Salvaging electronic parts from old circuit boards is a time-tested means of saving money and recycling old electronics into new projects. Removing old electronic parts requires removing the solder connecting the parts to the circuit board. If you are out of desoldering braid, what is a good desoldering braid substitute?
You can make functional substitutes for desoldering braid using a small length of stranded copper or aluminum wire or the braided shielding on coaxial cable. When using copper, aluminum, or coaxial cable shield, add a bit of liquid solder flux to the wire to assist the capillary action that removes the solder.
Any of these substitutes will work for desoldering if you don’t have desoldering braid. The success of the desoldering is as much about the desoldering technique as it is about the tools. Making your desoldering braid depends on your understanding of how soldering works. Here are a few tips to help you make your desoldering braid and the best practices for desoldering.
What is Desoldering Braid?
Commercially available desoldering braid or wick is essentially a copper braid impregnated with soldering flux. This pre-fluxed copper braid is usually sold in small rolls with a tight-fitting lid to keep the solder flux from evaporating.
There are several brands of desoldering braid available on the market. These products can usually be found at electronic supply stores or ordered from the internet. Desoldering braid or wick comes in a variety of widths to match your project.
How to Make Your Own Desoldering Braid
Almost any stranded fine-gauge copper or aluminum wire will work as desoldering braid. Another option is the wire braid shield on coaxial cable. Whichever you decide to use for desoldering, prepare the fine copper or aluminum properly before you start desoldering your project.
- Start with the braid or wick material – Gather the materials to make your desoldering braid. Good candidates for this are untinned stranded copper or aluminum wire. The finer the individual wires in the strand, the better.
- Cut a length of the stranded wire and expose the copper or aluminum – Make the length long enough to hold easily, but not so long as to get in the way of your project. Strip the insulation from one end. The exposed wire should be 1 to 2 inches long.
- Twist the copper or aluminum strands together tightly – Twisting the copper or aluminum wire into a straight shape will aid in the capillary action and make it easier to work with in tight spaces.
- Add flux to the bare copper or aluminum wire – Add flux to the bare copper or aluminum wire. Flux is the real trick to making your desoldering braid or wick. In some cases, you will find it almost impossible to melt old solder without flux.
- Remember to trim your homemade desoldering braid after each use – The desoldering braid works by drawing the solder away from the solder joint and into the braid or twisted wire. Each time you remove solder, you must trim the end of your homemade desoldering braid to remove that used solder.
Don’t Forget About Coaxial Cable Shielding
If you have a length of coaxial cable laying around, a bit of the braided shielding from the coaxial cable works equally well as desoldering braid or wick. Remove the length of the braided shield from the coaxial cable. Prepare the braided shielding just like the stranded wire above.
Other Options for Desoldering Electronic Components
There are other options for desoldering operations that don’t depend on soldering braid or wick. If you routinely desolder parts for reuse, exploring these other options might make your projects easier and quicker.
The High Tech Method – Soldering Pumps
When you have lots of solder joints to desolder, a desoldering pump can speed up the process. Desoldering pumps are little more than spring-loaded plungers that can be activated to vacuum or suck the melted solder away from a solder joint. There are several variations on the market, but they all work on the same principle.
Using a Desoldering Pump – A Push of a Button Does the Trick
Before you begin desoldering joints with your desoldering pump, familiarize yourself with how your pump operates. Most of these devices are simple enough but before you start heating valuable parts, be sure you know how to make the desoldering pump work.
To ensure that your desoldering pump works as it should, here are a few tips.
- Determine the kind of solder joint – Typically, components mount to circuit boards in two fashions, through-hole, or surface mount. A desoldering pump works best on a through-hole mount, but desoldering surface mount components will work.
- Clean the solder joint you want to remove – A small toothbrush and isopropyl alcohol on the soldered side of the board. Only clean the side with the soldered joints.
- Protect the components you are desoldering – If there is room, attach a heat sink to the terminals on the part you are desoldering. Attaching a heat sink will protect the part from the heat of the soldering iron.
- Start with a clean soldering iron and keep it clean – A small damp sponge is a hand tool to have next to your soldering station. Quick passes over the sponge with the tip of your soldering iron will keep it clean and easier to use.
- Arm the desoldering pump – Push down the plunger on the top of the desoldering pump until it clicks into place.
- Add a bit of flux to the solder joint – Adding just a bit of flux to the old solder joint will help the solder melt and flow freely.
- Heat the joint with your soldering iron – Use the clean tip of your soldering iron to melt the solder on the soldered joint you want to remove.
- Activate the pump – Place the tip of the desoldering pump at the melted solder joint. Don’t apply any pressure. Press the button that releases the plunger. As the piston is released, it will suck the melted solder into the desoldering pump.
- Expel the solder from the desoldering pump – Push the plunger back down while holding the end of the desoldering pump over the trash. Do this after every use to keep the desoldering pump clean.
- Repeat the process as necessary – It may take several attempts to completely free a component from an old circuit board. Be patient and keep working.
Specialty Desoldering Tweezers – Getting a Grip on Things
Desoldering tweezers are specialty tools made just for removing small components soldered to circuit boards. Each side of the tweezers is a miniature soldering iron. To use soldering iron tweezers, grip the terminal on the component with the tweezers. When the solder melts, you can pull the component from the board.
Use a Soldering Station – More Control for Better Results
If you haven’t already, you should consider purchasing and using a soldering station. Soldering stations offer greater control over the amount of heat your soldering iron generates at the tip. Many electronic components are sensitive to heat and using a soldering iron without a temperature control will end badly.
There are many soldering stations options on the market. Soldering stations range from budget models within the price range of any hobbyist to sophisticated soldering stations costing hundreds of dollars. Often, good used soldering stations can show up at hamfests, swapmeets, or forums on the internet.
Making the Most of What You Have
Many electronic hobbyists routinely make their soldering braid or wick using the techniques we have described. The process is not difficult and most electronic hobbyists have the materials on hand. Other tools can make the desoldering process easier and quicker.