Removing Headers from a MSP430 LaunchPad

General Lab- Removing Headers from a MSP430 LaunchPad and other Development Kits
Courtesy of : Bart Bastile Application Engineer MCU
Texas A&M University- ENTC Graduate

Submitted by: Larissa Swanland


Removing the male headers from an MSP430 Launchpad

Why? There are many reasons to remove these things.  Maybe you want female headers, maybe you want to directly attach some other through hole components.  No matter the reason, these things can still be difficult to remove.  There are ten pins, all connected together, so the first though is that you'll somehow have to melt the solder on all of them at once while pulling them out.  Compounding the issue is that the board you bought uses lead free solder, which requires much higher temps to make flow.  Well, today, I'll show you how to overcome both of these issues.

Course Material

What (do you need?

Luckily, you can get away with some basic soldering tools that you should already have hanging around.

  1. Vice Grips, or some other way to hold the board steady.  I don't have a board vice at home, so I use these guys.  More on that later.
  2. Small diagonal cutters (also known as dikes, side cutter, or wire cutters)
  3. Needle nose pliers (I don't know of any other names for these)
  4. Soldering iron.  I wouldn’t' attempt soldering without this, advanced desoldering is another story but I'll cover that later.  For the first method here, you can use a cheap model. I think the one in the picture was bought at the local hardware store for $10.
  5. Solder.  You'll want some decent solder to assist here.  Brand is personal preference, but I like Kester.  I bought a half pound of it some time ago, and it has lasted several years.
  6. Tweezers.  You don't really need these, but they can be handy for the small stuff.
  7. Desoldering braid.  This stuff is like a sponge for molten solder.  I personally like the stuff made by LocTight, but the cheap stuff I used here works well enough.
  8. MSP430 Launchpad. I'm not explaining this one.


How? (Part 1)-

Now for the fun part.  The first method I’m going to cover here is what I call destructive desoldering.  Using this methodology, the part you are removing will not survive, but it is much less complicated than trying to save it.

  1. The biggest thing standing in our way of removing these headers is that pesky black connector.  This kind of header is known as a breakaway header, which means you can buy a long one, and break it apart into sizes you need.  We are going to turn this strength against it.
  2. Using the diagonal cutters, reach in and clip the black bar into segments.  It doesn’t take much force, and you don’t have to go all the way through, just enough to separate the parts.  I like to split it into sections that are 3-4 pins long to make the next step easier.
  3. Now that it’s split, the black sections can actually be pried off.  Very carefully (you don’t want to damage anything else) use the diagonal cutters to get under the shroud and lift it away from the board.  These things are using the solder on the board to stay in place, and not this shroud, so it’s not terribly secure.  Just slide the shroud off the pins completely; being careful that it doesn't fly away (this is just to prevent a mess, no reason to save these things). 
  4. Once all the black parts are off, your board should look like this.
  5. Now we need to secure the board down so that both hands are free to work.  If you have a board vice you’re on your own here.  If you go the vice grip method, set the jaws so that they can grip the board on one of the rubber feet, where there are no components on the other side.  You may want to wrap the jaws in tape to prevent damage the board.  Go ahead and clamp down; you can see where I attached mine below.  To make this even more immobile, tape the pliers to the work area (I’m a gaffer tape fan, but Duck Tape works too).
  6. In order to deal with the lead free solder that is used in board assembly we need to transfer heat to it as efficiently as possible.  To accomplish this, your soldering iron tip needs to be clean, and tinned properly.  I didn’t have a sponge around, but a wet paper towel works too.  Leaving a bit of wet solder on the tip will allow it to flow around the existing stuff, and make better thermal contact.
  7. With one hand use the needle nose pliers to hold a single pin, and with the other melt the solder on the bottom of the board with the iron.  You don’t need to press hard with either, just hold the iron against the base and as soon as it’s loose you’ll be able to pull it out easily.  Forcing the pin out will likely rip off the pads ruining that output.
  8. Once the pin is out, just repeat the process on all the others.  When you’re done, you’ll have a bunch of holes full of solder, but no more header pins.  To remove the filled holes you’ll have to use the braid to suck it out.  Alternatively, you can use a desoldering plunger, but I didn’t have one.  Using a well tinned iron, press the braid against the hole using the iron’s tip.  You should see the solder get pulled into the braid.  Don’t linger too long on it or else you’ll scorch the board.  As soon as the solder it out, pull the braid off with the iron so it doesn't get stuck down.
  9. Repeat the process on the other holes to extract the solder.  If you get one that doesn’t extract fully, just refill it with solder and try again.  Sometimes you have to add some momentum to it.  At this point you’ll have a bunch of empty holes, but a mess of flux that needs to be cleaned off.
  10. To remove this, we need a tool I forgot about above.  Isopropyl alcohol.  The alcohol will clean the board, and evaporate away without damaging the board.  Just use compressed air (blow on it) to dry it off.  When done, all the flux will be cleaned off and ready for whatever else you want to solder down.


How? (part 2)

Say you want to keep the pins intact.  To do this, you’ll need to melt the solder all at once.  To accomplish this we need a more advanced tool called a heat gun.  These things are very powerful, and can damage things easily if you aren’t careful.  The one I’ll be using is part of a full rework station that includes a soldering iron as well.

Just clamp the board as before, and use the pliers to pull the puns on one end while running the air gun back and forth on the bottom.  It is important to keep the air gun moving back and forth across the pins.  If you hold it in one place long enough it will burn the board and ruin it.  The video here shows how to move the gun to prevent scorching (  By pulling the pins gently, you’ll be able to get them out as soon as all the joints melt.

At this point just clean the holes out like in part 1.

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