Soldering is a foundational skill for electronics. Trying to get by without it is like trying to make costumes without sewing. Possible, but limiting, and more frustrating than simply acquiring the tools and skills needed.
Tool up right. “Cold heat” soldering irons are terrible and can actually damage electronics! Avoid $5 disposable crap from that big discount importer. And graddad's hand-me-down 100 Watt soldering gun won’t do…it’s a bazooka by modern standards.
You can pick up a good hobbyist soldering iron for under $25. Around $100 and up are professional tools that will last a lifetime.
If your iron doesn’t come with a proper stand, get one! I cannot emphasize this enough. Just a few bucks, you’ll stop burning your fingers and melting other things on your desk.
A wire stripper/cutter trims insulation away to reveal the conductive wire inside.
Use this. Never ever use your teeth!
Optionally, flush cutters provide a cleaner cut for wires, and are the perfect tool for shortening the legs of LEDs and resistors.
Use tools for their intended task. The iron is for soldering, never melting holes in things. Some people keep an old “beater” iron around for dirty jobs.
There are additional tools that may be helpful, but aren’t absolutely essential. We’ll stop here so as not to overwhelm. In the future, you might add others as you need them.
Next, there’s the consumables of any project:
Solder is the glue of electronics, a blend of metals with a relatively low melting point. Get the rosin core 60/40 type. Rosin is a flux, cleaning the underlying surface to help molten solder flow smoothly onto wires. 60/40 means it’s 40% lead…much easier to work with than lead-free solder. Not to worry…wash hands afterward, store it away from kids, everything’s good.
Some places only have the lead-free kind now. We’ll cope, just be aware it’s like learning to drive a stick.
Wire is the scaffolding, joining components of the circuit. There are a zillion kinds…a useful all-around type is solid-core 22 gauge insulated wire. Different colors (black, red, yellow, assortment) help organize a circuit; they don’t change the wire's properties. Gauge (or AWG) is the thickness…higher number = thinner wire.
Solid-core wire is stiff and springy. For wearable projects that need to move, I much prefer stranded wire…it flexes better. We don’t stock this type on spools. Like resistors, you’d need to seek it elsewhere.
Heat-shrink tubing insulates connections to prevent a short circuit (unwanted contact).
Electrical tape is a poor choice. It’s seldom permanent and leaves a sticky gross residue.
From the “Recipe” page: add some LEDs, suitable resistors (68 or 150 Ohm) and a battery holder.
Most of the two-legged “gumdrop” style LEDs here will work (except infrared).
Have some spares. Mistakes happen!
Now let’s get soldering!