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Part 2
Soldering 101 for Recording Studios

Adventures in shopping for The Basic Tools By Dan Richards
In "Part 1: Getting Started" of this Soldering 101 series, I outlined some Basic Tools and certain cautions for the neophyte. Next comes actually gathering your soldering station together. I took a shopping trip today to assemble what I'd listed as needed and thought my experience had some lessons learned enough to make the adventure part of this series. I've recently relocated and hadn't done soldering at home before, but I've got some serious wiring coming up in the near future, so rounding up the Basic Tools was in order.

Home Depot Strike 1
I started my trip early, at 7:30am thinking surely the nearby Home Depot would have everything I needed. Fact: They had nearly nothing needed. They did have a 25W Pencil-Tipped Weller Solder Iron. All of their available solder wire was lead-free and most of it was acid-core. The one or two spools of rosin-core wire was much too heavy and still lead-free.

Lowe's - Strike 2
While I was feeling underwhelmed at the lack of solder paraphenalia in Home Depot, the thought came to me that surely the Lowe's just down the highway would come through for me in my search. I arrived at Lowe's at 8:00. After entering their Tool World with the assistance of an enthusiastic employee, I discovered that the selection of soldering tools was slim at best. A few irons, but no soldering stations or wire in sight. Turns out the wire was over in plumbing. Once over in plumbing I found mostly acid-core, all lead free and mostly very large gauge. This was the place to get what you needed to fix a patio chair but not wire up a recording studio.

I did go back to Tool World in Lowe's and looked through their "solder department" again. I finally settled on a Lenk model L40K 40 W Soldering Iron Kit with three interchangeable tips ( pointed, chisel, and fine) for $14.99. The package and the name Lenk struck me as possibly being German. It looked solid enough and had everything I needed. Turns out Wall Lenk Corporation is headquartered in Kingston, NC. My new Lenk L40K is [URL=http://madeinusa.org/"> Made In The USA . Good enough. And since I ws in Tool World I grabbed a pair of Task Force brand 5" mini needle nose pliers $3.98. I already had the wire stripper and the diagonal wire cutters.

I asked the man that helped me at Lowe's if he knew of any electronics shops in the area. He said there was a Radio Shack at the mall. Oh, no, not Radio Shack. I hate going to Radio Shack. And it was 8:15am. The man at Lowe's said Radio Shack would be open at 9:00am. I arrived at the mall and dodged and weaved around the mall walkers and arrived at the Radio Shack and looked at the sign on the front window: Hours: 10am - 8pm. Yippee.

I went to a diner and had breakfast, read a newspaper and for some strange reason went into a service station and bought a small Phillies Blunt Cognac cigar for 89. I'd never bought one before. The anxiety of the hunt, maybe.

Radio Shack - Home Run
I got to Radio Shack at 9:45am and the doors were open. I walked in an a nice young woman approached me and asked me if she could help me. After describing what I needed, she led me to the back corner of the store to the "soldering section". Things were looking up. There was a Soldering Iron Holder/Cleaner $6.99. Bingo. How about wire? She pointed to the bottom of the "soldering section" and lo and behold, there was a huge selection of all kinds of solder wire. I stooped down and looked the labels on the spools lots of 40/60. Lead! On closer examination, they hardly carried any lead-free solder wire at all. On the other hand, none of their very cheap-looking solder irons looked like anything I wanted to buy. Good I'd already grabbed the Lenk. Lots of rosin-core solder in different alloy ratios and diameters. I finally settled on High-Tech Rosin-Core Solder .050 diameter in a 1.5 oz spool for $2.99. Things were defintely looking up. I decided to push my luck and asked the sales lady if they had something called, Helping Hands. She didn't recognize the name. But when I held my arms up like a spastic crab and moved my hands like you do when you make dog shadows on the wall and said to her, "Oh, it's this little holder with these alligator clips on themm to hold wire while you solder" then I saw her face light up. She lead me around the corner to what looked like it must have been called the "miscellaneous section, and there they were, Helping Hands with magnifying glass for $10.89. I went back to the "soldering section" to have a closer look to see if they actually had tip tinner. Score! Tip Tinner & Cleaner $5.99.

Home Depot Revisited
On the drive back home I stopped by Home Depot to get the "Flat 1" thick unfinished wood board approx 1' X 2' for work surface" I'd listed in the Basic Tools. Over the years of working in studios and even a stint at International Robotics in NYC where I worked on Robot Sico , I've found that a good, solid board of those dimensions is perfect as a workspace for a solder station. I also use the back of the board as a buffer layer when using a drill. I went in to Home Depot and was asked by a salesman if he could help me. I said I was looking for a one inch thick and one foot by two feet solid pine board. I asked if they might have any scraps. He said they didn't carry scrap lumber there. I said, "But don't people get boards cut here..." I wasn't getting through to him. He led me over to a section that had all these panels of pressed boards. I knew exactly what I wanted and nothing he was showing me was anything close. All the wood was rough and splintery. I told him I was going to set a soldering station on it, so my hands would be making a lot of contact with the wood, and that I wanted a solid pine board. I didn't seem to be registering with him. For those of you familar with Doctor Slang , this guy was LOBNH, code for Lights On But Nobody Home.

He wandered over to someone else and I wandered around the corner, and not ten feet from where I'd just been with the salesman were three huge stacks of solid pine shelves! Well, these were boards and they measured one inch thick and one foot by three feet. Exactly what I was looking for just take off a foot. I rubbed my hands over a few of the shelves and they were baby-butt smooth. I went through one of the stacks and found one that had interesting knot patterns, and with an intuitive shamanistic third-eye sort of perception, I could "feel" I had found just the right board. The stack of solid pine shelves was right next to the big circular saw they have in the lumber department. The saw that sits right under the sign that say they don't do precise cuts. I thought, "Well, they're going to cut this board at precisely one foot no more and no less and I am going to walk out of there with my one inch thick and one foot by two feet solid pine board. A sales lady was walking by and I asked her if there was someone who could cut the board for me. I told her what I wanted, she measured the board, put on some protective glasses and fired up the saw and gave me a precisely cut one inch thick and one foot by two feet solid pine board. Cut was free, board cost $4.19.

And after all my hard work and running around, I am now the proud owner of a nice little solder station total cost around $54.00 .

If you've taken the time to read through this, you, too, might be needing to round up your own solder station and because of that I wish you luck and hope you may have learned some things from my adventure! Stay tuned for more Soldering 101.

Dan Richards is a Contributing Editor for Digital Pro Sound and is currently producing The Listening Sessions.

Join the Soldering 101 discussions here .

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Related Keywords:Soldering, Recording Studios, wiring


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