The best soldering iron and rework stations for the job?
Of course this is a commonly asked question and the reply will always be to get the best one can afford. Most home users are now spending a lot more money on getting better quality soldering and rework stations to complete projects. Cheaper irons, the home store DIY project types are not designed for intricate electronic circuitry.
There is no thermal control, the stupid tips wear away after ten minutes of use and after an hour one can hardly pick the thing up because it is radiating more heat than Koeberg. So bottom line, get one for an emergency – it will only last a day. Do not use it on CMOS or static sensitive devices, just for simple home wiring.
Weller, Antex and Magnum
Most amateur users started with an Antex iron or nowadays the better quality Asian imports. Try to stick to local supply, the Magnum series are excellent value for money, purchased through most electronic retail outlets like Communica.
Read: A Career in Electronics
There are other brands available through the rather sparse selection of electronics stores in South Africa. Probably the best known amongst professional circles will be the Weller series, an American brand with proven quality, reliability and support, nationally and internationally. Prepare to count the notes though.
In most cases, the better the tool , the better the job. Good soldering irons or work stations have exceptional bits/tips as well. Get a good range of tips when buying your first iron, make sure you have good quality solder and veer clear of RoHS. More about this later.
Magnum have three base models, the 2000, 2002 and 2004. You may get them cheaper from retail outlets. I own and use all three and they are all reliable, spares are easily obtained. These models have been around for eons, testament to quality of build and reliability. Their soldering irons without stations are also very good value, including the gas MG100 (better than many expensive imports) and don’t forget your vehicle, battery powered devices.
For the hobbyist a standalone iron is often the best in terms of budget but one will always lean towards the station option – it’s a non-clutter solution, especially if needing to work fast.
Other manufacturers also ply their wares through retail stores but I have always stood by Weller, Antex or Magnum.
Rework Stations and SMD
Moving over to rework stations and unfortunately costing considerably more than the stock standard soldering station, one will need a hot air blower, vacuum etc to remove SMD components. I was fortunate enough to work in an Asian repair center (Taiwan) for a few weeks and learnt some pretty cool tricks, one using a thermostatically controlled hot air blower to remove SMD devices which included BIOS chips. Solder pots are also useful for removing memory slots, CPU sockets and the like.
The Magnum range, beginning with model 3000 and 3005 is very popular. The 3004 is more than adequate if you have a soldering station already. The 3005 is designed for SMD rework. Practice is needed, especially with that confounded RoHS components. Actually not! Practice, practice and more practice.
RoHS – Restriction of Hazardous Substances
The inventor of RoHS should be shot. Never attempt as a first time solderer to take on a project using RoHS. You will become disillusioned with your progress and ability. The solder joints will end up looking like balls of snot and if unsoldering, you’ll end up with a tangle of wires which used to belong to the multi-layered board. Along with RoHS also comes the “tin whisker” a wonderful new age self-destructing circuit. Personally, I stick clear of RoHS unless someone has a gun to my head. If it’s your bread and butter you won’t get far without complying to the RoHS standard, you just won’t get any buyers.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. RoHS solder doesn’t contain lead so the melting point of the solder is much higher. Never contaminate the two – colour code your lead-tin and tin variety solders. If you are an expert at RoHS soldering, you can solder anything. That’s a promise.
Ball Grid Array
BGA machines can be made at home. The very good ones are almost indispensable when doing certain types of work – computer motherboards, embedded systems etc. If you do have access to a BGA machine (your own), they cost about R25 000 upwards, you can turn your hobby into a profitable business.
The tools of business is nearly always an upright or upside down turned heat gun, tweezers, solder pots (lead-tin and RoHS), soldering stations (lead-tin and RoHS), a vacuum device, compressed air and lots of patience.
SMD has been around since gran met the postman and they are actually very easy to work with, the only limitation being eye-sight. In most of the blogs and columns on the net we’ll come across those reaching for the magnifying glass, cursing SMDs and their long lost eyesight. I am one. The thing is, through-hole soldering and projects are often more fun. Who wants a swanky new 4kW amplifier on a 1cm x 1cm board if you cannot swank about your latest bit of kit. Unless small is better.
If you are into purchasing a solder pot don’t get caught up a trap where your home cooker becomes the main tool. (in my case). Magnum’s SP400 I believe is a time saver. Although never having used this specific model, two like minded individuals (fellow Amstel drinkers) will report they are better than most imports. Of course support is local as well.
As mentioned previously, your soldering iron bit or tip is the heart to a decent job. Selecting the right tip is never that difficult if you have a wide selection, but who has. If one browses through the web you will be put off by the huge selection available and unfortunately this is where we in South Africa, at the mercy of our ZAR should again stick to local supply. Not all tips fit all soldering irons, they are usually manufacturer specific.
Coming into festive season and if you are fortunate enough to have a wee bit of cash floating around do consider upgrading your existing setup, support local and beware of the pitfalls of buying cheap.
Interesting Youtube video by Loius Rossman
Firstly readers should be aware that we are not affiliate to the Lauren Manufacturing company neither Magnum. We enjoy using their products because they are affordable and reliable – they just work. There are a host of other products available, most probably overseas imports where you may have a problem sourcing bits, tips and other replacement parts.
Available at Mantech, Saftec and Communica
Tin Whiskers – NASA
The difference between RoHS and Tin/Lead solder – Pace World Wide
Reworking a BGA device – Instructables
Build your own BGA machine – Instructables