Working with photo etch material can be difficult at best to obtain professional results. Using a poor performing soldering iron just makes the process more difficult. While at my local Radio Shack I came across a Digital Soldering Station. Shortly I was on my way home and immediately set about the business of soldering some photo etch for a campaign I was working on.
The Digital Soldering Station was packaged neatly in an attractive looking box that showed accurate images of the product. The soldering station consists of the control unit, stand and soldering iron with 5-pin female connector. Expanding on the control unit, it is made of a grey colored plastic, built in power cord, power switch, 5 pin male connector for the soldering iron, ground jack, digital display, three preset temperature buttons and a variable temperature control knob. Setting up the unit was a snap as you only had to connect the soldering iron cord to the base unit.
Powering up the unit the digital display shows all its readings in a blue color. The default temperature indicator is in Fahrenheit but the system allows you to change to Celsius. There are two lines to the display. The top line indicates the temperature you have selected and the bottom one shows the actual tip temperature. You can watch as the heat output display bars indicate the actual temperature comes closer to the assigned temperature.
You can reassign different temperatures to the presets by following simple instructions on the included foldout.
The stand is solidly built and should not easily tip over. You can place the stand in a more convenient location while working while keeping the soldering station further out of your work area for less clutter. The stand includes a small metal tray on top and a removable sponge in its own compartment for cleaning the soldering iron tip.
The soldering iron has a nice feel to it when held in your hand. It feels solid and the cable connecting it to the base station is very flexible and 34 inches long. The soldering tip is pointed which I feel is much more useful for soldering photo etch then the larger tip I was using previously. The tip is replaceable and depending on the replacement tip you may need to recalibrate the unit (a fairly simple procedure).
Using the Unit:
As I indicated at the top of the article I used the unit for several hours and encountered no problems. With the solder I was using I used Preset 2 for most of my soldering needs. Only when I encountered a larger piece of photo etch did I find the need to use Preset 3. Changing between them only took a few seconds for the temperature to adjust. The sharper tip was very useful in getting closer to smaller parts or fitting into tight locations. I was very pleased with the initial use of the unit.
While more expensive than just a plain soldering iron the flexibility of the unit more than outweighs the moderate cost. With the ability to adjust temperatures with either presets or through the dial, your work with photo etch should be much more enjoyable. The issue with tip replacement should not be a problem if one plans ahead and orders new tips to have on hand as needed. Time will tell if this unit will hold up and be an indispensible workbench tool for photo etch.
Highs: The functionality of this well built soldering station really stands out. Variable temperature controls allow the user to set the desired temperature for the job at hand. Lows: No part numbers for replacement tip(s) are provided so this requires you to return to the store for assistance as indicated in the instruction booklet. Verdict: A serious tool for any modeler who works with photo etch materials on a regular basis.