Holy Cow, I Fixed Our Four Track!

We have gone through two four tracks throughout the years. They both broke in the same way. The jack for the power adaptor always seems to break. Deep in my heart I knew it probably was an easy fix, but my avoidance working on physical technology seemed to always keep me away. That is until now!

Seeing as I’m pretty weak in the tool department, some family members took the steps necessary to get my interest in technology off the computer and into the garage. The result was a table saw and a most excellent soldering iron. With a 10 year anniversary wrapped up, the New Year begun, and a new tube stereo amplifier kit on the table, it seemed like a good time to start learning how to solder. One of our broken four tracks was destined to be my first attempt at mastering the art of melting metal.

Before getting too far along in my quest to actually understand the real world implications of Ohm’s law, I needed a place to work. As luck would have it, I discovered an old sign up in our garage attic from the previous owners. It was about the perfect size for a work table, so I grabbed the last few boards from my van customizations and went at it. The table saw made the whole thing so easy. I had actual straight cuts that didn’t involve balancing boards on saw horses and setting up dumb jigs just to cut one board. In record time my work table was done and I started populating it with my newly acquired electronic goods.

Cracking open the four track, I felt much more confident about the whole thing. It is pretty addicting to work with your hands. It also didn’t hurt that I had nothing to lose with this extra, broken four track. Once I got to the actual connection in question it didn’t take much to see the problem. Sure enough, the soldered connection had come apart. I lucked out in that removing the old solder was pretty simple. A little prying from a screwdriver and with some help from the iron, it popped right off. The next step was to try and resolder the connection. When you solder something the first thing you do is “tin” the tip. That means putting a thin layer of solder on it. I honestly couldn’t tell you what this does, but everyone says to do it, so I did the best I could. It was during this time I played around with the temperature to see how hot I really needed my iron. In the long run, if I were to do it again, I might start at the hottest and work my way down instead of slowly warming up. If for no other reason than to get your iron behaving in a similar way as those fine folks who make helpful howto solder videos on youtube. In the videos, the whole process seems insanely fast, but I suspect that is partly because they have rather powerful irons and have learned to solder efficiently. In any case, it feels like you’re doing things right when it is hotter.

After the tinning, I tried making a new connection. I had been reading up on how to actually solder something for a while now, but it really didn’t work like you expect. In all the tutorials they mention touching the iron to the thing you want connected and not on the solder itself. This seems like a good idea, except when you see how fast things go with the youtube videos and you can’t get the solder to melt for anything, it makes it seem like you’re missing something. After soldering the connection a few times for practice, I still didn’t feel too terribly confident. But, seeing as I had a nice glob of solder stuck on there I went ahead and tried turning it on. Sure enough it worked! The jack seemed stable and everything was working. Pretty crazy.

I’m not quite ready to start up my tube stereo amplifier kit I got for Christmas just yet. I’d like to head up to Fry’s and look for a practice board or something to get a few more resistors done first. That said, I’m pretty excited to try to do something a little more in depth.

Soldering is far from simple, but it also isn’t nearly as scary as I would have thought. All in all, it was a nice initial forray into the physical world of tech.