Inexpensive Soldering Station

Inexpensive Soldering Station

Postby Sagbot » 2017-Jan-Sun-01-Jan

If you're in the U.S. and want a soldering iron to start with, you might be interested in this.

On ebay there is a particular "936" station that is good quality and very inexpensive. It's marked with the brand "Huakko" (I know it's ridiculous!) and made by HanDing in mainland China. There are dozens of variants of these "936" models, and at least half a dozen manufacturers.

Not too long ago there was a bruhaha about a Yihua brand (and manufactured) "936" station -- again just one of the dozens of variants sold in every store and at any price all over the web -- sold by Hobby king for $16 plus shipping, and it was awful inside. Some hardware was corroded and some parts looked like they were repurposed. It also looked like it had trouble heating up the iron as well.

This Han Ding model is by comparison quite good. The soldering of the controller board is good, the wires are zip tied neatly, the ground connection is crimped, and it heats fast. You should know however that most of these models cut corners. The insides look safe to me, but it doesn't meet some countries' safety standards. The controller design doesn't use a zero crossing chip and if it doesn't switch at 0V, it can cause some electrical noise (radio interference). The controller is switching 24VAC using a triac in order to control the heater.

The touchy-feely quality of the product feels good to me, in spite of the fact that this has been cost optimized. I see all the differences from the original Hakko 936 in quality inside and out, but it seems solid anyway.

Here are two listings for the product I'm talking about. This is the 110V model for U.S. Prices were hovering around $21 last I looked.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-Soldering-Station-936-60W-Iron-Tool-Solder-Welding-ESD-Safe-110V-/151463978896

http://www.ebay.com/itm/New-936-SMD-Professional-Soldering-Rework-Station-Temperature-Control-US-Ship-/331366587814

One of these listings claims the unit is 60W and I believe that's not accurate. I've yet to measure it accurately but I think it's closer to 50W like the original Hakko 936 was. You have to understand that the actual max heating power you get at full on (heating up or recovering) will depend on at least two factors that aren't precisely controlled.

Please understand that you have a deluge of options buying an iron. Don't let me steer you to some particular model. There are dozens of just the "936" models, from several manufacturers, all alike. There are digital models. There is the T12 universe, good grief let's not get into that. Or you can build your own.

The nice thing about the "936" models is 1) they are temperature controlled, not variable power. 2) all the parts and pieces are "standardized" and available sometimes for pennies (plus shipping) or a few dollars. 3) this is a very inexpensive product that provides what 95% of users need in an iron. You can get a JBC, Metcal, or Pace and it is faster and can weld your car to your Metal Simple. Most people do not work in a factory and just want to solder a few things sometimes.

Here are some videos for your entertainment. First, two videos that helped me decide maybe it was not too risky to try buying this model. I found these after hours of pouring over videos about Yihua and other models. They are not a review. I found them useful to reduce my risk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cClzLBYi4Ew

Followup:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WI2FyUfWPO4

Here's Dave's eevblog treatment of the Yihua 936 that was sold by Hobby King for $16 plus shipping.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GdV7XBae74

Here's another once over of the Yihua 936. This gentleman also shows an original Hakko 936 so you can see what it looks like inside.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP0etU7mTwU

Before buying anything here are some safe go-to models to consider: FX-888D (or the better FX-951), Weller WES51. If you want better, there are the Hakko models that use T15 tips. If you want better than that, there are JBC models, and Metcal models, and Pace models.

-Mike
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Inexpensive Soldering Station

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Re: Inexpensive Soldering Station

Postby Mooselake » 2017-Jan-Sun-18-Jan

I have a generic 853D SMD rework station; temp controlled iron, temp and speed controlled hot air gun, power supply, DVM that I keep in the upstairs Moosecave Annex. The power supply and dvm work, but I've only used them a few times. The iron does a good job of soldering, and while the hot air gun will melt solder and solder paste just fine I mostly use it for heat shrink tubing. More than good enough for the odd printer repair and small electronic project. Think it was around $65 off eBay, and despite claims it would ship from California it came FedEx from China - and probably arrived quicker than surface from the left coast. The temp display on the hot air gun works until the gun comes up to temp, then goes into gonzo max temp mode (the temp control stays as set afaik), change the temp and it does it again. Of course it started a few days after leaving feedback; the vendor asked for video and then quit responding to email. Only a cosmetic issue, likely a bad connection that I've never tried to track down. MochaBoy encouraged me to buy one while I was laid up after knee surgery, and was handy for learning a bit of light duty SMD soldering when I was unable to go down the stairs for a couple months after the bionic implant.

While not as nice as the Aoyue 2900 in the real Moosecave it saves hiking up and down a couple flights of stairs (slightly challenging for a gimpy knee'd moose, although you'd think the extra legs would make up for it) and is a good choice for light duty use. Never know when you'll need to solder some headers on a Nano or add some LEDs...

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Re: Inexpensive Soldering Station

Postby Sagbot » 2017-Jan-Sun-20-Jan

Hey Kirk, cool I should have known you'd have some news from the Moosecave. I hadn't considered SMT work and I don't have any experience with it. At this point in time it's probably more popular than through hole. Question, why do those hot air soldering units blow air through a tube? I would put a blower next to the heating element on the gun itself.

The way Chinese sellers ship from U.S. locations is mystifying. Mine shipped from Ontario California, which is near Rancho Cucamonga, where Monoprice is located. There must be a warehouse there that DHL ecommerce rents out.
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Re: Inexpensive Soldering Station

Postby plexus » 2017-Jan-Mon-02-Jan

I've been through many different soldering stations over the years. mostly on the low to mid end side. some fixed and some adjustable. the highest quality was a weller with temperature set tips. and a mid level adjustable chinese one. after all that I ended up with a METCAL Soldering System STSS-001 Power Unit with Iron Wand Hand & Stand. I got it used on ebay for $150. to me, this is the first and last soldering iron you'd need for general hand held soldering, non-SMD. its a tip based system where you get various tips for the job, they also come in a variety of temps. you can usually get good deals on these in bulk batches on ebay. around $5-30 or so for each one depending on what it is. there are smd shaped one as well. anyway its not adjustable. i was reading about high end irons and the best ones, it seems, dont have a fixed temp. rather, they have a very fast way to dump heat into the tip and a fast and accurate feedback of the tip and heater to maintain the temperature. this features is must more useful than an adjustable temp. the iron stays at the same temp pretty much unless you push it hard. so if I were giving advice, I'd say stay away from the adjustable and cheaper ones and shell out that little bit more for something like the METCAL. even with one general purpose tip its worth it. then you can decide what tips you need and buy only what you need and have consistently high soldering performance.
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Re: Inexpensive Soldering Station

Postby RetireeJay » 2017-Jan-Mon-07-Jan

I don't do enough soldering at home to justify an expensive setup, so I just have a cheap iron that I picked up at Fry's. But when I was at work, the company had a very nice outfit - Weller, I think - that was instant-on. Obviously, it had only a fine tip for work on PC boards with modern components; it wasn't for soldering big stuff. It stayed cool until you actually picked it up. There were a couple of metal rings on the handle that it used to sense when you were touching it, and then the tip would heat up to operating temperature in probably less than a second. If I recall correctly, it was also adjustable (like the type Plexus is referring to - with a thermocouple built into the tip). Oh, and I do have an old soldering gun; I guess it's an antique now. It isn't really "instant on" so I don't use it much unless I need the extra heat.
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Re: Inexpensive Soldering Station

Postby Mooselake » 2017-Jan-Mon-12-Jan

The Chinese guys must use a rent-a-warehouse facility. Doesn't seem like they have any staff there since all contacts are China only.

My hot air gun has the blower in the handle, just a power cord to the base.

A long time ago I read about a soldering iron that used temperature changes in magnetic flux for a constant temp. You changed tips for different temperatures. Both of mine have thermocouples (or similar) to control the temp, with digital displays. While not instantaneous they heat up pretty darned quick.

I've only done smt test boards, things like series connected resistors, but they passed the ohmmeter test after some rework. There were a lot of pain meds at the time so I thought that was pretty good. Touching the pointy end still hurt despite medication...

You can do smt with a regular small iron and solder wick.

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Re: Inexpensive Soldering Station

Postby Sagbot » 2017-Jan-Mon-16-Jan

Jay: now's your chance to upgrade to the obsolete 936 world! For cheap!

Plexus: I agree, I went and looked at Metcals after reading your post. With the lower end irons, setting a higher temperature is a workaround to compensate for the limited heat flow. There is always a limit to the rate heat can be transferred to the joint, and with medium-end models like FX-951, the limit is raised a bit, and with JBC and Metcal the limit is raised higher. So joint temperature (and flow) is more tightly controlled. In fact, if they have removed the ability to set a temperature at all, that's another improvement.

Kirk: exactly, they appear to be pre-shipping their goods. I believe these Chinese sellers are more or less affiliates or dummy accounts for distributors or manufacturers. There are always two dozen sellers selling exactly the same item. It could be that selling $1.50 items is an inexpensive way to get large feedback numbers and make an account appear legit. I looked at my seller and he has been a member since 2014, so at least he's been around more than a week... It could also be these accounts are bought and sold in some shady marketplace.
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