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Better tools

I’ve been trying to learn to solder – on and off – for something close to 24 years.

It never worked for me: the solder didn’t melt, or just rolled off the tip of the soldering iron, which smoked wickedly and occasionally burnt things, but never heated a component and circuit board in such a way as to successfully make something electronic happen. This is despite soldering being – with a bit of input from people who know what they’re doing – apparently very straightforward.

All of which has somewhat hindered my career as a tinkerer.

But this time, I’ve been determined to make it work. I’ve practiced. Watched videos.

I replaced my soldering iron on the advice of our neighborhood electronics repair guy, which was a bit better, but it still didn’t really work.

Eventually (feeling like a highly incompetent failure) I took my new soldering iron, my solder and components to him and asked him to show me what’s going on.

“Bad solder,” he said. “Try this.”

It melted and hardened in the right places at the right times and in the right ways. It re-melted and re-hardened. It… Worked!

I took it home and soldered stuff.

They say a poor workman blames his tools – and their right – but it might be just as fair to say that a poor workman doesn’t know much about choosing good tools.

I’ve still got a lot to learn about soldering, but now I can start learning by doing.

The moral

Good tools, good raw materials and good advice – in person – make all the difference.

You probably don’t need top-of-the-range kit when you’re starting out (“all the gear and no ideas” is the equal and opposite sin to the one I’m describing here), but “good enough” is important. Good enough to learn on. Good enough to do good work.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...