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'[EE] Soldering stations -- OKI-Metcal vs Pace vs A'
2011\09\10@160952 by Philip Pemberton

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Hi guys,

First a bit of background -- I've got an Antex 660TC soldering station and two TC50 soldering irons, which have served me well for more years than I dare count. However it has some little quirks (probably due to old age)...

My biggest gripe is that after a few hours, the yellow plastic section of the soldering iron is too hot to hold comfortably. This is a real pain during long rework, repair and "crash-and-burn" test sessions. Interestingly the second (newer) TC50 handpiece seems worse in this regard. Tip temperature is set to 350 Celsius at most (usually ~325C when I'm using 60/40 SnPb).

A secondary is that it doesn't have anywhere near enough grunt to solder DC power connectors, e.g. the Switchcraft RAPC722. That said, this is a minor annoyance -- I have a gas soldering iron ("120W equivalent") which can solder these, and >90% of what I do now is small SMDs.


I had a look at a Pace WJS100 at the Farnell trade counter today and started considering an upgrade. There's almost no weight to the handpiece, and it looks pretty decently made. The gold paint finish is a bit garish though (five quid says it'll be worn and scuffed to hell by the end of the first month in any reasonably well-used electronics lab). The ST100 is nicer (and comes with two irons and stands) but doesn't do ISB and costs a fair bit more...

I also had a look at one of the Metcal Smartheat stations, but wasn't impressed about having to buy separate bits for different temperature settings. I can see where that would help (production lines), but on my lab bench I like being able to start at a baseline of 335C (for SnPb) and increase from there as necessary (I usually increase by another 25C or so if I'm using desolder wick or soldering heavy ground planes).

Thing is, I don't want to plunk down £250 plus VAT on a soldering station on the basis of marketing newspeak and paper specifications. Does anyone here use or own a Pace?
How do they compare to the likes of Metcal, Antex and so on?

Thanks,
-- Phil.
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2011\09\10@164359 by cdb

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::How do they compare to the likes of Metcal, Antex and so on?

I'm an Antex person as well, I used to use Metcal at work. I think Metcal gain in reliable heating, though bits are not as long lasting if you're not careful, they also gain in being able to change bits easily on the fly, Antex ones definitely aren't easy in my opinion.

Just to through an extra curve - I'm looking at JBC irons which are also hot swappable and have the heater in the tip.

Have a look at http://www.howardelectronics.com for information.

Colin --
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2011\09\10@165527 by Mike Harrison

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On Sat, 10 Sep 2011 21:09:49 +0100, you wrote:

>I also had a look at one of the Metcal Smartheat stations, but wasn't
>impressed about having to buy separate bits for different temperature
>settings. I can see where that would help (production lines), but on my
>lab bench I like being able to start at a baseline of 335C (for SnPb)
>and increase from there as necessary (I usually increase by another 25C
>or so if I'm using desolder wick or soldering heavy ground planes).

You just don't need the temp adjustment with a Metcal. With conventional irons, the thermal
resistance between the sensor/element and the work means you typically need to set the temp over by
a margin depending on the tip size and load of the work.
A Metcal has the heat source and sensing welded to the tip,and  it can pump as much heat as
necessary  in so fast without overshoot that you just don't ever need to change the temp. the
STTC/SMTC 1xx series tips are fine for leaded and leadfree. You can do stuff like solder a TO220 tab to a groundplane in a couple of seconds with a fat tip,
swap to a fine SMD one and be soldering with it 10 seconds later.

>Thing is, I don't want to plunk down £250 plus VAT on a soldering
>station on the basis of marketing newspeak

When Metcal started, over  20 years ago, their sales technique was to lend people one for a week -
very few (< 5% ISTR) people didn't buy after using it,

Another major benefit is that the (cool) handle-to-tip distance is very short, which means it
handles very nicely for small SMD work.  
Anyone who has used a Metcal will tell you they'd never use anything else.

You want to go for the MX /STSS series as there are lots of useful tip shapes, including stuff like
wide blades which are great for reflowing QFPs etc.
Metcal tips and PSUs can often be found on ebay at reasonable prices

Some ex Metcal people formed thermaltronics when Metcal's key patents expired, who sell a
Metcal-compatible station and tips, which may be worth a look
http://www.thermaltronics.com/

2011\09\10@183117 by Peter Loron

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I've got a Metcal MX500. Love it. Handle is light, stays pretty cool. Tips are available fairly cheaply on ebay if you pay attention.

-Pete

On Sep 10, 2011, at 1:55 PM, Mike Harrison wrote:

{Quote hidden}

> -

2011\09\10@204944 by Philip Pemberton

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On 10/09/11 21:43, cdb wrote:
> careful, they also gain in being able to change bits easily on the fly,
> Antex ones definitely aren't easy in my opinion.

Actually, the new Antex bits aren't bad in that respect. They've put a spring clip on the inside of the bit, and removed the outside clip. The bit now slides straight on and straight off, so you can swap and change as needed (cooldown time permitting).

The outer-spring-clip design was a real dog though. You had about a 60% chance of shattering (or at least damaging) the ceramic element when removing or installing one of those. UGH.

Cheers,
-- Phil.
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2011\09\12@194945 by Philip Pemberton

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Hi guys,

Thanks for your input -- based on your feedback (and that from other folks I've asked), the Antex has been replaced with a shiny new OKi-Metcal MFR-1110.

I'm impressed with how well it handles heavy thermal loads... I had some SMD inductors on a PCB which needed resoldering, and the Metcal handled them fine. These are 10x6mm solder pads, one of which goes straight to a copper plane... The Antex couldn't handle them without the tip temperature crashing through the floor.

Being able to hot-swap bits is nice too. Not that it takes long to warm up and cool down...

I also bought a box of assorted tips -- conical 0.4mm, 2.0 and 2.5mm chisel, and hoof (drag-soldering). Plenty of stuff to play with :)

Cheers,
-- Phil.
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2011\09\13@121248 by John Chung

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I had the same situation when I started with Antex... Broke the soldering iron when the
bit was stuck. Anyway I removed the outer clip and use a binder clip instead.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binder_clip

I did remove the legs on the binder clip. It holds the bit well.

John




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