Soldering station advice

 
  VRfan Moderator

Location: In front of my computer :-p
Another thing to keep in mind is the people on VR-Enthusiast who are saying the lower powered/cheaper irons are ok, would most likely using lead based solder which is supposed to be easier to solder with and generally melts at lower temperatures.

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  MatthewH Locomotive Driver

VRFan, Model Etch sells low melt solder that has a melting point of 138C, the soldering irons I am considering don't go below 150C

I will hopefully speak to Mr Model Etch (I believe his name is Tony), as well as Nigel Gardier from the Model Design Studio at the SARMA Railshow this weekend regarding soldering stations and low melt solder.
  VRfan Moderator

Location: In front of my computer :-p
I think you'll find you have trouble soldering small whitemetal components with 138 degree solder. I know this is lead based solder, but I use 70 degree solder for whitemetal, 145 degree solder for brass detailing and 188 for the major structural components.

To get a relliable flow from the solder, I need to have the temperature of the tip hotter than the rating of the solder. By the time you get the iron hot enough to melt the 138 degree solder into a nice flow, you'll probably find your small whitemetal part dissappears into that molten blob of solder.

eg: when using the 188 degree solder, I usually have the iron at 300 degrees. When using the 70 degree solder, I have it at 150 degrees on small components and about 190 when soldering large pieces of whitemetal. Just remember to test the temperature of the iron first on an offcut from the kit to make sure it isn't cast in a whitemetal that has a lower than average melting point.

I didn't realise the 138 degree solder from model etch was lead free, but Tony knows his stuff (plus makes great kits) so it should be good for brass.
  Roachie Chief Commissioner

Location: Kadina SA (formerly NSW)
I don't profess to be anything like a "soldering expert", but I have assembled a few hundred DJH brass/white-metal kits, so have learnt a few things as I've taught myself how to do it.

One thing I've learnt a long time ago (I may have read it somewhere for all I know?) is that it is the "job" that should melt the solder, not the "iron". As such, what I have always done is to apply heat to the 2 components and when I am satisfied they are hot enough I introduce the solder to the heated components. As such, and as has been explained earlier by modellers who are far more  skilled/trained that I am, you will require a soldering iron that has a higher temp setting than the stated melting point of the solder. You mentioned that the lowest temp setting on the station you're looking to buy, as being 150c, whilst the solder has a melting point of 138c. I would suggest that the 150c lowest setting probably isn't high enough to do what you want it to do, so you will find you are actually increasing the station off it's minimum setting to achieve a good result.

In some circumstances it is preferable to tin both surfaces. This is particularly the case when to need to join a white metal component to a brass component...EG: the cab roof of a C32 class etc onto the cab sides and spectacle plate.....or the hungry boards on the top of a C32/D50 tender, onto the white metal coal deck.

When I was building models commercially, I had 2 stations side by side; one set for a low temp and the other for the brass work. I didn't follow my own advice....I used Dick Smith T2200 machines for quite a while; and they seemed to do a pretty good job as far as I was concerned....but they were machines that were made in the 1980s and reckon the quality standard may have dropped off a bit in the ensuing years..

Roachie
  oscar2 Locomotive Fireman

What about the butane type irons, are they a suitable alternative for kit building?

A few years back I used to have a small stubby Weller butane iron that was so handy on wiring and electronics and although there was no way of knowing the temp of the tip, I found that experimenting and adjusting the flame, so to speak, to suit the job pretty easy to gauge.  Unfortunately I stood on it and broke the burner before I got a chance to try it on more delicate joins with low melt solder on whitemetal.

At the same time I got the Weller iron I also bought a DSE T2250, much like the T2200, except 200-450deg I think, 55w output. I like it for most things but as TheBlacksmith says in his article, it occasionally shows its shortcomings with heat transfer. The biggest drama I had with it was trying it out on a whitemetal loco whereby on it's lowest setting, I'd repeatedly touch the tip on the WM parts to counter the too high min 200deg setting. Kind of worked. But I applied the tip once too long and one whole cylinder melted and cracked away from it's fixture. From then on I use Plastibond on all WM parts and it works well. I'm not game to try WM soldering again without a better solution but like many, can't justify the expense of a $300+ bit of kit.

Sorry to bring up solder again Matthew but regardless of lead content, I just wanted to say that I've found going flux paste and solid core a better way to control solder flow for brass, like bearings in chassis as opposed to flux cored wire which I seem to make a mess of. And to be honest, as a sign of my amateurism I go for which ever roll is closest to me on the benchtop which may contain lead or not as I've got both types lying around. The higher heat needed for brass helps I suppose. I dunno. I shudder to think though what effect clamping many split sinkers on fishing lines with my teeth as a kid many moons ago will have.
  TheBlacksmith Chief Commissioner

Location: Ankh Morpork
What about the butane type irons, are they a suitable alternative for kit building?
oscar2

Butane powered irons are not temperature controlled, so would be dangerous around white metal.

From time to time I teach people how to solder, and if they have a Dick Smith or Jaycar iron, I invite them to bring it along to the lesson. I then give them a large piece of metal to solder and watch. Invariably they cannot complete the solder joint, so I then grab my Weller and do it in seconds, and usually they get the point that their low-cost iron is not much good at the job.

Matthew you seem to be canvassing opinion on this and other forums as if you are not happy with what you are hearing. If you want to make a choice between either of those cheap Jaycar irons then toss a coin, neither of them is much good for the job, so you can't go wrong.

There is a very important point that has not been mentioned here, and that is ALL soldering stations are designed for electronic work, and soldering brass and whitemetal kits is nothing like electronic work. What you need is plenty of power, good temperature control, and the ability to recover temperature quickly when the iron is applied to a large heat sink like a whitemetal boiler or the like. Those requirements do not come in $100 soldering stations.

And on the subject of lead-free solder, some of the metals used in low temperature lead-free solder are considered to be just as toxic as lead, so watch out for that too.
  VRfan Moderator

Location: In front of my computer :-p
There is a very important point that has not been mentioned here, and that is ALL soldering stations are designed for electronic work, and soldering brass and whitemetal kits is nothing like electronic work. What you need is plenty of power, good temperature control, and the ability to recover temperature quickly when the iron is applied to a large heat sink like a whitemetal boiler or the like. Those requirements do not come in $100 soldering stations.
TheBlacksmith

One thing I found interesting after upgrading to the Weller WD1000 from the Dick Smith T2200 is how quickly it reaches the desired temperature even from a cold start. I also like being able to have presets which I can choose from just by hitting a button. I would never go back to the cheaper units.
  Aaron The Ghost of George Stephenson

Location: University of Adelaide SA
I too will be at the SARMA show Matthew, if Tony and Nigel are the I am unlikely to be too far away if I am there that day. I am quite happy to run you through some techniques I use too if you'd like.

I don't really use what I call 'modelling solders' but I would be quite surprised (and when it comes to model soldering Tony is 'The Boss' in my book) if you could solder properly with 138C melting solder and an iron dialled down to 150C. Generally I solder with a tip temp of 375C for no other reason than when I was taught (by some clever folks at BAe) that was generally the temperature they specified, for some personally historical reason I use this same temp for soldering brass kits. NB. 60/40 solder leaves solidus at 183C and is beyond liquidus at 191C yet the ideal tip temperature is much higher.

Occasionally for a reason I cannot necessarily explain I feel the need to operate 400+C but that is quite rare, I don't know the melting point of my 'low melt' solder, largely because remembering such trivialities takes too much effort, but I do know I usually set my iron to 175C in order to use it. The most important thing to remember is that 'solder' has solidus and liquidus temperatures, it's difficult to solder especially kits with alloys in which these temperatures are close.

In simple terms, solder (and white metal/pewter etc) is melted at solidus, it's not going to turn into a puddle and flow away, but it will be deformable, these alloys are fully liquid (as in now potentially a puddle) beyond liquidus. Here's the difficultly, often you cannot be sure which temperature you're quoted when you buy solder, solidus or liquidus. Hence whenever I buy a new solder the first thing I do is take a bunch of time to work out by trial and error is what the minimum tip temperature I can use on my iron and have the solder flow nicely and consistently. This is the temperature I then record on the label and that is often why I cannot tell what melting point it is, I no longer need to know or care.
  Roachie Chief Commissioner

Location: Kadina SA (formerly NSW)
Just on a slightly off-topic matter......

Could I ask the general concensus amongst the readers about tip-cleaning methods?

Until recently I had always used a wet/damp sponge (and I see that the Weller station is provided with such a sponge on it's stand).

However, 6 months or so ago, I bought a ball of "brass wool" (for want of a better term), which I now use with great success for cleaning the tip of my irons.

Thoughts from the experts would be appreciated....

Note to Mod/s, sorry if this seen as hi-jacking the thread.....if so, please feel free to delete this post or ask me to do so.

Roachie
  Aaron The Ghost of George Stephenson

Location: University of Adelaide SA
Brass wool always, damp sponge never. Why waste heat energy quenching the tip in moisture...
  VRfan Moderator

Location: In front of my computer :-p
My weller iron came with brass wool and that was about 2 years ago, but the box had a sponge pictured on it. I suspect they've upgraded their stands without updating the product catalog images.
  yogibarnes Locomotive Fireman

A Jaycar variable temperature iron and brass wool.  It works well for me.  The high capital cost of the iron has been recouped in high speed temp start up and alterations (white metal, brass, back to white metal etc) and precision temp setting.
  Roachie Chief Commissioner

Location: Kadina SA (formerly NSW)
Okay....it's confession time!!! (hangs head in shame.....)

About 6 months ago I decided I could use a soldering station, as I was going to start getting a bit more ambitious with my decoder installs (by fitting LED headlights and resistors etc)....Yes, that may not be what some blokes call ambitious, but for me it was/is.

Like the original poster of this thread, I couldn't see the need for anything too expensive. I do most of my purchasing on ebay, and soon found one of these:

http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/New-SOLDERING-IRON-STATION-937D-with-Iron-Handles-/160819802473?pt=AU_B_I_Electrical_Test_Equipment&hash=item25719b7169&_uhb=1#ht_4893wt_932

BEAUTY I thought.

I soon had the said station in my hands and it worked really well.....for about a month (or about 4 uses given my limited use pattern).

Not wanting to get involved with protracted warranty claims etc, I soon had the casing off and had a bit of a fiddle with my multi meter. I decided (rightly or wrongly) that the transformer was suspect.

Hmmm, what to do??

I gutted the station, only retaining the box and the facia with the 5 pin socket that the cable-to-pencil plugged in to.

I soldered a length of twin core cable to 2 of the pins on the back of the 5-pin socket. This twin core cable (about 3m long) was what was left of a 12 volt flouro camping light that had died. It has a cigi plug on the other end.

So, I now have myself a perfectly suitable (non-temperature-controlled) 12 volt soldering iron.

I've just been out in the shed using it to solder-up some LED automotive-style lamps to light-up a couple of dark spots on my layout.

I am now also considering my options for a decent soldering station....Hakko might get the guernsey this time.

Roachie

PS: I've kept the transformer with all wires snipped off....it makes a good weight for holding stuff while glue dries and other similar jobs that need some weight added etc.
  Aaron The Ghost of George Stephenson

Location: University of Adelaide SA
What was dead in the transformer? A transformer going dead is relatively rare. My soldering station, albeit an expensive Hakko only died briefly when one of the temperature sensing wires in the pencil cable went open circuit. Repeated movement and flexing in use does have the tendency to create such a problem. With a new length of five core flex it should live until I next break a core ithe cable.
  Roachie Chief Commissioner

Location: Kadina SA (formerly NSW)
What was dead in the transformer? A transformer going dead is relatively rare. My soldering station, albeit an expensive Hakko only died briefly when one of the temperature sensing wires in the pencil cable went open circuit. Repeated movement and flexing in use does have the tendency to create such a problem. With a new length of five core flex it should live until I next break a core ithe cable.
Aaron
Aaron,

Not sure what (if anything) died in the transformer. I simply probed the outputs with my multimeter and couldn't get any reading. I also checked the parts of the circuit board where the large wires attached; nothing.

I should have also added that I am powering this new 12v soldering iron off the 12v car battery that I use to run my 5 Peco point motors and various automotive LED arrangements for layout lighting. The battery is maintained usually by my C-tek 25amp multi stage battery charger, or sometimes I connect a pair of folding solar panels which I place outside the shed.

Roachie
  hosk1956 Deputy Commissioner

Location: no where near gunzels

I should have also added that I am powering this new 12v soldering iron off the 12v car battery that I use to run my 5 Peco point motors and various automotive LED arrangements for layout lighting. The battery is maintained usually by my C-tek 25amp multi stage battery charger, or sometimes I connect a pair of folding solar panels which I place outside the shed.

Roachie
Roachie
Roachie, you shall be renamed 'Heath Robinson'! LOL  Smile

Wayne
  TheBlacksmith Chief Commissioner

Location: Ankh Morpork
Sometimes I connect a pair of folding solar panels which I place outside the shed.

Roachie
Roachie
Wow, solar powered model trains, that's a new one.
  hosk1956 Deputy Commissioner

Location: no where near gunzels
Wow, solar powered model trains, that's a new one.
TheBlacksmith
The idea has merit, can you run a DCC system of a solar charged car battery, you are be able to run a DC system of a battery (been there, done that) and remote areas run of solar systems and inverters but would the average home railway consume much power, what would the average model railway use anyway?
You could still play trains during a black out, but I can anyway out on the garden railway with battery power.
Now we are getting off topic.

Wayne
  Aaron The Ghost of George Stephenson

Location: University of Adelaide SA
what would the average model railway use anyway?
hosk1956
Paradigm pulled less than 2A RMS from the wall, most of that was the display lighting which consisted of halogen spotlights. I cannot tell you the power drawn because for some reason (probably because current was all I was interested in) I didn't measure the supply voltage, but a good guess is power consumption of between 400 and 425W.

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