A soldering station refers to a device that includes the soldering iron, desoldering tools, and hot air guns among others. This definition is not strict; some refer to the soldering station as the temperature-controlled soldering iron. Some also call the fixed-temperature soldering iron as a station. Simply put, a soldering iron with a unit where it is plugged in can be called a soldering station.
Besides temperature control, using a soldering station as opposed to standalone soldering irons have benefits. First is the isolation of the heating element from the electrical mains. This is safer both to the user and the component to be soldered. Second, the heating element operates at a lower voltage compared to standalone irons. This helps in expanding the lifetime of the heating element. Third, soldering station units have fuse. And finally, the whole soldering setup is grounded which makes them safe against electronic static discharge (ESD) that may damage sensitive devices.
Temperature Controlled Soldering Stations
The simplest soldering irons are those without temperature control. However, these irons may be too hot to solder temperature sensitive electronic components like IC’s, transistors, etc. Moreover, these soldering irons often start too hot and then cool too fast to be effective. Soldering stations provide temperature control by adding a thermometer and a power supply to keep the soldering iron hot but not too hot.
How to Use a Soldering Station
Experts agree that quick soldering needs high temperatures. But how would we define high in this case? It depends on what you are trying to solder. Normally, lower temperature is needed for soldering smaller electronic components compared to working on larger ones. I will not say what the exact temperatures are because they may vary depending on what type of soldering station do you own.
For beginners, I suggest setting the dial to the lowest temperature first then wait for a minute. Touch the solder to the tip of the iron. Next, turn up the dial one division and wait one minute again. Touch the solder to the tip of the iron again. Repeat this process until the solder melts very slowly. Now turn up the dial one step further – this is now the perfect temperature to use for soldering the most sensitive electronic components.
Choosing a Good Soldering Station
A good soldering station should have accurate temperature control and ESD protection. Temperature control can be analog or digital. The analog scheme uses on-off control: the iron’s heating element heats to an upper temperature limit then turns off; if it cools lower than a lower limit it the heating element turns on. This type of control is less expensive but less efficient and may lead to overheating. Stations employing digital control (via PID control and a microprocessor) are more expensive but are more precise.
Good soldering stations must also have a set of soldering iron tips you can select as you vary your soldering job. The station must also be well designed to lessen fatigue for the user.