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Z80 Refugee
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Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 9:57 am

In case anyone is in need of a new (or better) soldering iron: Aldi currently have one of their "specials"* - a Work Zone (own-brand) soldering station comprising a stand (with sponge tray), the iron itself (with three tips, threaded fitting), and a control box with LCD digital temperature setting and read-out, all for £19.99 (and potentially discounted if they don't manage to sell them).

* When it's gone, it's gone.

I prefer to use leaded solder (it's so much easier!). Leaded solder is still (commercially) legal for repairs to pre-lead-free existing equipment, but becoming more difficult to obtain (I reckon I have a lifetime supply in stock!). For lead-free soldering, a TC (temperature-controlled) iron is a must (the lead-free solder needs a higher temperature than leaded - but not so high that you burn the pads off the board or damage components - and quick work to avoid too much heat going into the assembly). Also you need an iron (or a tip) that has never been anywhere near lead (otherwise lead-free solder won't work). That alone could be a reason to buy one of these just in case you ever did need to do some lead-free soldering.

I've had one out of its box for inspection. The iron itself is quite large, not a delicate pencil like my little trusty (and ancient) 15W Antex Model C, but comparable with typical irons (including one I have with built-in thermostat). The cable is fairly thick, no doubt due to it having to carry heating current to the iron element and also temperature sensing back to the control box. There is electrical continuity between the iron tip and the mains plug earth pin. At this price, I wouldn't expect the cables to the control box to be detachable (and they're not).

Two small reels of rosin-cored solder are provided, one thick one thin. It doesn't say whether these are lead-free or tin/lead, but if pressed I would have to guess they are lead-free. The iron tips are two conical and one screwdriver, not my preferred fine chisel tip for general soldering (and I use a longer tapering conical tip for really fine work). I'm not sure how easy it would be to find replacements - there seem to be some on the Internet, but I don't know whether they would fit. The conicals should be OK for fine soldering. That said, I have adapted tips in the past...

Obviously I have not tested the Aldi iron in anger, but overall, for the money, I reckon this is a useful addition to the tool kit (even if only for the dreaded day when leaded solder is unobtainable).
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Heater
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 10:42 am

I would not bother with that.

Just get a TS100 digital temperature controlled soldering iron.https://www.ebay.com/itm/TS100-65W-Digi ... IqSvLajymQ

Image

The great things about these are:

The temp sensor is integrated into the tip for fast feedback. Like the famous, and far more expensive Hako soldering stations.

There is a wide range of tips available

Good power output when needed

Digital temperature contol

No external controller box

Very cheap for the capabilities.

You can even hack the software running in it's micro-controller.

Do stock up on leaded solder !

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Z80 Refugee
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:29 am

This was never intended to be a "mine's better than yours" face-off, just alerting UK forum members to the availability (and I note your link is for Aus).

However, yours looks nice - although considerably more expensive, and the tips will be more expensive. For tin/lead I rarely even get my thermostatic iron out, just using my Antex for practically everything.

I also wonder if the handle gets a bit hot.
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DougieLawson
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:36 am

The annoying thing is the Aldi in Basingstoke isn't built yet. It opens in the Autumn.
Nearest Aldi is a 30 mile round trip.
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bensimmo
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:42 am

Link to the Aldi one
https://www.aldi.co.uk/workzone-digital ... 4201878400

Quite a bit cheaper than the £45 one TS100 on ebay uk.
Though I'm used to push on ends.
I use Antex CS18 and XS25 myself, I find rosin free more of a pain than lead-free.

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rpdom
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 12:03 pm

I've already got a decent iron I bought at Maplin many years ago, but a spare might be handy. I didn't see any when I was in the nearest local Aldi yesterday, maybe I need to try one of the other local ones (we've got at least three within 7 miles of me).

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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 1:21 pm

Z80 Refugee,

Sorry, I did not mean the "mine's better than yours" thing. In fact I don't even have a TS100 yet. I'm still using a twenty year old, non-regulated, Weller.

Since I was just starting to think of upgrading it, on account of taking a liking to surface mount devices, I'm open to all suggestions.

Price is of course a major concern, but the TS100 is still remarkably cheap.

My other concern is bench space. Since 'er in doors downsized my work space I really can't have a controller box and cables cluttering up the available space.

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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 1:54 pm

rpdom wrote:
Sun Jun 17, 2018 12:03 pm
I've already got a decent iron I bought at Maplin many years ago, but a spare might be handy. I didn't see any when I was in the nearest local Aldi yesterday, maybe I need to try one of the other local ones (we've got at least three within 7 miles of me).
6 within 7 miles here :roll:

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Z80 Refugee
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Sun Jun 17, 2018 8:46 pm

Heater wrote:
Sun Jun 17, 2018 1:21 pm
In fact I don't even have a TS100 yet.
So your "I wouldn't bother with that" is based on nothing? Tsk.

I recommend you think twice before getting the TS100: there is no guard on the handle, so it would be very easy for fingers to slip onto the hot bit.
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Mon Jun 18, 2018 1:56 am

Z80 Refugee,
So your "I wouldn't bother with that" is based on nothing? Tsk.
Yes, nothing. OK, perhaps that statement was out of line of me.

On the other hand it is a factually true statement. I, that is me personally, will not bother looking at such things as the Aldi soldering station.

On your suggestion I thought twice about the TS100 and it's lack of guard on the handle. Gosh that is shockingly dangerous. Nah, my previous Antex irons never had much of a guard either, never was a problem: https://www.antex.co.uk/soldering/preci ... irons/c15/. I see the lack of a guard as an advantage, guards get in the way and make things bulky. In the unlikely event it seems I'm at risk of slipping and burning my fingers on a regular basis I can always hack up some kind of guard ring and glue it on there.

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scruss
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Mon Jun 18, 2018 2:11 am

For work - which has a lot of teaching soldering - we use these Handskit Kits: $40 Canadian, which isn't much.

The tips aren't well plated, so they tend to rust up. But they're Hakko-compatible, so we can always replace the tip with something better
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Z80 Refugee
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Mon Jun 18, 2018 7:47 am

Heater wrote:
Mon Jun 18, 2018 1:56 am
I can always hack up some kind of guard ring and glue it on there.
Yes, do that. The Antex guard is still a guard - although small, it is enough to stop it slipping. The TS lacks any kind of guard at all.

Possible solution: https://sugru.com/buy/original-formula-black-8-pack
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Z80 Refugee
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Mon Jun 18, 2018 7:56 am

scruss wrote:
Mon Jun 18, 2018 2:11 am
For work - which has a lot of teaching soldering - we use these Handskit Kits: $40 Canadian, which isn't much.
The iron in that kit (note the Amazon ad calls it a "welding tool"!) looks similar to my thermostatic iron. You need something to measure the temperature to be able to set it accurately enough for lead-free - a DMM with thermocouple input would do, or an infrared thermometer. The other items in the kit are useful if you don't already have them.

The Aldi unit still scores because of the digital read-out (assuming it is accurate), and it has three preset temperatures available for easy set-up. Clearly I'm going to have to get one if only to review it.
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Mon Jun 18, 2018 10:02 am

Yes, it's amusing how many Chinese sellers on ebay refer to "welding tools" when they mean soldering. It amuses me because for decades I have used the term "welding" for "soldering" as a silly joke sometimes.

That sugru stuff is interesting. I don't recall ever hearing of it before. Thanks for the link. It's a bit pricey just to make a guard ring on an iron though. It would be cool though. I was thinking of gluing a large rubber O ring or grommet around there. Or it could be just a push fit if tight enough. Being able to remove guards is always useful.
Last edited by Heater on Mon Jun 18, 2018 1:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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scruss
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Mon Jun 18, 2018 1:35 pm

Z80 Refugee wrote:
Mon Jun 18, 2018 7:56 am
You need something to measure the temperature to be able to set it accurately enough for lead-free - a DMM with thermocouple input would do, or an infrared thermometer. The other items in the kit are useful if you don't already have them.
Yeah, I'm not sure how accurate the dial is on these Handskit irons: around 350 °C seems to burn off surface mount pads too easily. We have to use leaded solder (for folks learning, there's a lot of rework), which I don't use at home.

My DMM (a far more expensive one than it needs to be) needs an expensive surface probe to read over 200 °C. The IR thermometer might work, but tips are small and reflective so getting a meaningful reading would be tricky.
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Heater
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Re: Digital TC Soldering Station (UK)

Mon Jun 18, 2018 2:54 pm

After you have been soldering for a while you will come to realize that the temperatures displayed on temperature controlled soldering stations are mostly pretty meaningless. No matter how digital and high tech they seem. No matter how much you pay. What they display can be far away from the actual temperature of your tip whilst actually soldering something.

Also I think you will find it a waste of time to try and calibrate them with temperature probes or IR thermometers. Please do try, it never worked out well for me.

What to do?

You know how it's 0C when pure water becomes ice and it's 100C when water boils? Well, the solder you buy will have a melting point temperature specified. So there you have your temperature calibration point. When your tip is just hot enough, as you wind it up slowly, to melt the solder you know it's temperature. It might be interesting to see what the display on your temperature controller is at that point. Does it agree with your solder's specification?

Of course at that setting on your controller, whatever it is, is not good enough. As soon as you apply the tip to a joint and add solder heat gets sucked out, things cool down, nothing works. Best to wind up the knob a bit before you start.

At this point it helps to have a temp controlled iron. The controller will add more power to try and keep the temp constant. Here it helps if the temperature sensor is as close to the tip as possible, like the Hakko's and TS100's of this world. Probably not like the cheap Aldi's and such.

In short, what I'm saying is:

Ignore the numbers on your controller's display, watch what your solder does. Be aware of thermal mass, when you solder a tab on power mosfet it will suck a lot more heat away than a pin on a DIP chip.

Use an iron with a temp sensor close to the tip. That makes temp stability much better.

Use the numbers on the controller's display as a rough guide. A way to repeat whatever you found works in some situation before.

Blindly setting the temp on your controller and hoping for the best is not a good idea.

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