Through a long boring story, I wound up without my excellent Edsyn 1036 hot air soldering station. If you haven’t used a hot air station to solder surface mount, you don’t know what you are missing. Sure, you can use a lot of hand techniques to do surface mount. However, removing SMD is trivially easy with hot air. Also, some delicate components like ceramic capacitors don’t like to be suddenly heated up, so hot air is best for those too. Of course, to use hot air, you need paste, and that’s a pain because it is hard to buy in small lots and it usually needs refrigeration.
The Edsyn iron I used to have was very well built — it ought to be; new they cost about $800. I had bought my refurbished, and the vendor did not have any more to sell. The only complaint I ever had about the Edsyn is that it doesn’t have the wide variety of tips you can get for some of the other stations (like a Hakko, for example). Well, the air pump’s a little noisy too (a diaphragm pump), but that’s not a serious problem.
After a little consideration I picked up the station shown from CSI for about $130. I’ll have more to say about it later, but here’s the quick points.
1) It works fine. The quality doesn’t match the Edsyn, but neither does the price tag. The switches are positioned funny and the manual talks about screwing down the soldering iron holder but there is no actual way to do that! A few well-placed magnets took care of that problem, by the way.
2) Reasonably quiet turbine motor. They say these are better for BGA work which I haven’t done anyway.
3) The handpiece is a little large, but it takes Hakko tips which means you can get lots of tips for them Ayoue and/or CSI sells compatible tips for lots less than Hakko too (about $8/each). If you buy one, get a smaller tip then the ones that come with it for times when you want very fine control.
4) The digital temperature is only for the hot air. One display is the set point and the other is the actual temperature. There is no temperature readout for the standard iron even though it is temperature controlled through the bottom knob.
But overall it works fine. I’ll post more about my SMD experiences soon. The handpiece, by the way, is available by itself for well under $100. You don’t need the bulky station. See the handpiece here.
Of course, if you are on a real budget, try this embossing tool
. You can find these on sale sometimes for way under $20 and even at full price, its around $20 or $25. The only problem is the nozzle is just a little too fat, so it takes some practice. Also, you can’t adjust the air flow. But with some practice, you can solder and desolder pretty well with this cheap gun. The plastic nozzle guard comes off with a set screw and reveals a metal nozzle with some flutes in it. It won’t quite fit a Hakko nozzle, but I think you could probably work something out with an intermediate metal tube and a hose clamp. You can always shield nearby PCB areas with foil. And if you are just stripping boards, the large nozzle is a plus anyway.