This page is for tips and tricks to help make building easier.
Trick #1 – Clearing holes
I rarely use a solder suction tool to clear solder from holes, especially when it’sa ground pad. Instead I will remove the component – if it’s a cheap “penny” part just clip the leads and pull out while heating. Afterwards I use a quilting pin, heating the pad and pin until the pin pushes through. This also works with leads stuck inside the pad. The plastic end on the pin gives you something to hold onto without burning your fingers. The pins will wear out after a while and solder will stick to them. Fortunately the wife is a very active sewer and doesn’t notice a few pins missing 😉
Trick #2 – Lead bending
Did you ever bend the leads on a resistor only to find out you bent them too narrow or wire to properly slide into the holes? An old manufacturing trick is the distance from the resistor body to the lead bending is about .060″/1.5mm. That’s the same thickness as most PCB’s! So instead of using pliers or eye-balling it, just put the resistor at the edge of the PCB and bend the leads down. The resistor will literally drop right down the holes! For power resistors use 2 boards thick. You can also use this technique to properly space capacitors and other components and even smooth out the crooked legs on a part.
Trick #3 bi-filar and tri-filar toroid windings.
It’s usually hard to have more than 2 or 3 different colors of wire of the same gauge on hand but I usually have different gauges available. In the (poor quality) picture below you can see where I made the primary (bottom) a slightly larger gauge than the bi-filar red-green pair for the secondary. This makes it much easier to identify the different pairs of the same color without resorting to using a DMM.
Trick #4 – SMD
See our working with SMD page for more tips!
Trick #5 – Small Crystal Holders
You can make a nice plug and socket holder system for HC49/S and HC49/U crystals by soldering a 3 pin male header to the crystal. The sockets are 3 pin female headers, the same common style used in “Arduino” type shields. The middle pin can be either pulled/cut or can be used to tie the crystal case to ground.
Trick #6 – Spacers
Need a spacer of stand off for your project? Check the kids hobby areas of your local mega-store for Pony Beads or the thinner Fuse Beads. Even some grocery and drug stores carry them in the kids toy isle. A couple bucks will give you a lifetime supply.
Trick #7 – DIY PCB
PCB?? PCB!?!? We don’t need no stinkin’ PCB! You can make a PCB without chemicals, dremel tools, or CNC mills. Check the local mega-hobby stores in the stained glass area for copper foil tape. Available in various widths (I use 6.5mm / 1/4″) and about $10 will also give you a lifetime supply. Just lay down tracks as needed on a piece of wood or perf board (below) and solder the parts on. Also useful for for creating RF shielding.
Trick #8 – Better RF when using perf boards
Perf boards are nice but all those little unused copper rings can cause some RF issues at times. The fix is easy. Just put a bigger tip on your soldering iron, crank up the heat a bit, heat the unused rings and they will slide right off. Also instead of using wire to connect components try a little copper foil tape.
Trick #9 – Hot Glue
I am finding hot glue to be Red Green’s liquid duct tape. In many cases this stuff works better than double sided tape. It can also hold down toroids and other wobbly bits. The only 2 down sides is I end up getting glue strings everywhere and un-gluing something can be a problem. The guns and glue are avaiable in the hobby area of just about any mega-store for a couple bucks.
Trick #10 – Dial Strings
Broke a dial string on that old Radio? Well head to the sporting goods store and look for braided micro-filament fishing line. DO NOT use the standard mono-filament stuff, just won’t cut it and will slip. The braided line has a rough texture and some slight stiffness which works good re-stringing a dial. It’s also easier to tie the knots on the ends – I use surgical clamps to help tie the knot and add a drop of hot glue when all is well. This might cost you $15 but again a 150 yard/meter lifetime supply.
Trick #11 – Drilling holes in tins
So how many of you have tried drilling into a ‘toids, cookie, or candy tin only to end up with an ugly ripped up hole? Pick up a step drill bit set and your worries will be gone. You can find these at your local cheap tool supply store or on the inter-web. It may not hurt to also look for a set of small jewelers files and a nibbler tool for square holes. One other tip – use very little pressure and small steps when drilling. The step drill make a nice clean hole but can easily make a larger than needed hole if pushed to hard.
Trick #12 – Putting IC’s in sockets
DIP IC’s typically have the pins slightly bent outward. This is done intentionally by the manufacturer so auto-insertion equipment can grab on and adjust the pins as needed before inserting into a PCB. However, this makes it difficult to hand insert into a PCB or IC socket. A simple trick is to lay the IC on it’s side on a hard surface and gently press and roll the IC forward to straighten the pins (not too hard! not too much!). Repeat on the opposite side. Note: In the picture I normally use my fingers to roll the pins forward but my fingers are bigger than the IC!