January 20, 2007
A Serious Soldering Iron Uprade (to the Aoyue 968)
Until today I've never owned, or used, a soldering iron more serious than the Radio Shack starter kit.
The important thing about your iron is not getting some microscopic tip, but how evenly the heating is. A soldering iron that does not have a temperature control is not acceptable. That $10 iron that you got in your freshman engineering kit is completely worthless. However, you do not need to spend more than ~$80 for a good iron these days. Get a good, variable temperature iron from anyone who will also sell you replacement tips.
A few weeks back I decided the next time I needed to place an order at Spark Fun that I would throw a new soldering iron on the order. That time came this week.
Initially I thought I'd just upgrade a little and get a nice Aoyue 2901 but I always loose the battle against the thought that while I'm at it I should make sure I get something that will be good for anything I'll ever need for the rest of my life. You know, because wouldn't it stink if I bought something with less functionality and ended up regretting it down the road. I've never needed a SMD rework station, but have dabbled in hardward hacking enough to think I might need it down the road (if I don't use it for SMD work it's always handy to have a tool for making metal jewelry or fixing stained glass windows).
I looked carefully at the various Aoyue combination SMD/soldering products, comparing the fuctionality with prices at various places.
I decided that Aoyue 968 was the right thing for me when I found that you could get a new one on eBay for just around twice the cost of the soldering gun I originally was going to order on Spark Fun. The decision was solidified when I discovered that SRA Solder (formally SRA), the folks listing the 968 on eBay, are within driving distance of where I live, would give me the eBay price, and let me pick it up to save shipping costs.
When I went to pick up the unit I had a chance to talk to some very nice folks there, get a little tutorial on the 968 and some soldering pointers, and got to see some other pretty cool equipment they have in the shop. These folks are very serious about soldering technology.
I will confirm that soldering is much better with a nice soldering iron. Here are the main reasons (after using it for a few hours) I'm glad I made a switch:
- The tip is 1/4 the size of the Radio Shack cheapo which makes it much easier to get into close spots.
- The temperature control lets me keep the iron at the right temperature required for my solder, which is much cooler than the cheapo. That cheapo made the entire room warmer and was a threat for burning anyone within 10 feet.
- The soldering iron has an on/off switch! Really, it is so nice not to have to keep plugging/unplugging.
- A nicer soldering iron has a stand, with a cleaning sponge and solder holder. The cheapo had a small piece of tin that slid everywhere and could easily fall off the table with a bump.
- The tip just works better. It can hold smaller amounts of solder so you aren't battling with a huge blob when you don't need it. Solder adheres better and seems to come off in a more predictable way.
- It has an exhaust vacuum. I don't mind the smell of smoke from soldering, but keeping it from floating up into my face is nice. (Not sure how much I'll use this feature, but it is nice to have and works fairly well).
Yes, I'm quite satisfied. While the drive home from SRA was spend wondering if it was just foolishness to spend so much on a soldering gun, that all went away after using it just a few times.
Posted by mike at January 20, 2007 1:07 PM