Suggestions for good general purpose soldering station

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Just like the subject says, I'm looking for suggestions on a good, lowish cost soldering station for general electronics use. Preferably, it should have some tips suitable for SMT tinkering available, and should be variable-temperature.

This store is local to me and their prices seem excellent - they're selling the Weller stuff at under weller's american MSRP in canadian dollars (plus I don't have to pay shipping)

The xytronics ones at the bottom have all manner of cool SMT tips for them too, i've just never heard anything about them before.

Any thoughts?

I've used several Wellers. I've an older version of the WTCPTone at home.
At work I have a WES50 for everyday stuff and I really like it For this one you
just need to buy tips based on shape, not both shape and temp.

I've not used the latest super fine tip, but the previous pointiest
tip has been OK for 1206-size SMT passives and SOICs.

The best iron I've found for SMT is the Metcal, but it's a good
kilobuck for the setup and a reasonable assortment of tips.

The main important thing is that please try to select an soldering station, which have adjustable temperature range.
After it few type of tips needed, usually 3-4 types more, than enough for everything.
The Weller and Metcal the best ones, but $$$...
If the warranty issues are the same, and the spare parts availability (also tips) available for long time, you can select the "noname", without any risk.
About the soldering: on Metcal homepage you can find a short paper about proper and professional hand-soldering.
But never forget: always the first soldering on the pad is the best one. If you solder it again, the mechanical strength and lifetime is less, the quality is not so good.
For silver-solders you need a little bit lower soldering temperature and be carefully with warming time of the components.

Old Solder

Hello mpopovics,
But never forget: always the first soldering on the pad is the best one. If you solder it again, the mechanical strength and lifetime is less, the quality is not so good.

I can not agree on this one.
When molten, solder is a good cleaning agent and dissolves oxides and contaminants into the melt, and polluting the melt/joint.
These impurities do harm solder joint in terms of mechanical stability and especially resistance to thermal cycling fatigue.

Also soldering is actually an alloying process where solder atoms migrate into the surface of the copper pads and leads.
Best soldering results come from soldering the joint at least twice.

Half of my job is resoldering failed solder joints, because of bad initial solder process, or interestingly pcbs that have been tinned pre populating and soldering.

On pre tinned pcbs, In high temp/power applications, I find joints where when heated by the iron, the solder fillet immediately seperates from the pcb pad, and requires upto a several desolder/resolder cycles to get a long term reliable joint.

I will not use pre-tinned pcbs in any project of mine.

Regards, Eric.
Hello mrfeedback!

In usual solderwires in the center you can find the flux, which is responsible to clean the surface of the pad and the lead of the component. There are different types of wire, some of them contain less flux, some of them more.
The "melting point" of fluxes (when they are activated) is around 120-140 C degrees. With this you can achieve chemically clean surface on pad before the solder is expand, which is needed for good soldering.
After it the solder is expand to pad and to lead, the joint is ready.
When your solder joint is proper, the fillet (wetting angle) is perfect, like "exponential". The wetting is good.
The remaining contamination is less, the best.
If you solder it again, the intermetallic layer will be thicker, which is mechanically not as strength, as it was earlier. You give again flux, but this time the flux is not clean the pad surface, therefore remain more flux in your joint. And this is not every time on the surface of the joint...
The original solder joint lifetime is usually around 25-30 years. If you solder it again, it is reduce to 12-15 years.
At home it is still good result, but if we are talking eg. automotive or industrial electronics, it is poor. The requirements in this business area: 0 defect production and no repair...
But this is not for this forum. We do not require so high criterias from our HiFi equipment.

We are here DIY-ers, who is fabricating the boards mainly at home.
In that case (and when you upgrade, or change something in your PCB) it is not very important, but I think good to know about how to make proper solder joints.
Of course it is is very big area, with couple of "heavy" books about it.

There are couple of more things, what about will be good to have discussion, or even forum (eg. too much solder, too less solder, improper wetting and heating, how long to heat up for proper soldering, until which pad size to use tips, diameter of the solder wire, heat-stress of the components, etc.)

About pre-tinned PCBs: at home it is a little bit difficult to make it.
Factory made PCBs are usually good, depend on the factory... It can happen that sometimes they are make bad PCBs, and depend on technology also.

Best Regards,
I recommend the Hakko 936 soldering station. Fast heatup, good temperature regulation and good ergonomics for a decent price. I picked up mine a year ago for $100 from a local electronics dealer, but they can be had online now for around $80.

There are lots of different tips available, you can even plug in the Hakko 950 surface mount tweezer handset and have the ability to install/remove surface mount discretes and SO chips.

The 936 doesn't heat up quite as fast or deliver quite as much heat into large expanses of copper as the Metcal does, but the Metcal costs 4 times as much. I like the Hakko SM tweezers better than Metcal's SM tweezers also (I have Metcal at work, Hakko at home).

I highly recommend the Hakko 936 with 907 ESD-safe handpiece. As Haldor mentions, this is a really great iron, with a lot of useful features and a very reasonable price... 50W quick-heatup element for heating those large joints, fully adjustable electronic tip temperature control (<i>very</i> handy), a great iron stand and sponge setup, and a really nice selection of tips for different applications. Not to mention, the build quality of this Japanese-made brand is excellent. I also find it a very comfortable and easy iron to work with.

For many years I was exclusively a Weller user, and I now make extensive use of various Metcal irons at work, but I prefer my Hakko to all of these. Don't get me wrong - the Weller and Metcal units are quite good (although Weller does make some junky low-end products), but I feel that these two brands are overpriced for no other reason than their wide brand recognition and long standing reputations. Check out the Hakko... they're well priced and well designed.
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