• Daniel Wright

Any Idiot Can Do This Job!

Why is it every time I buy a new piece of equipment someone always feels a need to tell me I was wrong and I should have bought ‘this one or that one’ instead? In theory they might be right, but in practise, ‘this one or that one’ always costs a lot more than I can afford.

So I have to make compromises.

A good example of this is the rework station I’ve been using for the last year or so. It’s a WEP 853AAA I bought on Amazon for about £170. The reviews were mixed but much better than many of the other stations in that price range. Reading between the lines, a lot of the poor reviews described user error, damage caused in transit or problems that didn’t really concern me. So it seemed like a good choice.

It was also important that I could justify the cost.

In an ideal world I would have loved to spend £400 on a Hakko soldering station and another £400 on the same brand of hot air station. However, in the real world I’m lucky if I make £800 a month and new equipment has to be budgeted for on the basis that it will pay for itself over the course of a 12 month period. I don’t have the funds to spend on something that might only get used professionally a couple of times a year.

I’ve been round the block enough to know that when you make compromises like this, you’re rarely going to get exactly what the cheaper kit says on the tin. On the other hand, if you’re prepared to adapt, practise and learn, you should be able to use it for what you need.

So from my point of view, all I needed from a rework station was a reasonably good soldering iron and an hot air gun capable of removing and replacing components. The WEP 853AAA has both of those things.

What it doesn’t have is an accurate digital temperature display!

There is a big difference between the actual heat of both the iron and hot air gun and what it says on the screen. In this case, the difference can be as much as 40 to 50 c. Judging by the reviews, this led some people to the conclusion that the station was either faulty or plain useless.

Believe it or not, it’s not really that big of an issue.

I learned to solder with irons that didn’t have temperature control and they took ages to heat up. Some of them had a dial on the handle that could be used as a vague gauge but it was generally useless and best ignored. The only way to judge heat was to wait for the iron to get hot and then test it by tinning the tip. It led to a lot of mistakes, but once you got used to an iron it did the job.

The same is true of my WEP rework station. By experimenting on a bunch of old boards, I soon got used to it. If I need the iron at 350 c, I set it to 390 c. If I need the hot air running at 370 c, I set it to 420 c. What’s more, both the iron and the hot air reach the required temperatures much quicker than what I was using before that. Maybe that’s not quick enough for some people, but I’m in no rush.

When it comes to soldering and working with delicate micro components, I’m a slow and steady kind of a person!

So now I’ve got to know my rework stations quirks, I don’t even think about them and I know exactly what temperature reading is right for the job. I’ve used it to successfully remove and replace all of the surface mount components I bought it for and it's paid for itself. If demand for board level repairs increases, I might consider an upgrade but until that happens, I’m happy to use what’s in front of me.