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For beginners and tinkerers

Budget Soldering Station for Hobbyists

February 1st, 2015

I learnt to solder when I was ~10 years old. Bit by bit, this evolved into one of my hobbies over the time …  My last soldering iron Proskit 8PK-SC107, which came from a Taiwanese company, lasted  for the last 10 years. Unfortunately, it broke down one day after servicing so well. So, the hunt for a new one began 😉

I was already dreaming about the soldering station for a while, so it was a pretty suitable time to get it.

Choosing budget soldering station

Well-established brands in soldering business

There are at least two well-established brands. The first of them is Weller brand which is owned by a US company Apex Tool Group. They have pretty high quality range of the products for the hobbyists and the professionals. For instance, one of the examples is here for the soldering station starter set. In Europe, their products are pretty costly, while the comparable products in US are a lot cheaper. Another well established brand is Hakko, which is a Japanese company. However, I could not find its products neither on Amazon or eBay for Europe. Well, I should say genuinely looking Hakko products on eBay 😀 There were few, for example here. However, their products are available on Amazon in US. Unfortunately, that was not suitable for me …

Other options

Here, the story became pretty funny 🙂 It appeared, there was very successful  soldering station model Hakko 936B. This model became a classical one because of the design simplicity and the reliability at the same time. This was not left unspotted by Chinese manufacturers and the sea of different clones were and are still produced. After reading some articles on internet, it appeared that there were few Chinese brands and they were the ‘pioneers’ in this business . Those companies reached some-kind higher level of quality. One of them is Aoyue brand.

Cheap vs expensive

As the hobbyist, everyone tries to pay a lower price to keep the expanses lower for the hobby 🙂 However, I was just wondering if it is possible to get a reasonable quality product, which is the budget soldering station in my case, for a reasonable price.

Choosing soldering station

Well, I came across few links on the Internet about the soldering stations. One of them is here. It appeared, that the quality of the soldering station and the soldering are  mainly influenced by few aspects. The primary one is the heating element. The second one is the temperature control and its calibration. The third one, which is not really related to the quality, is the indication of the temperature. This aspect is not so important, once the temperature is properly calibrated. But it is ‘nice to have’ feature. There are two types of soldering stations – analog and digital. It could be debatable which one is better. But if the station has a visual indication of the temperature, it means that at least that part is digital 🙂

My choice of Soldering Station

Well, I started look through the specs of available stations and their prices. I came across this digital soldering station on Amazon. Well, it is a 50W digital soldering station with the indication and the control of the temperature. So, I thought it should be pretty OK as for hobbyist 🙂

If it is not available in your location from Amazon, you can get it from eBay from the same UK-based seller (the name – aimtoolsltd, that’s a company) as well.

Choosing budget soldering station

The delivery was pretty fast (from UK to Ireland) and it was shipped from UK stock not from China. There was less hassle with import taxes and the delivery time was really short. I believe that should be pretty similar across Europe, but it can be clarified with the seller on eBay.

The quality of the 30 pounds soldering station

Let’s begin with the PBC and the soldering of its soldering. I saw quite many photos of different clones on the Internet and the quality of soldering was pretty low in many cases. Some of people were just re-soldering the PCBs. Returning back to this soldering station, the soldering quality is pretty reasonable and I am not going to re-solder it 🙂

I should mention that three additional tips (four in total) came together with the soldering station. I think it’s great. It should be OK for the beginning.

soldering station for hobbyists tips

Going further to the heating element. After I opened the soldering iron, it appeared that the heating element is non-ceramic one. I think it should last for a while if you are using the soldering station not every day and non-professionally. But… as DIY’er I think I will upgrade to the ceramic one 😉 Btw, the electronic circuit is powered by Atmel Atmega micro-controller.

Up to now, this station was used for soldering already few times for ~30-45 minutes each time. Well, the experience is quite positive. The transformer is pretty big, so it produces required current and it does get very hot during the operations. The heat transfer could be a little bit better.

All (or at least majority) of those clones suffer of not fully efficient transfer of the temperature. The reason lies in not thermal contact between the heating element and the tip inside surface. I found few links (in Russian) about this and how to fix it. Briefly, the problem lies in not good thermal contact between the heating element and the internal part of the tip. It looks that it should be not very difficult to fix, especially for DIY’er 😉

Last think, I would advice to get some solder of the low melting temperature. Opposite, the soldering might become not so nice and it might the temperature transfer might become an issue.

Enjoy doing your soldering tweaks or projects!