How to Solder Correctly

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A lot of people have misconceptions about soldering, others are misinformed, some have no clue where to start, and many are bad at it whether they know it or not. :lol: Hopefully This post will help everyone solder better, have fewer issues and component failures, and have time for more fun because of it.

I know perfect soldering is not such a big issue in a hobby, And most never give it a second thought, but a poor job can cause failures and frustration. Even if the soldering you did looks good, you may have damaged the circuits inside your components. Doing a good job is not that hard. I will teach the basics and tell you why they are important. In addition to the basics I will give some tips to help make it easier.

Now you may be asking yourself “why should I listen to this guy?” Well I will tell you :D

I have a lot of experience and I was trained in the Navy/Marine Corps soldering school. This school was 8 hours a day Monday – Friday and 6 weeks long of just learning how to solder about everything that needs soldering. At the time the standards the program used were equivalent to NASA standards for space fight, pretty much the toughest standards around. I passed with 100% and was called a natural by the instructors. (OK I'm done patting my own back :lol:) Basically I know what I'm doing.

Here are the basic rules...
  1. Use a good soldering iron with an appropriate sized tip for the job.
  2. Use the right temps 600 – 750*F and never hold heat to your components longer than 6 seconds (Ok, I will admit this 6 second rule gets broken at times, it happens and sometimes is necessary; See bellow for more info first.)
  3. Use clean quality solder, preferably lead solder, 60/40 lead solder is most common (63/37 is best if you can get it)
  4. Use flux, rosin based RMA (rosin medium activated) is best (the amount of flux in flux cored solder is not enough)
  5. Pre-tin components (coat with a thin layer of solder) before soldering them together
  6. Use the right amount of solder, do not glob it on, more is not better, use just enough.
  7. Keep your iron tip clean by wiping it off regularly with a damp sponge or rag
  8. In between making connections and immediately after turning off the soldering iron, coat the tip with solder to protect it, and don't leave the iron turned on and unused for more than a few minutes
  9. Clean up the solder joint with isopropyl alcohol or denatured alcohol to remove used flux when done
  10. Use heat shrink tubing whenever you can

There will be a selection on wire and plugs/connectors. The choice is important. Use what will handle the power of your system and application.

One note on wiring plugs. This one is IMPORTANT!

Anything that supplies power (like batteries) ALWAYS get the female/jack connector. If you used the male plug on a battery, the exposed male contacts could short out on something.

The last section below will contain several tips to help make soldering easier, and a video Made by Randy Pike showing off some soldering technique. There will also be a tip on saving electronics from water damage.

Now for a more in depth look at those rules.

1: Use a good soldering iron.

Solder iron quality is important when you start soldering larger components. You need a quality iron with a ceramic element preferably. Total power or wattage of the iron is less important than its thermal recovery ability. Thermal recovery is the ability of the iron to “recover” the temp you set it at after you touch it to what you are trying to solder. Ceramic elements are better at this, they are lower wattage but heat much faster. A cheap soldering iron will have a wire coil element. When you try to solder with one it will loose heat and the tip temperature will drop very low, and they are slow to recover from that temp drop. This causes you to turn up the heat to compensate. To much heat is the enemy, but more on that later. It is also important to use the right size tip. When soldering large components, a bigger tip holds heat better and will not drop as many degrees when using it.

A quality iron heats up quickly and lets you choose a specific temp and holds that temp well. I like the Team Checkpoint solder station, (now called the TrakPower TK-950) it costs about $80 and has a high power ceramic heating element and 2 different tips. It is a re-branded Hakko 936 but cheaper by $10. Also, the decorative vinyl skin still lets you see the temperature markings on the dial. The Hakko has only one tip and the pretty skin covers up the temp markings, but you could use a marker to write on it. They both have the big higher power iron handle, which helps it hold heat when soldering large wires without needing higher temps. The LRP station is really nice, with lots of features, but it is more than most people need, and at over $200 costs more than most want to spend. Another benefit of these higher end soldering stations, is that parts are replaceable and fairly easy to get. Bad tip? Get a new one. Heating element go bad (rare with only occasional use) Get a new element, no need in getting a new station or even a whole new iron handle. But use what you want, the choice is yours.

Here are some links:

If you use care, you can make a decent to good connection with a cheap iron.

That being said...

2: Use the right temperatures... and the dangers of high temps and poor heat control.

While Lead solders melt around 400*F you will need higher heat to work effectively. I use 650*F for all purpose soldering and will increase the temp if I have issues with thermal recovery or large components not heating quickly. It should not take longer than 6 seconds to make a connection. If you have problems, increase the temp by 10 or 15*. 600 – 750*F is the usable temp ranges for good soldering. 750* is pushing it, and I would avoid going that high if possible. If your solder tip is turning discolored (a rainbow like shine) you are using to much heat.

Now the biggest issue with the amount of heat, is how long you need to hold the iron to the component being soldered. Heat can damage some components. Another big issue is that the heat can travel down the component and start to melt the solder connection at the circuit board, this can cause cold joints, or poor electrical connections that can cause resistance and poor performance. Robbing you of voltage, power, and speed. In high current applications like ESC's and battery packs, resistance causes heat that can cause even more damage to solder, battery or board. Heat can damage a circuit board, be it from holding the iron on the connection too long or a poor connection causing heat when high amps run through it. The amount of heat needed to damage the board is much less than soldering temps. The board can handle short term heat, its when you have longer exposure that causes problems. Hence the 6 second rule. And if you re-solder, or reheat the same connections the damage accumulates. Several people move ESC's between cars or change layouts. Even if the heat does not burn the board, (which is rare) it causes the epoxy holding the board layers together to weaken. (I have seen boards that had areas that were falling apart) This weakening can cause failures from vibration and jarring from the big jumps. I would not be surprised if many ESC failures are caused by this. Tekin, Castle and the other manufactures would never spend the money to lab test every failure for bad soldering of the user, it is cheaper to just repair under warranty. But failures mean less play time and waiting on repairs or needing to buy a new part, and that is never fun. Numerous crash investigations and research has shown that bad soldering can cause failures, so don't think it does not happen. Remember, just because your solder joint looks good, does not mean you didn't cause damage elsewhere.

A good rule of thumb to prevent over heating components, is to let them cool for a few seconds after tinning before you make the final connection. Also do not work on two parts that are next to each other in succession. Skip every other component or terminal post and then come back to them.

Now about that 6 second rule; sometimes you just have trouble and need to bend the rule a bit. This is where experience and some common sense is needed. If the solder starts to melt around the 5 or 6 second mark, take the extra second or so that you need to finish up a good connection. Now if you don't start to see any melting of the solder by 6 seconds, you have a problem; stop, let it cool and figure out why. For large wires soldering to plugs and bullet connectors it is less important, especially if the wires are not connected to other components. These large parts can be hard to heat quickly, even with a large iron tip. I would guess that 12 seconds on large gauges of wire (like 10ga) to a connector is fairly safe, and 8 to 10 seconds for ESC posts and motor leads. (the shorter the wire the less time you have before the heat travels, so keep that in mind) Use caution, and if your having issues, you an wrap a small piece of damp paper towel around the wire to help prevent heat from flowing into other components.

Also, heat kills soldering tips...

But to be more detailed tips are made of a base of copper and a protective plating of another metal, Iron or less often nickel or chromium (or in the case of hakko, a double plating of chromium over iron. others may have this as well)

More active metals tend to invade and replace/erode less active metals, in a similar way water can erode dirt and rock. (in result only, the processes are completely different) Copper has a low reactivity level compared to most other metals. (like the lead and tin in solder) This is why tips have protective coating of a different metal that is more active than tin and lead. The erosion process increases with heat, (I think its on the level of doubling for every 10*C) and in the presence of reactive compounds like acids. (flux is a form of acid, RMA is weak compared to other types and is best for long tip life) Iron as we all know reacts easily with oxygen (rust) even at room temp, and acids make this worse. Also rust flakes away easily exposing fresh metal to react. All metal rusts, but the rusts of other metals (like chromium or the zinc used in galvanized steel) do not flake off and actually protect the metal from further damage.

Cheap irons have iron plated tips, which will wear out quickly, and the more heat the quicker it happens. More watts is more heat, and cheap irons are on or off, temp selection might at best be high and low.

You can also crack or wear away the protective plating by using bad technique when soldering or cleaning the tip. Even tiny cracks will exposes the copper to damage. If you ever need to file the tip, you are in a loosing battle. When the copper is exposed, just a few minutes is enough to put huge pits in it.

Man that was long, the next few should be much shorter, I hope :lol:

3: Good solder

Lead solder is the best performing solder in ease of use, its working properties and wetting ability. (how well it flows and coats components) It also does not degrade over time like lead free and silver solders do. This is the reason why NASA and other aerospace companies use it over other types. 60/40 lead solder is the most common and works well. (50/50 is old plumbing solder and not well suited to electronics) If you can find it 63/37 solder is better because its melting point is an actual point and not a range like 60/40 (the tin and lead in 60/40 actually have different melting temps). 63/37 solidifies almost instantly, without having part of it hard while some is still soft. That means it is very hard to get a cold solder joint. It is all I used when working aviation. Lead free solder works, but it requires higher temps to work well, I find it needs about 50* more at times. It is also harder to get to flow well and it does not have as shiny of an appearance when used. Silver solder costs a lot more, and is a little harder to use. It is also VERY TOXIC. It contains cadmium which is worse than lead. No matter what you use, I suggest a small fan to push or pull away fumes while soldering. I also find that the different solders do not play very well together, it will work, but lead free and leaded do not like each other well.

An electronics store is a good place to find solder and flux, or some hardware and home improvements stores sell it as well. Do not buy plumbing solder!

Links for 63/37 solder. The one pound spools will last you for years :lol: there are two sizes of solder thickness, I like having both but if I had to pick just one, it would be the thinner stuff. You can always take a length of thinner solder and fold it over a few times to get a thicker strand for big jobs. For those wondering, Kester is a very good brand, they make solder and flux of all types.

4: Use flux

Don't be stingy with the flux, but do not use too much. Remember just because the solder has a flux core, it is not enough. (Though I will admit the larger diameter solders those about the size of 16ga wire, do have a good bit of flux in them, and will work without flux in a pinch) Difficulties in getting solder to flow well means you need more flux. If your solder tip and/or the finished connection has a lot of charred black material on it, you are using too much. (but it takes a LOT of flux for that to happen, most likely you are not cleaning the tip often enough.) This can also indicate too much heat, over 750 – 800* is burning the flux.

Flux removes oxides and impurities from the metal of the components you are soldering. That is its job, it helps make good connections and makes the solder wet (flow and stick) better. RMA rosin flux (rosin medium activated) is the best choice. It works well without being too strong, and helps your soldering tip last longer. Stronger fluxes can lower soldering tip life. There are other types of flux as well. Water soluble fluxes which clean up with plain water and mild soap. Because environmentalists didn't like the harsh chemicals sometimes used to clean rosin flux during mass production. (funny that the fumes from water soluble are more toxic to humans than rosin based) There is also No-Clean flux (this is a lie) All fluxes leave at least some residue behind, which is why you must clean it. (More on cleaning later)

To be fair, in the real world, flux is flux, and all kinds will help. It is just that some are better than others, rosin flux is simply the best. Water based fluxes are very poisonous and I have never seen it used outside industry, it needs tested regularly to ensure it is not becoming too concentrated from evaporation. Waster soluble and No-clean are easier to clean up, but do not work as well in my experience because they evaporate so fast, being alcohol based. I recommend RMA because it works well, is easiest to use and will not degrade tips as fast as others. Its left over residue is also less active and less likely to cause damage or failures.

As an alternative to liquid or paste fluxes, you can also get a "flux pen" which is a felt tip pen that applies flux like an ink marker. They are far less messy, and work great on new components or well maintained/clean components. Just be careful not to bird-cage the wire when applying the flux for pre-tinning. You still must clean up after though. :lol:

RMA Flux Google Shopping
RMA paste flux Google Shopping

5: Pre-tin components before soldering them together

Pre-tinning helps the solder to flow and make a good connection. It also prevents the need to hold heat to components for too long.

Pre-tinning is just applying a thin layer/small amount of solder to the individual parts before trying to solder them together.

6: Use the right amount of solder

Just enough to coat the parts and make a good solder fillet (rounded edge of solder between the components) If you are soldering wires to terminal posts and the posts have slots cut in them like the RX8, and if the wire does not stick up out of the slot, use just enough to reach the top of the wire. Basically you want the solder to not look like a big blob. I have personally saw someone try to solder a wire to a post and there was a huge glob of solder covering the wire and top of the post, yet a small tug on the wire popped it loose. (that is what you get for not using flux) Globs hide bad connections, a good solder fillet proves the connection is good. Not using enough solder is just as bad, it can make the connection weak physically and electrically. I will post pictures at the end to show some examples of good and bad connections.

7: Keep your soldering tip clean

Use a clean damp sponge or rag to wipe off the tip between and before making connections. Most higher quality stations like the ones I mentioned above come with a sponge and holder. Clean and replace this sponge as needed.

A dirty tip will cause you nothing but headaches. It makes soldering harder and can slow down heat transfer to components, meaning it will take longer to solder the parts. Which as I said before, is bad for them. It can also cause bad connections. Dirty tips will also go bad faster. This leads us to...

8: Keep you solder tip tinned and do not leave a soldering iron on and unused

Tips wear out over time, but proper care can make them last much longer. In between making every connection and immediately after turning off the soldering iron, coat the tip with solder to protect it. This prevents the tip's protective metal coating from oxidizing and cracking or wearing away. Remember, high heat causes reactions like oxidizing to occur faster. (another reason why turning temps up too high is bad) If you have ever had a solder tip that looked like it was being eaten/dissolved away, then you have seen the effects of bad tip care.

Don't leave the iron turned on and unused for more than a few minutes. This is bad for your tips as well, a tip can oxidize even when tinned. If you see the coating of solder on the tip discoloring and turning dull gray, add more solder to re-tin the tip, or turn off the soldering iron if you will not be using it very soon. Quality irons heat up quickly anyway. (remember that a discolored tip with a rainbow color pattern means the tip is too hot)

9: Clean up residual flux when done soldering.

Clean any flux residue left over after making a connection. Use 100% isopropyl alcohol or denatured alcohol to do this. Surprisingly, spray electrical cleaners do not clean flux very well, and can spread a thin layer of residue around. Alcohol evaporates and dries quickly, does not leave impurities behind, will not corrode metal, and will not hurt electronics. Water can take days to dry and corrode or leave impurities behind.

All fluxes leave residue. This residue can cause corrosion of connections and components causing faults. Flux is also mildly conductive, causing high resistance shorts. Water soluble and No-Clean flux are more acidic than rosin flux and they react more than rosin fluxes do. So when using them, it is much more important to clean up spills and left over flux residue (No-Clean flux in theory evaporates away when used, but in practice some is still left on components) RMA and No-clean leave less active residue behind, so cleaning is less critical, but I recommend cleaning anyway. Water soluble and No-Clean flux put out stronger toxic fumes than rosin flux when heated during use. Once again I suggest a fan to remove fumes from any flux when soldering.

10: Use shrink tubing whenever possible

Shrink tubing helps prevent shorts and gives support to connections. This is very helpful where you have stripped wires soldered to terminal posts. It will help protect the vulnerable brittle junction between the flexible insulated wire and the soldered wire that is not touching or supported by the terminal post from breaking from vibrations.

Suggestions on wire, plugs and connectors


Wire size... I would use 8 or 10ga for 1/8 scale, 12ga for 1/10 scale brushless and 14ga for 1/10 scale brushed. I am not familiar with anything smaller than 1/10th scale so I can not give advice there. But a good rule is, Bigger is better within reason. With wire, voltage matters, but amps are the most important thing. Volts start to matter more when you get up to several hundred volts, because wire insulation properties and effectiveness becomes a factor. Larger wire carries current with less resistance, and heat. Resistance robs performance, and resistance rises with wire temps. So you want a wire size that will handle the power without warming up much.

Always use the highest strand count wire you can get. Most quality wire sold for R/C use has a very high strand count, higher than normal wire. The main benefit listed is flexibility, but it also stays cooler under high current loads.

Plugs and Connectors:

The connectors are always a choke point in a circuit. They all have resistance and small connectors force power through small contacts creating a performance robing bottleneck. If you feel heat, then its wasting power. Some racers do not use plugs because of this, but most people would not notice the difference if using quality high current plugs. (and I would suspect the racers wouldn't either)

The larger the connector the better when high current is involved. For high current bullet plugs work well, but not for connections that will be disconnected often like batteries. They require being fully covered with shrink tubing to fully protect from shorting. Do not confuse banana style plugs for bullet style. They are very similar and many may consider them the same, but bullet connectors tend to be more solid and have a direct surface to surface contact area. Banana plugs have a spring clip wrapped around the plug end. Banana style connectors are not designed to handle the high currents of R/C. They do work to connect chargers to power supplies and the charge outputs to battery leads very well though. They will also work well to connect smaller motors that do not draw a lot of amps, say around 35 amps max.

Now there are two main plug choices for battery connections, Deans and Traxxas TRX connectors. With plugs, there are a few factors to consider. The solder contact patch can be a limiting factor, ideally its width should be as wide as the wire diameter used and its length at least as long as the wire diameter, but a little bit wider and twice as long is better. Another thing is the contact surface area of the plug end. With connections relying on direct physical contact, the more surface area in contact between the plug and jack, the more current it can handle.

The solder tabs on the Deans plugs are short and small, suited best for 14ga wire max. But you can solder on 10ga (and even 8ga) without much overhang. Now the plug end on the Deans is also on the short/thin side. Now the Traxxas TRX plugs have a bit larger solder tabs, good for 12ga max, but 10ga can be used here as well. (8ga can be used but the TRX design may cause clearance/fit issues) plug end is also wider and much longer than Deans, giving larger contact surface area. Neither are not rated for the power 1/8 scale has.

Now all that being said. Deans plugs have been used on 1/8th with success by many. And the Traxxas plugs would preform just as well or better. The only real difference is that Deans plugs can be de-soldered and reused, because the solder tabs are designed to be covered with shrink sleeving. The Traxxas plugs get soldered with the contacts out of the plug body then snapped into place. You can push the post back out with a flat screwdriver, but I doubt the connector would hold up to doing that more than a few times before the post will not click in properly anymore. Choose your favorite, and go with it.

A note on wiring plugs. This one is IMPORTANT!

Anything that supplies power (like batteries) ALWAYS get the female/jack connector. If you used the male plug on a battery, the exposed male contacts could short out on something.

Yes, I mentioned this twice, its that important!

Now the last bit: Some tips to help you out.

Heat issues: If you are having trouble getting the component to heat up quickly, a small amount of solder on the Iron tip can create a thermal bridge that will help. The solder helps spread out the surface area that is able to make contact with the components. Also make sure you use flux and have a clean tip

Having problems with the wire insulation melting when tinning and/or soldering wires? That's ok, silicon insulation does not like the heat, but there is a solution. Just strip the wire and then shrink a short piece of shrink sleeve over the insulation up to the edge. Then tin and solder normally, and you can leave or remove the shrink sleeve at your discretion. No matter your choice, you should use another piece of shrink tube to cover the solder connection when done if possible. Or another way to do it is to strip a little extra and then overlap the stripped edge of the insulation with the shrink tubing for a bit more protection.

A tip on flux use: Pour some flux (use RMA, I do not know if it will work with non-rosin flux) into a small container. Plastic is best because it does not react with the flux like metal will. You do not need a lot, a few spoonfuls worth would be enough for several ESC installs. Now let that flux sit in a warm place and it will dry out and thicken up. This thicker flux will not drip everywhere and stays where you put it, it also keeps solder wicking to a minimum. (wicking is when the solder flows up under the insulation of wire when tinning and soldering to posts) Wicking is bad because it can lead to stress failures of the wire. A little is ok, but wicking more than ¼ inch under the insulation should be avoided. (less than ⅛ inch for larger gauge 10ga + is fine, 1/16 inch for smaller diameter wire) As an emergency technique you can also use the thicker flux to clean a very dirty tip, just stick the hot tip in the flux for a few seconds and wipe clean. (if you take care of your tips you should never need to do this) I suggest you use a different container than plastic for this, and not to use the same flux for actual soldering. I use that technique when I need to use an iron someone else has neglected and is covered with flux residue, and wiping with a tip cleaner does not work. You usually only need to dip it in only long enough to get a section of tip shiny, then use tip tinning to finish. Always try to clean a tip with a tip cleaner and adding solder to tin the end first. You may need to use a lot of solder to get it clean. Using an abrasive method is bad for tips, but this can work when nothing else will. Though this is not a good way to clean regularly and/or prior to storage. Use an abrasive method only as an emergency step to bring back a tip that has been neglected severely and all other attempts fail.

A tip to help soldering go easier, Use a clamp or other "3rd hand" type device. it can hold parts in position freeing up your hands to work easier. Link to one is below.


Tip storage tip (is that a pun?): When tinning a tip for storage, use solders with cores of RMA or other low-activity flux. Solders with cores of No-Clean, water soluble, or acid flux can corrode tips even in storage. This is another reason RMA is a better flux to use while soldering.

Flux cleaning: It is easier to clean flux when it is still warm and soft right after finishing soldering that connection. If you wish to clean when you are done with all connections, it will just take a bit more work. For one it is now dry and hard, and two, there is more flux on the assembly that can spread around leaving a thin film of residue when the alcohol evaporates. Scraping the excess off and blowing it away before using the alcohol can make the job quicker, just be careful not to damage anything.

Water in electrics.

Remember this is not guaranteed to work, but it may save that ESC or other electrical device that you may have dropped in say, a toilet :lol:

This is to be used only if there is a lot of water. If all you got was a small splash you do not need to go this extreme. Also, If your part has already let out the magic smoke, then this technique will not save it.

First thing is to immediately turn off the power and remove batteries. Second take apart the outer case to expose the circuit board and shake or blow off as much water as you can. Next you need to dunk the circuit board into some pure alcohol, or spray it heavily from a squirt bottle. Shake or blow off the extra alcohol and let it dry for a few minutes then repeat the process again and give it one more soak in alcohol. This should help drive off the trapped water. If you get a light splash of water on something like an ESC that is not sealed well, and you are worried. Just kill the power and give it a light spray of alcohol. You do not need to take apart the outer case. Always kill power first, live circuits and alcohol don't mix. :lol: Remember this is not guaranteed to work but it has better results than letting a soaked and water logged part air dry.


Here is my video, its a little blurry in places, but there is a very good close up of the final connection at the end of part 2. I used manual focus in that section of video so you could see the connection up close and clear and know what a proper solder connection looks like.



Some notes on the next video: I do not see Randy using flux, but I still suggest you use it. Also, notice he heats the components with the iron and applies the solder to the component. He is not putting solder on the iron and then using the iron to apply the melted solder. Putting a bunch of solder on the tip to get the solder to the part is called shoveling, and is not good technique.

RCGaryK has a nice video about soldering as well. It is very good quality (he does have a good camera and equipment to help. All I had was a point and shoot and a table clamp. I'm not jealous much :lol: )
RCGaryK's video

One more video. Its ok, the dialog is a little stilted, and they do not use flux. (its like people are scared of the stuff) I still say use flux! Once again, notice how they heat the component then apply solder to the part not the iron. About the last bit with the final connection. Sometimes the amount of solder used when tinning is enough to join wires, but not always. So don't count on it. And use flux! Last Video

Ok, still with me?

I hope this helps out on your next soldering adventure.

I know this is “just a hobby” and “its just a simple soldering job” and that high quality solder work is just not needed, but I hope I helped you realize why doing a good job and doing it right is important. Even if it is not life threatening if you do a poor job, it can cost you time, money, and more importantly your fun and good times.

The pictures below in order

1 Proper solder fillet
2 & 3 Cold solder joint
4 Crystallization from high heat or dirty solder
5 Examples of good fillets, too much solder and bad solder flow

One final thought:

Sometimes you may find that you need to "bend" one of these rules to get everything to work. You may need to bend one rule in order to follow the rest; use caution, common sense, and experience to aid you at these times. (the more experience the better) Though remember, I rarely find that turning up the heat over 750* is ever helpful, I do not go above 700* unless nothing else works. And holding heat to components (especially delicate ones) for more than 10 seconds is usually always (repeat always) bad. So try to follow the rules as best you can, its the safest route to take. When you get more experience and confidence you will be better equipped to deal with the tougher situations.


I got in your recliner.
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Very nice and VERY well written and taped article! I sucked at soldering until I went to a quality station, now I absolutely love to solder. Theres so much of a difference trying to solder with a $15 gun/iron from home depot compared to a $70 station, its night and day, the control you have with a quality station is incomparable to a cheap setup.


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Updated my original post, will let WoodiE know.


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Another update to the first post. TONS of good info, thanks marine6680!

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