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A friend asked me today to recommend a decent low-buck soldering station, and I have to admit I was a bit stumped. I looked around online, and what you see above was the best one I found. But I’m far from the best judge when it comes to soldering irons. I have a cheap POS iron that I probably picked up from Radio Shack (for too much cash) years ago. So my question to you: Is the Weller pictured above a good recommendation?

Its specs seem pretty straightforward: 5-40W adjustable with a single standard tip and a temperature range up to 900 degrees F. What I like about it is that for $40 you get a whole station instead of just an iron. The one I have a) isn’t adjustable, and b) doesn’t come with a stand. Generally I get around that by trudging down to the garage and soldering on my big-ass metal workbench. But that’s pretty lame. I’ve heard good things about Weller, but I’m not enough of an electronics guy to have a strong opinion.

Let me (and my friend) know what you think in comments. And if this is as decent as it looks, I’m gonna buy one the next time I have $40 to spend.

WLC100 40-Watt Soldering Station [Weller]
Street Pricing [Google]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]

 

39 Responses to Is This The Best Low-Price Soldering Station?

  1. Fong says:

    That sounds about right. Not sure I’d trust a non-branded generic for something as potentially dangerous as a soldering iron.

    I started out with a POS Radio Shack iron too years and years ago. Nowadays, I use a butane version of the weller. http://goo.gl/HyGLz I don’t solder much anymore but it’s great for those quick jobs and stores much better than a full station.

  2. Ray says:

    The Weller sounds okay for occasional use. Even though it’s not temperature controlled, it is adjustable. From my experience with cheapo soldering irons over the years, at least with the Weller stuff, you’ll be more likely to still be able to find a replacement tip in five years.

  3. Vynce says:

    Weller isn’t what it used to be.

    I think you’ll get better bang for your buck with this one from SparkFun:
    http://www.sparkfun.com/products/10707

    The Hakko FX888 is one of the best high quality irons available and would be an excellent choice if you’re really into hobby electronics:
    http://www.sparkfun.com/products/10553

    It’s a few dollars cheaper at AdaFruit:
    http://www.adafruit.com/products/303

    If you do heavier-duty soldering while you’re out and about, take a look at one of the butane-powered Portasol units:
    http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/B003HHK7KG

    • Jeff says:

      I used a WLC100 for a few years and it worked very well– great starter iron though I had a handle die after ~2 years; thankfully easy to replace. I just upgraded to an FX888 and… wow, big difference! I upgraded for real temperature control, and I’m surprised by how many more tips are available for the Hakko and how quickly it heats up.

  4. Ambush27 says:

    I just have a Weller without the station. Personally if I was going to upgrade i’d go with the $150 wes51d but if your looking for something in between 20 and 150 bucks this seems like a good choice for smaller work.

  5. Harrison says:

    Looks nice, I’ll have to pick this one up. Never even had my hands on one with adjustable temperature, so it’s even automatically a step up from lab equipment I’ve used.

  6. Steve says:

    A WES51 can be had for less than $90. I’d save a little longer.

    http://shopngarage.com/2011/10/weller-wes51-soldering-station/

  7. Mike says:

    The Hakko’s are actually quite nice. Some of the newer ones do have the “fisher price” look, but they do work well, and seem to have excellent thermal control. I have used Weller for years at work, and they are easy to get parts for, but when I wanted to buy one for myself, the Hakko made a lot more sense. I have the previous version of the Hakko listed above (a Hakko-936). Less expensive than the weller, all the features I cared about. A couple years later, I still like it a lot and would happily buy another. I got mine here: http://www.kiesub.com/prostores/servlet/-strse-3/936-936-dsh-12-936-dsh-12-fdsh-P-ECONOMY/Detail

    Their prices and tip stock seemed better than most.

  8. Gaspard de Coligny says:

    I do mostly electronic job… and the 40W iron is the smallest I use. (got also 60, 80 and 100W for copper)

    So an adjustable soldering station going from 5 to 40W seems absolutely useless…

    I’d rather go with a 30 to 80-100W range…

  9. Mike says:

    I second the vote for the WES51. It’s a little more than the one you’ve posted, but the fit and finish is nice–it seems more expensive than it is. I’ve used one off and on for about 4 years at work and never had trouble with it. I’ve soldered tiny SMD LEDs as well as chunky solid core wires on automotive sized flip switches. The little ready light is quite nice.

  10. Mike says:

    I have this station an use it on a regular basis. It is perfect for circuit board soldering, wire harness soldering, and other light use. It is an excellent electronics iron. I’ve used it to fix bad capacitors on TVs, assemble ham radios, fix my buddy’s laptop, install a radio in a 1976 Chevy, and replace the bad speedometer stepper motor on a 2007 GMC dashboard. I would rate it a 10/10 for the price and functionality.

  11. Blind says:

    I bought my Hakko 936 for about 80~90 a couple years ago and love it. The new model (FX-888) looks toy like, but I don’t doubt it’s abilities. I’d rather skip the $40 and get a temp controlled model.
    http://www.hakkousa.com/detail.asp?CID=49&PID=4800&Page=1

    I’ve also heard that the Aoyue models are excellent values for the money. I believe they are supposed to be Hakko clones, but I’ve only heard good things about them and they are down in the $40 range:
    http://www.amazon.com/Aoyue-936-AOYUE-Soldering-Station/dp/B000VINMRO
    http://www.amazon.com/Aoyue-937-Digital-Soldering-Station/dp/B000I30QBW

  12. Tony says:

    I’ll second the Hakko 936, I’ve had one for years.

    Hakko no longer make it but everyone else does; so there’s no trouble getting parts, especially tips.

    And they’re cheap too!

  13. ThatOneGuy says:

    I have been using that iron for years. I’ve made tons of guitar effect pedals with it as well as using it for every other thing I’ve needed to solder. Its well made and I love having replaceable tips. The Frys near me carries a variety of different tips. The tips last awhile but I’ve managed to burn through a pile of them. I got sick of buying those crappy Radio Shack irons that can barely melt solder.

  14. Brad says:

    I’ve been in the electronics repair biz since the early 90′s. My favorite and still economic is the Xytronic 168 solder station. It has adjustable temp and a meter that displays the temp. For a little more money they even have LCD display models. This will offer you many years of satisfaction as well as a wide variety of replacement tips available for all types of soldering jobs. http://www.palcoelectronics.com/p1002161.aspx

  15. Brad says:

    Here’s another Xytronic with LCD and adjustable temp for $55. Again, there are many tips available for this model from Howard Electronics. http://www.howardelectronics.com/xytronic/lf369D.html

  16. Andrew says:

    circuit specialists has a nice house brand that I’ve been using for several years. It’s $29.99 and includes temperature control.
    http://www.circuitspecialists.com/soldering-stations-csi-station1a.html
    It looks similar in features to the Hakko. Circuit Specialists other house brands have additional features for slightly more money.

  17. Gary says:

    I guess it depends on what your idea of “low-price” is. I have a nice Weller station that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that doesn’t do a lot of soldering.

    But for a few of my friends that just do a little hobby stuff here or there this one http://www.mcmelectronics.com/product/TENMA-21-7945-/21-7945 fits the bill quiet well, and if you sign up for MCM’s emailing list you will notice that it goes on sale for under $25 about every couple months.

    Tenma has been around for a good number of years now and makes a lot of electrical tools much cheaper than the bigger brand name stuff and I think the quality of the Tenma tools I’ve seen thus far has bean great for the money spent.

  18. Dale Chayes says:

    There is also a good set of comments about this unit at:
    http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/5066

    Since the tip is floating (not grounded) I’d be reluctant to use it to solder components. Remember that a lot of ESD damage is not fatal to the part, it just degrades the performance.

  19. Barks says:

    MAKE magazine at Makershed.com has a Stahl STSSVT for ~$20 that is a very good starter iron station.

  20. Mrten says:

    I second Barks’ recommendation! It’s the one I have and use for everything heat-related. Soldering goes just fine, heats up in a few minutes. There *is* a lack of feedback regarding the doneness of the heating, so to speak.

    Buy some replacement tips for it when you order.

    I just cut some rope with it too :)

  21. Mikec says:

    That’s what I use, except drop the wet sponge and replace it with a brass sponge. The replacement tips can be expensive, so using the brass sponge will cut down on the need to replace them.

  22. Aboxman says:

    I have the Lead version of this one http://www.mcmelectronics.com/product/TENMA-21-147-/21-147
    The new Lead Free versions have a little higher temp scale. It used to go on sale often for $50, but I haven’t been watching for quite awhile. Works great, many different tips. It’s essentially a Hakko knock off. I’ll also recommend the Hakko’s and I’ve seen some incredible prices on used Metcal’s on eBay

  23. JML says:

    Another vote for the Hakko 936 (or the replacement). Twice the price of that Weller, and four times the quality. It is probably the most-widely praised unit ever made – I’ve never seen a bad word about it. And it will do just about anything that 95% of folks would ever need – and do it well.

  24. Danuuc says:

    METCAL METCAL METCAL!
    I’ve been spoiled recently. My company was phasing out some older Metcal stations and I grabbed a couple. If you’ve never used an RF soldering iron, they are a tremendous advantage over conventional irons.

    It uses the skin Effect of a 13Mhz RF signal from a constant current power supply. This means the heat is generated on the surface of the tip delivering tremendous power when needed at amazing accuracy. This design also means there is no internal thermo couple of heating element to fail as in other brands. Since this design uses skin effect in the tip cartridge to Generate the heat the physics of the system achieve a +/- 1.1 degree temperature stability and there is no calibration required. Tip cartridges swap easily without the use of tools.

    And because the tool delivers the RF power focused to the tip, the grip is closer to the point giving you greater control over your work. These stations can be found for as low as $30 used. On eBay they’ll typically be around $60 with a set of tips.

  25. Bill says:

    Hakko 936-12.
    $80 is a lot of money if you only solder 6 wires a year.
    Then again, it is a fine tool and you will appreciate it when you use it.

  26. Ian Random says:

    I have had the posted Weller for several years now. It is an okay iron for every month or so use, which is all I have the strength for. If I did anything more, I’d buy a quality iron like the ever on sale Tenma listed above. I’m too cheap to buy a better tip, so in a pinch for fine work you can wrap a needle to the end with copper wire.

    Of course, for working on dead laptops you only need a blow torch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oVxGGPdkbc

  27. Frank says:

    That “Weller” soldering station looks like a re-branded ZD99 to me: http://www.china-zhongdi.com/zd-99.htm

    I’ve been using a ZD99 for 3 years now and I am amazed it did last this long. Nothing wrong with it if you are just occasionally building a kit or want to tin some wires.

  28. Rick says:

    Hate Stations ! Get a 30, 40, and a big nasty 80 for cutting rope and plastic welding.
    Buy Double tips for the Weller in a variety of heats, and you will be happy.

  29. Adric says:

    Its not bad, we have one at our hackerspace, its better than the noname blue one with the same formfactor the weller heats up in about a minute and a half the no name takes about 5.

  30. MaximRecoil says:

    A used Metcal (e.g., MX-500, PS2E-01, RFG-30 [the latter two can usually be found for under $100 used]). Nothing compares to a Metcal no matter how much you spend. After using a Metcal, all other brands are a joke (unless perhaps if they copy Metcal’s RF technology, which was first patented in the 1980s but that may have expired by now).

    Years ago I got a job inspecting and soldering circuit boards in a PCB factory, so I learned to solder on a Metcal MX-500. Since I had no prior experience with soldering irons, I didn’t realize it was anything special (yes it was very comfortable to use and worked beautifully, but how was I to know that that didn’t apply to all soldering irons?); not until later when I tried using other brands.

    The Weller in the OP’s picture not only has slow heat up and recovery times, but it has the ergonomics of a 2×4. To get an idea of what sort of ergonomics work well for a soldering iron, think of a pen that you write with. It has a slim body and you hold it down near the tip. This allows for fine control over the tool. Now look at that Weller handpiece with its inch-plus diameter grip located halfway up the body. Imagine trying to write with that thing. Then go find a picture of the Metcal’s standard RM3E handpiece and note the differences.

    The ergonomical handpiece, short grip-to-tip distance, instantly replaceable tip cartridges, rapid heat-up (room temperature to operating temperature in under 10 seconds) and lightning fast recovery time, and very tightly regulated temperatures all combine to put the RF-based Metcals in a league of their own (which is why they are so popular on factory assembly lines; not just popular with the bean counters, but popular with the workers as well).

    I bought my Metcal RFG-30 (with handpiece and stand included) off eBay for under $40 shipped back in 2007. I bought a new tip cartridge for it (it came with a used one, but not the style I prefer), and 5 years later, the tip is still working perfectly. When I worked in the PCB factory we usually replaced the tip cartridges after ~80 hours of use (which is ~2 weeks on a 40-hour-per-week assembly line), because they would start to slow down in terms of recovery time at that point (which is noticeable when you’re soldering at a rate of 1 or 2 joints per second), but 80 hours is a lot of soldering for most home users.

    I recommend the STTC-126 tip cartridge. It is what most of us used at the PCB factory for everything from tiny surface mount components to large through-hole terminal blocks, and I use the same tip style at home for everything as well. It is the perfect general purpose tip for PCB work in my opinion.

  31. dave_c says:

    The best soldering station for the money depends on what type of work you’ll be doing. If you just need to solder a few wires, a wand without a base station is desirable. Smaller / lighter / cheaper / less to break or wear out later. Hakko makes the best value in this type, check their website for model #s as they have a few.

    However there is an inherent risk if the iron’s cord isn’t heat resistant silicone rubber (like some Radio Shack irons), otherwise inattention can cause your tip to melt through that 110VAC power cord.

    If working with sensitive electronics or a production environment, go with a base station type that controls temperature. This Weller doesn’t actually do that, it varies the power level with tip temperature still depending on what you are soldering. I suspect it also uses a higher (variable) voltage than 24V common on base station models, so there might still be a potential risk of harm if the soldering iron or work melts through the wand cord (I don’t recall if it’s silicone rubber or not).

    There are others such as the Aoyue 936 which is a Hakko clone, even using the same Hakko 900M tips which is convenient, and it does have tip temperature feedback for reasonably good temp control, but it has a weakness in that they use low quality wire for the wand to base cord and it may fray before too many use cycles. Otherwise it would be the best value in a versatile soldering station around $50, but it is not suited for larger soldering jobs as the 35W capacity becomes a limit.
    http://www.aoyue.com/en/ArticleShow.asp?ArticleID=371

    I suppose my final answer is the Weller mentioned is a good value for a product with longevity but not really suited to electronics work as well as irons that step down voltage through a transformer and have true temperature feedback. The good quality units that do generally cost around $100 from competitively priced merchants, a bit higher MSRP. They’re easily worth the extra money if you use an iron frequently for work or as a hobbyist rather than only the occasional repair.

  32. wang says:

    I would definitely recommend the Weller WESD51(WES51 plus digital readout). Lot of engineering labs have this unit. It is very durable and built to last. Metcal is good but way to expensive.

  33. Donald English says:

    I use a Xytronic LF-3000 (90 watt) soldering station. It is $119.95 at Jameco. While its temperature stability is slightly less than the Hakko units, it works very well for me. At 90 watts, I no longer need to use my soldering gun for soldering larger iems.

  34. moki says:

    I have been using a Magnum Soldering iron manufactured here in South Africa. Every single spare part is available. I have had my iron for over 20 years now. I have replaced the PCB in the soldering iron itself once in that time. Sometimes I forget and leave the iron on for 5-6 hours and it just works. I have the model no 2000. You can buy these irons online as well.

    http://www.magnumproducts.co.za/magnum_Soldering_Station_2000.html

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