I’ve stepped away from the blogging for a while.  In part, because of a tumultuous period in my home life, but also because I just wasn’t finding what I was writing to be very interesting.

So I’ve decided to take a different approach.  Instead of laying out the basics of jobs I’ve done, I figured I’d talk about something every computer shop has:  Repair horror stories.

I have been fixing tech professionally for about a decade now, and I’ve had my share of awful repair experiences.

Now that I’m running my own shop, I thought I would share a recent horror story.

After waiting a couple of weeks for a BlackBerry Key2 screen to arrive, a very friendly customer brought in his phone to do the replacement.

I have done Key1 replacement before, but this was my first Key2, and while they look similar, the dismantling process is quite different.

One key difference is in the antennas.

cell phone antenna cables
Typical cell phone antenna cables.

There are no antennas which need to be disconnected when taking apart the Key1, but the Key 2 requires that both the cellular and wifi antennas be detached from the motherboard before taking out the board.

This is not uncommon, and is something I have done dozens of times without much fanfare.  Unfortunately this time, horror struck!

As I was removing the cellular antenna cable, the connector end on the motherboard broke off and was stuck inside the cable’s end connector.

If this cannot be fixed, the board has to be replaced, which turns a job with a small profit into one with a huge loss.

To give you some perspective on how small the parts involved in the repair are, here’s an example of a motherboard’s antenna connector, placed beside a dime to provide scale.

wifi cellular antenna connector with a dime
Small pieces can cause big headaches!

As you can see, the connector is only slightly bigger than the “0” in “10 CENTS.”

Now thankfully, the connector broke away from the board cleanly, so the connection points to which it the part attaches was still in tact.

To get it back on takes a bit of patience and skill.  Patience I sometimes lack, but the skill, I have been developing, though itty-bitty-teeny-tiny micro-soldering still isn’t my strongest skill.  In fact, this was only the second time I’ve ever had to reattach a connector like this, and the first time was easier because there was enough space around the connection points to fit the soldering iron.

Of course, that was a cheap little Alcatel thing.  The BlackBerry Key2 is a far fancier phone, and has too many other itty-bitty-teeny-tiny things around the antenna to fit the soldering iron tip when the connector is placed back on the board.

So instead of using a soldering iron, the trick is to use a hot-air rework station, and a bunch of flux (I use a homebrew made from Kolophonium rosin and 99% alcohol, as recommended by Sorin the Romainian of the YouTube channel Electronics Repair School).

This is the hot-air station I use, purchased from Sparkfun, a company based in the great state of Colorado.

SparkFun Hot Air Rework Station Soldering Equipment
My hot-air rework station; an indispensable tool for any tech repair shop.

There are 4 itty-bitty-teeny-tiny solder points coming from the connector.

Wifi Cellular Connector Bottom
Soldering points on a cell phone wifi/cellular antenna connector.

The one at the top is the one that carries the signal from the circle in the centre; the remaining three simply attach the part to the board.

The trick to this repair is to tin the motherboard connections with some fresh solder, pour a generous amount of flux onto the repair zone, place the connector on top of the solder points, then use a toothpick to hold the piece in place, while using the hot air to liquefy the solder points.  After that is done, remove the heat and wait a moment for the solder to harden.

After a couple of attempts to get myself comfortable with this technique, the itty-bitty-teeny-tiny connector was attached successfully, and all networking function was restored.

So why was this such a horror story?  Because truth be told, at various points in the repair work, 3 of the 4 connectors came off the board, and one of the antenna cable connectors came off (when it rains, it pours, as they say).

I was at the point of giving up and just shelling out for a new phone, but thankfully the customer was willing to give me a little more time.  In the end, I was able to perform the soldering required to get the connectors back on, and was able to reattach the detached antenna cable connector.

Success!  All networking functions restored!

In the end, the customer was satisfied and walked away with a bit of a discount for his inconvenience, while I gained knowledge of a new repair technique which will undoubtedly help out in future fixes.

The future of tech repair is in micro-soldering.  Most tech shops in Guelph do not perform these repairs.  Thankfully, Tools and Tech is not like most tech shops.  Make the trek in some day and find out for yourself.

Thank you for reading.