A soldering station is made up of a variable power supply, soldering iron and iron holder. Soldering stations have many advantages over standard, fixed power soldering irons, such as the ability to accurately set the tip temperature, LCD readouts, pre-set temperature settings and ESD (electro static discharge) protection. Another major plus point for the soldering station is having all your soldering equipment in one place.
Soldering stations start from around $20 for a very basic station and go up into the thousands for a professional setup. For the very occasional user the low priced ($20 – $50) stations will cope with light electronics repairs. For the more frequent soldering enthusiast the medium priced stations ($50 – $150) would be more appropriate due to the better build quality, higher temperature ranges, digital displays and higher wattages. As with most things, you do get what you pay for.
There are several soldering station manufacturers that all produce quality stations at affordable prices, these include; X-tronic, Hakko, Weller and Aoyue. The X-tronic range of stations are very good value for money and include a range of accessories to get you soldering straight away.
A higher wattage station does not mean more heat, what it does mean is that when the soldering iron tip is in use the heat will be transferred from the tip to the component that is being soldered, making the tip cool down. A higher wattage station will get the tip back to the pre-set operating temperature quicker than a low wattage one.
If you are going to be soldering small electronic components then you probably won’t need a high wattage station, a 30 – 50 watt station will be adequate for this type of soldering. If you are going to be soldering large components or thick wires it would be better to choose a station in the 50 – 80 watt range.
Most of the medium price ranges of stations have LCD displays; this gives an accurate visualisation of the set temperature and the actual tip temperature. The lower priced stations have a dial to adjust the temperature and as such tend not be as accurate as the LCD models.
The soldering iron should have interchangeable tips that are available in various sizes and shapes and are also easily obtainable. The iron should be comfortable to hold and lightweight enough to use for long periods. The cord from the controller to the iron should be flexible, long and made of a non burnable rubber.
Different makes and models of stations have a variety of options and features such as
- Touch button or dial temperature settings
- The ability to pre-set and save favourite temperature settings
- Auto power shutoff to the iron after a pre-set time
- Password settings protection
- ESD safe equipment
- Tip temperature calibration
- LCD displays
- Switch display between Centigrade and Fahrenheit
- Low temperature warning
Soldering stations have an average temperature range between 200-480° C (392-897° F) and can heat up to operating temperature in 20 – 40 seconds. The wattages of the stations vary between 30 watts and 80 watts for the low to middle priced stations.
The iron holders also vary in shape, size and accessories. The types of accessories include;
- Solder reel holders
- Tip Cleaning sponge
- Wire tip cleaner
- Tip removal tool
- Spare tip holders
There a wide range of options available for all types of budgets. It all depends on how much you want to spend, the features that you require and the types of soldering projects you will be undertaking.