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12-volt tools

THE PRACTICAL SIDE OF WORKING WITH

We usually start these yarns off with ‘If you’re not comfortable doing this, then get a qualified *insert tradie here* to do it for you’. Let’s face it, 12-volt is a little daunting, but if a dim-witted photojournalist like me can pick it up, chances are you can too but, as always, refer back to the first sentence. Wait for the lawyers to leave the room.

This write-up will be our rally-point. You will be able to find everything you need to know to start installing 12-volt gear here. Essentially it will cover the basic tools and how to use them so you’ll be able to manage pretty well on your own, and the next bunch of articles I’ll be doing the 12-volt fit-out on my HiLux, which will all be run of the mill stuff, that you too will probably want to put in your rig. So, come along for a ride, have a look at how to point a soldering iron, and crimpers, and we’ll get you sorted to start doing your own 12-volt work.

We do still need to say though, if you’re absolutely uncomfortable with this stuff, leave it for a professional. If you screw something up, just remember, it’s on you. And whatever you do, INSTALL A FUSE, ALWAYS! That’s your safety line. (Read more about fuses here)

ULTIMATE GUIDE 12-volt – The tools: Part 1.1

WORDS BY WES WHITWORTH

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SCROLL TO CONTINUE

Okay, so once you’ve got your wire or terminal sorted out (we’ll cover these a bit further on), to join the two together, you’ll want to hold the tip of the iron against the wire, or terminal. Wait a few seconds (thicker wire takes longer), and gently hold the solder against the wire, close but not quite on the tip of the iron. Once the wire gets to an appropriate temp, the solder will melt and be ‘sucked onto the wire’.

From there, keep applying solder until the entire joint is well covered, then once you’re happy, remove the iron from the wire and allow to cool – the solder should go hard within a few seconds (again depending on how thick the wire is and how much heat you’ve needed to put in there). Worth mentioning here is trying to make sure your joints are clean and free of contamination – whether dirt, oil, grease etc. Solder doesn’t like sticking to dirty or oily surfaces. Doubly so for corroded copper – make sure the wire is clean.

Unlike days of old, unless you’re trying to solder some super heavy-gauge stuff (or you’re actually working for NASA and won’t need to read this anyway), you’ll not need to add flux – the vast majority of solder comes with flux within it, so you won’t need to worry about adding any.

When looking for solder, the vast majority of work we’ll be doing in this ultimate guide over the next few issues will require mostly small gauge stuff – so 1mm diameter solder will probably do you. I only have 1mm and 2mm solder – the 2mm is plenty big enough for what I need, but I usually just go to the 1mm stuff. It lets you be a little finer with the work, rather than chasing it with a bazooka. I use leaded solder (some is lead-free these days) as it’s easier to work with. That said, lead is poisonous, so make sure you wash your hands once you’re done and try not to breathe in the smoke from the flux while soldering – there are disposable masks you can wear that will help prevent you from breathing in this crap.

Choosing a soldering iron is your next quest. You. Don’t. Need. The. Biggest. One. Out. There. There, I said it. The first iron I bought was this massive 500W jobbie that I could have used to weld sheet metal together. Suffice to say it didn’t last long.

You won’t need Big Bertha for most small wire we’re playing with. Something small and accurate is your go-to here – either a small 30/60W 240V iron or a little gas-powered one will sort you out pretty well. Me personally, I have a gas-powered one from Jaycar I bought a few years ago – you need to carry refill gas, but not an inverter or generator to use it. Just don’t forget to turn it off when you’re done.

HOW TO SOLDER

Soldering irons are a scary bit of kit, and a lot of folks have no idea how to use them. Let’s fix that now.

First off, once it’s turned on, anything metal gets hot. So, don’t be like that meme that was getting around a while back and hold it like it’s a pen. It’s not, and it’ll burn you. The nine-year-old in Wes still has nightmares about his first soldering experience.

So once you’ve got it plugged in and warming up, you’ll need somewhere to sit it, so it’s not burning you or whatever you put it on – most come with a little metal holder or a base station for them. Just be mindful not to put the metal tip on the metal holder – heat transfers.

Once the iron is at temperature, you’ll be able to roll off a touch of solder, press it against the tip, and it will melt and stick to the tip – this is affectionately known as ‘tinning the tip’ (at least until there’s too much and it’ll fall off). Tinning the tip is a good way to clean the tip; which is pretty crucial too; once it’s hot put a bit of solder on the tip, and wipe it clean on some cotton – tea towel, your jeans, a damp sponge. Don’t use nylon; it’ll melt.

HOT TIP
You can also get 12-volt soldering irons that plug into a ciggy socket, which is another great option for when you’re out on the road.

!

From there, insert the terminal and wire into the crimper (most decent crimpers should have a bit of coloured paint denoting which jaw is the right one) and squeeze it all the way closed. I usually give it a couple of extra squeezes just to be sure, but it’s not really needed. Sort of like tugging at a ratchet strap and saying “That’s not going anywhere”… It’s just a thing you do, right? You want the wire to be through the terminal, and just a touch (say 1mm) poking through to the actual ring or spade part of the terminal.

When you’re crimping, have a look at the terminal, and wherever possible make sure the split you’re crimping under the insulation is either straight up, or straight down in the crimpers. It will give a better crimp and connection.

Once you’ve got the crimping part out of the way, give the terminal a solid pull – you should be able to just about swing off it, and the wire won’t come out. If it does, start again; it wasn’t tight enough to make a secure connection.

Please, for the sake of resistance (and heat, and melting wire), don’t use terminals to join wires together. Solder them. Unless the wire absolutely has to be semi-permanent and removable (in which case you should be getting proper plugs like Deutsch Connectors or the like). Male and female spade and bullet terminals are really only made to connect wire to a switch, or other components. Wherever possible solder wires together. Ring terminals, on the other hand, are used to terminate wire to batteries, or bus bars etc. Make sure you’re using the right gear for the job: Soldering for joining wires, crimping for terminating wire.

USING CRIMPERS AND TERMINALS

If you’ve got those scissor-style crimpers that you keep to save space and weight in your four-wheel drive, only ever use them in an emergency. Get yourself a decent quality pair of ratchet crimpers. They make better contact and won't bend or buckle when you’re crimping up some terminals.

 Most of the wire we’ll be working with should (unless we’re putting terminals on our main power wires for a dual-battery system) fit within the colour-coded terminals – red, blue and yellow. The different colour denotes a different size for the wire. Red being the smallest and yellow the biggest. To work out which terminal to use, you want to be able to just get the bare wire into the terminal.

You can buy ‘starter kits’ that come with a range of heat shrink from your local RTM or Jaycar store. This stuff is usually coloured black and red, or multicoloured, and is a 2:1 shrink once heated. How you’ll use it, is before you join two wires, slide some heat shrink (that is longer than the joint you want covered) over one of the wires, and keep it out of the way as you’re soldering. Once the join is completed and has cooled a bit, slide the heat shrink over the bare solder, and heat – whether with a lighter, soldering iron, or a heat-gun if you want to get carried away. Adding heat carefully around the heat shrink will make it shrink down and stick to the join giving you a nice insulated joint that looks mint.

HEAT SHRINK

This little bit of tubing is quite possibly the greatest thing next to ice-cold beers after 12 hours in the saddle.

If there is any bare wire (like after you’ve soldered two wires together), or over the end of a terminal, or to hold automotive tubing to a wire, heat shrink is what you want. It’s so much better than electrical tape and looks a hundred times better.

PRO TIP
There are different types of heat shrink – some that are 3:1 shrink, and some that have glue inside them to bond better to not move. Most of the stuff we’ll use in our travels if going to be the standard type stuff though.

!

ULTIMATE GUIDE 12-volt – The tools: Part 1.1

12-volt tools

THE PRACTICAL SIDE OF WORKING WITH

We usually start these yarns off with ‘If you’re not comfortable doing this, then get a qualified *insert tradie here* to do it for you’. Let’s face it, 12-volt is a little daunting, but if a dim-witted photojournalist like me can pick it up, chances are you can too but, as always, refer back to the first sentence. Wait for the lawyers to leave the room.

This write-up will be our rally-point. You will be able to find everything you need to know to start installing 12-volt gear here. Essentially it will cover the basic tools and how to use them so you’ll be able to manage pretty well on your own, and the next bunch of articles I’ll be doing the 12-volt fit-out on my HiLux, which will all be run of the mill stuff, that you too will probably want to put in your rig. So, come along for a ride, have a look at how to point a soldering iron, and crimpers, and we’ll get you sorted to start doing your own 12-volt work.

We do still need to say though, if you’re absolutely uncomfortable with this stuff, leave it for a professional. If you screw something up, just remember, it’s on you. And whatever you do, INSTALL A FUSE, ALWAYS! That’s your safety line. (Read more about fuses here)

WORDS BY WES WHITWORTH

ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE

HOW TO SOLDER

Soldering irons are a scary bit of kit, and a lot of folks have no idea how to use them. Let’s fix that now.

First off, once it’s turned on, anything metal gets hot. So, don’t be like that meme that was getting around a while back and hold it like it’s a pen. It’s not, and it’ll burn you. The nine-year-old in Wes still has nightmares about his first soldering experience.

So once you’ve got it plugged in and warming up, you’ll need somewhere to sit it, so it’s not burning you or whatever you put it on – most come with a little metal holder or a base station for them. Just be mindful not to put the metal tip on the metal holder – heat transfers.

Once the iron is at temperature, you’ll be able to roll off a touch of solder, press it against the tip, and it will melt and stick to the tip – this is affectionately known as ‘tinning the tip’ (at least until there’s too much and it’ll fall off). Tinning the tip is a good way to clean the tip; which is pretty crucial too; once it’s hot put a bit of solder on the tip, and wipe it clean on some cotton – tea towel, your jeans, a damp sponge. Don’t use nylon; it’ll melt.

Okay, so once you’ve got your wire or terminal sorted out (we’ll cover these a bit further on), to join the two together, you’ll want to hold the tip of the iron against the wire, or terminal. Wait a few seconds (thicker wire takes longer), and gently hold the solder against the wire, close but not quite on the tip of the iron. Once the wire gets to an appropriate temp, the solder will melt and be ‘sucked onto the wire’.

From there, keep applying solder until the entire joint is well covered, then once you’re happy, remove the iron from the wire and allow to cool – the solder should go hard within a few seconds (again depending on how thick the wire is and how much heat you’ve needed to put in there). Worth mentioning here is trying to make sure your joints are clean and free of contamination – whether dirt, oil, grease etc. Solder doesn’t like sticking to dirty or oily surfaces. Doubly so for corroded copper – make sure the wire is clean.

Unlike days of old, unless you’re trying to solder some super heavy-gauge stuff (or you’re actually working for NASA and won’t need to read this anyway), you’ll not need to add flux – the vast majority of solder comes with flux within it, so you won’t need to worry about adding any.

When looking for solder, the vast majority of work we’ll be doing in this ultimate guide over the next few issues will require mostly small gauge stuff – so 1mm diameter solder will probably do you. I only have 1mm and 2mm solder – the 2mm is plenty big enough for what I need, but I usually just go to the 1mm stuff. It lets you be a little finer with the work, rather than chasing it with a bazooka. I use leaded solder (some is lead-free these days) as it’s easier to work with. That said, lead is poisonous, so make sure you wash your hands once you’re done and try not to breathe in the smoke from the flux while soldering – there are disposable masks you can wear that will help prevent you from breathing in this crap.

Choosing a soldering iron is your next quest. You. Don’t. Need. The. Biggest. One. Out. There. There, I said it. The first iron I bought was this massive 500W jobbie that I could have used to weld sheet metal together. Suffice to say it didn’t last long.

You won’t need Big Bertha for most small wire we’re playing with. Something small and accurate is your go-to here – either a small 30/60W 240V iron or a little gas-powered one will sort you out pretty well. Me personally, I have a gas-powered one from Jaycar I bought a few years ago – you need to carry refill gas, but not an inverter or generator to use it. Just don’t forget to turn it off when you’re done.

HOT TIP
You can also get 12-volt soldering irons that plug into a ciggy socket, which is another great option for when you’re out on the road.

!

USING CRIMPERS AND TERMINALS

If you’ve got those scissor-style crimpers that you keep to save space and weight in your four-wheel drive, only ever use them in an emergency. Get yourself a decent quality pair of ratchet crimpers. They make better contact and won't bend or buckle when you’re crimping up some terminals.

 Most of the wire we’ll be working with should (unless we’re putting terminals on our main power wires for a dual-battery system) fit within the colour-coded terminals – red, blue and yellow. The different colour denotes a different size for the wire. Red being the smallest and yellow the biggest. To work out which terminal to use, you want to be able to just get the bare wire into the terminal.

From there, insert the terminal and wire into the crimper (most decent crimpers should have a bit of coloured paint denoting which jaw is the right one) and squeeze it all the way closed. I usually give it a couple of extra squeezes just to be sure, but it’s not really needed. Sort of like tugging at a ratchet strap and saying “That’s not going anywhere”… It’s just a thing you do, right? You want the wire to be through the terminal, and just a touch (say 1mm) poking through to the actual ring or spade part of the terminal.

When you’re crimping, have a look at the terminal, and wherever possible make sure the split you’re crimping under the insulation is either straight up, or straight down in the crimpers. It will give a better crimp and connection.

Once you’ve got the crimping part out of the way, give the terminal a solid pull – you should be able to just about swing off it, and the wire won’t come out. If it does, start again; it wasn’t tight enough to make a secure connection.

Please, for the sake of resistance (and heat, and melting wire), don’t use terminals to join wires together. Solder them. Unless the wire absolutely has to be semi-permanent and removable (in which case you should be getting proper plugs like Deutsch Connectors or the like). Male and female spade and bullet terminals are really only made to connect wire to a switch, or other components. Wherever possible solder wires together. Ring terminals, on the other hand, are used to terminate wire to batteries, or bus bars etc. Make sure you’re using the right gear for the job: Soldering for joining wires, crimping for terminating wire.

HEAT SHRINK

This little bit of tubing is quite possibly the greatest thing next to ice-cold beers after 12 hours in the saddle.

If there is any bare wire (like after you’ve soldered two wires together), or over the end of a terminal, or to hold automotive tubing to a wire, heat shrink is what you want. It’s so much better than electrical tape and looks a hundred times better.

You can buy ‘starter kits’ that come with a range of heat shrink from your local RTM or Jaycar store. This stuff is usually coloured black and red, or multicoloured, and is a 2:1 shrink once heated. How you’ll use it, is before you join two wires, slide some heat shrink (that is longer than the joint you want covered) over one of the wires, and keep it out of the way as you’re soldering. Once the join is completed and has cooled a bit, slide the heat shrink over the bare solder, and heat – whether with a lighter, soldering iron, or a heat-gun if you want to get carried away. Adding heat carefully around the heat shrink will make it shrink down and stick to the join giving you a nice insulated joint that looks mint.

PRO TIP
There are different types of heat shrink – some that are 3:1 shrink, and some that have glue inside them to bond better to not move. Most of the stuff we’ll use in our travels if going to be the standard type stuff though.

!