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[TowerTalk] Soldering PL-259's While High [LONG SUMMARY]

To: <>
Subject: [TowerTalk] Soldering PL-259's While High [LONG SUMMARY]
From: (Fred Hopengarten)
Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998 21:48:54 EDT
Fred Hopengarten  K1VR               781/259-0088
Six Willarch Road
Lincoln, MA 01773-5105
permanent e-mail address:

                         SUMMARY (LONG)
                   Soldering PL-259 Connectors
                      While High in the Sky
                           Compiled by
                      Fred Hopengarten K1VR
                      as of April 17, 1998


> On Wed, 15 Apr 1998 Matt--K7BG <> writes:

I seem to have a flaky PL259 connection at the top of the tower.
What do you use to solder up their?  One of those Radio Shack
torches?  Any tips/hints?  -- Matt K7BG

From: "Jonathan Starr" <>
To: <>
Date: Wed, 26 Mar 1997

Best gun I've ever used for connectors is my Weller GT with a
single pin powerhead. The removable powerhead says 7A 120 V.A.C.
150 W.  Don't really understand how 7 amps could equate with 150
watts, but it gets nice & hot quickly, and has more reserve heat
than any "loop" type gun I've used.--Jonathan KH6X
I use a hand held torch with small separate oxygen and propane
bottles (Radio Shack has 'em.)  The tiny flame is really hot and
you can solder the braid through the holes so fast the center
wire insulation hardly even gets warm!!  Scott  K3FXB
From: "Tom Wagner" <>
To: <>
Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998

I didn't see anyone mention the propane torch option...I
purchased a propane (not butane) torch kit many years ago that
included a soldering tip.  It's big and crude, but it's how I
solder PL-259's indoors and out.  -- Tom N1MM
Bill Turner wrote:
On the subject of soldering PL-259s, over the years I've tried
many different soldering irons, but the best one I've found is
the good 'ol Weller 250 watt soldering GUN (not iron).  The tip
is exactly the right size to solder the holes and the temperature
is hot enough without being too hot.  It goes from room
temperature to soldering temperature in about 5 seconds.  Be sure
you get the 250 watt model, not it's little brother 140 watter.
Bill W7TI
From: Tom Wagner <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 1997

Look for a standard propane torch "kit".  Mine came with a
soldering tip.  It looks like the tip of a big old soldering
iron.  It's a little hard to manage the heat on the tip, but it's
much better than a straight flame or *yuch* a soldering gun!

To clean the tip, you'll need a small wire brush and a cloth.
Wear goggles if you use the wire brush. -- Tom N1MM
From: Landen Stoker <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998

Sorry to here about the PL259.  I had the same problem about 2
weeks ago when I completely reworked and replaced most of my
antennas. What I use is a butane filled soldering iron by Weller,
there are several models to choose from ranging from 30 - 100
watts. I can typically solder 2-3 PL-259's on one fill up. I have
2 light duty and one heavy duty models, and I would have to say
they are a godsend when doing tower work.

From: Pete Smith <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998

At 10:12 PM 4/15/98, KENNETH KOCH wrote:
>this can all be avoided by purchasing a small butane solder
pencil, all of about $70-80, and they are much better than an
electric gun or pencil. besides, a 200' climb with anything
besides myself is a "drag"!

Actually, the Radio shack job is under $40, though additional
tips are around $10 each, but I strongly second the point.  They
make a decent amount of heat, are easy to carry, light easily --
a nice product (made in Ireland, FWIW).

Pete Smith N4ZR
From: Jack Schuster <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998

For what it's worth, I found the Radio Shack torch useless. I run
an extension cord and use a soldering gun. -- JACK W1WEF
From: (Roderick M. Fitz-Randolph)
To: <>
Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998

I seem to swim upstream an awful lot:  I watched Mike Gibson,
KH6ND, use a Radio Shack soldering iron (changed the tip out for
one of the heavier ones so that the amount of heat sinking
ability was greater) at the 120 foot level on a day when the wind
chill was 6 (that's six) degrees.  He was soldering the spade
lugs on my rotor cable.

It was so cold that he climbed down at one point, found a large
cardboard box, cut it so that it made a large flat surface that
could be bent to a desired configuration, took it back up and
used that as a personal wind protector.  Doubtless it also served
to keep the wind off the butane soldering iron tip, as well.

I am not denigrating the other soldering irons/pencils that some
of the towertalk reflectees are boosting.  I am simply saying
that I have had good experience with the Radio Shack model.  Of
course, if you insist on trying to use the original tip (linear
tapered to a very fine, small tip designed for small printed
circuit board construction) then I could certainly understand
your comments.  The one I use has successfully transferred enough
heat to be able to properly install coax connectors on coax in
cold weather.  I really like mine.  The Radio Shack butane
soldering iron has performed yeoman service for me.

So there!  Take that!  In your face! <<Grin>>

Flame suit on.

Rod, N5HV
From: Al Samson <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998

Yes it is the easiest and handiest tool you can buy.  Check out
this web page for more.

Press W Jones wrote:

Best thing I've seen in years is the "SOLDER IT" butane gear -
not only the best pencil by far, but the little "Pistol" style is
the handiest thing you could carry on a tower top. Their solder
works great, too, and if you ever see their man Fred Doob, at a
hamfest, don't miss his demo.
> Press Jones, N8UG, The Wireman, Inc., Landrum, SC 29356
> use or (864) 895-4195 for tech help
> orders only use 800-727-WIRE(9473) or
>      Bargains + Hamfest schedule at
From: Chuck <>
To: <>
Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998
Subject:  solder jobs up the tower

Best thing I've seen in years is the "SOLDER IT" butane gear - It
also works good with regular solder.  I find this combination the
most convenient for repairing beverage breaks.  (Along with
liquid tape.)

Chuck, KZ5MM
From: (Jeff Bouvier)
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998

     [Solder It] is definitely the way to go. I've been using the
"pencil" for a few years and it works great. Much better than
Radio Shack butane setup.

     Check out .

Jeff Bouvier K1AM
From: "M.G. Brafford" <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998

Check out the Solder it web site at
Mick  W4YV
Subject: [TowerTalk] Bill Orr on PL-259's

The key to any job is having the right tools. I use good PL-
259's, good quality cable, thin 60-40 solder and a large 100 watt
soldering IRON. A 75 - 100 watt soldering IRON has enough mass so
when applied to a connector the tip temperature will drop only
slightly.  A soldering gun has a relatively small mass. When the
soldering gun tip is applied to a PL-259, the temperature drops
and  the gun must heat up again. This is what causes the coax to

>From Bill Orr's "Wire Antennas for Radio Amateurs" 1972   for
RG/8 type cable

+ Practice on a scrap piece of cable.
+ Slide the coupling on with the ring threads towards the open
end of the cable. (Don't laugh, I've done it backwards)
+ With a sharp utility knife circumscribe a cut, at right angles
to the cable, and remove 1 1/2 inches of the outside jacket
+ Use a vice to hold the cable.
+ Without disturbing the braid, quickly and smoothly tin the
exposed shield braid making it a solid entity. Don't overheat the
braid or   the insulation will squirt out.
+ Let the tinned shield braid cool completely.
+ The next step is to trim the soldered braid to the correct
length.  Use a miniature tubing cutter to cut the tined braid so
that 7/16 inch   is left on the cable end. Tighten the tubing
cutter slightly and rotate it around the cable. After one turn,
tighten the wheel again.   After 5 or 6 turns the cutter will
neatly slice through the tinned braid.
+ Remove the unwanted braid with diagonal cutters.
+ With a sharp utility knife cut away the inner insulation so
that 1/16 inch of insulation extends beyond the soldered braid.
+ Tin the exposed center conductor.
+ Let the center conductor cool completely.
+ Put a little silicon grease on the outer insulation and screw
on the PL-259 until it seats and the shield is visible through
all holes.
+ Place the soldering iron on the connector by the solder holes
and heat until the solder begins to flow. Flow solder into the
holes as quickly as possible. Turn the cable as necessary.
+ Let the connector cool completely.
+ Solder the center conductor.
+ Let the connector cool completely.
+ File the tip of the center conductor pin smooth.
+ Check your work.

This was harder to describe than it is to actually do.  I've done
hundreds of connectors this way and after a little practice it
never fails. Tinning the shield braid and using a heavy soldering
iron is the key to the process.

A tip for BNC and N connectors. Use curved toe nail scissors to
trim the braid.  --  Jim, WB2TPS
From: John Brosnahan <>
To: <>
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 1997

After posting my technique on installing PL-259s I received a
number of off-line replies about making sure to tell everyone to
tin the braid first.

That is precisely what I DO NOT DO and for good reasons.  The
W6SAI, Bill Orr, technique is one I used for a period of time and
it wants the braid to be tinned first as well.  And it also cuts
the braid with a tubing cutter as I also did for a period of

Here is a brief set of comments about why I recommend NOT to tin
the braid first.

John  W0UN


Addendum to the Post -- Details On Installing PL-259s

One reason PL-259s are not well liked is that many of the
procedures to install them take so much time.  If the proper
procedure is used the installation can be done very quickly.
This is not a big issue if you are just putting on a single
connector--but if you are putting on many connectors the wasted
time on tinning and trimming with a tubing cutter can really add
up.  I actually ENJOY installing PL-259s now that I can do it
very quickly and now that the results are so good!  Plus I enjoy
the ego trip of being the only one on my block who can put on a
PL-259 and have it look like it was done professionally.  Of
course with 160 acres I AM THE ONLY ONE ON MY BLOCK.

Here are a list of reasons why not to tin the braid--but if you
insist on trimming the braid then follow my procedure on cutting
the jacket and braid before tinning the braid--this way there
will be no need for the tubing cutter part  (which I don't like
because it tends to smash the braid down into the dielectric).

Why I don't tin the braid on RG-11 and RG-213 before installing

1)  It takes time and that is why PL-259s are hated!
2)  It subjects the dielectric to unnecessary heat.
3)  It leaves a residue of flux (which can be cleaned--but takes
even more time) and the flux may be hygroscopic.
4)  Solder can wick under the jacket causing it to bulge and
making it more difficult to insert into the connector

Why I no longer drill out the holes.

Drilling out the holes to a larger size has also been suggested
and it was something I used to do on a regular basis.  I'd buy 20
PL-259s and drill them all out and then throw them into the
storage bin for later use--at least this way the drilling was
done in mass production style.

There is nothing wrong with drilling out the holes a bit, except
that it takes time.  It does make it easier to solder to the
(UNTINNED) braid.  Again the secret is to have a small enough tip
so that the tip can touch the braid without heating the body of
the connector until after some solder has been wicked into the
braid--then just continue the heating of the body and flow the
solder into the hole until the hole is nicely filled.  You just
have to find a soldering iron with a small enough tip while
having enough heat capacity and a high enough temperature so that
the body can be heated up very quickly.

Oh boy -- difficult to put into words; however, it is in ARRAY OF
LIGHT, so if you have a FAX, I can FAX those pages to you.  Have
a good day and 73,
               Tom, N6BT
               Force 12 Antennas and Systems
               (Home Page
Regarding my method for 259 soldering using small torch -- first
I gently scrape braid and connector (around holes) with a razor
-- then when assembly is ready to solder I heat connector just a
little around hole and then I "go for it" by applying THIN
regular solder while applying flame at same time. (guess u just
have to practice a little--seems to work for me and results are
nice and shiny and, I believe, effective.  Solder is just regular
stuff----never heard of eutectic before my subscription to
TowerTalk -- Scott  K3FXB
Subject: [TowerTalk] Installing Coax Connectors - Summary

It looks like this thread is gradually thinning out----thanks for
some very interesting comments from a multitude of folks.  We've
covered the Bill Orr procedure, the use of butane torches, "Old
Yeller" the beloved ancient Weller, professional crimping tools,
the alternative of feeding your antennas with twinlead, and
spawned a whole new series of corny limericks containing the word
"eutectic".  This productivity truly boggles the mind.  And I
think it was KE3Q who suggested a videotape of W0UN installing a
PL259 for presentation at the Dayton antenna forum....actually,
one could have a contest of all these respondent in action, using
their favorite methods....oops, Contesting is another reflector.

Here are a few additional responses to the query that were sent
to me directly that I wanted to pass on to the reflector:

---From K6NA:

The method mentioned to you by N4SI is pretty close, but I don't
much like the torch unless you are on a 100-ft tower and there is
no other way.

The key is proper pre-tinning of the undisturbed braid.  Let it
cool, and then make the cut with a miniature tubing cutter. Buy
one, they are not expensive.

Another key is use only teflon connectors if you don't have
perfect technique.  That way you do not melt the connector
dielectric if you are a bit slow.

Another hint:  The common generic "USA made" teflon PL-259's
available everywhere these days (i.e. non-Amphenol) have a design
flaw which if not addressed will lead to problems every time.
These have a body which has too large an interior diameter in the
area where the tinned braid is to be inserted.  If the braid is
smoothly pretinned, and then the connector is screwed on over the
outer jacket as it should be, you can look closely at the holes
and see that THERE IS A GAP ALL AROUND, between the tinned braid
and the body!  I really think the designer thought he was doing
us a favor, thinking that we needed "help" stuffing all that
braid in there.  (Some people actually fan the braid back on
itself and jam it all in there, and never solder it... maybe the
designer was one of these guys.)

Anyway, the gap is a killer.  As we all learned on page one of
our Heathkit assembly manuals, THE TWO SURFACES TO BE SOLDERED
MUST BE IN PHYSICAL CONTACT.  So after I insert the plug body
onto the tinned braid, I lay the connector on a piece of soft
wood (this keeps the exposed male thread from being damaged), and
with a hammer and dull punch I make four indentations,
between the four holes, in the body so that the body touches the
braid in at least four places.  Now you have excellent
conductivity and heat transfer to both surfaces, and a finished
connector which is also much stronger and won't pull apart with a
load on it.  Believe me, I have seen or heard of many PL-259
failures using these generic teflon connectors and I will bet
that most are due to this design flaw and a failure to correct
for it.  Since I developed my hammer-and-punch method years ago,
I have never seen a failure.  I use the method on Amphenol, too,
even though the gap is smaller (I have not measured it).  Last
tip:  Use a minimum 140-watt gun for soldering the body.  Bigger
is even better (which means faster heat transfer).
---From KL7HF:

The secret is in proper tinning of the shield and center
conductor after cutting the insulation to the proper dimensions.
The connector should screw on tightly. (If you don't have to use
pliers, then it isn't correct!) And then, a good solder job on
the shield without melting the insulation. It is tough, but can
be done. Don't use a torch.  I take the tip off the soldering gun
and use the connector as the tip.

Also - a lot of coax is not designed to have PL-259 connectors.
RG-213 is an example. It is a tad smaller OD than the connector
requires.  It can be done, but is not recommended. RG-213 is
supposed to use Type 'N' connectors. To use PL-259s, you have to
increase the diameter of the shield in some fashion. (Real thick
solder will do it, but again, you're on your own that way. Not a
good process.

---From W7NI:

There are couple of things I find are very helpful:

1.  Use the best quality connector you can find.  I use Amphenol,
silver plated, teflon insulation.  They cost a couple of bucks
each but they are worth it (and they will take the power of two

2.  Make sure the coax braid is bright and shiny copper.  If it
is oxidized or black, it won't take solder very well.  Try
stripping a foot or so further back to see if the braid looks
better there.  If not, toss the coax and get new stuff.

3.  Use a big enough iron.  I use about a 200 watter.  This may
be overkill, but it heats the shell of the connector up real fast
and you are done with the job before you can melt the dielectric
of the coax.

4.  Use a little soldering paste where the shield is visible
through the holes in the connector.

- Phil, N6ZZ
From: Jan & Del Seay <seay@Alaska.NET>

Try taking the tip off, and put the connector between the two
metal legs, making the connector the new tip.  It's the easiest
to get even heat, and with practice make the best looking solder
joints you've seen on a PL-259.   de KL7HF

For RG8 type coax, I strip approximately (I never measure it) 1
1/4" of jacket. With my nifty soldering station (if I'm inside;
I'll use my torch if I'm outside) I tin the braid for about 1/2"
centered about 5/8" from the edge of the jacket. When all is
cool, I use a tubing cutter to trim the tinned braid
approximately 1/2" from the edge of I now have about 3/4" of
center conductor, and about 1/2" of tinned shield with a nice,
slight taper at the end of the cable.

Rod N4SI         (c) 5 November, 1996


From: K7LXC <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998
Subject: solder jobs up the tower
In a message dated 98-04-15, writes:

> [speaking of a homemade extension cord, made of Romex,]...this
is also very nice to have if you have to use an electric drill up
in the air, to drill out a stripped bolt, or somesuch - the
battery drills just don't cut it unless you have very deep
pockets for the really good ones!  A very handy tower item.
Please use a GFI so that you don't wind up as a Silent Key.

     An electrician and the National Electrical Code would have
apoplexy over a couple of the solutions offered here. USE AT YOUR
OWN RISK! They are not endorsed by me, TowerTalk or anyone else.

     Soldering a coax connector on a tower is a real challenging
proposition.  If you can haul a temporary extension cord up
there, use a 200-250 watt gun.  Two guys on the tower are real
handy. The other guy can help to shield the wind and use one of
those little butane guns to contribute heat to the connector. If
you're by yourself, you may not be able to do it. -- Steve K7LXC
From: "Dick Green" <>
To: <>
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998
Well, I can tell you how a friend of mine does it, but first:

(of course, when you compare it to the potential danger of using
a propane torch at the top of a tower, it might not look so bad.)

My friend unplugs the coax at the antenna, attaches (via a
homemade SO239-to-AC-outlet-box adapter) a temperature-regulated
soldering station with a big tip, returns to the shack and
attaches the other end of the coax to a 110VAC outlet (via a
homemade two-prong-plug-to-SO239 adapter), returns to the
antenna, solders away, turns off the iron, returns to the shack,
unplugs the coax from the AC, returns to the antenna, disconnects
the soldering iron, and reattaches the coax. Only three trips up
and down the tower! This can be reduced to one trip by utilizing
a friend in the shack and a pair of handy-talkies, but you really
have to trust that your friend will do exactly what you tell
him/her (it could be too tempting for a spouse, especially if you
carry life insurance ;-).

I did this once in desperation during a contest (raining, in the
dark) when critters chewed through the coax where it attached to
my lone ground-mounted vertical 250 feet from the house. You have
to be EXTREMELY careful in fabricating your adapters not to
connect the hot side of the AC to the ground portion of the SO239
connectors (use a non-reversible two-pronged AC plug), and, just


I just thought you might like to know how it has been done by
foolish people.

Dick, WC1M
From: "Barry Kutner" <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998

On 15 Apr 98, Dick Green <> wrote:

My friend unplugs the coax at the antenna, attaches (via a
homemade SO239-to-AC-outlet-box adapter)

W2UP replies:  Yes, that is nuts!

I've never had the need to solder up there, but after foolishly
thinking a battery powered drill could drill a 1/4 inch hole thru
a 1/4 wall, hi carbon steel mast, I bought 2 - 100 ft extension
cords (the orange, 3 cond ones made for outdoors) and brought it
up the tower with me, tied to my belt. Should work for a heavy
duty soldering gun too, on a non-windy day.

Barry Kutner, W2UP              Internet:
From: Larry Babb <>
To: <>
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998
Grover Yarbrough wrote:

     I had replied privately to the original question of what to
use, before reading about people concocting ways to get 110v up
the tower.  wow!!  So, I will include this
     for the benefit of all those who read.  I do field
engineering work and some time ago, I acquired a butane powered
soldering iron.  It has a large barrel handle for the butane and
is filled as one would a cigarette lighter.  It has variable heat
control and gets very hot if turned up.  It has been my best
solution for a soldering iron where 110 is not available.  Please
don't take the chance of putting 110 on coax and alligator clips
to get to the plug!  I find it hard to believe people do these
     The $30.00 to $40.00 an iron would cost is pretty cheap
compared to the alternative.  The one I use also has a self
contained igniter.  Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to bring the
coax down to ground level and do it safely?  As opposed to doing
things that have a high risk factor?  73
> That is the most ridiculous method ever published in any form,
in any HAM related topic.  The probability of electrocution is
immense and you stand to be in the path searched for least
resistance while attached to the grounded tower.     Do that
again and likely you will be the next silent key!
> Grover KM5HB
From: jfeustle <>
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998
The 110v through the coax looks like a great way to reposition
the dummy load to the top of your tower. Why, for a while it will
probably scare the birds off your beam too. If you raise and
lower other antennas via a pulley system, the same dummy might
double as a counterpoise. Has anyone worked out the takeoff and
arrival angles for a cadaver? Can we send a second person up and
work out phased cadavers? Do these work better with elevated
radials? I believe that centuries-long traditions require direct
burial.  The research possibilities here are eternal. Man, I've
seen and done some dumb stuff in my life, but this is something

With reference to battery powered drills, try the Dewalt with the
18v battery pack. It's a little pricey, but will drill forever.
Joe, N8JF
From: Tom Rauch W8JI
To: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998
I used to do something similar.

I have two boxes with 48 volt 2 amp transformers with SO-239's
and F connectors on the 48 volt side. I step the line voltage
down (and most importantly isolate it from ground) at the shack,
and step it up on the outdoor box with a pigtail. The 120 VAC
secondary is floated, of course, with NO ground reference.

This works very well if I have to change a small component on a
receive antenna control box over 1000 ft from the house, even if
the Weller solder station heats a tad slow at that distance.

Now I use a little ni-cad battery powered iron, but still have
the backup system.  Tom W8JI
From: "Jim White, K4OJ" <>
To: <>
Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998

Keep your eyes open at Flea Markets, not necessarily the Ham type
- for boxes of house wiring - usually 250 feet long rolls of say
14/3.  Usually you can offer someone five or ten bucks for these.
Buy a male and female plug from the home center/hswe store, tape
it to the tower and voila, you can have 110V (a little voltage
drop) at the top of the tower whenever you plug the male end in
down on the ground.  Since house wiring is soft copper it is easy
to pull up the female end of the "extension cord" on your work
rope and then wrap the malleable copper wire around the leg of
the tower, it will stay there until you unwind it when done.

This is also very nice to have if you have to use an electric
drill up in the air, to drill out a stripped bolt, or somesuch -
the battery drills just don't cut it unless you have very deep
pockets for the really good ones!

Jim, K4OJ


Notes from your friendly compiler:

1.  I do not like to climb the tower with an extension cord
attached to my climbing belt.  A child could come along and pull
a climber off the tower.  The cable could become ensnared.  Any
number of bad things could happen.  I carry up a light line and
drop it down, and then pull up whatever I want by asking someone
on the ground to attach it to the line.

2.  Some of the opinions on small butane powered irons or torches
seem to divide along geographic lines.  No 15 watt equivalent
iron is going to solder anything at a height of 90' in the open
air here in New England on the Friday morning before CQ WW CW
(the last full weekend in November, and one of the official days
for PL-259 soldering).  Obviously Northerners favor a "real
man's" heat source.

3.  It is hard to keep a flame lighted in the open air, way up in
the sky, with a wind present.  For this reason, I personally
favor extension cords and a 240 watt Weller gun.

4.  If there is even a hint of wind, I will try to bring along a
human shield, or a five gallon bucket, so that I can do the
soldering out of the wind.  I was, however, intrigued by the idea
of simply bringing up some discarded cardboard and wrapping it
around two sides of the tower to make your own wind shield.  That
was a neat idea, and you can't beat the price.  Around here, the
prevailing wind comes from the NW, so remember to wet your finger
and stick it up in the air.  Else you'll have to learn how to
find true North . . .

-- Fred K1VR (

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