitars and other equipment so they could be a huge source of help.]
Thought? Questions? Comments?