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The soldering iron I've used for years is a Radio Shack $18 deal and even though I always stored it tinned, the tip has oxidized. In its prime, it helped me chip my original PlayStation to play imports, add a WiiKey to my Nintendo, and work around a RROD on my XBox360.

Lately I've been using it to fix R/C motherboards, and its age is showing. It's always taken "a long time" to heat up, but now that time is an unbearable 5 minutes! When it is up to temperature I have to favor one side because there's a bit of oxidation along the point and other side (I always stored it tinned, I swear). Before I try replacing the flaky SID chip on one of my Commodores, I need a better soldering tool.

Instead of buying a replacement iron from The Shack (my cheap iron doesn't have a replaceable tip) for my workbench, I checked the internet and youtube for the latest in home soldering solutions. Wow, things have come a long way: they're called "Hot Air Rework Stations." Sometimes they call them "desoldering stations."

I wish I had had a Hot Air gun when fixing the XBox360 -- it was a nightmare doing that delicate work with an iron. With a Hot Air gun, it would've been a breeze... A hot breeze! Looking at videos on YouTube, a Hot Air rework station is definitely the way to go when working with SMD chips. Resistors, MOSFETs, capacitors... childs play. Using hot air gun to "heat up the set of contact pads with molten solder, applying the device, and then removing the heat" is the way to go over trying to solder each pad individually with an iron.

The popular quality brands in the $100-$200 range I see are "Aoyue", "Hakko", and "X-Tronic." Hakko is the most expensive. Aoyue seems to be the "generic" cheaper version of Hakko. X-Tronic has the most extras and value. I like the name too: the others sound like something a cat might make while coughing up hairballs.

The benefits rework station irons have over my Radio Shack iron are: digital temperature control, fast heating, and replaceable tips. X-Tronic comes with 10 replaceable tips -- the tips I think that'll be most useful are the ones with flat angled surfaces. They look like they'll really be good at applying some heat:

Looking at their site and checking the reviews, I'm torn between the X-Tronic 4040 and the higher end X-Tronic 6040. The 6040 is ~$20 more, but it has a smaller footprint and the control panel has buttons in addition to dials and switches. You can't beat buttons. Also, I like the placements of the power switches on the 6040. Here's a side-by-side comparison of the two versions:

4040 Rework Station (~$120)

6040 Rework Station (~$140)

It looks like the heating element for the Hot Air Gun in the 6040 is "in" the handle, versus "in the box" for the 4040. Not sure which is better, but I'm guessing you have more responsive temperature control with the 6040. Both versions come with a replacement heating elements, which is cool.

I haven't made a decision yet, but I'm edging towards the 6040.

Tags: Soldering
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