This article is an update to a previous Pinball News Pinball Tools article, and is presented to you in four parts: General Hand Tools, Electrical and Electronics Tools, Soldering Tools, and Damaged Hardware Removal with this, Soldering Tools, being the third.
As with the first two parts, my perspective comes from someone who is a homeowner, a professional electronics technician, and a pinball repair technician on the side.
The driving force behind upgrading my soldering and de-soldering tools was advances in technology.
More often than not, I’ve found myself having to deal with damaged circuit boards. I find the main reason for this is a previous person lacking the technical knowledge, and/or tools, to correctly work on printed circuit boards.
Due to limited parts availability from all the new little pinball companies, stock of game-specific replacement parts will be very limited. Eventually, pinball owners will not be able to buy complete assemblies to easily swap out. They will either be forced to make repairs themselves, or find someone to do it for them.
For those who don’t want to perform their own pinball repairs, you can use The Directory here on Pinball News to help find someone who works on pinball machines. NOTE: Pinball News does not promote or endorse any particular pinball repair resource. The businesses listed are only for convenience of its readers.
Having recently updated my pinball tools, I am more than willing to share my list and the reasons for the specific upgrades.
The greatest of these reasons is a tool’s dual-purpose; using it for both pinball repair and general home Do-It-Yourself (DIY) work.
The tools are listed here from most-used to least-used. The list is fairly extensive and has been internally hot-linked for your convenience, including links to a tool’s description in the General Hand Tools article where applicable (indicated by *).
Where possible, whenever an older tool is No Longer Available (NLA), a newer model is listed instead.
- Ground Fault Indicator*
- Portable Lighting*
- Screwdriver Handle*
- Short Insert Bits*
- Flush Cutters*
- Needle Nose Pliers*
- Locking Needle Nose*
- Thin Wrenches*
- Soldering Iron
- Meter Leads
- Solder Sucker
- De-soldering Needles
- Solder Flux
- Bonus Tool
With the exception of any notes, the following format will mostly be used throughout this article:
– Name of Tool
– Old: Manufacturer, Item Number or Part Number
– New: Manufacturer, Item Number or Part Number
– Picture: Left/Top will be the old tool, Right/Bottom will be the new tool.
The only upgrade to my old corded pencil-style soldering station is the addition of smaller and smaller pointed tips. See the carousel holder near the centre of the picture below.
A much, much better tool for soldering and de-soldering modern Surface-Mount Device (SMD) pinball components is a tweezers-type iron.
|Old: Weller, WLC100|
|New: Various, TBD|
For pinball, I have mainly been getting away with using my old soldering station (above).
In my professional life, a tweezers-type iron has been so much easier to use than a pencil-style. Professional tweezers-type irons, with their station, cost hundreds of dollars. A good hobbyist tweezers iron, with stand, can be purchased for well under one hundred dollars.
A tweezers iron with needle tips and variable temperature, like the one pictured above, is recommended for hobbyists.
This tool is mainly used for shrinking heat shrink tubing, but is especially helpful when working with surface-mount components.
|Old: Weller, NLA (new model: WLBUK75)|
|New: Unbranded, 503 Torch|
I have been using this inexpensive, but high-quality, butane ‘micro torch’ for many soldering tasks. It actually works quite well for hot air soldering and de-soldering of surface mount components.
The novice may want an easier-to-use set. One such set, pictured below, can be purchased for half the price of the Weller, but for three times as much as the inexpensive torch alone.
My two new test lead sets are pictured below. Each is different in function and purpose.
|Old: Various, Various|
|New: Various, Various|
It is important to verify your work after any repair; especially soldering. A good quality set of test leads helps assure your attestation results. Probe Master makes high-quality and affordable test leads.
If you’re going to test tiny electronics in any modern pinball machine, I’d say it’s worth it to get two specialized sets of test leads for your Digital Multimeter (DMM) – one for general use, the other for Surface-Mount Devices (SMD).
The set pictured above left has extendable needle tips. Being both needle-like and extendable gives the set greater usability and versatility.
Though not actually name brand, the generic set pictured above right has tweezers tips. I recommend buying a set of this style of test leads verses purchasing a dedicated meter for surface mount components. A cheap SMD test lead set will cost $5.00. A cheap Surface SMD tester will cost $25.00.
Novice Tip: For the beginner, I recommend using your leads with a Digital Multimeter (DMM) with few functions. The 221320 (sometimes listed as 2213-20) is actually a Smart Multimeter (SMM) from Milwaukee and is a good choice. It is a known and trusted brand, comes with batteries and leads, is available from many sources, and is more affordable than most other brands.
My old solder was ‘thick’. The new is ‘thin’.
Old and new tubes of tin/lead (Sn/Pb) solder are pictured below. Each is used on different electronic components.
|Old: Kester, Various|
|New: Kester, Various|
I’m a fan of Kester solder. I use it in my work, home and hobby lives. It is easy to use this solder on damaged circuit boards.
Old thick solder is useful when working on through-hole electronic components.
New thin solder is useful when working with SMD electronic components.
Pro Tip: Solder with the addition of silver (Ag) makes a stronger mechanical connection than ordinary lead/tin solder, making it a good choice for use on header pins.
The pen type hand tool for removing molten solder, by vacuum, is referred to as a ‘solder sucker’.
The old and new solder suckers are shown in the picture below.
|Old: Various, Various|
|New: Viralloy, SS-786 (Note: Similar to Engineer, SS-02)|
Though both suckers have replaceable tips, the old Teflon® one is rigid, whereas the new silicone one is flexible.
The old sucker is my original one from tech school and came as part of a tool kit.
The new sucker is a little shorter and has a flexible tip. These two thing make it easier to use under a magnifying lamp.
These needles are a new addition to my soldering tools.
|New: Various, Various|
These needles help save damaged/over-worked circuit boards. They work best to help pull out the leads of through-hole components, but can also be carefully employed on some SMD components.
Flux is another new addition to my soldering tools.
|New: Kester, 186|
I prefer liquid over paste flux for its longevity and general overall greater usefulness, and I prefer Kester 186 for its outstanding properties.
186 works exceptionally well when repairing heavily damaged boards or when soldering old, tarnished ‘New Old Stock’ (NOS) electronic components.
Bonus Tool: Magnifier
I used the magnifier, pictured below, to help me see tiny SMD electronic components.
This wearable magnifier is the cheapest one I could find which had the most options. Many versions are available and can be purchased for as little as ten dollars.
One very important thing to consider when choosing any magnifier is its ‘focal length’. This is the distance between you and the item you are viewing. For soldering, make sure you have a long enough focal length to afford space for you to do your job.
For more specific information on using soldering tools, you can check out the Pinball News Hand Soldering Seminar by clicking the picture below.
Please note: The seminar’s associated practice kits have long since become unavailable from Pinball Renaissance.