Are you interested in salvaging circuit components from old electronics? Not only are vintage components fun to experiment with, but they can also save you a pretty penny on your personal projects. After all, if you’re going to throw that old radio away why not salvage some of the transistors, capacitors, and potentiometers?
Having the right tools will make salvaging electronics components much easier. Sure, you can risk cutting leads with clippers, but chances are you’re going to damage the component in the process. It’s best to spend a few bucks and gather the right tools for the job before you start cracking open those old electronics.
- Tools For The Casing
First, you’ll need to ensure you have the right tools for opening casings. A Phillips and a flat head screwdriver should be considered the bare minimum. It’s a good idea to have them in a few different sizes. The smaller the electronics casing, the smaller the screws will be.
Many electronics casings use irregular screws. A set of hex key, or Allen wrenches, is a worthy investment. Some pesky electronic manufacturers really don’t want customers opening their products so they use specialized star sockets that have a tamper-proof piece in the middle. You’ll want to invest in a set of tamper proof Allen wrenches and star wrenches as well. With these and the two basic screwdrivers, you should be able to open nearly all electronic casings.
- Tools For Safety And Efficiency
Next, you’ll want to invest in a few tools that will improve your safety and the safety of the electronics. First on the list is a multimeter. This handy tool is a must-have for anyone interested in electronics. You likely already have one, but if not, they are extremely cheap. It doesn’t need to be particularly fancy. Just enough so that you can test capacitors on circuit boards for a charge.
When a circuit board is removed from the casing and all power sources are disconnected, the capacitor can still be a potential danger. Capacitors hold an electrical charge and can release it very quickly. A small capacitor can give a surprisingly nasty shock. A very large capacitor can cause serious harm. A multimeter will let you know if there is a charge on the capacitor. If so, you can follow the recommended steps for discharging capacitors in-circuit.
Multimeters can improve your safety by letting you know where there is or isn’t electricity present. A grounding wrist strap can improve the safety of the electrical components by ensuring your accumulated static electricity does not cause them damage. It’s possible for your body to accumulate enough static energy to burn through electronic components. A grounding wrist strap connected to a grounded surface keeps your electrical potential at ground and prevents that from happening.
Any additional safety gear will depend on the type of electronics you are salvaging. Larger devices and appliances have increased risk and may require additional gear. You may also want goggles or a face mask to keep solder fumes out of your face.
- Tools For Removing Old Electronic Components
Once you’ve prepared by opening the casing, discharging capacitors, and connecting your grounding strap, it’s time to start removing the components. Most of the time, this is going to require desoldering components from a circuit board. It might also require snipping a few wires here and there. There are a few different options available for desoldering.
The cheapest tool combination that you could use would be a soldering iron and desoldering braid. Desoldering braid also referred to as soldering wick, is simply fine braided copper wire that is coated with flux. To desolder the components you hold the braid in place on the soldered connections with the soldering iron on top. As the braid heats up it will melt the solder beneath it and absorb it into the braid. You then cut that section off of the braid and continue with the rest of the components.
Soldering wick is fairly cheap, but it’s not extremely time efficient. It’s a great choice if you only need to salvage one or two components at a time. It’s also limited in use to through-hole components, though that shouldn’t be a problem if you are salvaging components from older electronics.
The desoldering pump can be viewed as a slight upgrade to desoldering braid, though it does come with problems of its own. To use the pump, you simply heat the solder at the joints with the soldering iron and then use the pump to suck the molten solder away from the circuit board. It’s possible to become fast and efficient with the pump once you have enough experience under your belt. They are prone to breaking down with time and will eventually need to be replaced.
Next in terms of an upgrade is the hot air pump and tweezers combination. Hot air soldering guns can be used to melt the solder on through-hole or surface mount electronic components with ease. Once the solder has reached a liquid state you can simply pull or pry the component free with a pair of tweezers. The air gun is considered more efficient because it can be used to heat all of the solder points for a particular component at roughly the same time.
At the top of the tier list is the soldering oven. A soldering oven is an appliance capable of melting all of the solder on a circuit board at the same time without damaging the electrical components. It is mostly used to solder boards with surface mount components, but can also be used to easily salvage an entire board of electrical components.
The oven is first used to heat the entire board to a temperature where the solder is molten. You then remove the board from the solder oven and remove the components individually with tweezers or knock them free at once by tapping the bottom of the board. The right course of action depends on the sensitivity of the components.
Saving Your New Components
Once you’ve salvaged your electronic components you’ll want to store them properly in safe containers. If you’ve managed to find older MCU chips or logic chips, then the next step is to find their datasheets online and figure out exactly what they do. Don’t forget to test the components before using them in your future projects.