SMD Soldering Challenge at 2018 Supercon

Competitive hand soldering down to 0201 parts!

Friday, November 2, 2018 11:00 am PDT - Sunday, November 4, 2018 06:00 pm PST Local time zone:
Pasadena, California
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New at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference is the SMD Soldering Challenge! Over three days of the conference, 48 people will try their hand at soldering all the way down to 0201 surface mount packages. Just finishing this challenge successfully shows you have the best hand soldering skills. But for fun and bragging rights we'll also be keeping a leader board as the weekend progresses.

There was a time when this was a useful soldering tool for the electronic hobbyist. But these days things we hackers want to solder are more likely to resemble a flake than a fender. Sure you’ve mastered soldering the big surface mount components, but are you the best? Here’s your chance to find out.

This year’s Hackaday Superconference is your chance to earn show off your hand soldering skills! Just show up and sign up for the challenge and have your mad soldering skills immortalized as you complete the SMD Challenge Board designed by MakersBox. You can sign up for a heat (pun intended) with 5 other people. That is, we sit 6 people down at once, each soldering their own board. We supply the tools, the supplies, the boards, and the components. You get to keep the board.

This event will fill up fast, with sign-up on a first-come, first-served basis.

Official Rules:

  • You can only compete in one heat. If you attempt to compete in more than one heat we will disqualify you.
  • You must use the provided soldering iron and solder. If you would like to use other ancillary tools, you are welcome to bring them with you. We will provide tools such as: tweezers, flux, and magnification. You may not use your own solder or soldering devices.
  • You will be given 5 minutes to open the kit, inspect its contents, review the instructions, and set up your workspace how you like. This is the Get Ready phase.
  • If you have any special requests or requirements, please make them know before the Get Ready phase. You may not solder or do other prep work on the board during this time.
  • If the kit is missing parts, please let us know during the Get Ready phase! We will be unable to add time to the heat for missing parts reported after Get Ready.
  • Lost parts will not be replaced!
  • At the end of the 5 minute Get Ready phase, the heat will begin.
  • The heat will last 35 minutes. At this point, irons are down and your board will be inspected.
  • Any attempt to interfere with other competitors or circumvent rules or fair play will result in disqualification. The judges have final say on disqualification.
  • Entries will be scored on a 1 (worst) to 5 (best) scale in the following criteria:
    • Time (top 20% of times receive 5, bottom 20% receive 1, etc.)
    • Completion
    • Functionality of completed circuits (Judge only the circuits you attempted to complete)
    • Neatness (flatness, alignment, centering, etc.)
    • Quality (robust joints with the proper amount of solder and good fillets)


  • In the event of a scoring tie, winners will be determined by fastest actual time
  • Neatness will not take into consideration flux residue no clean flux will be used
  • Competitors are encouraged to leave time to test their work before the end of the heat
  • Only circuits (resistor and LED of one package size) where a competitor has attempted to solder the components will be judged for Functionality. If all attempted circuits are functional and one or more circuits were not attempted it is still possible achieve a score of 5 for Functionality, but deductions will be made for Completion.

The highest total score is in the top 6 across all heats, there will be a prize (details to follow). The judges may award special prizes at their discretion.

  • 2018 Wrap Up

    Al Williams11/06/2018 at 18:18 0 comments

    We ran a total of eight heats this year at Supercon, so there were 48 participants. A great time was had by all and there were many successful attempts, including many from people who had never before soldered SMD parts!

    The winners were impressive. We had many 4.75 scores (out of 5) but Bistromath did it in an impressive 21 minutes and five seconds. Kevin Jordan warned us he was going for speed and function and not pretty so he racked up an amazing 16 minute and 18 second time with a score of 3 out of 5. You can see the top six scores and times below.


    The headsets we used were AMAZING and under $10 on Amazon. They had an inside lens so you could get 4 different magnifications (plain, double, plain+swing down, double+swing down). They also had dual headlights that articulate in four directions! What a bargain.

    Lessons Learned

    A few things we wish we had thought of:

    We should have had water for the sponges. We managed, but you had to remember before starting each heat to get the sponges wet. Also, having it outdoors was a problem (the last 5 heats were outdoors) mainly because any breeze you had blowing could carry off your parts. 

    We probably should have had one or two multimeters but we didn't. Mike and Beau managed to pull together some little testers that worked very well. The two resistors acted like probes (although some people would grab them with tweezers and use the tweezers as probes) and a red Sharpie told you which lead was positive.

    It was interesting to see the variety of approaches people took. Some locked their boards down with tape. Others didn't. Some started with the big LEDs and some started with the smallest ones. Some people put the battery and CPU on first so they could test as they go. Some put those parts on last. There didn't seem to be a clear benefit to any particular strategy.


    Best Scores (score/minutes:seconds)Best Times (score/minutes:seconds)
    1. Bistromath (4.75/21:05)
    2. K5EM (4.75/22:05)
    3. Sprite_TM (4.75/25.24)
    4. Jason Meyers (4.75/26:39)
    5. Amy Qian (4.75/26:51)
    6. Adam McCoombs (4.75/27:00)
    1. Kevin Jordan (3/16:18)
    2. Bistromath (4.75/21:05)
    3. Kevin (3.5/22:05)
    4. Tjeas Kadale (2.25/22:52)
    5. K5EM (4.75/22:05)
    6. Sprite_TM (4.75/25.24)


    We had a lot of great volunteers that helped throughout the conference, but the two stand outs were Will for just doing so many shifts and helping with the setup/teardown and problem solving and Beau for building up three of the four LED testers for us. Thanks to all the volunteers and all the participants, too.

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Al Williams wrote 11/06/2018 at 04:16 point

Great fun. Thanks to all that participated!

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Bob wrote 11/06/2018 at 01:02 point

I jumped in an open spot at the con. Was surprised at how small the components are and also how well I did (3/5). Oddly, the 2nd largest was one of the ones I failed on because the LED spontaneously 'vanished' from my tweezers and I couldn't find it. I did manage to complete the 2nd smallest though before running out of time so I'm pretty happy about that. Using a head magnifier was so tricky because you still had to get so close I could feel the heat of the iron on my face. Makes me want to get a microscope now.

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Joshua Snyder wrote 11/05/2018 at 03:31 point

just did one at home,  got down to 0402 then the microscope lost power. 

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davedarko wrote 11/02/2018 at 22:15 point

I've made one :) First day, first heat at supercon - was a lot of fun :)

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