Monday, March 06, 2023

Warming Up My Soldering Skills: Building Hue

To understand the electronics behind radio, I need to build a radio. But before I can build a radio, I need to have basic soldering skills. So, to that end, I picked up Hue, a small 'learn to solder' project that would let work on these skills.

Before Hue arrived, I hit YouTube to watch a number soldering tutorials. Here are some of my favorites:

The last video is a handy source for cheap, yet still recommended, electronics tools.

Surprisingly, my favorite 'learn to solder' video is this one. I say surprisingly because the purpose of this video isn't to teach technique. What I found impressive was just how casually the author of the video solders 40 header pins to his Raspberry Pi Pico. I assumed 40 nearly-touching pins would have required brain-surgery level detail and accuracy. Not so. The author makes the process look simple: heat up the pad and pin, touch with solder, and go on to the next one. It's this simplicity-first approach that's on display in the video and I realized is what I should be striving for.

When my Hue arrived, I was ready to put my newly acquired knowledge and mindset to work. I warmed up my soldering iron and put the first resistor in place on the board. I touched the tip of the iron to the leg of the resistor and the pad. After a few seconds I touched the solder to another part of the pad. And...nothing. The solder would not melt. I fiddled with different combinations, but I couldn't get the solder to flow like all the demos I'd seen. Ugh.

Not exactly sure what to try next, I ordered some lead based solder off of Amazon. That seemed to help significantly and I was able to proceed with building Hue.

Ultimately, I managed to assemble Hue a minimal of drama. I even managed to seat the LED properly, so I didn't find myself reversing the one component that needed to be placed a particular way.

When Hue was assembled I slid the battery into place and turned it on. Nothing. As I slid the battery mostly out of the slot, Hue lit up. Apparently my soldering was fine, it's just that the battery wasn't making quality contact with the board itself.

Building Hue was a gratifying experience. The small board and close together contacts made for a nice beginner challenge. Having only 9 components, one of which had polarity, also fit with the beginner theme. I could see using Hue as a nightlight when we travel, which means that Hue may very well have a life beyond this learning exercise.

I don't love that the battery holder design seems too fragile. And more than that, I wish there were an explanation about what each of the electronic components do and why they were selected. Writing up these details would add almost no cost to the project and would dramatically increase its value.

The real question is: am I ready to tackle my radio project? If anything, Hue has shown me just how far I have to go before I'll be comfortable with a soldering iron. Still, it also showed me that this isn't rocket surgery and I can muddle through. Enough prep, let's build a radio!

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