Most of us who have ever dabbled with radios or any type of electronics have used a vacuum based tool to remove molten solder from terminals or circuit boards.
You probably don't know it but my dad, Jim Bohn, invented the original "Solder Sipper" around 1957. Dad was an electronic technician at Emerson Electric in St. Louis at the time. Emerson was developing a fire control radar system for the B-52 that used subminiature vacuum tubes. The wire leads from these tubes were soldered to terminals on circuit boards housed in Line Replaceable Modules. Needless to say, during development these tubes required frequent removal, which in turn required removing solder from the terminals.
Of course one way to remove solder that some of us may have used (and that dad taught me) is to heat the connection and then sling it down towards the floor and let centrifugal force do its thing. But that wasn't an option for a lab environment or expensive prototype modules. So dad came up with the idea of using vacuum and a teflon tube to suck the molten solder off the joints. The properties of teflon prevented the solder from sticking in the tube. In Jim's design the teflon tube was pushed into a #2 laboratory stopper, and that assembly was fitted into a rubber basting bulb that provided the suction. A cleanout wire was used to clear the hardened solder from the teflon tube. An assembled unit is shown in the brochure photo at the right.
So the "Solder Sipper" was born and most of our family started making them in the basement. Various homemade jigs and fixtures were to used make the completed product. I made thousands of them as a young teenager, and used the money I earned to buy radio stuff. They were sold to electronics manufacturers, service centers, and distributors including Allied, Newark, and Burstein Applebee. I would estimate the total at almost 100,000 before dad sold the business in the 1980s. Unfortunately he never patented the tool, and various other versions began appearing.
"Elmer" is slang for the person who got you into amateur radio. Although he was never a ham, dad was my "Elmer" in every other respect. He also fixed TVs on the side. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a basement full of old electronics junk that he collected over the years, and watch him fix stuff and kluge things from whatever was lying around. That's where I learned a lot of my homebrewing skills.
The "Solder Sipper" Story
Ad appearing in the 1967 Burstein-Applebee catalog.
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Cover page from the original Solder Sipper brochure that was packaged with every unit.