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What would be the best soldering iron for $200 and under?

Discussion in 'General Electronics Discussion' started by RoyalMaker, Oct 16, 2017.

  1. RoyalMaker

    RoyalMaker

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    Oct 16, 2017
    I used a Black & Decker soldering station and I have cold solder joints on my PCB.

    So I am about to buy a new iron or station. I would like advice before I purchase.

    any tips? yes I am new here. I did a search, but found nothing with this topic.

    Soldering PCB boards,3D printer wiring, CNC, wires etc.

    I just built a CNC machine (Root2CNC)
    https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1001437
     
  2. hevans1944

    hevans1944 Hop - AC8NS

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    Are you blaming your Black & Decker soldering station for the cold solder joints on your PCB? What model B&D soldering iron do you have? What temperature does the soldering tip reach and maintain while soldering? Cold solder joints are almost entirely the result of poor soldering technique, rather than an inadequate soldering iron, but sometimes a "hobby" iron is put into service without having sufficient power to do the job.

    I advise using a Weller soldering station, specifically the WTPCN with 700 F tips in shapes and lengths suitable for what you are trying to solder. The tips are available in three temperatures and contain a magnetic material that temporarily loses its magnetic properties when the tip exceeds its rated temperature. This causes a magnetic switch to open, allowing the heating element to cool down. When the tip cools below the rated temperature, the magnetic properties are restored, the magnetic switch closes, and the heating element heats the tip up again. The process repeats indefinitely, maintaining the tip temperature close to the magnetic transition (Curie) temperature, despite changes in the external heat load.

    Unfortunately, the WTPCN model is no longer manufactured by Weller. It's closest replacement is the WTCPT, a 60W iron that has a separate iron holder/sponge holder detached from the power base. There are also line-operated Weller soldering irons that do not require a separate power base. The important thing is to use an iron with sufficient thermal power capability: 60 W is about right for almost all PCB work.

    Spend big bux, if you want to, for automagical electronic temperature control, but IMHO that is not necessary for PCB soldering. The Weller patented temperature-controlled tips work just fine.

    I am not exactly a Weller fan-boy, but I do believe they make a nice product that is virtually bullet-proof. Others here will swear by Hakko brand soldering irons. You should look into those, as well as other Asian brands for better pricing. "Made in America" doesn't have the same cachet it did in the previous century. The new kids on the block are certainly worth checking out.
     
    dorke and Bluejets like this.
  3. dorke

    dorke

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    Jun 20, 2015
    Most probably the cold joints are caused by lacking soldering skills.
    If you use Chinese cheap solder,it may also be a major factor.
    Are you a hobbyist ?

    Here at EP we have a good soldering guide,take a look it may improve your soldering skills a lot.
     
    hevans1944 likes this.
  4. kellys_eye

    kellys_eye

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    Jun 25, 2010
    Funny.....

    I managed to solder properly using an Antex 25W iron for over 30 years. None of the 'temperature control' stuff. It's all down to technique.

    The propensity for soldering 'stations' is marketing hype for the most part - none of them make you a better solder-er. The only time I've heard of problems associated with soldering has been from poor technique, poor materials (solder, flux, cleaning component leads etc) and NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the actual soldering iron.

    Claims that components 'must' be soldered into place at 328.45 degrees for 13.295 second are fantasy. I don't know how we got to this situation....... oh, sorry, yes I do. Money.

    I can solder 'anything' simply by changing the tip - I've never failed to solder anything and all without damage. At the most I've had to use either a smaller iron (18W) or a larger one (65W or 250W) for 'extreme' situations but for the most part the 25W suits 99% of all soldering jobs I do.

    Ah haaa... I hear you say. "Having to use 18/25/65 watt irons can be negated by using a temperature controlled station". Well, duh.... yeah..... for the 0.5% of the time I might need to and at $100's expense???

    Hot air re-working is the only soldering method that requires 'specialist' equipment (or over reflowing etc) - temperature-controlled irons are, I suppose, vastly over-rated for what you can be made to pay for.

    I would happily challenge ANY avid supporter of temperature controlled stations to a soldering duel and "mock their expensive purchase" as I do exactly the same job at 1/50th the price.....:D:p
     
    hevans1944 and duke37 like this.
  5. shrtrnd

    shrtrnd

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    Jan 15, 2010
    I find myself on kellys_eye's side on this. But like dorke and hevans1944 noted: are you a hobbyist and do you really have a requirement for a temperature-controlled solder station?
    If you do work for manufacturers, they often have specs you need to meet for their product requirements. ie: you have to use specific temperatures.
    If this is for your own projects, my input about hevans1944's recommendation (which I have to use for the company I work for), is that you can find NO documentation for repairs of the Weller's, and they're expensive as heck to get fixed by factory authorized repair vendors. I use Weller's daily for the company I work for, and with daily use, they rarely last more than 4 years. If you need to use one intermittently, and you don't mind the price, a Weller will last a long time and they're good irons.
    You've got input from the others on your solder joint problem. My input is to keep the solder tip clean.
    At home, like kellys_eye, my 25W el-cheapo soldering iron without temperature control does me fine.
    Your problem is probably not the iron, you probably just need a little more experience soldering (and learning the quirks involved, like a clean tip and proper heat transfer techniques).
     
    hevans1944 likes this.
  6. hevans1944

    hevans1944 Hop - AC8NS

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    [QUOTE="shrtrnd, post: 1746825, member: 11429" ... ]you can find NO documentation for repairs of the Weller's[/QUOTE]
    Depends on the model. Here is a manual with schematic and parts list for the WTCPT model.
     
  7. Rixen

    Rixen

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    Feb 16, 2016
    Depends on the model. Here is a manual with schematic and parts list for the WTCPT model.[/QUOTE]

    Agree..

    My old man snatched a Weller Wecp 20 soldering station, it had been discarded at his work because it was broken.
    He brought it to me and I found schematics and everything, making the troubleshooting and repair, really quite easy..

    Swapped some parts and it's running like a champ..
     
  8. kellys_eye

    kellys_eye

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    Jun 25, 2010
    .... confession time.

    I DO have a temperature controlled iron :D - I bought one of those cheap Chinese versions with a build-it-yourself controller. I only did it to get a specific 'spend' on some ordering I did but I built it, attached an old laptop PSU to it, and it works perfectly well.

    It was supposed to be delivered with a selection of different tips (knock-offs of some well known soldering iron manufacturer....wakko???) but they sent the wrong ones. After some too-ing and fro-ing they eventually sent me the correct set but had to send the REAL McCOY rather than knock-offs so I have a cheapo temperature-controlled iron and some rather good quality tips!

    Nope - I don't use it! Looks good on the desk though!
     
    hevans1944 likes this.
  9. hevans1944

    hevans1944 Hop - AC8NS

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    Jun 21, 2012
    Well, since we are in a confessing mood, I will confess to wanting a hot-air work/re-work station for SMD projects. You can easily spend thousands of bux to set one of these up, but judicious purchases of Asian components will get you a decent rig for a couple hundred bux. Of course that does NOT include a 3D zoom microscope, a hot-air reflow oven, or a PCB pre-warmer hot plate.

    The Dayton Amateur Radio Association (DARA), the host of the famous Dayton Hamvention™ (now held in Xenia, Ohio) every year, has a Thursday Night Group (TNG) that meets in the recently refurbished and expanded club house every Thursday evening to build stuff. The DARA club house is swank as hell: large-screen LCD monitors in every room, a really bright projection TV and powered roll-up/roll-down screen in a main meeting room, and WiFi remote computer connections (or maybe Bluetooth... I am not familiar with how it all plays together) to interface your laptop to any screen or to all screens.

    Adjacent to the room with the projection TV, separated from it by a sliding, folding, partition, is an electronics lab with IIRC five fully-equipped work benches, including one with handicap access. The TNG voted last year to equip two or three of these benches with SMD work/re-work stations, and offered the opportunity for members to buy-in, with the club, their own personal work station at a significant discount. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to do this, but I did take the opportunity to "check it out" when the work stations arrived. IIRC they included a vacuum de-soldering tool, a hot-air tool, and a temperature-controlled soldering iron. Several TNG members began using the stations immediately, to begin salvaging parts from scrapped PCBs that had SMD parts.

    Of course now that we have permanently re-located to Venice, Florida, I no longer have convenient access to the DARA clubhouse, so it is time for me to consider gathering the components necessary for my own SMD work/re-work station. I am thinking about purchasing a new Black & Decker toaster oven at Wally World (Wal-Mart) and re-purposing it as a re-flow oven. Then I need to figure out some way to use my Craftsman variable temperature, variable speed, hot-air gun as a hot-air pencil with low-velocity air flow, maybe by adapting a metal flexible shower hose to carry the hot air to the work. My Optivisor head-set will have to do until I can find an affordable (used) 3D zoom microscope, but I am guessing I will have to purchase a small table-top vacuum pump to operate a vacuum pick and perhaps a solder sucker. The Weller WTPCN soldering station, with the proper long-reach, thin, chisel tips does okay for SMD re-flow soldering... provided I can get a corner-lead tacked down first.

    Well, time to hit the World Wide Web to see what is available and affordable in time for Christmas. Would someone please compile a list a reliable Asian vendors and post it here on EP? I have heard that Bang Good is NOT okay, but they seem to have a huge Internet presence. A list of vendors to avoid would be particularly helpful. Amazon appears to be a safe means of ordering Asian products, but not necessarily at the lowest price.
     
    kellys_eye likes this.
  10. kellys_eye

    kellys_eye

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    Jun 25, 2010
    I mentioned elsewhere that AliExpress (IIRC) have a sales policy built around an Escrow facility they offer. As such, your purchase is made via their Escrow and the retailer is only paid on successful receipt/completion of the sale. If you have any problems with goods you can claim against this Escrow and get a quick and easy refund.

    I believe this is why my temperature-controlled soldering iron purchase was fulfilled with pukka parts (and not the knock-off versions) because AliExpress were intermediaries and the original seller couldn't afford to upset the apple cart..... all in all it worked out to MY advantage very well indeed.

    And, as a result, I have absolutely zero issues with making purchases via the AliExpress site. Have done since and had no problems whatsoever - so if you're seeking some hot air rework stuff I can recommend them to use as a source.

    On your other part of the post I envy the facilities that big cities (and big countries) can gather together for the benefit of all. I'm very much at the opposite end of the scale - remote location, few residents, low average (local) income, small/non-existent electronics community etc so forming such a club to concentrate spending and maximising facilities is well beyond my capabilities.

    Like yourself, hevans, I look to modifying cheap and readily available items to suit and the use of a toaster, hot air gun etc is right up my street! I do have some magazine articles detailing the use of an oven specifically for reworking pcb's that seemed quite popular but we're faced with a constant reduction in prices that often make even the slightest delay in DIY end up less cost-effective than initially thought.

    If you come up with any working solutions for any of the ideas you have then please post them on here! I'd love to see them.
     
  11. shrtrnd

    shrtrnd

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    Jan 15, 2010
    Cool, hevans1944. I see the model you reference is 'temperature controlled' by a change in heater elements.
    The miserable SOBs I work for keep buying me these $1,000 get-ups with digital set-ups and LCD displays (then require me to use specific temp settings for specific jobs). But no schematic for the control board.
    I wonder if Weller altered their business practices when Cooper Tools bought 'em out.
    Rixen confirms with a second vote that I am in error about Weller schematics.
    Maybe their sales-people just don't like me. (They just like my employer's deep pockets)
     
  12. kellys_eye

    kellys_eye

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    Jun 25, 2010
    In respect to the OP's original question though.....

    You certainly don't need to spend much to get soldering functionality - indeed you can spend 'zero' and learn how to do it 'properly' with a $5 iron. Spending 'up to' $200 won't make a bad solder-er a good solder-er.

    If your soldering skills are more than adequate (you didn't actually say) and just wanted a temperature controlled iron then check out Youtube for video reviews of some of the Chinese stuff that's doing the rounds - for a lot less than $200 too.
     
    hevans1944 likes this.
  13. hevans1944

    hevans1944 Hop - AC8NS

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    No, not a change in heater elements. Heater stays the same and you only select one of three temperature-regulating soldering tips to use with the heater. The temperature control is in the tip, by means of a magnetic material whose Curie temperature is the same as the tip temperature: 600 F, 700 F, or 800 F. When the tip heats up above the Curie temperature, the magnetic "circuit" is broken, causing a switch to physically move to an open position and removing power to the heater. As soon as the tip cools below the Curie temperature, the magnetic "circuit" is established again, causing the switch to move to a closed position and provide power to the heater.
     
  14. shrtrnd

    shrtrnd

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    Jan 15, 2010
    Jeez, hevans1944, it'd probably cost as much to replace that temperature-controlled tip, as it would be to buy a whole new iron(?)
     
  15. hevans1944

    hevans1944 Hop - AC8NS

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    Jun 21, 2012
    The tips are somewhat pricey... about five bux plus shipping from DigiKey... but they last a long time if proper care of them is taken. What most people balk at is the price of the heating element and its handle and the price of the base unit containing the low-voltage transformer. New, these bundled together cost around two hundred bux, but you can often find vendors discounting them. See this link for a typical vendor offering.
     
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