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I've seen metal "sticks" with a special end that let them fit snugly into a through-hole for when you want a contact but don't want to solder a wire into the hole. What are they called and where can I buy them?

I think they are called "Posts" and are used for prototyping, but searching "electrical post" on Google just doesn't cut it.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

You want pogo pins. Solder the non-pointy end into a board and push the receiving board onto the pointy end when you want to use it. Obviously you'll have some pattern of pogo pins and a matching pattern of smaller-than-the-pointy-bit vias (through holes) to mate with. The idea is they allow some wiggle room for mating boards, all the pins don't have to be perfectly the same length.

I use these for test boards. Make a board to match the test points on your device and build your test circuitry onto it. Recently I've started using them for very small programming connectors too, seems to be working pretty well.

EDIT: The very small Spy-Bi-Wire programming connector I made looks like this on the board SBW Programming Connector - 1mm Grid
This is the surface pad version on a 1 mm grid, I also made a through hole version of the same size for use if I have the board space on both sides (I suppose a blind via would work, if I didn't care about board cost). The programmer has an identical arrangement, but with through holes for the pogo pins to solder in (but pointing out the bottom of the board). The center is an alignment hole. Until I find a better solution, the programmer side of this connection has a thin pin where the alignment hole is, I stick that through the target board alignment hole and clip the far side so it doesn't slide back out. The surface pad version works fine if I'm not moving the board all around because it can accidentally rotate, though I've found the pogo pins usually stop at the solder mask (the through hole version doesn't have this problem). I'm still trying out other variations, but like I said, this one does seem to be working out quite well.

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Can you expand on how you would use them for programming headers? I think that's where I think I'm going with them. – Eric Falsken Nov 13 '12 at 4:27

Are you talking about male and female header pins? They "mate" with each other to form a decent connection but you still have to solder one end of them down. Very useful for prototyping though as once you have soldered in the one end, the other end basically makes a breadboard.

Or perhaps POGO pins would better suit your needs. They are generally used for flashing/testing a part that is going into production when you don't want to leave the connector on. The basic idea for using pogo pins is you create a secondary board with pogo receptacles. They allow for good temporary connections without any additional hardware on the primary board. See the sparkfun tutorial. That is what they use for their quality testing.

Lastly, wire wrap is a good way to make an electrical connection without the need for soldering.

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Not the male/female header pins. I can't tell what a POGO pin might be from the link. The wire-wrap is a good suggestion. That might be what I was thinking of, but that's the wire part. What would you wrap it around? What I'm thinking of is connecting a wire to a through-hole in a circuit board without soldering it into place. – Eric Falsken Nov 13 '12 at 1:22

While Op found what they were looking for, adding to improve the answers.

Pogo Pins, aka Spring Loaded Contacts are non permanent contacts that are pressed into a hole or pad. They require constant pressure to make contact, via internal springs. They need to be held, by hand, screws, or a jig/rig. They come in a variety of heads, lengths, styles, etc.

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The other option is Press Fit Pins or Headers. These are meant to be pushed into a through hole plated hole. They are mostly permanent, providing good solid mechanical contact, and do not need to be soldered. They can be removed, but will either damage the hole or no longer be usable.

enter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description here

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I know this is a very old post but I found this Solderless Headers - 10-pin Straight PRT-10527 https://www.sparkfun.com/products/retired/10527 the obvious problem is at this site it's no longer available.

(I'm still looking for this so if found please comment.)

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These are called press fit headers or pins. – Passerby Mar 27 at 1:36

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