[Noisebridge-discuss] new soldering irons for Crucible?

Taylor Alexander tlalexander at gmail.com
Tue Jul 5 17:02:33 PDT 2011

Well I don't have the experience Mitch has, but I have a few thoughts.

For years I used a cheap weller very similar to those $12 units linked in
the first post. You may already know this, but the difference between the
cheap ones and the nice ones is active temperature control. The cheap ones
just have the equivalent of a potentiometer to adjust how much current
they're running through the iron at all times. The nicer ones have a
temperature sensor somewhere near the tip and the electronics in the base
actively control the current in the iron to keep it at the right
temperature. When you're poking a large cold solder pad with a hot iron, the
pad will suck away a lot of heat from the iron, and the active temperature
control makes an enormous difference.

So one reason to get the better irons is that they make soldering much
easier (since the tip stays a more consistent temperature), which may very
well make teaching easier.

But will they last longer? I think so. For whatever reason, I can't even
solder with my old cheap weller anymore. Maybe it has "worn out" just like
yours have. I've tried replacing tips and it just sucks. And I didn't teach
a bunch of kids to solder on it.

On the other end, we have a few (actual) Hakko 936's and some nice Xytronic
models at work, and they are just excellent. We've had them for years and
rarely have to replace tips. We've never had to replace heating elements.

I also have an Aoyue combo hot air station and soldering iron, and they are
likely the manufacturer for Sparkfun's knockoff 936, as Aoyue sells a 936
knockoff for $40 under their own name as well. I've only had my unit for 6
months, but it has performed admirably. Even when I left the tip on

So in the end, I'd suggest giving them a shot. If you've never used a real
temperature controlled soldering iron, you'll be blown away at how much
easier they are to solder with, which should help with teaching. And then I
can confirm that I have also witness the cheap units just quit working, but
I haven't witnessed that on the nicer ones, so I'd say its reasonable to
assume they'll work for, say, four times as long.

So I'd say give them a try. Since they are more expensive, maybe just by a
few and see how it goes.

Oh, and on the sponge/brass debate - I love brass because it doesn't dry
out. I could just keep a water bottle at my desk, but I'm too lazy for that.

On Tue, Jul 5, 2011 at 6:52 PM, Mitch Altman <maltman23 at hotmail.com> wrote:

>  After teaching 30,100 people to solder (a rough estimate), I'll lend
> my experience about this.
> Wet sponges may or may not wear out tips faster (I have not experienced
> faster wear due to this myself) but using wet sponges to clean tips is a
> very effective and very easy way to keep tips clean.  And given that tips
> are very cheap, and sponges are really cheap, and teaching people to solder
> is the goal, I teach people to use wet sponges to keep tips clean.
> (But: they must be cellulose sponges, and not those foam plastic ones.)
> There are two things that are key to soldering well:
>      1)  keeping tips clean as you solder!
>      2)  holding the solder iron on the connection for 1 second after you
> pull the solder away (to give the solder time to flow)!
> For all the other details, here's the way I teach soldering:
> http://www.mightyohm.com/soldercomic
> For my decent (not great) Weller soldering station that I have used
> since 1978 (wow, that was a long time ago!), I have changed my tip maybe 10
> times (and I solder a lot!).  And I have always used a wet sponge to clean
> my tip.  Good tips are plated with some sort of metal that makes it very
> easy to keep clean.
> Jimmie Rodgers, who also teaches zillions of people to solder (often with
> me), really loves brass pads to clean tips.  They work great!  We don't go
> around the world using them for teaching, however, since wet sponges are so
> easy, and so cheap, and so effective.
> BTW, the greatest place for people in the US to get soldering stuff is:
> http://www.mpja.com
> They sell almost everything you need for really great prices.  If you are
> getting 10 or more setups, then it is even cheaper.  Here's a list of things
> I recommend hackerspaces (and Maker Faires, and other places where I do
> workshops) to buy for giving workshops:
>    soldering station              15860 TL   $14.95 for 1   $13.95 for 10
>    replacement 1/32" tip          15862 TL   $ 1.95 for 1   $ 1.75 for 10
>    needle-nose pliers             15397 TL   $ 1.95 for 1   $ 1.75 for 10
>    wire cutter                    16498 TL   $ 1.95 for 1   no quantity
> discount
>    wire stripper                  11714 TL   $ 3.69 for 1   $ 3.35 for  5
>    solder sucker                   0041 TL   $ 3.95 for 1   $ 2.95 for  5
>    replacement tip for sucker      9178 TL   $.0.69 for 1   $ 0.59 for  5
>    solder wick                    16433 TL   $ 0.75 for 1   $ 0.69 for  5
>    solder, 60/40, 0.038", 1lb.     4457 TL   $16.95 for 1   $15.95 for  5
> Also, Tip Tinner works really well for cleaning tips, but it makes horribly
> nastsy fumes!  I travel with it for workshops, since it can really
> rejuvinate oxidized tips on cheap irons.  Jameco and Radio Shack, and many
> other places sell it:
> Jameco part number  2094215  1 for $8.95
> Jameco also sells brass cleaning pads:
> Jameco part number  156777  1 for $4.95   (with a stand)
> Jameco part number  160004  1 for $2.49   (replacement pads)
> http://www.jameco.com
> Philosophical aside:
> For all of this (and for all of life), I recommend pondering this:  there
> may be ways of doing things that you really love (and I'm sure there are!).
> But it is pretty rare to find one single CORRECT (or right) (or best) way
> of doing something that is THE one correct and right and best way of doing
> (or teaching) something.  There are lots of ways to get a job done.  There
> are also religions on our bizarre and beautiful planet that claim to KNOW
> the one single correct and right and best way for things.  If something
> works well for you, then I hope you will explore it.  If, after
> exploring, it turns out not to be so great, or you find ways that are better
> for you, then please explore those ways.  Keep doing that, and you get
> better at doing whatever it is you do.  And it feels really nice.  :)
> Mitch.
> ------------------------------
> Date: Mon, 4 Jul 2011 13:03:52 -0700
> From: froggytoad at gmail.com
> To: lee at lee.org
> CC: noisebridge-discuss at lists.noisebridge.net
> Subject: Re: [Noisebridge-discuss] new soldering irons for Crucible?
> On Sat, Jul 2, 2011 at 10:39 AM, Lee Sonko <lee at lee.org> wrote:
> The Kinetics & Electronics department at the Crucible has several $12
> Stahl soldering irons<http://www.parts-express.com/pe/showdetl.cfm?Partnumber=374-100>,
> some still new in the box, but they sure wear out quick. Kids take their
> toll on an iron pretty quick. Do you think we'd get 4 times the value out of
> the new $40 Hakko 936 knockoff from Sparkfun<http://www.sparkfun.com/products/9672>?
> Better temperature control might keep the tips and units alive longer. Might
> you have any other suggested irons?
> I'm afraid that if you end up buying the more expensive irons and people
> overheat them it won't make much of a difference as they will wear out just
> the same. Perhaps your adjustable irons are running too hot and wearing the
> element and the tips out faster.  Are you seeing too much tip wear or are
> the elments burning out?
> The Xytronic irons from Jameco have an slot adjuster built into the handle
> that most people don't/can't mess with without a standard screwdriver handy.
>  Noisebridge has a handful of those.  They still work after 2.5 years of
> abuses. We also have a bunch of 1-3mm wide chisel tips installed on these
> irons that have a decent sized mass compared to smaller tips that can cycle
> excessively when used by beginners.
> The tips on these Xytronic irons at Noisebridge aren't in great shape, they
> are corroding from too much water (see the sponge discussion on a new thread
> created in response to your original post), but they can be rehabilitated or
> replaced and should continue to solder on.
> -rma
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