How do I keep the kids from burning themselves?
June 24, 2008 11:01 AM   Subscribe

What are good safety procedures for soldering with kids?

I am soldering with a small group of kids (4th or 5th grade and up). They would be soldering together ~24 gauge wire to motors, switches and battery packs. The rowdy couple of sixth graders I last soldered with didn't burn themselves, but I'm not sure if it will go as well with a slightly younger group. Does anyone have any experience they could share about soldering with kids?

Cold heat soldering irons seem safer. Are the cold heat soldering tools any good? I've only used traditional electrical and butane ones. The scant reviews online seem to say they are turn off in the middle of soldering and don't heat up the solder enough. Could anyone with a cold heat soldering iron share their experience?
posted by gaelenh to Education (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Relax. Kids should burn themselves. Just a little bit.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:11 AM on June 24, 2008 [5 favorites]

I agree. Give kids real tools, but make sure they know that there are real consequences. Fourth graders are actually really, really careful and good with power tools as long as they're told exactly what they're doing first. Give them a little more credit. If they do burn themselves, chalk it up to life experience. They won't burn themselves the next time.
posted by phunniemee at 11:20 AM on June 24, 2008

Burns are like earthquakes. You want the little ones, otherwise something much bigger may be waiting in the wings.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:21 AM on June 24, 2008

The biggest danger when soldering is hot solder splashes from the ends of springy wires. Make sure they all wear safety glasses.
posted by rocket88 at 11:24 AM on June 24, 2008

I've only tried one "cold heat" iron (i think the Radio Shack one) and it was TERRIBLE. You'd be able to do the project you describe, but it would take forever and be very difficult to get good joints, as the thing tends to melt only the bit of the joint that is in direct contact with the tip, and that only for an instant. Cold solder joints probably won't be much of an issue with the components you're using, but if you're trying to teach these kids proper soldering technique, expect a lot of frustration.

I think you should get enough real ones for everybody, and also a couple cold heat units for any kids that insist on taking off their safety glasses/jabbing each other/otherwise ignoring the safety rules. Make them a badge of shame, like round-ended plastic safety scissors.
posted by contraption at 11:36 AM on June 24, 2008

I'm with you all, but the people in charge of the kids are a bit apprehensive. I just wanted to ask the internet to make sure I wasn't being reckless.
posted by gaelenh at 11:47 AM on June 24, 2008

Both my wife and I were burned by soldering irons as kids. Both came down to not having proper workspaces. In my wife's case, she came toddling over to where her father was working and managed to sit on part of the iron and burn her thigh.

In my case, I was soldering up RS-232 cables for my father. I was working on the floor and managed to lean on an iron when I was getting up or down. I think the cord had gotten snagged on someone, which pulled it into harms way.

Work at desks or table. Secure the work properly. Make sure any cords are secure and out of the way so they don't pull a hot iron into someones lap or something. It might also help to explain why things are being arranged the way they are to make safety part of the lesson. Keep some ice and neosporin around for the inevitable learning experiences.
posted by Good Brain at 11:53 AM on June 24, 2008

With soldering, I am more concerned with good ventilation than I am concerned about the potential for burns.
posted by bz at 12:01 PM on June 24, 2008

The ColdHeat guns are....a giant GIANT pain in the tookus. NOT recommended.

Glasses are a must, you might consider those fiberglass glove-like oven mitts for hands. I always burn myself soldering, but then I stink at soldering. I also can't seem to have any dexterity wearing gloves.

Given my experience working with kids that age, I would explain the temperatures, the consequences of carelessness, and that anyone who was caught fooling around the hot stuff would be spending a while sitting on the bench. There's a big difference between "Guys, this thing is hot, be careful" and "Guys, this tip gets to about 650 degrees--twice as hot as you cook a turkey. I know you're a bunch of Turkeys, but I don't want to explain to your mommies and daddies why you hurted your wittle selves, so seriously be careful." (And yes, I'd say mommies and daddies because the sarcasm there drives it home and makes them laugh about something serious, which means they'll remember it better.)
posted by TomMelee at 12:02 PM on June 24, 2008

Yes, ventilation, goggles/glasses, and also the importance of Washing Your Hands. Pretty much all solder is nasty stuff that should not find its way into your mouth. A little burn will teach them to be careful; it's not a torch or an open flame. It should be OK.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:11 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I've used hot glue guns with kids at summer camp, I bought many pairs of gardening gloves at the dollar store. Kids (and adults) had to have on the gloves to hot glue, or to handle hot-glued items. We set up one table in the front of the room, and the kids had to bring their project up there for gluing, stand in line and wait their turn. The kids I had were 7-10 years old, so there were two of us adults who actual did the gluing at the glue station, while the kids held their projects. Even if you have the kids do the soldering themselves, adult assistance at a soldering station might be good.
posted by coevals at 1:04 PM on June 24, 2008

My parents let me and my sister and brother use a soldering iron by the time we were nine- and we each got burned once. and only once. In today's lawsuit happy society, that won't be the greatest solution.

At my high school, we had archery. Before we could shoot an arrow, we had to take 3 days of classes, and take a safety test until we passed it. It sucked for the kids who had to sit and watch us the first week because they failed.

Perhaps you could do something similar? Teach a safety class full of horror stories about burns and proper procedures. Then have them demonstrate (maybe to everyone?) the proper procedures: donning safety glasses and other gear, turn on unit (that is not plugged in for the test), lay out everything, "solder," put items away, take off gear, wash hands, etc. Tell them they can't solder until they pass this step.
posted by Monday at 1:12 PM on June 24, 2008

Make sure you have stands/holsters and make sure the kids know that the iron should always be stored there unless they are in use.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:48 PM on June 24, 2008

I teach soldering to maybe 50 4th-7th graders every year, which is probably 10% of the kids who go through our outreach class (I'm only on when the undergrad helpers don't show up). Most of what I'm about to say is just to Nth what's above, but...

* Non-crazy student-teacher ratio (I do groups of 4, could probably handle 5, maaaybe 6)
* Eye protection, wash your hands afterwards
* Soldering iron stands
* Good workspace (work benches, room to move)
* Helping hands (or, "ask a gullible friend to hold the wires while you solder")
* "Please don't pick up the soldering iron until I tell you all to start"

After that, the entire lesson is:

A) This side is the hot side, this side is the cold side. Hold on to the cold side. If you start smelling steak, please drop the soldering iron. How hot is the hot side? This hot. [melt rosin-core solder onto tip of someone's iron]

B) You use the soldering iron to heat the wires you twisted together until they're so hot they'll melt the solder themselves. The soldering iron looks like a pencil, and you hold it just like a pencil, but you need to resist the temptation to use it to paint solder onto the wires. I'm going to solder this joint; keep track of how little my left hand (w/ the soldering iron) moves.

C) That's it. Have fun. [wander from kid to kid, helping w/ technique]

Do kids get burns sometimes? Of course; everyone who solders burns themselves sometimes. But it's rare. As long as you're not using a crappy high-wattage Radio Shack soldering-iron/wood-burner, the burns aren't so bad. Is there an annoying correspondence between a kid's lack of attention and their tendency to scream out of all proportion to the burn they just got? Absolutely. But seriously, they've all been fine. They're kids. They heal, and know something new about heat.

One of the mottoes of our lab is, "Soldering iron safety is self-teaching."

(The other is, "Do Not Look Into Laser with Remaining Eye.")
posted by range at 3:32 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine soldering with gloves on. It's detail work, often enough.

Helping hands are the way to go.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:35 PM on June 24, 2008

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