Selecting a Soldering station
First, when you look for a soldering station, you must look into your self. If you ask for advice in Facebook groups, or forums on the internet, you will easy get the impression, that only option is the professional super deluxe high-end brand stations with all the bells and whistles, will have a little chance to meet your absolute minimum Requeriments!
The realty is, that you basically must melt some tin to make an electric connection. That requirement is "almost" meet by all soldering irons and soldering stations. Some cheep 5W USB powered soldering irons have some issues, it sound smart but that is the only type I will warn you about, there are not the hazel worth.
Second, how often will you need to solder? Maybe once a year, or 8 hours each day. If your reed this, I guess it is some ware between. I Can and will not defend an expensive soldering station, if you rarely have the need to soldering! you can also find cheep stations with ESD protection.
Theis consist of the "handle" with a power connection, from main voltage or from a power supply or battery. The temperature control is controlled by the handle. As a note, ESD protection is a rare feature on soldering irons, some electronic components are fragile to static electricity. Some soldering irons powered by main voltage, can send main voltage to the circuit you are soldering on, if they are faulty.
Soldering stations can be more or less advanced, I will describe my own selection criteria’s further down on this page.
In Soldering stations, is the temperature control mowed from the handle to the base station, that also consist of a power supply, and buttons to easy regulate the temperature analogue or digital. And often the earth wire from the main cable used for ESD protection.
Hot air / Rework stations
If possible is a new pcb heated in a reflowoven, where all components are heated at the same time. A hot plate can also be useful. For rework, it is easier to use hot air on the on the individual components.
A method for a gentler heating of smd components, one can use hot air, where you can adjust the temperature and airflow. Instead of solder on a roll, use solder paste instead. But the hot air station can also be used as a quick heat source on the workbench for e.g., heat shrink tubing.
My selection criteria’s
My 15 years old 90-Watt Quick303B died, I was fund of it but it has made me a bit spoiled, by a 3 sec heat up time, Hibernation and it turned it self off after some time if it not had been used. When i tried to fix it I was a little surprised that the capacitors were undersized, for example 200V capacitors for a 230V circuit, and a lot of parts was hard to find, the voltage controller was only available in China, it was not even to find in Mouser or DigiKeys assortment. And spare tips I had to import from Hong Kong.
I have a TS100 from MiniWare it is excellent for casual soldering, and a 75W ERSA Gas Soldering Iron, is good for soldering a place without electricity. But they do not have the comfort for long time use, or the power for large ground plains.
I make use of my soldering iron multiply days in the week, so this made me look for successor, for hobby use...
I did set some criteria for the new station:
- Heating element in the tip
- Easily accessible range of tips
- Affordable tips
- Hibernation mode
- Auto stand-by
Heating element in the tip, is a newer technology with better temperature control. But it gave me some issues.
Since I live in Europe, I did not think PACE was an option, Hakko was only an option if I was colour blind. I also looked at Weller, but that would cost me one of my kidneys, if I wanted the heating element in the tip.
First I did set my eyes on the JBC CD-2BQF at 360 EURO + VAT, definitely at the top of my budget. A Weller WX station would have a start price at 400 EURO for the station alone, and then around 150-200 EURO for the handle to be able to solder.
I asked at EEVblog's forum for any other similar soldering stations, that would live up to my list of requirement list.
I know it almost is a religious discussion, but I was suggested the PACE ADS200 soldering station (ISB). What convent me, was that the tips are cheaper and last longer than the tips from JBC, even though JBC with no doubt has their selection of tips is second to none. Another bonus is that the diagrams for the PACE station is made public, ant it is made of generic parts, so it will be easy to fix.
As Dave from EEVblog answered me: I have the Pace ADS200 and the JBC2B stations. I use the Pace as my primary iron these days, it's just "the vibe". They are both great though.
The PACE looks quite basic, temperature control, and a menu button, that also make it easy to toggle between pre-set temperatures, and it gives a feeling of being build like an old Russian tank, no bells or whistles, it will just keep working.
Regarding soldering tips, you likely not take advantage of a large selection and will end up with just a few tips. Note that the alloy on the soldering tips today is made to work for temperature for lead-free tin, which can be an argument for taking the leap from lead-containing tin to lead-free tin, as one may find that the tin has difficulty "hanging on "the solder tip, in line with its surface oxidizes.
By and large, a MiniWare TS100 soldering iron, 65W can handle most soldering tasks, it has a open source firmware - Review. I use an old 18V 90W laptop power supply, where I have mounted a DC5525 barrel plug.
For task on the go, e.g. soldering a plug in the garden for my antenna, I have an 75W ERSA Independent 75 Gas Soldering iron that will do most tasks, running on lighter gas
I think with these soldering stations you will get the most for your money. They make use of original soldering tips but with open-source firmware and hardware.
Soldering station (high end):
PACE ADS200 soldering station (ISB), 120W - Reviews: a good, and a bad, EEV-blog forum thread. I will describe the station as expensive and solid. I am not sure i will call it high preferments, but I gives the impression that it will run for ever. Maybe it is because of its reputation, I expected more muscle power.
An alternative to the Quick 861DW, could be an Atten ST-862D, The Quick station, is a clone/cheaper version of more expensive hot air stations. And the Atten ST-862D is a clone of the Quick 861DW, just 100 USD cheaper. You can se a comparison here. I did not here about the Atten ST-862D before I got the Quick 861DW, but I have a good feeling on the Quick brand, so i do not think I would have chosen differently.
For protecting against static electricity that can fry electronic components, you need a grounded tablemat. I prefer a large mat, but look for it's heat relistens, so it can survive the meet with the heat when you solder. I have a "State-X ESD work mat" (315oC) and to take the highest temperature, spicily when I use hot air, I use a "Silicone ESD work mat" (500oC), it is also good on the go.
A wristband attached around your wrist, will ensure that your body will have same electrical potential as the thing you are working on (Ground), it is the differential voltages that is the issue, just compare it to lightning.
To distribute the ground system, I am using a ground socket to supply ground to wristband and to a grounding point on the part I work on. My system is grounded via a cobber ground spear, used for houses. But you can use a special Earth Bonding Plug to get the ground directly from your wall socket - Just be aware, and ensure that your socket is grounded, that is not a lawful demand in all older electrical installations. In be sure that your extension cables have an active ground. - That can be tricky in Denmark, since we have 3 different legal socket systems.
Remember a 1M ohm resistor in serie to the ground connection, to prevent you from being electrocuted, the current will take the easiest direction to the ground, and the resister prevents it form being you.
To connect the grounding system aka ESD protection, I connect it all via an ground distribution block, or rather between 2, with the cable to the ground spear, and then via the resistor, to another ground distribution block, so I can connect according to if the device has an internal resistor.
I will not go much into basic hand tools i.e., Tin suckers, side cutters, tweezers but i will say, a good tweezer is half the work, when you work with SMD
A Magnifier led lamp is a large help, not only when you are soldering, trying to identify a component, or just trying to find an invisible splinter in the skin. The Magnifier led lamp has many.
Likewise, a Helping hand is indispensable. to act as the extra hand you just need, I have chosen a variant, with 6 arms, where I use some of the extra arms to support what I must solder on, so wires have the right angles, so the materials are not pulled apart when I have tin in one hand and the soldering iron in my other hand.
Nice to have
The fumes from soldering are not healthy, in hobby use, we often use leaded tin. The Lead do not come into our airways, but we must remember to wash our hands after soldering, instead it is the resin fumes we must be aware of. And in lead free tin, the fumes are more dangerous, since the resin must behave according to the tin. A simple fan with a carbon filter can help to remove the fumes from the work area. I use a TBK FUME 30W Fume Extractor, modified with Activated Carbon Filter Sponge to remove the noise away from the working area, so the fan is placed under my table. I have described it more here.
YIHUA 200Q Soldering Tip Cleaning Tool. I know it is a gimmick but I bought after I had been burned by drops of hot tin, when cleaning my tips in a brass sponge - Review, I can not defend spending more on a electric tip cleaner.
As a convenience, I have a Pro'sKit SS-331H desoldering station, Just let it heat up, put it on to the tin has melted, and press the button to suck off the tin, to loosen the component. I will say it do not make a manual suction pump or desoldering braid redundant. I have added a rocker switch on the side, so I can turn the power off, instead of using the to me more inconvenient placed on the backside.
To be able to see very small parts, I have a Andonstar ADSM301 Digital USB Microscope, was the largest microscope I was able to find, with tripod mount. I dropped the stand and mounted it on a cheap microphone arm with an adaptor And added a 48 LED USB Adjustable Ring Light. It has an HDMI output I have run to a capture card on my computer. I am surprised with the workspace under the microscope, I can easily focus the camera at up to around 50 cm, so I also can use it to solder under, where I do not have any issues with lagging, from the software process in its hardware.
Cosmo 12000 SMD SMT Pick Up hand tool. - I hope I will get more used to it, but until now, I have mostly used 0603 parts, that is on the minimum-limit of what I can use it for.
MiniWare DT71 Tweezer with LCR-meter. I do not use it for soldering, but to verify values of resistors, capacitors, small inductors and help me position diodes in the right direction.
JBC manual soldering paste dispenser My first thought when I tried it, was very close to "I'm in love" I think it is very expensive, but I have a bad right arm, and the first time I used soldering paste, the syringe "handle" broke. With this, I can even use the paste after more then 2 months after I opened the paste, without keeping it refrigerated.
A Youyue 946C Hot Plate / Preheating Station could be an help for smd and bga soldering. They can provide a gentler heating of ICs, by heating the entire area simultaneously, or very close to the melting temperature of the tin. And then heat the last degrees with hot air until the component comes loose.