I’ve been reading and writing about he imminent demise of leaded
components for decades. Even so, at
least half of my work still involves
leaded components. After all, what’s
not to like? Leaded components are
easy to work with. It’s easy to
identify the value of a leaded resistor
or capacitor with the naked eye, and
leaded components are readily
Besides, I’ve already committed
the band values — red for two,
orange for three, yellow for four, etc.
— to long-term memory. Then, there’s
the muscle memory of how to bend
leads and how to work a soldering
iron tip around the porcupine-like
mass of leads when the component
side is down.
Why let all that learning go to
I don’t know what I would do
without a good supply of 1/4 watt
10K leaded resistors to use as circuit
probes. When I’m working with an
Arduino or other microcontroller
board, it takes only a few seconds to
wire-wrap a 10K pull-up or pull-down
resistor to an I/O pin. Try that with a
surface-mount (or SMT) resistor.
Then, there’s the differential in
infrastructure cost and workbench
real estate. For leaded components, I
have a simple Weller temperature
controlled soldering iron, good old-fashioned needle-nose pliers, and
desk lamp magnifier.
For surface-mount work, I have a
hot air station that has the footprint
of an oscilloscope, a tool drawer full
of tweezers and stainless steel picks,
and a half dozen containers of
various solder pastes and fluxes.
And forget the magnified desk
lamp — I have to don a Bosch &
Lomb stereo magnifier and get my
nose within inches of the board to
see what’s going on.
One sneeze, of course, and
every SMT component not glued or
soldered down will be forever lost in
the dust balls behind my workbench.
I know that experimenters aren’t
alone in the battle between SMT and
leaded components. I routinely tear
down equipment for both fun and
profit, and it’s unusual to find an
electronic device devoid of leaded
Many of the inexpensive devices
made in China — from drone
controllers to electronic measuring
devices — are made with a mystery
chip embedded in a black epoxy
blob that is surrounded with leaded
capacitors and resistors.
This is understandable, given the
cost of converting an electronics
assembly plant from leaded to SMT
devices. Unless you’re building
iPhones or electronic watches, why
upgrade an assembly plant unless
you have to?
The bottom line is that if you’re
just getting into electronics, don’t be
dismayed — or distracted — by the
world of SMT. A traditional
perfboard, a good supply of leaded
components, and a few schematics
to work from will get you started.
When you’re ready to make your
circuit semi-permanent, then break
out your soldering iron or wire wrap
tool. SMT components, the special
boards, pastes, and the rest will be
there if you ever need them. NV
Reports of their death have
been greatly exaggerated
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