Soldering stations are among the most popular type of iron on the market. But when most new users search for an iron, a station isn’t often the first thing they buy.
What, exactly, are the differences between stations and other types of soldering gear? Why should you buy a station over another type? We’ll answer all of these questions and more.
Advantages of Soldering Stations
Overall, it all boils down to flexibility. Soldering stations are easier to use than standard irons, and they can be used for a wider variety of applications. To understand the specific benefits, we’re going to be comparing stations to every type of soldering iron on the market.
The Two Key Factors
If you’re an advanced user working on a very complicated project, you might buy an iron or tool that’s specifically designed for the type of project you need. But with a station, you’ve got something that can handle almost any types of project. Generally, these units excel in a few key areas
Soldering stations aren’t all that expensive! Sure, they might cost a few dollars more than the next cheapest option on the list. But these base-model irons are heavily crippled in functionality. By the time that you purchase all of the essential accessories that a station ships with, you’ll realize that the station has much better bang for your buck.
Soldering stations are better equipped to handle complicated tasks. They get hotter more quickly, and they hold their temperatures more accurately. This is because stations have larger power supplies, so they can provide the juice necessary to make that happen.
Why This Matters
When you start getting into other types of irons, you’ll find that they are crippled in one of the two ways we mentioned above. You might find that an iron is compact, but doesn’t have the power. Or, if you find one that is both compact and has power it will be extremely expensive. With stations, you get the best of both worlds. Everything you are missing out on isn’t essential, but the features it does have are core.
Soldering Stations Aren’t Always The Best
As with any product, there are good models and bad models. If you’re unsure of what to look for, check out our guide to the best soldering stations on the market. Or, you can read on to find out what specifically would lead us to choose a station over another type of iron.
Advantages over Pencil Irons
Pencil irons are probably what you think about when you imagined a soldering iron. Pencils are an elongated plastic handle with a cord coming out of the back, and a single tip on the end. Generally, these are the cheapest models available but they are also the most basic.
Pencil irons do not offer temperature adjustment – one of the key features of a soldering station. Additionally, they are much more cumbersome to use. With no base, the irons handle has to be much thicker in order to contain all of the internal components.
Meanwhile, a soldering station places all of the bulky components seperate from the iron itself, keeping it nice and compact. This also allows stations to use much more powerful components, as they are not spatially constrained.
Finally, stations give you a place to put the iron when it’s not in use. In almost every example the base station includes a spring-like holster. This lets you put the hot iron away without risking damage to your components, or harm to yourself. Meanwhile, a pencil iron only provides a meager kick stand – not all that effective!
Advantages over Cordless Irons
Cordless irons are a must-have for anyone that’s going to be soldering in tight places. But they’re not for everyone. Cordless irons come in two varieties – fueled or electric. Electric models have a battery inside (usually lithium ion) while fueled models burn butane to generate heat.
In the case of battery powered cordless irons, the problem is capacity and heat. Batteries can die mighty quickly, with some models only lasting minutes. Additionally, the iron never gets quite as hot as something you plug in.
Fueled cordless irons have the opposite problem. They get very hot and can last for an hour or two, but the temperature isn’t easy to control. It’s easy to burn your board, or fry delicate components.
Soldering stations aren’t quite as portable, but they are much easier to run. You get better control of your temperature, which helps you to do a better job soldering. And you NEVER have to worry about killing your batteries, or constantly replacing butane.
Advantages over Adjustable Irons
Adjustable irons look just like pencil irons, with one key difference: there is a dial that lets you select the temperature. Since temperature selection was one of the key advantages of stations over pencils, this one must be a clear winner, right?
Adjustable irons are definitely closer, but there is still a ways to go. In this form factor, the manufacturer has to cram a LOT of components into a compact handle. This means that adjustable irons don’t produce as much power as stations do. Not only do they take longer to heat up, but they also have a harder time maintaining temperature.
For these reasons, the advantages of a station should be obvious. You get better accuracy and faster temperatures – two key things to help you solder with precision.
Advantages over Torches
This is one of the few examples where stations aren’t necessarily better. Torches are designed for a totally different application. Most commonly, they are used for brazing two pipes together – a common task for plumbers. However, they’ve also been used for soldering very large wires and connectors together.
Torches should be used in situations where an iron just isn’t big or hot enough. On the flip side, they cannot be used for small, precise work like what you’d do with a standard soldering iron.
Soldering stations aren’t the be-all-end-all of irons. After all, there are a few exceptions where you’ll need something else. But these circumstances are rare. A soldering station will allow you to do almost any job you put your mind too, and that’s not something we can say about all of the other types available.