The solder test

The solder test

From the MAKE Flickr pool

Mr. Archer tries his hand at this cube soldering exercise – a simple yet effective test of skill.
As detailed in Joseph J. Carr’s How To Design and Build Electronic Instrumentation, 2nd Ed

“There are several reasonable ways to learn the art of soldering, and all of them come down to: DO IT! One method favored by many technical institute instructors is to give the student exactly one foot of 12- or 14-gauge bare bus wire (or insulated wire that has been stripped). This wire is cut up into twelve one-inch lengths, all exactly the same. Why do you suppose that we want exactly twelve pieces, not thirteen or nine? Well, there are twelve edges on a cube, you see. Take these twelve slivers of wire, and construct a cube using solder to hold together the joints. Now, here’s the catch – you may use only a pair of long nose pliers, soldering iron, and solder. No holders, vices, or any other implement! The idea is to teach you not to move the work while it is cooling. When you finish the cube, let it cool (This should take about fifteen minutes if you have been working diligently), and then crush it in the palm of your closed fist. If any of the joints break, get another twelve inches of wire and do it again, and again, and again, until you do it correctly.”

As the first line says, experience is the best teacher here. Tips are helpful, but nothing beats developing your own set of strategies. Lengthy soldering sessions can actually be quite relaxing, even meditative.

16 thoughts on “The solder test

  1. nzc says:

    Make sure you Make yourself a little rotary fan(*) on a stand to pull the fumes away from your face. They may not bother you now — you may even like the smell. But breathe them long enow an’ they will. They will.. arrrrr….

    (*) such as are available in abundance in every scrap computer.

  2. John Park says:

    Completing this task successfully should earn you a Crushed Wire Cube Solderer merit badge!

    1. Collin Cunningham says:

      hmm … then i may already have one lying around

  3. Gabriel McGovern says:

    I remember doing this back in high school (polytechnic in Portland, OR). There seemed to be 2 reasonable methods:

    1) Cut little pieces of solder and use flux to glue it to the correct spot. Then you have the vertical wire in one hand and the iron in the other.

    2) Vertical wire in one hand and the iron in the other AND a length of solder in your mouth. Using your mouth as a 3rd hand for solder is no doubt unhealthy, but it worked very well.

    Time to go get checked for lead poisoning….

    1. BigD145 says:

      I saw no mention of flux, Gabriel.

  4. AndyL says:

    … a one inch piece of wire stabbed into your palm. Ouch.

  5. Alessandro says:

    [… “soldering sessions can actually be quite relaxing, even meditative” […]

    De-soldering is very relaxing also. When I suffer from headache I find useful taking a PCB (old TV, VCR or so) and start desoldering components…

    Ahhhhhh ! I like the smell of fresh rosin in the morning !


  6. Simon says:

    Cubes?!? Bah, easy! When I was a student I worked as an electronics technician to pay for my fees. We used to make complex shapes, dodecahedrons and so on, by soldering together the cut off leads from LEDs we’d been assembling onto circuit boards. Also, if you do it right you shouldn’t see the pointy ends of the wire sticking out of the solder blob either.

    Also, why do Americans pronounce ‘soldering’ without the ‘L’?

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