How to build a quadcopter, without the common build mistakes.

How to build a quadcopter, without the common build mistakes.

Posted by Lee McKenzie on 21st Feb 2017

So you've ordered a heap of parts for your first quadcopter build. But have you set yourself up for failure?

Building your first quadcopter can be an overwhelming task and generally your focus is on selecting the right parts for your quad. You've crawled through a minefield of data to reach a point where you are quietly confident you have everything sorted and are keen to get stuck into your build.

But just stop right there. 

There are some important things to consider when burying yourself head first in solder and silicone wire.

Credit for this article goes to our customers for compiling a list of what they thought were important points to get across to beginners when building their first quadcopter.

First on the list is to invest in a decent quality soldering iron! Your in for a world of pain and hideous solder joints if you skimp on a good iron.

Qualities of a good soldering iron:

  • Has an adjustable temperature and a wattage of about 40-60W. Low watt irons lose heat faster than they can re-heat themselves. Most notably on thicker gauge wire and large copper pads.
  • Has a number of different tips available as well as replacement tips.
  • Has a heat resistant silicone soldering iron cable. Silicone allows for better mobility with the iron, regular cables feel heavier and are far less flexible.

With the right soldering iron, it will be much easier to solder your components and generally provide better joints that not only function well but look great. Applying too much heat for long periods of time can also be a problem with cheaper irons as this can lift copper pads and wreak havoc. Trust me, I have been there with a cheaper iron, and since upgrading building quads has been easier, and more enjoyable.

Below is the soldering iron I use, for a dual charger/soldering iron combo the soldering iron is actually really decent, 60W of power, silicone cable and replaceable tips and can run off DC and AC power. 

However you don't need a multipurpose station like mine and there are some really good options out there. 

Secondly, support your iron with the right accessories and consumables.

My go to list includes:

  • A flux pen
  • A solder sucker
  • Copper de-solder braid
  • Tweezers
  • A damp sponge and steel wool
  • Helping hands
  • Plastic alligator clips
  • 60% Tin 40% Lead 1mm diameter solder (Rosin core optional)

Why these accessories? I'll briefly explain why these are in my list. Some are more obvious than others.

I use a flux pen for applying flux to solder pads to improve the bond between pad and solder. The solder flows more easily onto the pad as well.

The solder sucker and copper de-solder braid are for removing solder from pads. Usually required when tidying up soldering gone horribly wrong or removing lead free solder. Sometimes reheating the solder is enough but when it isn't that when I use the 'removal team'

Tweezers for holding onto small wires and positioning them during soldering. Tweezers with a blunt rounded tip seem to work best for me.

Damp sponge and steel wool for cleaning the iron tip after each solder joint. You can use old kitchen sponges and steel wool scrubbers placed in a container.

Helping hands for splicing wires and holding onto components.

Plastic alligator clips I have found to be useful for clamping wires and things onto pads without destroying PCB components or transferring too much heat.

60% Tin 40% Lead Solder wire (Rosin core can be helpful) for soldering things. I don't bother with lead free as I find it much less beginner friendly. However if you are interested in going lead free there are some awesome online articles explaining how to do this. Generally higher heat and longer dwell times are required.

Number three. Invest in a multi meter (preferably one with a beeper for continuity testing) this item is used to double check voltages during stages of your build. All power distribution boards and regulators should be tested directly after you have applied power to check that they are outputting the specified voltages from the manufacturer. I have had cases where there were faulty regulators on power distribution boards that would have destroyed some of my other components had I not checked.

The fourth item that was agreed on as essential is a smoke stopper. Which is a current limiting device that protects your electronics from burning out in the event of a short or cross polarization of components. When I build quads I never power it up without installing my smoke stopper first. Once installed and a battery connected, it will light up to indicate a fault in your setup without burning out your electronics. We may post a tutorial on how to make one soon.

5 on the list, and it's a short one is to replace your aluminium screws with steel when starting out. This just helps with your frames durability provided it's made from decent quality carbon. 

And the last tip, which I see pop up frequently with first time builders. Always double check these four things

  • Props are on the correct way
  • Motors are spinning in the right direction
  • Motor signal wires are connected in the right order to the flight controller
  • Flight controller is in the right orientation, or at least adjusted for a custom orientation.

I would be a millionaire if I collected $1 for every time a first time builder posts an issue with their quad copter build flipping on takeoff, even going on to say they have checked everything over and over again. (maybe not a millionaire but it happens so frequently)

99 times out of a hundred cases it's due to one of those 4 setup issues. I always have a little chuckle to myself when these questions are asked by more experienced builders trying to help troubleshoot, for them to be disputed and then a few days later you see a reply saying. "oh my motor order was wrong" etc. It happens to me from time to time as well which indicates that these can be easily overlooked.

Below is an example of the correct motor rotation and motor order for cleanflight firmware. Be aware that not all firmwares use the same order. You will need to check with the firmware you are using. I have known some firmware to change the order with firmware updates too.

Cleanflight motor direction and order

Those were the tips shared by your fellow experienced pilots but I'm sure there more. Feel free to leave your tips in the comments section.