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Inexpensive Way To Try Both Leaded and Lead Free Solder

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Coincidentally, a musician and music sound recordist in British Columbia is making a series of YouTube videos (links below) on making XLR cables. In the first of three videos, he says that he uses Mogami cable in his recording studio.

However, he uses Canare for live performances and live recordings, for the same reason that sound recordists for film use Canare. Outside a studio, he has more confidence in Canare's braid shielding than in Mogami's spiral-wrap shielding.

While sound recordists for film have pretty much adopted Star-Quad cable as standard, the gentleman who's making this video series uses ordinary balanced cable. That means that he has two conductors to solder rather than four. He uses a dental pick, which judging from his first video is a good tool for the job, to unravel the Canare braid.

Unsurprisingly, he uses Neutrik XLR connectors.

For more on Neutrik connectors and Canare and Mogami cables, see the first and second posts above on this page of the thread.

Links to the video series:

XLR Microphone Cable DIY Series - Part 1 Strip your Cable Ends

XLR Microphone Cable DIY Project - Part 2 - Tinning your wire ends

Part 3 isn't up yet.

He uses tin/lead/silver solder because he thinks that the silver results in better sound recordings. I'm inclined to file that idea under "audiophile snake oil" :). Although I'm testing SAC305, I don't think the fact that it contains silver is a relevant consideration.

There's a trade organisation called IPC that publishes standards for soldering electronic components. The IPC and a number of IPC trainers have videos on YouTube about soldering cup terminals, which is the type of terminal that an XLR connector uses. These videos make a lot of sense to me, and what they preach is different from what amateurs on YouTube tend to show and recommend. I've put links to several IPC/IPC Trainer videos at the end of this post. In some of the videos, gold plate is removed as a first step. That step can be ignored when the connector is not gold plated.

The IPC publishes a document that contains its soldering standards called IPC-J-STD-001. This document, currently at version "H", sells for US$200. I've looked for a bootleg copy, so far without success. However, there's a 1997 NASA document online called Soldered Electrical Connections.

As the four videos below show, there is some variation in technique within IPC standards. I've noted obvious differences, but there are also subtle ones.

In some videos, such as this quite old one from Pace's channel, soldering the connection is a two-step process. First, the cup is filled with solder. Then the solder is reheated and the cable is inserted.

This 2018 IPC video also shows a two-step process. In all of the other IPC/IPC trainer videos that I've seen, both the cable and the cup are vertical for soldering. In this one, they are horizontal.

This IPC video, also published in 2018, shows a one-step process. The instructor places the cable lead in the empty cup and solders the connection in one go.

In this 2012 video, an instructor who is certified by NASA also uses a one-step process. This video attracted a lot of derisory comments, which I found interesting reading.

Here are some other videos that I found helpful:

ETECH Training

John Gammell

Soldering Geek

I thought that I'd also mention Soldering Geek's 2009 video below on tinning cable, just because it's unique. He uses a heat sink to prevent solder/flux from wicking up and under the cable's insulation. Believe it or not, a company called Ripley Tools makes special anti-wicking tools for this very purpose. A quick check suggests that these tools are an uncommon item, requiring a special order.

It isn't a completely frivolous issue. The IPC has a ListServe called TechNet. In 2014, there was a lengthy discussion about flux getting under insulation and the consequences. The participants show a knowledge of some pretty arcane history going back to the early U.S. space programme: Tinning Wires - Flux Entrapment and Long-term Reliability.

The quality's poor, but here's Soldering Geek's video. It looks like he's using Ripley's "AW Series" tool:


To OP RedG:

Bravo for this interesting thread re LF vs Pb solder and then about solder stations.

I am  EE since 1968,  first soldering iron was 1950s...
By 1990s the first Lead Free laws were affecting the industry.

Just a few notes that you may find useful:

1/ In all those years we used only flux cored wire type solder leaded Sn63/Pb37 eutectic, for discrete and repairs normally in 1 # and 5# rolls. Kester  "5 core"  was the best quality.

We use bar solder in 1.5# bars for our solder pots.

lead free was bought only bars at  first AIM SAC305, later AIM and Nichicon SN100C.

We used liquid solder flux in the solder pots.

2/ In general LF solder is more expensive and has a much worse temp range and durability. The Pb solder 63/37 is a much better solder. LF is needed ONLY to meet EU and US regulatory compliance (RoHS, REACH, conflict minerals) legal, and never has benefit for individuals or hobbyists.

3/ LF solder is useless UNLESS ALL  parts  in contact are also LF, eg solder iron tips, solder pot crucibles, SMD reflow ovens and of course the component leads!

Mixing leaded and LF solder/parts/tools  means the end result is contaminated with lead and not LF!

4/ On PCB rework or point to point wiring I have not had problems to remove rosin flux with normal solvents and cleaners. Left on rosin is very seldom a problem even on very old equipment.


3/ We used Ungar, then Weller, till 1980s.

We discovered fine Hakko Japanese, original analog models and still use them, #926, 936, etc.

4/ In 1990s I designed   MetCal 500 kHz resonant SP-200, these are excellent for large surfaces, ground planes, power electronics rework.

5/ I have never used the Chinese clone irons or rework stations mentioned.

I hope these notes are interesting to you!

Just the ramblings of an old retied EE!

With Kind Regards from Paris,



--- Quote from: jonpaul on May 23, 2021, 05:10:52 pm ---...In general LF solder is more expensive and has a much worse temp range and durability. The Pb solder 63/37 is a much better solder. LF is needed ONLY to meet EU and US regulatory compliance (RoHS, REACH, conflict minerals) legal, and never has benefit for individuals or hobbyists. ...

Mixing leaded and LF solder/parts/tools means the end result is contaminated with lead and not LF!...

With Kind Regards from Paris,


--- End quote ---

Hi Jon,

Thanks very much for the comments.

I'm in NY now, but I used to live in the 14th arrondissement.

We do see a couple of things differently. This morning, I decided to ask major suppliers of custom components to the U.S. film, television, radio and music recording industries whether they use leaded or lead-free solder. I've already heard back from one of the top two in importance: "We use a lead-free solder for our builds". That company makes components that are critically important to making films that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Their work includes power and audio cables that are constantly stressed. I'm pretty familiar with internet discussions about custom work for film and television, and I have yet to see a single complaint about lead-free soldered joints or their durability.

If I decide to go lead-free, one obvious benefit to me, as an individual, is that I don't have to collect solder waste and take it to a recycling facility. I believe that I have a personal responsibility when it comes to pollutants, and I'm not prepared to ignore that responsibility. Incidentally, the gun club where I shoot skeet, and where a good number of people still use lead shot, doesn't ignore that responsibility either.

I've seen people raise lead contamination of lead-free solder equipment as an argument against going with lead-free solder. I don't know if that's your point, but I don't think that it has any relevance to me. While contamination may be an issue in commercial operations, I'm not running a commercial operation. In this context, I think that the argument amounts to grasping at straws. In any event, there's an obvious fix: just go with lead-free and don't bother testing leaded :)


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