Thursday, September 18, 2014

I Don't Care Much For Soldering After All

Secret: I never soldered anything when I was in college.

You're saying, "So what?" 


I mean, how many people solder in college? Not many. Unless their college degree is in Engineering or Physics.

Which mine was.  And one of our final year projects was a pre-amplifier circuit. We had to turn in a completed circuit board for a working pre-amp as part of our final grade. With all the resistors and capacitors and whatnots neatly soldered on.

Clearly I passed the course, so I must have turned in my circuit board. 

But I didn't touch a soldering iron. I had an awesome lab partner. He did all the soldering. He volunteered. Maybe he didn't trust me not to completely ruin the board and jeopardize his grade. Maybe we had a deal in which I contributed the theory and calculation and he did all the menial labor. I honestly can't remember. I only remember a conversation we had in which he turned up in class one day, all excited, saying he'd found this computer program that plotted all our graphs for us - all we had to do was type in the data. Revolutionary!

Hey! Don't snicker. This was the 90s!

"Is it allowed?" Was my only (and lackluster) response. I was on some government (or federal, as we say here in the US) scholarship that monitored my every move and grade, and I didn't want to be kicked out of school for accidentally breaking a rule.

He snorted and assured me that it was indeed allowed, and more efficient, besides, than manual plotting.

"Well, I like plotting my graphs on paper by hand." All one million coordinate points. On the subway. On the way home from school. While half asleep from mental exhaustion. Because I am incurably set in my ways, I conveniently left out.

He was incredulous. Was his illustrious and brilliant lab partner and nationally-renowned scientist-in-the-making choosing archaic documentation methods over technological advancement? What possessed the government to rest the future of the country's scientific progress on the shoulders of such as hers? And, more importantly, what manner of backward stupidity would she reveal next?

Someday I must tell you another story involving developing 35 mm film (yes, more charming old-fashionedness) in a darkroom for another Physics experiment, and my blood smeared all over the cabinets and walls. I like to think my lab partner was absent from this scenario. I hope he was. I can't remember. All I know is my Physics college years were quite eventful.

But back to the graph conversation. I think we eventually reached a cunning turn-taking compromise that involved him handing in computer-generated graphs for half of our reports and I, my exquisite hand-drawn green-gridded works of art for the other half. I suppose that set the stage for us similarly dividing our tasks when it came to that final year project.

So I never used a soldering iron. I'd watched many other people use it, like Dad, my brother, my lab partner and random technicians at computer and electronic stores. But not me. Soldering was not interesting the way cutting up cardboard and designing stuffed toys or bags are interesting. And Not Interesting is not worth doing, I decided. I did, however, entertain the nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I should at least try it some day. A person can't possibly dabble in electric and electronic circuitry without eventually needing to solder bits to other bobs, right?

Then along came Emily's Science Party. And I thought it was as good a reason as any to try soldering. So I found the soldering iron I'd gotten for Christmas years ago (still in its blister pack), and the solder (also still in its blister pack), read an online tutorial, and got to work.

Guess what? I hate it after all. It's so slooooooooooooooooooooooow.

Which is totally useless for mass-production. I'd be soldering till Emily's graduated from college herself and still wouldn't have finished those 100 circuit joints. Because nobody in their right minds would solder 100 floating circuit joints. Even me, who, as a habit, isn't usually in her right mind.

Enter electrician's tape. My circuitry BFF for years, and likely to continue in that role unchallenged. Unplugged, cheap, and (very important to us crafty people) comes in different colors.

And with this no-solder approach, I'm back on track for Saturday. We're making an optic fiber lamp (among other things) with paper cups and tape. Lots of tape.

Back soon with pictures. Over and out now!


  1. Pretty lamp! What fun those kids will have at your party... and they'll be learning things besides - yay!

  2. I cannot tell you how much I love this! As a crafting, sewing mom with degrees I'm computer science and math, I was feeling a bit inadequate when you said you were going to solder. Tape I can do! I love theses lamps for a science party!

  3. I soldered in college--but in my stained glass class, not my electronics lab!

  4. I love your experiment. Why do we always think we can do everything until crunch time and go for the most sensible thing? I do it all the time and my husband cannot figure out why I have not learned how to do things the easy way such as go buy it at the store. BTW, you are a cool mom. Hope you guys have a fun party on Sat.

  5. Greetings from Bulgaria! Your text is hillarious as usual. Lol! I love your masterpieces, your tutorials, your fun ideas... Everything!

  6. I feel this way about hot glue. Ow. Ow ow. I took a soldering class, partly for jewelry stuff, mostly in search of a better conducting wire connection. It was okay. If I had to do this for a living, I would lose my mind. Ow. Ow ow.

  7. Heat shrink tubing. AWESOME for splicing joins and doesn't unroll.

    1. Anonymous: I ran out of HST. :( Didn't have enough of the right diameter and didn't want to buy more. But yes, it would've been my first choice for attaching the optic fiber bundle to the LEDs.

  8. Soon you will have to put a link to STEM stuff at the side of your blog, like the sewing tutorials and the cardboard crafts, etc., there will be so many posts...

    1. Ruth: Indeed! I have the "Circuits" category in the sidebar already, but that excludes other Sciencey stuff that aren't circuits. I might just have to start a different one soon that includes all.


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.