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What to look for in a good soldering station?

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Hi guys!

I've been doing electronics some years now (at school and as a hobby) and I've always been using cheap soldering stations.
Now I'm running an electronics lab at my school and I want to buy some quality soldering stations  :)

What do I look for in a quality soldering station?
What is an acceptable heating time?
What kind of tip should I get. And should I buy a ton of spare tips?
How much does the power rating affect the performance?
Should I go for a well known manufacturer or are there some cheaper options that will also work well?
What brand names are decent?

If you have any other experiences, good or bad, please share :)

I want to spend something like $300 - $400.

I recently tried some that I really liked, but they are quite expensive :(
The ones that I tried were some Weller soldering stations:  
(prices are in Norwegian kroner ~$1000)

I really liked the soldering "tweezers" of the Weller station.
The tip of the pen had a mini-jack on the back and was quick to hot-swap.

We are soon getting a cnc mill, so we'll be doing a lot of smd work.
We already have an Atten 858D hot air station, so the station doesn't need hot air (or does it?).

Link to Dave's review of the hot air station:

Thanks =)

I would look into tip prices as a factor.  Once you get at the $100 soldering level, you have a decent iron.  For a school situation, I imagine you have the possibility of going through more tips than someone who is experienced at soldering.  So $7 vs $20 for a tip might start to add up.

After getting the hot air station, I found that it is so much easier than a tweezers iron for soldering or removing SMD.   

There's quite a number of archived discussions on the forum, just check those.  For home use, you can't go wrong with a Hakko FX888, Dave did a mini-review some time in the past.  Unlike Weller, you can be sure its still made with high quality and consistency, as they are made in Japan.  Hakko gives very good support, has many accessories, and the predecessor Hakko 936 was so copied it tells you how well accepted it was.

The key qualities are it heat up in seconds, holds temperature as set and tip lasts long.  The cord is soft and supple so you don't wrestle with it while soldering, and the iron is lightweight and pen like rather than holding a short broom stick. 

How is your lab setup going? Have you made any decisions?
Perhaps you'd want to tell more about it?

Some have a tube that runs down the length of the iron and provides suction to remove fumes.
It's works well to remove fumes but makes the iron a bit weird to hold since it's not round in shape like a normal iron.

I'd recommend checking if you like the feel before getting one like that.


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