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Soldering only involves a few simple steps, but perfecting a soldering job is not an easy task. Therefore, it is important to know which tools are available and when you should use them. Of the tools available for soldering, rework stations and soldering stations are among the most useful, each having its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Rework stations are the perfect tool for dealing with delicate components, allowing for easy desoldering and adjustment without much risk of damage to the parts. However, unlike soldering stations, rework stations are expensive, cumbersome, and lack precision.
Rework stations and soldering stations are two tools in the same vein, but they have very different scopes of use. Today, we will be exploring the two different soldering tools and discussing the pros and cons of each, helping you decide which tool is right for you.
Rework Stations and Soldering Stations
Rework stations and soldering stations both deal with one simple process, soldering. However, while they do have some similarities, their uses differ vastly, each being better or worse at certain things. Putting vagueness aside, soldering stations tend to be more useful for precision work, such as through-hole soldering or more intricate work.
Rework stations work under different circumstances, providing a gentler approach, and being capable of working with almost any component. However, rework stations lack the same precision that makes a soldering station so useful.
The Basics of Each Station
Let us start by looking at the broad differences between the stations, namely the parts involved. If looking at the most basic product available, a rework station, also known as a hot air rework station, only comes with a hot air gun. While the exact options vary, there is not much more to the base product, aside from maybe a few different nozzles.
On the other hand, a soldering station comes with a few different parts, even in the base model, including:
- A soldering iron, perhaps with several tips
- A soldering iron stand
- A sponge, either conventional or bronze
While both soldering stations and rework stations might contain other pieces, those are the basics. Also, while it may seem like a given, each one involves an electric power supply and, likely, a digital display for temperature and other important information. Another difference, one with more significance, is the size of the stations.
The Pros and Cons of Size
The designs of these two stations are worth mentioning, mainly regarding their sizes and the ability to move them. Notably, a rework station’s size and weight are generally greater than that of a soldering station, making it more difficult to move and use. In contrast, a solder station is far easier to move and use wherever.
Therefore, working with a rework station often means taking the work to the station, while a soldering station allows for more freedom and control due to its smaller, more easily moved size. While this may not seem important, certain jobs might become troublesome if you cannot easily move the equipment.
More than that, the size of the actual hot air gun of a rework station tends to be larger than the soldering iron of a soldering station, making it all the more clumsy in tight spots and precision work.
Scope of Use
The largest difference between the two stations might be what types of work they do best. While there are minute details to consider, the primary difference between their scopes of work can be summed up in this manner:
- Soldering Station: Powerful tool suited for precision work
- Rework Station: Useful tool that excels at quick, less surgical work
The truth is, a soldering station, due to the soldering iron involved, is a very versatile tool that can accomplish most of the jobs a hot air rework station can. The difference lies in how well it can do so since much of what a rework station does easily is difficult for a soldering station. Therefore, what it comes down to is what you need for your job.
For jobs requiring precision, such as the previously mentioned through-hole soldering of a circuit board, soldering stations are exactly what you want. Such jobs demand precise soldering and control, which is perfect for a soldering station. It works best in situations where a very small spot needs working on for both soldering and desoldering.
On the opposite side of things, a rework station is much better for less sophisticated work, such as melting solder in a larger area. Due to the ability to heat large areas safely, a rework station is suited for surface mounting and other jobs where the components involved are delicate and can potentially be damaged by a soldering iron.
To Be or Not to Be Precise
So, precision is the strength of soldering stations, but what does that really mean? Think about these situations, each of which would benefit from the use of a soldering station:
- Connecting wires
- Circuit board soldering, specifically through-hole soldering
- Making a small repair to jewelry, pipes, and other pieces of metal
Basically, when two things need to be attached at a small or relatively small point, soldering stations can do the job. After all, they only heat a specific point, the size of which is highly controlled by the various tips and user control.
Hot-air rework stations are not as capable of that same precision. In fact, trying to solder or desolder a very small area with a rework station would be tedious and frustrating, perhaps even impossible. After all, it works by blowing air on an area, not exactly a precision operation.
However, what it lacks in precision, it makes up for in speed. There is also the fact that due to not focusing all its heat on a single spot, a hot air rework station can avoid certain pitfalls associated with a soldering station. This makes it ideal for jobs in which solder needs to be removed from delicate parts or large areas.
The Pros and Cons of Soldering Stations and Precision
To get a better grasp of why precision is such a standout factor for soldering stations, it is important to understand the various pros and cons, some of which we have touched upon already.
- Precision on a Single Point: As mentioned, soldier stations allow for a small spot to be heated without affecting its surrounding. This allows effective soldering of small pieces like metal chains or component legs, such as in through-hole soldering, which require heat to be applied to a specific area for a short time.
- Potentially Damaging: While precision allows for working with small parts, it also focuses all of its heat on that single point. If you are not careful, you can cause serious damage to what you are working with, and certain components are at even more risk of being ruined by the intense, direct heat.
- Cannot Heat Large Areas: Precision is great, but when the solder is allowed to cool, it hardens. If working with a large component or object, it might prove difficult to properly set it in place and solder all around it with a small, precision instrument, making the solder station struggle in such circumstances.
The Pros and Cons of Rework Stations and Broad Heat
It has been mentioned multiple times now that precision is important for soldering stations, but the lack of precision seen in rework stations is not negative, not always. In fact, in many circumstances, it is a major benefit.
- Heating a Larger Area: While precision is attractive for certain jobs, heating a large area is helpful in its own right. In fact, when dealing with larger components and those vulnerable to damage, a hot air gun far surpasses a soldering iron, allowing for solder and components to be removed more easily.
- Quick: When removing large amounts of solder, it is difficult to find a more efficient solution. Unlike a soldering station, which requires touching the iron to each bit of solder, a rework station can blow over large amounts of solder at one time to quickly remove and even resolder components.
- Lack of Precision: While heating a large area can be a great benefit, the inability to heat a very specific area makes it unusable in certain situations, especially if using it for an area that has other solder you do not wish to melt or other meltable substances that could be damaged.
The Curious Case of Wires
Wires get a mention here because they can show off a direct example of the competition between precision and broad heat. First is the process of soldering two wires together.
Once two wires are stripped and ready to go, an easy way to solder them together is to solder each individually and then attach them by melding the solder, a task most easily done using a soldering station and the precision of a soldering iron. However, desoldering wires is not as easy with a soldering station.
Wires are small components, to begin with, and removing solder from them completely can be a difficult job. While the easiest solution would be to cut or replace them, that may not always work. Therefore, you can use a rework station.
With a rework station, the broad heat can melt the entirety of the solder on the wires with ease, even if it would be hard-pressed to attach them for the very same reason. The logic here is actually the basis of many of the pros and cons of soldering stations and rework stations.
The Pros and Cons of Contact
One of the reasons for the differences in precision between the two stations lies in their method of applying heat. Soldering stations rely on direct contact with the solder or parts. On the other hand, rework stations never have direct contact with what they are attempting to heat.
While not significant in and of itself, there are certain pros and cons associated with this. Mainly, there are some major benefits to having no contact by using a rework station, such as the previously touched upon factor of not damaging sensitive parts. Other pros include:
- Being able to use other tools without much risk, such as a tool for adjusting components while keeping the solder melted and ready for placement, allowing for easy adjustments. It can also act as a replacement soldering iron of sorts if precision is not needed.
- An additional layer of safety. With direct contact, there are sparks, and while the risks are not entirely eliminated with a rework station and the elimination of direct contact, there is far less to worry about when using a hot air rework station. Considering the small components rework stations suit the most, this is helpful.
Financial Pros and Cons
To start, soldering stations are less expensive, partially because they have limited additional parts and functions. Moreover, they are smaller and do not provide much more than a regular soldering iron, aside from temperature control and some built-in safety features. The price-point is a definite pro.
An example of a basic soldering station is the Weller WLC100 40-Watt Soldering Station, which is available for around $40. Some soldering stations with more precise temperature control may reach about $100, but there are a large number of options within a reasonable price range.
Rework stations are not quite as cheap. While there are a few that compete price-wise with solder stations, they are the most basic options. One example is the CO-Z 858D Rework Station, which comes out to around $40, the same as the previously mentioned solder station. However, the prices can quickly increase with rework stations:
- The Aoyue 852A++ Digital SMD Hot Air Rework Station provides additional features and more power at a price tag of around $130.
- The Quick 861DW 1000W Digital Rework Station can produce a great deal of heal and can be programmed for further precision. It also has additional safety features, but the cost is right at $300.
Features of Rework Stations
While the price point is a definite con, at least for the more powerful rework stations, there are benefits as well. While the price does increase drastically, they come with a variety of features that can be beneficial. For the rework stations mentioned above, the difference does not only lie in the power.
For the Aoyue station, there are attachments meant for picking up small pieces, an especially useful tool when dealing with circuit boards and the tiny surface-mount devices previously discussed. This also goes in hand with the ability to utilize other tools while keeping solder melted with the no-contact hot air gun. Other features include:
- Self-cooling functions, which allow them to reach safe temps more quickly.
- Built-in solder suckers to quickly and easily remove solder when needed.
- Auto sleep functions, allowing it to enter a passive mode while remaining on.
While the price may make it a less attractive option, the ability to find a tool with functions that will make your soldering easier is a definite benefit. While it may not be a pro for everyone, for those, who stand to gain from some of the convenient features, having the option is a definite plus.
One final pro worth mentioning is a rework station’s ability to save and potentially recycle parts. Consider some of the other pros of a rework station, namely the ability to remove solder without damaging components. This means that those components can potentially be reused after being removed.
Also, the solder itself can be repurposed if the goal is to simply replace or readjust a certain component. After all, the solder can be reliably melted without much trouble and kept melted until the existing component has been adjusted or a new component has been placed. These are potential time and money-saving pros.
Distracting Final Thoughts
Literally, rework stations are known to be loud enough that some people report being distracted by the noise. While the majority operate with a noise level below 45 decibels, it is a constant sound for as long as the rework station is in use, which can certainly be considered a con. Soldering stations do not have the same problem.
However, there might be times when the noise is a reminder that the station is on. While soldering stations are safer than just a soldering iron, they are far more powerful than a rework station, containing far more heat and thus carrying some danger if not properly looked after. Always be careful not to leave it on and walk away for extended periods.
Both soldering stations and rework stations have their pros and cons, pitting precision against broad heat. In many cases, they are complete opposites, performing well in the areas the other does not. So, while a soldering station likely fits more of your needs, being more versatile as a whole, both are very useful and complement each other nicely.