When working with embedded systems and electronics in general, you will, every once in a while, need to connect one component to another. In some instances this can be accomplished using jumper wires and special connectors. However, if the components are not breadboard friendly and lack pins and connectors or you need a permanent from of connection, soldering is the way to go. In this review we will be looking the best soldering irons for beginners and hobbyists, to help you select a soldering station that is ideal for your project.
Soldering is a process that involves joining two or more components by melting and placing filler metal onto the joint. A soldering iron is used to melt the filler metal, which in this case is soldering wire, and the melted metal is placed on the joint and allowed to cool, forming a permanent bond. This may sound easy on paper, but in reality it isn’t. You have to use the right soldering tools and techniques in order to produce clean and well-bonded soldered joints.
Soldering techniques are perfected with experience. So, as a beginner you may have to be patient as you go through the learning curve. However, having the best tools at your disposal will automatically cut in half the time it will take for you to transition from being a beginner to a pro. Moreover, if you are already good at soldering, you will definitely need the best soldering station in the market to help you do your job faster without compromising on quality.
There are several things you need to consider when purchasing soldering irons. Temperature is one of them. Since the soldering iron works by melting soldering wire, you have to make sure that the iron you are getting can provide the minimum temperature required to melt the soldering wire you are using. An ideal soldering station/iron should have a wide range of temperature and provide an easy an intuitive way of adjusting it. This, will enable you to tune the temperature of your soldering iron to match the requirements of your application.
Maintenance and handling are also key considerations that you should make when selecting a soldering station. If you are going to be soldering for lengthy periods, make sure that the soldering iron has a comfortable handle and that there is a stand that you can place the soldering iron when not in use. This will ensure you are comfortable when working. In addition to that, the soldering station should have soldering iron tip cleaning agents such as a sponge, wire or flux and have a replaceable tip. These are simple maintenance features ensure the soldering iron stays in good condition for a long time.
Now that you know what to look for in soldering irons/stations, let’s have a look at several soldering stations that are available in the market and see what each has to offer.
The Aoyue 469 is a 60-watt soldering station that is ideal for all kinds of soldering applications. It comes with a removable T-I tip that can be used for a wide variety of soldering jobs. In addition to that, there are 50 more other available tip sizes that you can purchase as an additional accessory. With all the tip types at your disposal, you will be able to work on any kind of soldering job that is thrown at you.
This soldering station has a wide temperature range of 200° C to 480° C (392° F to 897° F). Despite the huge temperature range, the soldering iron heats up very fast and can change from one temperature to another within a very short time, thanks to the PTC element. The temperature of the soldering iron can be adjusted to match the needs of the current soldering application. This is done using a knob that allows you to select a temperature setting, ranging from 1 to 8. Temperature feedback is provided via a dual color LED display that indicates the temperature status.
Working with the Aoyue 469 is quite easy. It has a cleaning tray with a sponge that is used to clean the soldering gun whenever there is dirt build-up on the tip. In addition to that the soldering station has a spool stand and spring holder, which provide a safe and easily accessible area to place the soldering gun when hot.
For ease of use, the Aoyue 469 Variable Power 60 Watt Soldering Station comes with a user manual. This way you can get down to business right after unpacking it. Its operation voltage is 110V and so is ideal for use in regions that normally have 110V/120V mains supply voltage.
The Hakko FX888D-23BY Digital Soldering Station is specially designed, to provide users with all tools required to perform high quality soldering. It is a 70-watt soldering station that operates off 120V mains power supply and features several safety and performance enhancing features, such as a digital control panel. There are many soldering tips that are compatible with the soldering iron, which you can purchase so as to make it easy for you to solder different kinds of components.
The digital panel is used to control the soldering process through adjustment of temperature. The temperature ranges from 250° C to 450° C. Using the digital control panel, you can configure up to 5 preset temperatures, to suit particular components, tip shapes or workpieces. In addition to that, there is a password function that can be used to lock the settings so as to prevent them from being altered unexpectedly. All these features makes soldering easy and improve workability when using the soldering station for different applications.
The Hakko FX888D-23BY soldering station is easy to clean and service. It has a cleaning sponge and cleaning wire which are used to keep the tip of the soldering iron clean when in use. Disposing off the solder waste is easy, since the bottom of the soldering iron stand is removable. This enables you to keep the soldering station clean, for better performance.
All features mentioned above are well documented in a manual that comes with the Hakko FX888D-23BY soldering station. Therefore, you are able to understand how to fine-tune the settings and use the soldering station for best results.
The Weller WLC100 40-Watt Soldering Station is an easy-to-use soldering station that comes with all the basic tools required to perform high quality soldering jobs. It is powered directly from 120V rated mains supply and is turned on and off via a switch on its control panel. The switch has an indicator light, so you are able to know when the station is on and when it is off. This will prevent you from accidentally leaving the station on.
Apart from the on/off switch, the control panel also has a knob that is used for variable power control. You can easily adjust the power level from 5 to 40 watts by simply turning the knob. There are markings that represent different power levels so you are able to select the precise setting for your application.
The soldering iron is designed with your comfort in mind. It is light-weight and has a cushioned foam grip that enables you to comfortably solder for lengthy periods. In addition to this, the soldering iron has a replaceable heating element. This makes maintenance less costly, since you don’t have to replace the whole soldering iron when the heating element gets damaged.
There is a sponge cleaning pad on the Weller WLC100 40-Watt soldering station that you can use to keep the soldering iron tip clean at all times. A clean tip increases efficiency and quality of your soldering. The soldering station also has a spring stand that holds up the hot iron during soldering.
The X-Tronic Model #3020-XTS Digital Display Soldering Iron Station is rated at 75 watts and has a wide temperature range, stretching from 200°C to 480°C. Therefore, you can use it in different soldering applications with varied temperature requirements. Powering the soldering station is easy, since it requires 120V AC which can be accessed directly from wall outlets. A switch is used to turn on/off the soldering station. To control power consumption, the X-tronic #3020-XTS incorporates a 10 minute sleep time that is activated when the soldering iron is placed on the stand for more than 10 minutes. This saves power and prevents instances where power gets wasted because a user forgot to turn off the soldering station.
Temperature of the soldering iron is controlled by turning a knob. The set temperature is displayed on blue LED tube display, so you are able to know what temperature you have set. There is a Celsius/Fahrenheit switch that you can use to select the temperature units that you are conversant with. The soldering station also features a PID temperature control program that keeps the temperature of the soldering iron constant.
To improve handling during the soldering process, the X-tronic #3020-XTS soldering station features a soldering iron with an ergonomic grip that is comfortable to use over long periods. The soldering station also has a stainless iron holder for holding the hot iron when not in use and a solder roll holder that makes it easy for you to access the soldering wire. Keeping the soldering iron tip clean is also a walk in the park, thanks to the brass sponge tip cleaner and cleaning flux.
Out of the four soldering stations that we have reviewed, our number one pick is the Aoyue 469 variable power 60 watt soldering station. One of the features that gives it an edge over the other soldering stations is its temperature adjustment controller. It is easy for you to quickly and accurately set the temperature you want to use without going through a long process, since the controller has 8 preset levels that you can select by turning a knob. The soldering iron also has a replaceable tip that you can change depending on the soldering application, ensuring versatility. These features combined with several others aid in producing good soldering results and improve the soldering process.