The SolderBuddy VersaVice and SP K models in use. The optional MAG-3 magnifier is very helpful when working with smaller connectors such as the DB-15 shown.
A few years ago (where does the time go?) I had the opportunity to review Lee Tingler's "SolderBuddy ACS" system for preparing connectors commonly used in broadcasting environments. The device acted as a third-hand, rigidly supporting both the connector and wire to be attached until things could be set in "concrete" with the application of a hot soldering iron and some rosin-cored 60/40 alloy. As stated then, this simple little tool certainly had its place in a television or radio facility, even one-upping a much more expensive specialty vise that I'd previously used for holding solder-type connectors in place for wiring.
During the three years since those words were written, Tingler has continued to expand his product line to accommodate a larger variety of connectors, even specializing his solder jigs for such applications as RC model work and a "moto" model for the type of soldering jobs one might encounter in biking, off-roading, and cruzing.
He sent along two of his newer models—the "SPK" and the "VersaVice RMI"—for a white glove inspection, and here are my findings.
Both of the new "Buddies" are similar to the original in that they are constructed from a nicely finished piece of hardwood, easily fit in one hand (they're about four-inches square), have various precisely machined holes for connectors and holding devices (Tingler calls these Post N Clips), and feature laser-burned lettering. This where the similarity stops; there's now a small knob which, when turned, separates front and rear portions of the jig or brings them together. This, and some special cuts along the edges of the parallel jig sections, is key to holding rectangular, square, or similar connectors in place for soldering operations. The "SPK" device, as its identifier might imply, was designed primarily to assist in preparing audio connections involving loudspeaker systems. This new unit is keyed to 1/4-inch phone plugs, 3.5-mm "mini" phone plugs, banana plugs, and its specialized vise arrangement easily accommodates the Neutrik, Speakon, Powercon, and Amphenol connectors that one might find in a audiophile's or electronic musician's bag of tricks. (This model can also bite down on "D-sub" connectors if you need to plumb up one of those.) This "Buddy" also includes a calibrated strip gauge that spans three-quarters of an inch and is marked off in 1/16-inch increments. There are a few other items that make the "SPK" interesting and useful. One is a special "well" for containing contain all of those little connector setscrews and similar hardware that—no matter how hard you try to keep track of—always seem to go missing. This repository is plugged with a bright red cap that screws into the wood base, and due to its size and color is much more difficult to misplace than the screws you might place beneath it. The arrangement allows you to keep a supply of the tiny, but essential, screws, even in your big toolbox without fear of loss.
The "VersaVice" model is similar in construction, but is scaled back a bit in that its front- and rear-facing sections include only a single cutout for connectors, there's no setscrew storage well, and the top penetrations are limited and intended only for accommodating the alligator clip/post ""Post N Clip" holding utensils and an optional magnifier, the "Mag-3." (The price of the "VersaVise" reflects these differences; it's $5 cheaper than the "SPK." As the "VersaVise" is not fine-tuned to a particular connector, it's useful for holding a wide assortment of items that might need soldering.
As readers of my earlier SolderBuddy review may recall, I took on a major project several years ago involving recreation of a 1950s/60s vintage radio station, replete a heavy-iron tube-type audio console and Magnecord and Ampex tape decks. The original SolderBuddy was quite useful for a lot of soldering tasks, but really wasn't up to handling the rectangular Cinch-Jones connectors associated with gear of this vintage. (Can't really understand why; doesn't everyone need to solder a Jones plug once in a while?) Lee Tingler took heart and now such oddball connectors (and many other items) are easily accommodated by the vise-like jaws that are part of the "SPK" and "VersaVise" tools.
I initially tried out the SPK with a 6-pin Jones plug and found that the jaw opening (about 1.5-inches) easily accommodated this connector and held it firmly in place for soldering operations. Just as with the original SolderBuddy, the post-mounted alligator clips were handy for holding connecting wires in place during the heating and molten metal application cycle. I also tried the tool out with a round 5-pin Canon connector and it gripped this nicely too.
I tried out the "plain Jane" VersaVise with a solder-type D-9 connector and found that the tool provided considerable assistance with this sort of wiring chore too.
As I've done electronic soldering for way more than half a century now, I'm sure that I literally have solder in my blood. (Please don't tell the EPA folks where I hang out.) I think I've tried out, gone through, passed on, worn out, and thrown away just about every conceivable type of soldering jig, aid, specialty vise, and improvised clamp. And I can testify that regardless of what lengths you go to get the perfect solder job, the human body is just not adapted for holding a hot iron, feeding in solder, and keeping wires in place until the molten solder sets. This is where SolderBuddy tools come in handy. They make a nice addition to any workbench or toolbox and, when you look at the frustration (and maybe clothes and carpets) saved, the price really isn't that bad either. My only gripe is that they are fairly small and can get misplaced in the dark corners of a crowded workbench. As I suggested in my initial review, a little "DayGlo" tape around the edges of your "Buddy" will assist in making it more visible and easily located.
James E. O'Neal is technology editor at TV Technology and is also a retired broadcast engineer.
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