A few weeks ago, I watched a Mike’s Electric Stuff video in which he was talking about options for portable soldering irons:
The first soldering iron he talked about seems to be interesting. It’s a soldering iron with temperature control, but everything is built into the form factor of a regular soldering iron. He also showed the insides of the iron, which uses a triac to control the supply, hence eliminating the need for the bulky 24V transformer found in most soldering stations.
Ever since my temperature-controlled soldering station died, I was left without one and fell back to using my cheap 20W iron. I was previously using the Duratool D00673 from element14, which is actually just a re-branded Zhongdi ZD-916. It was really expensive (S$120), so when it died after very infrequent use, I didn’t think it was worth it to get a replacement unit.
The 24V transformer is quite heavy and accounts for most of the weight of this unit, so trying to ship it from overseas was also not worth it. After it died, I tore it down and found that its construction was pretty crappy:
... and apparently someone was too lazy to crimp the other connector http://t.co/JyR0fNybqL—
darell tan (@zxcvgm) May 20, 2014
If you want to see more teardown photos and a review of sorts, check out
this EEVBlog forum thread. Of course I have verified that this crappy connector job wasn’t the cause of failure. My preliminary troubleshooting found that the power supply seemed to be working, but there was nothing on the LCD display nor was it responding (no beeps on keypresses).
Thanks to this video, I realized that there are alternative products that combine the best of both worlds.
After watching the video, I decided to buy one as well. I looked for it at the usual sites and found an okay listing on Aliexpress. I bought it from this online store, which sells a whole lot of soldering and electronics stuff as well: http://www.aliexpress.com/store/703284
The package was quite well wrapped, I would say. I carefully deconstructed it to find that it was just 2 layers of this foam-like material, wrapped in copious amount of tape:
I ordered it at the beginning of December, and it was shipped and delivered within 3 weeks, just in time for Christmas.
While browsing, I came across several variants of these CXG temperature-controlled irons. There’s the 60W one, 90W one, ones with different tips, different AC plugs, 220V, 110V, and various functions: GS60D, GS90D, GS110D, DS60T, DS110…
I eventually got the CXG 936d, the same one as shown in his video. It comes with the same wiring and plug as Mike described, but the seller was nice enough to include a UK adapter. The manual is in Chinese, but you won’t really need it anyway —
two buttons for temperature control is very intuitive.
There is another variant, the 936D (note the capital D) which uses a different type of tip and apparently it has a backlit display, some temperature compensation function and a password lock. These were all rather fancy features which I didn’t require so I picked the cheaper one. By the way, it’s really a dumb idea to differentiate your product model numbers by the case of a single letter.
Here’s how the CXG 936d looks beside the Goot KX-20 (easily available locally):
The CXG has a slightly larger diameter but it’s still comfortable to grip. Notice that it doesn’t have such a large finger guard, so putting the iron into some iron holders may cause it to just fall through with the hot tip sticking out of the other end.
The price of the 936d is about twice that of the cheap 20W iron, but way below that of the soldering station:
- Goot KX-20 — S$15
- CXG 936d — S$32
- Zhongdi ZD-916 — $125
Even if it does get damaged, I can replace it with another one and it would still have cost less than buying another soldering station. While I have not yet used it extensively, it has been rather good so far and I don’t have much complaints.
Most of the Chinese soldering tools try to be compatible with Hakko tips, which is a really good thing. This 936d uses what they call CXG-900M tips, which I believe are
Hakko 900M tips.
Since they “standardized” on using these tips, you won’t find yourself short of soldering irons that do support these tips. Buying a set of good tips also means they are interchangeable and will work with other irons, even after this one breaks down and you need to move on to another one.
It’s a good buy.
It is cheap, offers temperature control, and is lightweight. It doesn’t have any of the drawbacks that the soldering station does — big, bulky, expensive. It also supports the wide range of Hakko 900M tips. I don’t see why anyone would prefer a soldering station over this compact temperature-controlled iron.
If you are looking for a temperature-controlled soldering iron, I would say just buy one of these. If you find that you are unsatisfied with it, know that it didn’t cost much anyway.