Sparkfun Variable Temp Soldering Station ~ Review
Well my Sparkfun Soldering Station finally arrived in the mail today, and oh boy I was so excited, I nearly squeeled with glee I grunted in anticipation. Put on your safety goggles, and take it for a spin with me!
Here's the spicy red box. Muy Caliente! (That means "very hot" in Spanish). You'll notice on the front side of the box it shows the box contents and the far right shows a regular wet sponge is included. Sparkfun has been shipping these irons lately with an additional domed metal ball sponge, pictured below. Thanks, Sparkfun!
There's a problem with this metal dome however; if you look closely you'll see the lip at the bottom doesn't press down fully to the base stand. Nothing that some ingenuity can't fix, though.
All the contents laid out in a pretty HDR photo for you.
And here's the front of the station. It has a variable temperature dial that shows in Fahrenheit or Celcius. The LED light will turn on when you flip the power switch (next photo), and it will blink on/off when your desired temperature is reached. There's also a tiny adjustable potentiometer inside the hole in the center, right next to where it says CAL (Calibrate). You'll need to adjust this with a small Philips head screwdriver when you change tips.
Prerequisite sexy side shot. What a beast! The station itself has a nice, sturdy weight to it even though its all plastic--I'm assuming ABS plastic. Note how the winged feet at the base front lifts the station up a bit; a nice touch.
Important warning label. I wasn't kidding when I said this thing is Muy Caliente! It also depicts how to change your heating element and the soldering tip. Note: the tip is a hollow point kind. That is, a heating rod protrudes into the tip from the inside. How naughty you might say. I know. This means your screw type or bolt in type tips won't please THIS soldering station, sorry guys!
Another thing to mention that may or may not be a dealbreaker for you, there's a hard rubber grip on the pen which is somewhat thin, as is the pen itself. It doesn't feel safe to me in the sense that my fingers are very close to the hot metal tube, as the circumference of the "hilt" isn't that wide. I think they should have given the pen a larger rubber surface for gripping for clumsy people like myself.
I wanted to point out the lock nut for the iron. This makes it super easy to plug in your soldering iron. It seems like a very sturdy connection so far without chance of coming off or generally breaking on you. Also the wires that lead to the iron itself have a very soft and flexible rubber insulator. I even managed to accidentally touch it with the hot iron and it's not burnt!
But how well does it iron you ask!? Immediately after setting everything up and tinning the tip (didn't really need to in my opinion), I did a few soldering tasks to test it out. First, I tried soldering at Sparkfun's recommended 350 degrees with some wire tinning and wire connections. It was smooth like butter when working with the rosin core solder I used. Then, I cranked up the heat almost to the maximum allowed degrees and tried some more heavy duty work. Everything was great and no cold solder joints whatsoever. Even though I abused the poor little needle tip, the station held up perfectly, and my fingers never got too warm by holding the pen no matter at what temperature it was set to.
Ultimately I really like this soldering station. If you're looking to replace that cheapo Soldering pen or are in need of replacing an old, worn down or broken station, look no further than this one. It's a 50watt, variable 200 to 480 Celcius, solid little unit. It's great for beginners and pro's alike, and for a measly $40 dollars plus shipping, you too can hold a great piece of craftsmanship. Also, the Sparkfun logo is like really, really cool.