Rescuing a wrongly soldered box header connector (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 06 Jan 2013

Rescuing a wrongly soldered box header connector

For a recent Raspberry Pi project, I decided to use the Adafruit Pi Cobbler to give me easy access to the RPi's GPIO pins.

My Cobbler arrived shortly before I had to leave for a short trip. I was planning to take my RPi with me -- but not my soldering iron. So the night before I left, I hastily soldered together the Cobbler along with a few other parts I wanted to play with. No problem -- it's an easy solder project, lots of pins but no delicate parts or complicated circuitry.

Later, far from home, I opened up my hardware hack box, set up a breadboard and started plugging in wires, following one of the tutorials mentioned below. Except -- wait, the pins didn't seem to be in the place I expected them. I quickly realized I'd soldered the ribbon cable connector on backward. Argh!

There's no way I could unsolder 26 pins all at once, even at home; but away from home, without even a soldering iron, how could I possibly recover?

[ribbon cable connector] (image courtesy of PANAMATIK of Wikipedia)

The ribbon cable connector is basically symmetrical, two rows of 13 pins. The connector on the cable is keyed -- it has a dingus sticking out of it that's supposed to fit into the slot in the connector's plastic box. If I could, say, cut another slot on the opposite side of the plastic box, something big enough for the ribbon cable's sticky-out dingus (sorry for the highly technical language!), I could salvage this project and play with my RPi.

I was just about to dig in with the diagonal cutter when someone on IRC suggested that I try to slide the plastic box (it turns out this is called a "box header") up off the pins, turn it around and slide it back on. They suggested that using a heat gun to soften the plastic might help.

I didn't have a heat gun where I was staying, but I did have a hairdryer. I slipped a jeweler's screwdriver under the bottom of one side of the box, levered against the circuit board to apply pressure upward, and hit it with the hairdryer. It slid a few millimeters immediately.

I switched to the other side of the box and repeated; that side obligingly slid too. About ten minutes of alternating sides and occasional blasts from the hairdryer, and the box was off! Sliding it back on was even easier. Project rescued!

(Incidentally, you may be thinking that the Cobbler is really just a way to connect the Pi's header pins to a breadboard. I could have used the backwards-soldered Cobbler and just kept track of which pins should map to which other pins. True! But all the pin numbers would have been mislabeled, and I know myself well enough to know that eventually, I would have gotten the pin mapping wrong and plugged something in to the wrong place. Having destroyed an Adafruit Wave Shield earlier that day by doing just that, connecting 5V to an I/O pin that it turned out wasn't expecting it (who knew the SD reader chip was so sensitive?), I didn't want to take the same risk with my only Raspberry Pi.)

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[ 15:29 Jan 06, 2013    More hardware | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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