This article will teach you the specific soldering skills needed to build quadcopters. These skills are easy to learn and very useful to know when building or fixing your own drone. Rather than provide just general guidance on soldering, this article will cover the specific skills you need. These skills will apply to building any size or type of quadcopter be it FPV, photography, racing, micro or otherwise.
Soldering is a metallic bonding of a 'joint' or two pieces of metal being joined. The material you are heating to join is often known as the 'work'. The solder adheres to clean, hot materials when heated with the iron. Solder has rosin flux in it to act as a cleaning agent. As you apply the solder the rosin flux cleans dirt, rust or other impurities from the pieces you are joining.
By heating the material and adding solder, you effectively join the joint. In our case this allows electricity to flow. For example we might join a motor to an ESC in order for the motor to run. As the solder cools, the joint hardens and becomes strong.
This video provides a brief explanation of these principles:
In this article we will be applying these basic principles in various situations that you will run into as you build your own quadcopter.
Before we cover the skills, we need to briefly cover the most common soldering tools used when building drones. If you need to invest in any of these tools, we've put together a complete buyers guide for assembling your own soldering kit.
Soldering Iron + Tip
The soldering iron heats your soldering tip to extremely high temperatures, commonly upwards of 700 degrees farenheight. The tip sits in the end of the iron. There are many sizes and types depending on the work you will be doing.
Solder comes in wire spools and has different diameters for different applications. Inside the solder there is a rosin flux core which cleans the materials you use.
In order to keep your work clean, you need to clean and pre-tin the soldering tip. A wire cleaning device like the one pictured above is great for removing large pieces of solder. A wet sponge should be used to clean the remaining solder off the iron tip.
This device uses a small air vacuum to quickly suck solder out of a heated joint. This tool is great for cleaning super small joints.
This braided copper wick cleans solder off your work when heated. The solder is transferred and captured in the wick, leaving your work clean.
These extremely useful tools feature small clips and often a magnifying glass. These clips can hold components or wires together so your hands are free to work.
The following skills are the basic set that you'll need to build your own quadcopter. These concepts will be used frequently as you connect components. If you're new to soldering, you should take some time to practice each of these skills before applying them on your finished product. Remember that practice makes perfect. It will take some time to learn these skills, but it doesn't have to be perfect right off the bat.
We've put together a video shows a demonstration of each of the skills outlined below:
Adding solder to the end of a wire or to a solder point before joining it is called tinning. You will tin every pad that you connect a wire to. The basic idea is to heat the material (work) and then apply the appropriate amount of solder to it. You will tin every wire that you connect in your build. These wires are used for joining your motor wires to your electronic speed controllers. For joining your ESC's to your flight controller and more.
Often times you will need to join two bare wires in order to make a specific cable you need. Joining wires is as simple as holding them in place, securing the ends together and adding solder to the connected wires. Depending on the size of the wire, you might not pre-tin the ends. Smaller wires might need to be pre-tinned, while larger can be joined more easily. A helping hand is essential for joining wires. You will join wires when you make various connectors in your build.
First pre-tin both the wire and pad you intend to join. To solder to a pad start by heating the solder on the pad until it is molten. Bring bring the wire to the pad joining the solder on the wire to the pad. Remove the iron and hold the wire in place for a moment as the solder hardens. You should end with a shiny, strong joint.
Be careful when heating solder pads on PCB's. Heating the pad for more than a few seconds can melt the glue and pull the pad off. This can be avoided by using a properly heated iron and heating the PCB for no more than 5-10 seconds.
Pre-tin the wire, slide it into the through-hole and hold it in place. Heat the metal ring around the hole and add solder to the joint. The wire and hole will join together with a small bit of solder around the base of the joint. This can also be used to solder pin headers to boards. This is a very popular type of connector used on flight controllers.
If you need to remove a small bead of solder, a vacuum sucker is perfect. The most common use is for removing a pin or wire from a through hole connector. Ready the tip of the solder sucker just over the joint. Heat the joint with the iron. As you move the iron away, cover with the end of the solder sucker. Quickly press the release button and the solder will be sucked into the chamber.
Though it may seem counter intuitive, the first step for cleaning with a solder wick is to tin the end. By tinning the wick, you will be able to join the wick and solder on the board as it is molten. Hold the tinned end of the wick over the work you wish to clean. Press the iron onto the wick, heating the wick and solder on the board. Slowly drag the wick so the clean portion moves over the solder you wish to pick up. The wick will fill with solder from the board.
Last updated on January 31, 2017