Monday, 6 October 2014

4 Good Soldering Iron Stations for Electronics | Reviews & Tips

What's the Best Soldering Station for the Money?


A soldering project in action.
Photo Credit: Albertas Agejevas
Any electronics or gadget junkie worth their salt needs a good quality soldering iron station. They make the task of repairing and modifying electronics so much easier. 

Whether you like messing around with Arduino boards and gizmos like the Raspberry Pi, or just want to do some basic repairs, they're wonderful to have on hand. 

But there's a problem.

Most of our electronics come from overseas. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but certain items tend to have questionable build quality. Portable soldering iron stations are in that category.

I hate wasting money, and I assume that you do too! I'm writing this piece so that you won't have to 'roll the dice' on a kit. I'll be offering several soldering station reviews, including digital, temperature controlled, portable and basic models. 

What you won't see on this list: cheap junk that breaks easily. I'll be focusing only on items that will make a hobbyist or professional proud.

What Will You Use It For?


Before we get into the reviews, I wanted to touch on options and realistic use. Your choice should be informed by how often you'll use it, and how precise that use needs to be.

Typically professionals need a greater degree of temperature variation (a greater range of heat, as well as a higher top end), temperature control, quick reheating, and electrostatic grounding to protect electronic equipment. Hobbyists will probably be perfectly happy with fewer features, and an analog device should be enough.

What's the best soldering station for electronics? For any circuit board work, I'd be sure to get one with a precision tip, digital readout, and static grounding. 

Alright! Let's get into the reviews, shall we?

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Weller WCL100: A cheap analog soldering station with great reviews


Weller WCL100
 Price: Click for Details 
The WCL100, by Weller, is a great example of the adage, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it!' 

It's a basic soldering iron station with positive reviews, and it should be more than enough for most hobby activities.

It's a variable power soldering iron, and you can dial it between 5 and 40 watts of power depending on your application. An indicator light prevents you from leaving it on accidentally.

The station itself features a holder for you to conveniently and safely store the iron, and a sponge cleaner system for easily removing buildup from the tip. 

The iron plugs into the station, and they're detachable, which means you don't have to haul them around together if you don't want to. 

The pencil iron includes a standard bit, but it's compatible with a range of other options. 

Overall, this is a good soldering iron station kit for a beginner, a hobbyist, or an enthusiast. It's not really professional grade, but it's a step up from the junk irons you'll find at the dollar store. Weller has created a winner here.

Pros: Very inexpensive soldering kit, simple to use

Cons: No digital display, less precise

Verdict: A great choice for beginners, hobbyists and general use

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X-Tronic 4010: A good digital soldering station with loads of accessories


X-Tronic 4010 Kit
 Price: Click for Details
 
If you're starting at zero, or if you're hoping for an affordable yet effective kit, this is one of the best soldering stations for the money. 

It comes with everything you'll need and then some. It's clearly intended for someone who will really use the kit regularly as opposed to the occasional use. 

Included are: the soldering iron station itself, as well as a magnifying glass light for detail work, 10 bits of different shapes and sizes, a pair of stainless steel adjustment tweezers. It even includes a spare heating element in case one burns out.

Of course, you also get the station, stand, iron and cleaning sponge you'd expect. 

This is a digital soldering station, and it's a good one. You get an accurate readout of your current temperature, which can be switched between Centigrade and Fahrenheit.

It has an adjustable temperature dial, and with 60 watts of power you can reach up to 480°C. The 4010 includes temperature compensation technology, which automatically adjusts the temperature to operating norms. Many cheaper soldering stations tend to cool during longer projects, so this adjustment is a welcome feature. 

This is one of the best digital soldering stations for the money, and it's perfect for hobby or industrial use.

Pros: Lots of accessories, digital display, high power

Cons: More expensive

Verdict: A good soldering station for electronics / industrial applications

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Tenma: A temperature controlled soldering station with digital display


Tenma DCSS
 Price: Click for Details
 
Temperature control is an important feature, especially when dealing with delicate projects and high heat. This is one of the best digital soldering stations for a few reasons.

It has a good range of heat with a 48 watt capacity, and it's able to heat up to 900°F, or as low as 320°. 

A common concern with cheap soldering equipment is overheating. When it's too hot you can end up burning or ruining delicate connections. The Tenma has a closed loop overheat protection switch, meaning you won't have to worry about that. 

The circuitry is also upgraded to ensure a very precise temperature at the tip, meaning that what you see on the digital display is accurate.

It's a good soldering station for electronics because the tip is grounded to prevent static charge damage. I also appreciate that it's fairly compact. They've placed the sponge tray on top of the controller, which makes it easy to store. 

If you're looking for a top quality soldering station with temperature controlled precision, this is a great option to consider.

Pros: Precise temperature, overheat cutoff switch, digital readout

Cons: None to speak of

Verdict: A professional quality, portable soldering iron station

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Hakko: Among the best digital soldering stations in portable format


Hakko SS
 Price: Click for Details 
Small can be mighty. This digital display soldering station packs a good amount of utility into a little package.

The footprint is tiny, and it doesn't weigh very much either. It's a good choice for a hobbyist who doesn't want to use up a ton of table space.

The controls are very easy to use. You have two buttons, 'Up' and 'Enter'. The digital readout tells you the exact temperature, and you can increase it in increments. You can enter up to 6 presets of your choice, allowing you to have quick access to your ideal working temperatures.

This is a very quick heating unit, and it will be ready to use in as little as 20 seconds from when you switch it on. It has excellent thermal recovery as well, meaning you get consistent heat under load. In addition, you'll get a low temperature alarm to ensure all your welds are consistent.

The holder unit has a number of functions, including a sponge and some cleaning wire wool to keep the time in pristine condition. 

It's a good little soldering station, reviews are rave, and it's easy to use. I'd suggest it as a great choice for a hobbyist.

Pros: Tiny footprint, quick to heat, low temperature alarm, presets

Cons: Two button controls might not suit everyone

Verdict: A fantastic option for all skill levels

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