Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Soldering forward

I am possibly the proudest solderer on the planet. I have been planning this thing for days, buying all the equipment, watching videos and getting myself prepared to solder. My biggest fear was burning myself, or my apartment to the ground. It sounded so mysterious, like an ancient talis, like anointing a saint or shoeing a horse or writing on papyrus or buying a serf.

However it turns out to be just a very very, very hot stick that melts metal onto wire. The hardest part was winding those little wires around each other BEFORE soldering. They are really tiny and my fingernails were in the way.

Elizabeth kept telling me I should find something different to learn because soldering does not sound romantic and possibly too masculine. She suggested canning and quilting. I told her that I didn't think these things were mutually exclusive and that in fact I had once canned huckleberry syrup and have a strong desire to quilt but no space for a sewing machine or the wherewithall to gather up all the fabric required to make a really cool quilt.

Soldering is fun and pretty easy. Of course the best part was the shopping. Going into Radio Shack and spewing forth a list of exotic sounding items that I had memorized all the names to was very stimulating. I felt quite superior to the clerk who had no idea what pvc heat shrink tubing was, no less being able to recommend which package to buy. Choosing between a 25 and 40 watt soldering iron was appealing too because there was no price difference and for $7.99 I got the 40 watt without looking back.

Then tonight I got out the ouija board so I wouldn't ruin the table and first practiced on a crappy pair of earphones - the kind you get with your cell phone. I cut it in two and stripped it down to find really flimsy wires the width of a hair -- a thin, blonde hair, not a thick cat hair. There were 4 of these little things and I soldered each one to its mate individually, wrapped each half in tape and voila, it worked. Shocking.

Then onto the real thing - the actual noise-cancelling headphones that needed repair. The trick with these is that the wires are insulated so you have to melt off the insulation. The instructions I found on the web, by this very cool artist/computer geek dude in Akron, said to dip the wires in flux and then burn off the insulation with the soldering iron. I wrote Krhainos an email asking what the purpose of the flux was, but alas he did not respond. I followed his instructions blindly and it worked pretty well though it took quite some time and a lot of flux-dipping before all the insulation was off. The Sony headphones have much more muscular wires so it wasn't so hard to wrap and solder them. I kept the ground wire separate, as instructed, and the headphones now conduct beautiful music through my hand-soldered wires, as good as new.

The one thing that I really screwed up though was forgetting about the pvc heat shrink tubing until it was too late to use it. I was so excited to do the tubing, which is the black rubber that wraps around the wires, but I forgot all about it until after I was done and... oops, you have to put the tube on BEFORE you solder or you can't get it on (duh), it's a TUBE. So, I wrapped the wires in tape and it's not as pretty as it could have been. I'm sure that there will be a next time, because that cat is on the prowl and will surely find a stray wire to eat very soon.

1 comment:

krhainos said...

Hey there; I throw my nick into Google every once in a while to see what turns up. ;)

When did you fire off that e-mail? I would've responded if I saw it -- wonder if the spam folder ate it? Gotta find a better way for people to contact me :<

Sorry it didn't make it through, but glad to hear my pointers on T-Station helped you out ;D

Rock on \m/