Friday, May 16, 2008

Recycling Electronics with a heat gun

[rant]One of the most distressing things to me about our society is the fact that we buy things expecting to throw them away. I'm talking about typical consumer electronics items; TV's, microwaves, computers, etc. My grandfather owned his television for years. If it broke down, a repairman was called. It would be fixed and put back into use. Thanks to Chinese manufacturing, we buy products, expecting two to three years at most. Rapid technology advances have made the problem worse and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we've got a real problem with electronics disposal.[/rant]

That "rant" being said, I've found several good ways to be "green" in my electronics hobby, one of which is the Recycling of electronics components from broken/obsolete boards from everyday consumer electronics. Modern manufacturing uses "though-hole" or "surface mount" design, meaning that the parts are placed by robot, then the entire board goes through a solder bath to fix them in place. Heating the backside of the board will cause the reverse effect, parts falling easily into reusable condition.

I came across this article about this about six months ago. The procedure involves heating the board upside-down. Once the solder melts, the parts literally fall out of the board. The author of this article points out that "using a heat gun to de-solder parts is dangerous!" and mentions to make sure to do this in a well ventilated area. He appears to be doing this inside, which raises some concerns about fumes. Solder is around 40% lead, and a quick Wiki search on the effects of lead poisoning is scary. Heating boards like this will cause some dangerous fumes.

My own success with this has two added safety precautions, doing this outside, (sunny, breezy day) and the purchase of a respirator designed specifically to filter (among other things) lead dust and lead fumes. This safety item was an investment, (around $50) but you've got to ask yourself, "how much are your lungs worth?" Between the purchase of the respirator, and the heatgun, I'm up to around $75, and that would have bought a decent box of electronics, but also being in the PC repair business, I wind up with many dead motherboards, modems, video cards, which I have subjected to the process to collect connectors, relays, crystals, caps, and various SMD parts, so it hasn't taken me long to fill my parts cabinet with plenty of pieces for experiments. In fact I've created a website just for purpose of trading parts with others. Anyone need a few 3300uf caps or 14.318mhz crystals... I've got tons of them.

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