Compact SMT Soldering Rig

This project is a simple-to-build rig that makes surface-mount soldering much easier.

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The basic idea is to use a webcam (modified to act a microscope) to display a close-up view on a monitor of the circuit you're working on. With a little practice, I was able to solder individual pins on TQFP and SSOP packages using this setup. Even if you use drag soldering or other methods, this assembly is still useful for spotting small solder bridges and other defects.

The only critical component here is the webcam. It should be able to do 1280x720 or better at 30 fps and have reasonable low-light performance. Unfortunately most webcams don't meet these specs, so you'll probably have to buy one for this project. Whatever model you go with, do some research on it; I saw ones marked “HD” that could only do 10 fps at 720p or that could only take still pictures at that resolution.

There are some improvements to make over this design:

-Take apart the webcam and replace the existing lens with one of the magnifying ones. This should fix some of the image distortion.

-Build in some LED lighting to illuminate the board, removing the need for an external lamp.

-Find a combination of lenses that act like a telephoto (zoom) lens rather than a macro lens. This will allow you to have the camera higher up and reduce the chance of bumping it with the soldering iron.

  • 1 × Microsoft Lifecam Cinema or other HD webcam
  • 2 × Small magnifying lenses
  • 1 × Various pieces of wood
  • 4 × Wood screws
  • 1 × Long bolt (at least 4”) with 5 matching nuts and assorted washers

View all 7 components

  • ​ Upgrades

    Nicholas Amrich10/29/2015 at 13:12 0 comments

    After using this setup for soldering a few times, I found some minor problems with the original design.

    Wood turned out to be a bad choice for the base; it soaks up solder flux and is easily burned by the iron. Also, the base is about 1/4” thick, so when trying to work on a larger PCB, or the edge of one, I had to shim it to avoid it falling off. I replaced the base with a nice thin steel plate.

    My initial cut of the wood stand was a bit too short to allow for all board types, so I replaced it with a taller one. I only made it about 2” taller, but it was almost TOO tall. Using a longer bolt for the adjuster would make it so this measurement doesn't need to be so precise.

    I added a little screw to the side that fixes the webcam cable in place. There's enough slack so that it can still travel the full height, but not so much that it jams things up.

    At this point, I think the assembly itself is OK and it's time to look at the PC side of things. It would be nice to set this up on the bench as a standalone tool that doesn't require a computer to use. I've got a RPI and some single board Linux things sitting around, maybe I can shove one of those in a small monitor with a script to launch a webcam viewer on boot?

View project log

  • 1
    Step 1

    Attach the lenses to the front of the webcam with electrical tape. Clean off any smudges made during this process.

  • 2
    Step 2

    Before assembling anything else, it's necessary to test out the webcam and take some measurements:

    Get something from the bench like a “helping hands” rig or a vise to temporarily hold the webcam.

    Point the camera straight down at the table a couple inches off the surface. Angle the desk lamp so it is lights up the table without casting a shadow of the webcam on it.

  • 3
    Step 3

    Download a copy of VLC media player:

View all 9 instructions

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