Soldering Surface Mount Components

Instead of dual in-line packages (DIP) that are easy for a hobbyist to use, many new components are produced only in surface mount packages because circuit board manufacturers prefer them for use on their high volume assembly lines.

To make your life easier, you can solder surface mount components (also referred to as an SMD) to adaptors that insert into your circuit board just like a DIP. For example, Spark Fun Electronics offers adaptors that they call breakout boards. When you combine these breakout boards with header pins, they form an adaptor.

Methods to solder a surface mount component to one of these adaptors range from using a common soldering iron to heating the part in a skillet to reflow the solder. Reflow refers to solder paste that you have placed on the metal pads of the adapter to which you attach the component. When you heat up the pad, the solder paste melts.

One word of caution: if you use a skillet or toaster oven (which I personally question because of the danger of fire) or any other cooking implement, it might become contaminated with lead. Because lead can be poisonous, don't ever use that item to cook food in again.

I've put links to some excellent articles on the various methods of soldering surface mount components below. Read through them and modify the ideas into a method that works best for you.

You'll find an article explaining how to solder small surface mount components such as  capacitors using a soldering iron on the University of California, Santa Barbara Web site.

There are many different techniques for soldering surface mount IC's using a soldering iron. I'd suggest you read the article at www.piclist.com/techref/smds.htm, which covers a range of the methods, and pick the one that sounds comfortable to you.

An article on the Seattle Robotics Society Web site has some excellent photos and text showing the steps used to solder large surface mount components with solder paste and a toaster oven. However based upon the information from the folks at Spark Fun Electronics I'd use a skillet to reflow the solder.

If you're only using a few surface mount components and don't want to take the time needed to learn one of the techniques above try the SchmartBoardEZ.  Rather than resting the component's leads on pads you insert the leads into grooves which makes the component easier to align.  The SchmartBoard Web site claims that a ten year old using a soldering iron for the first time can quickly and flawlessly solder a surface mount component using their product. These adapters are pricey, though, so if you have an application that uses a lot and price is an issue, they may not be for you. But for a project that uses only a few, they could be just what you need!

I hope you have fun adapting the ideas in these articles to your particular project and please keep safety in mind whenever you're building gadgets.