Pin headers - soldering, cutting, both male and female

Modern elecronics projects often involve using commercially made boards like Arduinos, Raspberry Pis and support boards like sound boards, motor controllers, and so on. All these expect to be connected to using male or female pin headers. This page talks about working with those pin headers.

Connecting to the male pin header on the Raspberry Pi.
Connecting a jumper wire to the male pin header on the Raspberry Pi.
Connecting to a female pin header on the Arduino.
Connecting a jumper wire to a female pin header on the Arduino.
Male pin headers.
Male pin headers.
Female pin headers.
Female pin headers.

Male pin headers

Male pin headers are most often encountered when you buy a board that you're expected to plug/insert into a circuit somewhere, often by inserting it into some female pin headers. To keep costs down, the manufacturer often sends you the board and pin headers but expects you to solder them to the board.

One thing to keep in mind is that you have the right pin headers for the job. The spacing between the pins is important. In the example shown here they are 0.1 inches/2.54mm apart.

This level shifter board came with male pin headers
Level shifter board and the male pin headers it came with.
Male pin headers soldered to the board.
Male pin headers soldered to a level shifter board.
Spacing for a male pin header.
Spacing for a male pin header.

You can buy pin headers from places like ebay.com, Adafruit.com, and sparkfun.com.

Breakaway headers

The male pin headers shown here are breakaway headers, meaning you can easily break them apart to get the number of pins you want. Simply count out the number of pins you want, grip the next pins firmly with something like pliers, and then use another set of pliers to break the desired pins off. They break fairly easily this way.

Counting the desired number of pins.
Counting 6 pins on a male pin header.
Gripping after the desired number of pins.
Gripping the pin header with pliers just after the desired number of pins.
Breaking off the pins.
Using a set of needle nose pliers to break off the desired pins while holding the rest of the pin header with another set of pliers.

Solder male pin header

To solder male pin headers to a board, first put the pin headers in a breadboard. That's optional, but it's a great way to make sure the pin headers will be perpendicular to the board and parallel to each other, making it easy to insert the board elsewhere. Sit the board on top of the headers with the pins going though the holes in the board.

Use a soldering iron with a pointy tip since you'll be working with small parts that are close together.

Putting male pin headers in a breadboard.
Putting male pin headers in a breadboard.
Placing the board on the pins.
Placing the board on the pins while they sit in the breadboard.
Soldering iron with a pointy tip.
Soldering iron with a pointy tip.

As shown below, the goal is to solder the circular metal pad on the board to the pin. First briefly heat up the pad and pin with the soldering iron, only for a second or so. Then apply a little solder. If things are hot enough then the solder will move to the parts right away, so you'll only touch it briefly.

Pad and pin to be soldered together.
Pointing out the pad and pin on the board.
Applying the heat.
Touching the pad and pin with the tip of the soldering iron to apply heat.
Applying the solder.
Putting solder on the pad and pin as it flows in place. The soldering iron tip is still there on the other side of the pad and pin.

The result should be a cone-shaped bit of solder covering both the circular pad and the bottom part of the pin. There should not be any solder connecting two pins together.

The resulting soldered pads and pins.
The resulting soldered pads and pins showing the conical shaped solder.
A close-up.
A close-up of the soldered pads and pins showing the conical shaped solder.

At that point you can insert it into a breadboard or female pin headers that are in another board. Both those approaches make it so you can remove the board if you want to replace it or use it for something else. You can also insert it into a perfboard and start soldering directly to the pins if you want to.

Inserting the soldered board on a breadboard.
Inserting the pins of the soldered board on a breadboard.
Inserting it into female pin headers on a perfboard.
Inserting the soldered board into female pin headers on a perfboard.
Putting it on a perfboard before soldering wires and things to the pins.
Putting the pins of the soldered board into the holes of a perfboard before wiring it up to other things.

Female pin headers

Female pin headers are used when you have a board and you'll either want to plug another board into it, or use jumper wires to connect to another board.

Plugging one board into the female pin headers of another board.
Plugging one board into the female pin headers of another board.
DIY boards with female pin headers for connecting things together.
DIY boards with female pin headers and jumper wires connecting things together.
Putting a jumper wire into a female pin header on an Arduino.
Putting a jumper wire into a female pin header on an Arduino.

One thing to keep in mind is that you have the right pin headers for the job. The spacing between the pins is important. In the example shown here they are 0.1 inches/2.54mm apart. That's important when you'll be pluging a board into them, as shown in the examples here. You need to use the same spacing as those boards.

Spacing for a female pin header.
Spacing for a female pin header.
Same spacing for all parts.
Plugging a board with male pin headers into the female pin headers of another board, showing that they have the same spacing.

You can buy pin headers from places like ebay.com, Adafruit.com, and sparkfun.com.

Cutting pin headers

A female pin header has a hole for plugging things into, but on the other side is a pin sticking out. To cut a female pin header, first count out how many holes you need and use a set of pliers to firmly grip the pin that lines up with the next hole after the last one you need. Pull that pin out. You'll actually end up pulling out a fork.

Counting pins and holes.
Counting the desired number of pins and holes of a female pin header.
Pulling out the next pin.
Pulling out the next pin after the desired number of pins.
The pin removed and the space left behind.
Showing the fork-shaped pin removed and the space left behind.

That leaves a pin header with a hole that has no corresponding pin. Make your cut through that hole. In this case I'm using a set of tin snips. Some people cut with a sharp knife.

Then clean up the end which you've cut. Use a knife, sandpaper, a file, or whatever you have for this.

Cutting the female pin header.
Cutting the female pin header at the space left behind using tin snips.
Sanding the end.
Sanding the cut end of the pin header using sandpaper.
The cut end.
Showing the end of the pin header after sanding.

At this point you have a pin header of the right length that you can hot glue or epoxy to a perfboard of some short. It's a good idea when placing the pin headers in the perfboard to have the circuit board that will be used with the pin header inserted into the pin headers, to make sure they're straight. If your perfboard is one that you can solder to then you can solder the pins to the perfboard to hold it in place.

Hot gluing the female pin headers to the perfboard.
Hot gluing the female pin headers to the perfboard.
Hot gluing the insides too.
Hot gluing between the female pin headers.
The female pin headers in place.
The female pin headers on the perfboard.

Video - Pin Headers - soldering, cutting, male, female, etc.

This video walks though working with pin headers, showing how to solder male pin headers and how to cut female pin headers and more.

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