I was looking at an instructable and they suggested using "reflow soldering" for a certain section. "Reflow" wasn't a concept i was familiar with, so I did some Googling...

I got a basic description of the process, but I still can't figure out why you would want to do this over "traditional" soldering (not sure of the proper term). What are the pros/cons of this technique, and when would I favor it over other techniques?


2 Answers 2


Commercially there are two main soldering methods - reflow and wave. "Manual" soldering may still be used to add selected mechanically complex or large parts but this would be rare. "Manual" soldering could include the use of "robots" for the excessively keen.

Wave soldering involves literally passing a wave of molten solder along a carefully preheated board. The board temperature, heating and cooling profiles (non linear), solder temperature, wave shape (even), time in solder, flow rate, board rate and more are all important factors that affect results. Pad shapes and component orientations matter and shadowing of parts by other parts needs to be worked around. All aspects of board design, layout, placement, pad shapes and sizes, heat-sinking and more needs to be carefully considered to get good results. Where used with SMD components they will need to be retained in position - either with purpose applied adhesive instant set adhesive or advanced magic.

Clearly, wave soldering is an aggressive and demanding process - why use it?
It's used because it is the best and cheapest method when it can be done and the only practical method in some cases. Where through hole components are used wave soldering is usually the method of choice.

So - Reflow soldering is less demanding on pad shape, shadowing, board orientation, temperature profiles (still very important) and more. For surface mount components it is often a very good choice - solder and flux mix are preapplied with a stencil or other automated process, components are placed in position and are often adequately retained by the solder paste. Adhesive may be used in demanding cases. Use with through hole parts is problematic or worse - usally reflow will not be the method of choice for through hole parts.

Where it can be used reflow soldering is used in preference to wave. It is more amenable to small scale manufacture, and generally easier with SMD parts.

Complex and/or high density boards may use a mix of reflow and wave soldering with leaded parts being mounted on one side of the PCB only (call this side A) so they can be wave soldered on side B. Prior to through hole part insertion components can be reflow soldered on side A amidst where TH parts are going to be inserted. Additional SMD parts can then be added to side B to be wave soldered along with the TH parts. Those keen on high-wire acts can try complex mixes with different melting point solders, allowing reflow on side B before or after wave soldering, but that would be very uncommon.

FWIW manual soldering, while slow and expensive, is the least demanding of most factors as it usually also utilises biological computing power to control relatively crude soldering instruments in extremely flexible manners. However, precision of component heating and temperature profiles are poor comparatively. Some modern components (eg Nichia SMD LEDs with silicone rubber lenses) MUST be reflow soldered (according to the data sheet) and MUST NOT be hand soldered or wave soldered.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. Good overview, plus you even happened to explain why they suggest reflow for this DIY project (i believe the component is a SMD LED with silicone lens) \$\endgroup\$
    – Zak Kus
    Commented Mar 7, 2012 at 0:32

Reflow soldering techniques are used for surface-mount parts. Whilst most surface-mount boards can be assembled manually using a soldering iron and solder wire, the process is slow and the resultant boards can be unreliable. Modern PCB assembly facilities use reflow soldering exclusively for large-scale production, with pick and place machines putting the components onto the boards, which have had solder paste applied to the pads, and the whole process is automated.

Reflow soldering can be performed at home with suitable hot-air soldering equipment, an electric skillet, or a toaster oven. The solder paste is applied with a stencil and a squeegee, the components are placed in position, and the board is heated. I prefer to assemble my boards manually with a soldering iron, as I tend to build them in stages, testing each stage as it is completed.


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