One of my main aims with NODE is to show people how awesome hardware hacking can be, and one of the foundational skills to learn is soldering.
I'm not an expert by any means, but here are some things I've learned from soldering over the past few years. Obviously, you might do things differently, but hopefully this will be a good starter guide.
You can use the table of contents and annotations on the screen to navigate the different sections.
EQUIPMENT: THE IRON
You won't get far without a soldering iron. The good thing for those starting out is that they are pretty cheap to pick up.
I started out with one of the cheapest types, and these are fine for learning with. They plug straight into the mains and begin heating up right away.
If you have a little more money, try one of the irons with adjustable heat settings. The model I use is still relatively cheap, but I'd say it's well worth the extra money.
Besides the iron, you'll need a few other things, all which are pretty cheap and easy to find.
The first is the solder itself. Most will be fine to use, but some might suck. I'd suggest checking out Amazon ratings before buying.
If your iron doesn't come with a built in stand, you'll need buy one of those too.
Another thing is a decent tip cleaner. I think the copper wire cleaners are way more effective than sponges.
You may notice there are a bunch of different shaped tips you can buy for your iron. Once you get a bit more experience, you can decide whether you want more tip options.
I personally only use the standard pointy shaped tips, and I think this will serve you well for most tasks.
PRACTICE: BLOW AS YOU GO
Some solder has lead and other nasty stuff in it, and I wouldn't recommend breathing the smoke in. If you're just doing a quick job, you can blow as you go.
If you're soldering for extended periods, use a fan or something to blow the smoke away from you.
PRACTICE: THROUGH-HOLE COMPONENTS
Practice soldering cheap through-hole components like LEDs and resistors to some protoboard.
Make sure the legs of the components are all the way through the holes, then apply the solder near the base of the board. Only apply heat for a second or so, to avoid damaging anything.
PRACTICE: TINNING WIRES
Tinning wires is something you'll be doing a lot of.
Simply strip the end of the wire, twist it so the end is neat, then apply the solder. This will make it much easier and faster to solder onto boards and other components.
If you're joing two wires, twist the two wires together, then solder them.
IRON CARE: TINNING
I'm pretty obsessive with keeping my tip tinned at all times. This means melting a bit of solder onto the tip, so it's left with a nice coating. As well as generally making your tip last longer, it'll also help melt solder faster, while you're working.
IRON CARE: PROPER STORAGE
When I'm finished soldering, I clean the tip, melt a big blob of solder onto the end of it, turn the iron off, then carefully place it in its stand. Doing this every time will keep your iron in top shape for years.
If you're having trouble with solder not melting or binding properly, it could be that the iron isn't hot enough. You may just need to wait for it to get warmer, or perhaps you'll need to buy a more powerful iron.
Flux pens are pretty handy if solder isn't melting or binding properly. Most solder has flux in it already, but this will give it a bit more.
Soldering is not as hard as it looks, it just takes a little practice. Start messing around on cheap stuff and junk electronics. You'll probably mess up some components and burn yourself a few times, but you will pick it up eventually.
You'll be able to save tonnes of money by creating, fixing and modifying electronics. Have fun with it, and let me know how you get on.