Five important tools for decoder installations
Installing mobile decoders, other than the simple plug and play type, requires five basic items. First, you should have a good wire stripper, one that can remove the insulation from the very small diameter wires now being used. These need not be expensive, the one pictured is available from All Electromics for about $4. These are simple to adjust for various wire diameters, easy to use, and are so useful for just about all wiring jobs that I keep several scattered around the layout.
Second, get a roll of double stick foam tape. This stuff is great for holding the decoder, speaker, and wires in place. The fact that it is foam allows it to conform to uneven surfaces well. It can also be used to trap wires in odd places, and it seems to last forever–I have 20-year old installations with the original tape. I have several rolls but the 1″ wide gets the most use and can be cut to smaller dimensions easily. You can find it in most office supply stores. I also use it around the layout to stick small circuit boards to the underside of the layout and to joists. I even use it to stick small accessory decoders directly to Tortoise switch machines.
As I have advised in the past a fine tipped, low wattage soldering iron is essential for getting good solder joints without melting everything in sight. A pencil point shaped tip will concentrate the heat just where you need it. A soldering station like my Weller WLC100 is a good investment that should last you for years and is flexible enough for almost all your soldering needs. Micro-Mark and most electronics suppliers sell them. I recently upgraded from the Weller unit to the pictured Hakko FX888D-23BY which allows me to set the iron to a specific temperature and is protected aganist electrostatic discharges that can fry critical components. I still use my Weller for jobs like soldering rail joiners and feeders to rails.
A good small diameter solder is important–I currently have a roll of .02″ diameter. For this work a 60/40 tin/lead solder works well, either as plain or resin core–do not purchase or use acid core solder or anything other than a non-acidic resin based flux. I buy mine in 1 lb rolls which usually will last me a decade or two. And that includes all the soldering required on my layout. Once I use up the last of this roll of 60/40 I plan to switch to 63/37 which melts and solidifies at exactly 361 degrees, lessening the chances of getting a bad joint. All of the electronics suppliers and Amazon sell solder.Heat shrink tubing is a plastic like tubing that shrinks in diameter once heated and is essential for protecting solder joints and prevents small wires from breaking off. I use a lot of the 1/16th inch diamter stuff. You can order this from places like All Electronics, Digi-Key, or Jameco. Cut a piece long enough to cover the solder joint plus a little extra, slide it on one wire, complete the solder joint, then slide the tubing over the joint. Finally, you need to shrink it. While they make special heating tools to do it, I just lightly stroke the tubing with the tip of my hot soldering iron. A selection of small sizes down to about 3/64″ is good to have on hand.One optional item that I have been using for a couple years is Kapton tape–the thin, orange tape that comes on some plug and play type decoders. This stuff is a good electrical insulator and holds up across a wide heat range. I have been using it in place of black electricians tape which tends to fall off after a few years. The 1/2″ wide tape works well for most of my installations. Most of the DCC suppliers as well as Amazon sell it.