Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Soldering irons and plastic do not mix

Some time back I was trying to attach some wires and switches using conductive glue. The results were very poor. So I managed to wash the conductive glue away with a solvent and I tried to solder the bits together.

I ran into several problems. The soldering iron is massive (the fact that it has a very small cable and I don't have an extension right now so I had to sit on the floor in front of a power outlet is my fault of course) and the bits that I'm trying to solder are tiny, so it was hard to control everything. Some of the things I wanted to solder are magnets, and I'm afraid they'll lose their magnetism if I heat them up too much, so I was trying not to get them hot. Also everything was already attached to the plastic base so I was trying not to let anything get too hot.

The solder itself is a real pain. When heated it just curls up along the strip (if you've ever used a lighter to melt a strand of synthetic thread, it's basically the same thing) rather than melting off and flowing onto the components. So I had to cut bits of solder off and try to get them to sit on the connections (itself a difficult task) until I could melt them. Even then, rather than spread out over the connection like, say, superglue, it would just ball up on top and almost instantly harden in to a lump that wasn't even connected at all to the components.

The result was that the base melted a lot, and when I was done the curcuit didn't work. In a fit of fury I snapped the base and the plastic model into tiny pieces, cursing a blue streak the whole time and for a while afterwards. Let me tell you, after the amount of time, effort and money I spent on that one little model, I felt extremely dispirited. I have not recorded here just what went into finding and making all the parts, but for me it was a really big deal, all done when there's a lot of other things I could and would like to be doing. I very nearly swore off the hobby altogether right there.

Eventually though the thought of how much I had invested prompted me to try again. I decided to try the conductive glue again since before I had only shaken it, but reading the instructions again (which were written on the blister pack but not on the actual glue vial, I'm lucky I didn't throw the packaging away when I removed the glue) it said to stir the glue. Doing so, I realised that something - presumably the carbon conductive material - had settled into a very thick sludge at the bottom and it took a fair bit of work to even it out. Then I slowly built a test circuit, applying the glue then leaving for several hours to cure then coating in superglue to protect it so the connection would not get damaged in handling.

The results were not great. I estimate that the bulb is half as bright at best - it flickers inconsistantly - when the battery is connected to the circuit compared to connecting it directly to the bulb. So the conductive glue is just plain out of the question. I haven't given up yet though, my next attempt will be to carefully melt a blob of solder on the iron, then 'wick' it up with the strands of a copper wire, then let that rest in an indentation filed on the side of a magnet. Some bits might just be wrapped around each other then selotaped together, if possible. The whole circuit will be assembled with wires BEFORE being glued into the base, so I don't have to worry about melting plastic. With luck and a lot of effort, this might work - though probably not on the first try.

If it works, I'll have to buy the 8 quid model again. It's a nice model, but it's a simple one, I felt ripped off paying that much for it the first time, I'm not happy that I have to pay it again. This time though I have a better idea for the pose. I'll leave the bulb and attachment to the base for last, as now I have a better idea how it will work.

I'm writing this out of frustration, some days I really wonder why I'm bothering with these little pieces of plastic. Even though I can sometimes enjoy the painting, other times it feels like a chore, especially considering how much other stuff I want to do and how little time I have. Well, I guess as long as I don't try to force myself to paint and only do it when I feel like it I can't complain. Of course then I only get a figure actually painted once every couple of months...

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