You’ve got to get close to your work.

HowTo: Solder by hand - Table of Contents

There’s a few things about your work place that you need to consider when you go to work on electronics:

  1. Ergonomics (how comfortable it is to sit and work at your workbench.)
  2. Clean air
  3. Safety (soldering irons are hot.)
  4. Electrostatic protection (that little zap from your carpet can kill your electronics.)

I’ll go into each of those points in turn:


As I mentioned in the last post, I find I have to get really close to what I’m working on to do a good job soldering.

To get close enough to what I’m working on, I find that I need to sit much lower than I would if I were using the table normally. I have an adjustable office chair, and I lower it all the way down when I solder. I’d go lower, but I don’t have any kind of chair or stool in the house that’s lower than about 40 cm (16 inches.)

At any rate, get your work surface high enough and your seat low enough that you don’t have to hunch down uncomfortably.

You’ll be bracing your arms against the work surface as well. I usually work with my forearms braced on the edge of my workbench and use only my wrists and fingers to move my tools and materials.

You’ll want good lighting. The room itself should be well lit, and you may need a desk lamp to brighten up the area you are working in.

Bright light makes it easier for your eyes to focus - or, rather, relieves them of the need to focus as much. In bright light, your pupils close. As with any camera, a smaller aperture means a larger field of depth.

Don’t hunch over your work bench for hours on end. Stop now and again and sit up straight, or stand up and walk around the room a bit.

Clean air

You’ll probably want to do something to keep the air in your work room clean.

The flux used to make solder flow properly evaporates in the heat from the soldering iron. The fumes can cause allergic reactions in some people. Some types of flux also just stink.

There are fume extractors available if you’d like to buy one. You can also just position a small fan to blow the fumes away from you.

You can also do what I do: Leave the door to the work room open, and always exhale while the fumes are being produced. I’ve never had any trouble that way. (Except for a roll of really nasty stuff a company I worked for nearly thirty years ago had. The fumes gave me the runs, so I quit using that roll of solder. As far as I know, it’s still on a back shelf somewhere in that workshop.)


Soldering irons are hot.

Follow these tips to keep your iron from burning you, or damaging your work area, or damaging equipment on your work bench:

  1. The soldering iron stand should be solidly seated on your work bench so that it can’t fall over or fall on the floor.
  2. Keep the area around the soldering iron stand clear of junk and plastic things. You shouldn’t have to dodge stuff to put your iron back in its stand.
  3. The surface of your work bench should be heat resistant. Wood is OK. A kitchen counter top works well. Mine is made of a piece of kitchen counter top and has a heat resistant electrostatic protection mat on top of that.
  4. Always put the iron back in its holder when you aren’t using it.

Electrostatic protection

If you are working on delicate electronics, you will need to protect them from electrostatic discharge (ESD.)

ESD is that annoying “zap” you feel when you walk across a carpeted floor and then touch a door knob.

ESD can also be unnoticeable (no zap) but still damage your projects. It can build up on you or your tools or your equipment without you noticing just in the course of moving things around. ESD can kill your stuff dead, even if you never notice a single zap.

Follow these tips to reduce the chances of ESD damaging your projects and components:

  1. Wear clothes of cotton or linen when working. Wool and synthetic fibers can make ESD much worse.
  2. Use a properly grounded ESD protection mat on your work bench. If you can’t do that, work on a wooden surface. You don’t normally think of wood as a conductor, but it is good enough to drain high voltage ESD charges slowly and safely.
  3. Wear a properly grounded ESD ground strap. If you don’t have one, then make it a habit to touch your work bench before you touch anything on it. That way, your static charge drains through the work bench instead of your expensive parts. Maintain contact with the work bench so that you don’t build up a charge while working.
  4. For extremely sensitive parts, you will need a soldering iron with a grounded tip. My iron isn’t grounded, but the way it and the stand are made (and the fact that the stand is on my conductive, grounded ESD mat) prevent it from collecting a charge.

That’s a short summary of some of the things that go into making a safe and comfortable work space.

I’ll probably mention other things in the course of the other posts in this series - I may or may not add them in here as well. :)

HowTo: Solder by hand - Table of Contents