Best Soldering Tools and Accessories for DIY Audio Projects
The most important DIY tool is a good soldering station. We use and recommend the Hakko FX888D Soldering Station.
Your iron needs a small tip. Those giant chisel tips from Radio Shack will make a mess of your microphone's circuit board. Try the Hakko T18-C08.
Our go-to solder for most audio projects is Kester 44, a resin-core leaded solder with a relatively fine gauge (0.031'' / 0.8mm). It wets and flows easily, and cures with a shiny finish that makes it easy to spot bad joints.
You will need to clean the resin from the PCB afterwards; see the flux remover below.
You'll also need a simple tool for solder removal; these are invaluable for cleaning up bad joints and desoldering components (or wires). We use and recommend the Jonard DP-200.
If you are depopulating a board, you'll appreciate having something faster than a spring-loaded solder sucker. We recommend the Hakko FR300-05/P Desoldering Tool. This is the upgraded version of the old Hakko 808, which we use and appreciate.
Note - if you're building one of our microphone kits or circuit kits, you normally would not need this tool. These are great for REMOVING many components, but are of no use when populating a new PCB.
The best way to clean up a solder pad after removing a component is to use solder wick. We like this one because it is impregnated with flux, which helps solder flow more easily.
To use this, lay it flat atop the solder pad. Hold the iron at an angle so that the angled side of the tip is flat against the wick, which is flat against the board. Using the side of the soldering iron's tip helps the transfer of heat.
We used to recommend a generic $5 side-cutter, but the blade didn't hold up to 3 years of regular use. We have upgraded to the Hakko CHP-170. You'll need this tool to trim component leads after soldering.
There are a variety of ways to clean circuit boards after soldering. We use an aerosol spray: Techspray Ecoline Flux Remover.
Gently scrub the PCB with an old toothbrush after hosing it down with this product. Repeat 2-3 times to ensure that the flux is washed away rather than just smeared around.
We find we get better long-term results if we protect high-impedance joints with conformal coating. This seals moisture out of the solder joints where the capsule wires connect to the JFET/tube. Our favorite product is MG Chemicals 419C Acrylic Lacquer Conformal Coating.
If you struggle to read part numbers on small components, you'll need a magnifying glass. We are fans of the Carson 5x LED Lighted Slide-Out Aspheric Magnifier. It is compact, but works very well. We keep it on the bench, right next to the soldering iron.
We've finally found a wire stripper that works with the very fine wire we use on capsules and inside microphone circuits: the Klein Tools 11057 Kurve Wire Stripper/Cutter. For years we've been recommending using a razor blade to score wire insulation, but this Klein 11057 is 10 times faster.
The Aven 17010 Adjustable Circuit Board Holder is our latest must-have accessory. It raises the work surface, reducing back and eye strain. It adjusts from large to small circuit boards easily. It allows the board to be easily rotated top-for-bottom to confirm component position. This device went from "never heard of it" to "indispensable" in about one day.
The Fluke 87/V Digital Multimeter is our go-to DMM. It is expensive, but has been extremely reliable, and we trust it. It has 10M Ohm input impedance, which is important for taking accurate DC voltage measurements inside a mic circuit.
If your budget doesn't allow for a professional-quality DMM like the Fluke, take a look at the Mastech MS8268 MS8261 Series Digital AC/DC Auto/Manual Range Digital Multimeter ; it's what we started with, and should get you through our microphone builds just fine.
Fine-tipped tweezers are my second-favorite non-obvious DIY electronics tool (after the above magnifying glass). ESD-safe tweezers are useful for moving and placing components you don't want to risk zapping with the static charge in your finger... and for dropping tiny M1.6 metric machine screws into place in a way that fat fingers (or, really, even skinny fingers) just can't manage... and for reaching into tight spaces to grab the tiny protruding end of a wire that needs to be pulled through... etc.
Said another way, these things are indispensable, and cheap too. This is a 7-piece set of ESD-safe tweezers for under $15.
If your tastes run toward imported precision tools that cost 10 times as much, we recommend the Wiha 44501, which we personally use and admire.
Do you have a tool or other product to recommend? Please get in touch and tell us about it!