Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Meet Allison, New Flatcar Release, and Soldering Tips

In this latest installment, we’ll introduce you to our indispensable Administrative Assistant /Sales person Allison Nataro. Then we’ll have some fun with flats. As our tech-tip, we discuss a bit about soldering to help dispel some myths and guide you to reliable solder joints every time.

Intro to Allison

Allison grew up in Beltsville, Maryland as an avid cyclist. Pursuing her passion for mountain biking, she began her college life in Durango at Fort Lewis College. After her first year, she 
returned home following a cycling accident, but not before meeting Casey. She graduated from Longwood University in Virginia with a BA in English and Professional Writing. After college, she bought her 2003 VW Beetle Turbo S, which started a deep passion for VWs and auto performance, which is her main hobby today.

After 8 years of keeping in touch with Casey, she decided to move along with her ‘baby’ Snoopy, her black cat, back to Durango. Allison answered an ad for a job at SoundTraxx on her first day back in town. She started here in January 2008 and has continued to grow her role in the company since.

The influence of her co-workers and her interest in Blackstone Models inspired Allison to build a HOn3 layout of her own. She has learned so much about the hobby and has a better appreciation for model railroading. Her layout will be on display in Hartford, Connecticut at the 2009 NMRA national convention. Stop by our booth and see her work and say hi!

Fun With Flats... oh…and a Teaser!

Blackstone Models has issued a second release of our popular flatcar. There are five new D&RGW numbers as well as one new RGS car number. These feature our new enhanced deck with simulated wood grain and weathering. Since we have these available now, we decided to have some fun and try out different loads to enhance the appearance of these cars.

George found in his stash a Jaeger Products lumber load kit. This makes a great and interesting load.

We also trimmed some straws from local fast food eateries and painted them to create a pipe load.

Then we decided to haul a NASCAR car and a VW around Allison’s layout.

Now for a teaser photo for our next release, the D&RGW Long Caboose. This is a pre-production sample. These will be available sometime late summer/early fall.

Tech Tip: Soldering 101

Many times we answer questions about soldering tools and techniques. Many fear soldering, while some are simply misguided. So here is a guide for soldering for the inexperienced, as well as a reference for the experienced.

To start, you want a good soldering iron. Retailers like Radio Shack have some inexpensive soldering irons that will work just fine. If you are doing many installs, you may want to upgrade to a better iron for a more proficient solder joint. There are many professional quality soldering irons and soldering stations available from companies like Radio Shack and Weller. Never use a large soldering gun for installing and soldering decoders. Keep the soldering iron's rating below 25 watts. We recommend using a soldering iron holder, preferably with a sponge for keeping the tip clean. These are not expensive and can keep the iron from rolling off the table or burning someone, help keep the iron's tip clean and keep your soldering area neat and organized to insure your soldering work is more professional.

There are many types of solder and flux that you can get for various jobs, for instance, plumbing, jewelry and electrical work. Thin solder designed for electrical PCB work will help you better control the amount of solder you apply. The solder we recommend for installing decoders is .032” or 20-gauge 60/40 rosin-flux core, which is also the most common. The flux core cleans oxidation from the surface and helps the solder flow easier to obtain a better solder joint. Flux is also available separately to help supplement the flux core of the solder. Pay attention to the type of flux you use as well. There are different types of flux available for specific purposes, for example electrical work, jewelry work or plumbing. Be sure to get flux designed for electrical PC board work. We have seen instances where using the wrong type of flux, like an acidic flux, caused damage to decoders. By using the proper tools and materials, you can protect your sound decoder from accidental harm.

To guarantee a reliable solder joint, there are some techniques to follow. When soldering, heat the joint, not the solder. Be sure to solder only on the designated pads provided on the PCB style decoders or you could damage the decoder or its components. Heat up the joint and lightly touch a minimal amount of solder to the joint while the iron is touching it. The flux core of the solder will help clean the joint and help the molten solder flow evenly into the joint. If you opt to use additional flux on the joint, apply it sparingly before you make the joint. After the solder has flowed evenly into the joint, pull the iron and the solder away and allow it to cool for a few seconds. Do not blow onto the joint as this could compromise the quality of the joint. After the joint cools, it should be smooth and shiny silver in color and appear like a small smear, not a puddle or doughnut in shape. To properly solder, it takes two hands, so tools like hemostats and self-closing tweezers can help hold the work in place while being soldered. To clean up the excess flux after the soldering is done, you can use lacquer thinner or rubbing alcohol applied lightly with a cotton swab.

Be sure to keep the tip of the soldering iron clean. You should have a damp sponge to clean excess solder off the tip after each use. Typically the sponge is located beneath the iron holder. Do not use your soldering iron to melt plastic. This could affect the plating of the tip and shorten the life of your soldering tip.

Soldering is an integral part of installing sound decoders. It is a skill that is easy to master, and handy to have in the model railroad hobby. Following these tips and techniques, you can easily achieve professional, reliable solder joints every time!