Solder Board

I created what I am calling a “Solder Board” which is like a breadboard but with no internal connectors. The solder board is used for… soldering! Specifically, for soldering pins onto PCBs, and in this case, onto microcontrollers. But first, some history…

For years I’ve soldered pins onto PCBs by jamming header pins into whatever breadboard was lying around and then slapping the PCB onto the pins, soldering the pins on, and then prying the board off. It works… mostly.

A year or two ago I had to solder a lot of Teensy boards, and finally found a use for those tiny breadboard. I taped off the edges to mark the size of the board and then taped it onto a chuck of Aluminum I had lying around for some extra weight and height.

And it worked pretty well. I would stick the pins in the outer columns (which I sized using my Header Pin Snapper tool) and be ready to go.

Drop the board on top, get to soldering, and then pry it off. Was it the best thing? No. Was it better than other methods? Yes. Could it be improved? Probably.

Since I now solder a lot more Raspberry Pi Pico boards, the little Teensy jig was too small, so I started using a larger breadboard, which presented a few problems. The first is that unless you have an old and somewhat “worn out” breadboard, inserting the pins can be a bit difficult. Often it took a lot of pressure to get them inserted. Sometimes one or more would pop up and be uneven with the rest. After that you need to solder them and remove the board, which can take quite a bit of prying if it’s in there tight. None of this is super difficult, but it’s a pain point, and we don’t need to deal with it.

Also, the Raspberry Pi Pico boards are 20 pins long instead of 14 like the Teensy, so more pins makes it just a bit more difficult to put the pins in and remove the board after soldering.

So above you’ll see the solution. A 3D printed “Solder Board” which was specifically designed for soldering header pins in place. (Unlike a typical breadboard.)

Put the header pins in place… no hard pressing required! The holes are sized such that they just drop right in.

Solder those pins and the board lifts right out. No prying! No pulling. Heck, you can probably flip it over and the board will fall right out.

Here’s the 3D model. Pretty simple. It’s a block with some holes. This one is sized specifically for the Raspberry Pi Pico board. You can’t really put the pins in the wrong place, which means you can work faster with less guesswork and chance of screwing up.

But maybe you want more holes… Just set the “useMoreHoles” option to get all the holes. This might be handy if you just want a general purpose Solder Board, and not one specific to one board size.

Wait, you want even more holes!? You can make one any size, thanks to the magic of parametric design in OpenSCAD.

I’ve tried to add just a few parameters to the OpenSCAD file to allow for customizing it without going overboard. The number of rows and columns, the padding (part without holes) on the sides and top/bottom, the height, and even hole diameter, to adjust for (ahem) printers that are not quite dialed in very well. You’ve also got the useMoreHoles option if you want more holes. Overall it’s not very complex code, so you should be able to muck about with it fairly easily. I will say that if you want a large board with a lot of holes, it may take a bit of time to render the output. (At least it does on my 2019 iMac.)

If you do a lot of soldering this may be a useful thing to speed up the process. I’m constantly looking for ways to speed things up, whether it’s single-purpose jigs or specific-use tools. Having to not think about getting it right because there’s only one way to do it is often quite helpful.

Oh, I do recommend not printing this in black. Even though I’ve got a small lamp on my workbench pointed directly at what I am soldering, the holes just don’t stand out as well as they do on a contrasting color. (Then again, I’m old and my eyesight isn’t great. Still, keep that whole “speed things up” feature in mind.)

You can get the STL and .scad file from – Solder Board. Print it if you need it!


Repairing a Nektar Panorama P4 Keyboard

I recently did repairs on a Nektar Panorama P4 Keyboard. A guy I know got in touch with me and said there was an accident involving someone stepping on a USB cable while it was plugged into the back of the unit. This damaged the USB connector and it no longer allowed the keyboard to show up via USB.

Here’s the main PCB in place. There’s a few ribbon cables that connect it to the rest of the keyboard. I removed them and pulled out the board. Oh, I should note that what took the most time in the disassembly process was removing all the screws holding the case together. I think there were about three dozen!

I had to desolder the broken USB jack. It was definitely damaged and pretty much crumbled when I got it off. Some of the holes still had solder in them, so I carefully drilled them out with an 0.8mm bit on my Tiny Drill Press. (The red squares show the holes. The white stuff around the large holes is not damage, but some sort of glue or epoxy that held the jack in place in addition to the solder.)

I grabbed some USB Female Type-B Jack as recommended in this reddit post. Also, take a look at the photo in that post. See how the USB jack has no plastic in the center? Yeah, they used jacks that just had the metal contacts hanging free in the air. Terrible choice! (Below shows the new jack.)

The owner also mentioned a USB plug protector support thing, from this blog post. So I modeled one up for him…

I measured a bunch of my USB cables and, well, they are not all the same. So I printed about four of these supports with different inside dimensions. I figured one might work. (Little did I know the cable for the keyboard was right in the case! Oh well.)

Once I had the keyboard repaired and put back together I fired up GarageBand and made sure it worked, and it did work. Hooray. I also charged next to nothing for the repair because the guy’s cat passed away the week before and I know exactly what that is like.


Hakko FX-901 Portable Soldering Iron

Hakko 901

I’ve got a Hakko FX-901 Cordless Soldering Iron and I love it. I was reminded how much I love it when Donald mentioned it in Maker Update #37.

I got mine about two years ago after using one at the Be A Maker space. I stick a set of rechargeable AA batteries in it and I’ve usually got it ready to go when needed. Oh, while you can find it on Amazon for about $32, I got mine from SparkFun where it’s usually $34.95 but you can sometimes find it on sale for $24.95, which is an awesome deal!

The one thing I don’t like about it is the replacement tips. Right now a Hakko T11-B Tip for FX-901 is $24.95. Yeah, that’s the same cost as a new (on sale) iron from SparkFun. Hmmm…

I know some people really like the butane soldering irons, and they can be found for cheap, but I prefer rechargeable batteries to dealing with butane fuel. Also, I’ve flown more than once with the Hakko, and bringing AA batteries on a plane is not an issue. :)


SparkFun Soldering Iron Fix


A long time ago I picked up this 50W Soldering Station from SparkFun, and it’s worked well over the years. (Also, props to SparkFun for still listing retired products on their site!) The nice thing about this iron is that it can use Hakko tips, and since I can get Hakko-compatible tips super-cheap on eBay, I’ve got a lot of tips in the shop so I’m never without one.

I could have got a Hakko, but they are more than twice the price, and while I do use a Hakko at work, I went cheap at home because sometimes I’m cheap. (You may remember the time I had to fix a Hakko FX888D Soldering Station.)


The one thing I didn’t like about the SparkFun iron was that the handle seemed a little flimsy. Not at first, but after years of use. It finally got to the point where the heating element was wobbly on the handle, and when I took it apart, I couldn’t get the tip off easily, and when it came off, the end of the heating element broke. (I should note that I probably solder things a few times a week, so it definitely got some good use.)


I had to find a replacement handle, and it requires one with 7 pins. After browsing around eBay for a bit I found the 7-Pin 907 Soldering Iron Handle For AT936b AT907 AT8586 ATTEN Soldering Station, which seemed like it was the right one. I figured that for under $8.00 I’d just order it and hope it worked. And it did.

I also learned that the SparkFun iron is basically an ATTEN 937b Anti-static Rework Soldering Station, which you can find cheap on eBay as well. (I mean, lots of things are cheap on eBay, because they may be knock-offs or just not that good. YMMV.) Also the ATTEN 937b is basically a knock-off of the Hakko 936 ESD Soldering Station with Medium (907) Handpiece. Oh look, the “907” handpiece. Of course.

Happy Soldering!


Hakko Soldering Iron Fix

Hakko Soldering Iron Fix

Once upon a time at the museum we found an old Hakko FX-888D soldering iron for Sam to use. He tried to solder things, but it did not work. I tried soldering things with my Hakko FX-888D soldering iron and it worked great! I looked at his iron and declared it “not working properly” and then we stopped using that one.

This week I tried using my Hakko FX-888D soldering iron and it just did not work. I ‘raised’ the temperature and it still didn’t work. Meanwhile, Becky soldered about a dozen buttons while I was still trying to do one. The solder would melt but not stick. Weird, and then I discovered that I probably managed to “adjust” the temperature instead of “change” the temperature. Yeah, confusing, right?

This is (sort of) explained in the Hakko FX-888D soldering iron manual, very poorly, but start on page 5 and see if it makes sense. If not, watch this video.

If you don’t want to watch the video, here’s the procedure for resetting the Hakko FX-888D soldering iron to the factory defaults, which totally fixed my problem of it not getting hot enough to make good solder joints.

  1. With unit turned off press both UP and ENTER buttons
  2. Turn the unit on while continuing to press both UP and ENTER buttons
  3. The display will flash the letter “A”
  4. Release both the UP and the ENTER buttons
  5. Press the UP button
  6. The display will show the letter “U”
  7. Your iron is now reset!

I’m posting this here because future me will probably screw it up again, and then I’ll read this post and know how to fix it. Also, if Becky ever screws it up, she can look here too!