Tell me of the desolderers of your homeworld Usul.
October 3, 2021 11:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking it's time to move up from the solder sucker to something more professional. Solder guns with a vacuum built in look interesting, but never having used one I'm not sure what to look for. Suggestions would be gratefully received.
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
At the risk of questioning your question, I find solder wick to be much better at desoldering than solder vacuum pumps. Solder vacuum pumps tend to get clogged and often don't remove solder consistently. Solder wick is disposable, and can easily completely remove solder from a pad.
posted by saeculorum at 12:09 PM on October 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

plus one for solder wick. It's nice, and feel you don't have to use too much heat to de-solder components.
posted by multivalent at 12:18 PM on October 3, 2021

also would add theres a range of solder suckers from all plastic to some Japanese models which are all aluminium and use a standard silicone pipe as a replaceable tip.
posted by multivalent at 12:21 PM on October 3, 2021

Best answer: I use the Hakko FR-301 and it is AMAZING. It works so quickly and so well. Sure it clogs up after a while, but there's a tool to clean it out. I use mine pretty heavily, and occasionally something will wear out, so I can ship it to them on their dime and they'll repair it very cheaply, usually around $30.

I paid around $250 for mine new, so it's not as cheap as the other options, but if you're going to use it a lot and you can afford it, why not get something nice?
posted by Slinga at 1:48 PM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have found solder wick useful for some applications, but a bit clumsy for desoldering a single pin from a crowded board. I should spend more time playing with it.

In thinking about it one of the major (I think) attractions of a solder gun is not having to work with two tools at once. Coordination is a bit of a problem so the idea of using a single tool I can steady with both hands is appealing.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:50 PM on October 3, 2021

Best answer: I got a Zhongdi ZD-915 (usually seen under suppliers' own-brand names; mine came from CPC) a couple of years ago, having got fed up with using a solder sucker. Like their soldering irons, it's not going to win any design awards, but it works well, spares and alternative tips are widely available, and the price is good.

I was originally expecting to use it mostly for PCB rework, but it's really handy for cleaning solder off things generally - I've probably used it most when soldering to jack connectors and things like that. I'm now wishing I'd bought the ZD-917 which has a soldering iron controller built into the same box...
posted by offog at 5:14 PM on October 3, 2021

Best answer: I bought the Hakko FR-301 as well. For through-hole components, nothing comes even close. I have a hot air rework station and shitloads of worthless, difficult wick. FR-301 all the way. Seriously.
posted by fake at 8:39 PM on October 3, 2021

Best answer: In thinking about it one of the major (I think) attractions of a solder gun is not having to work with two tools at once.

The experience of using a decent power desoldering tool is streets ahead of using one of the typical pfTHWOOP spring-loaded suckers, mainly because the tip that the solder is being sucked through achieves much better initial contact with the workpiece and stays hot enough to keep the bolus of moving solder liquid until it's well clear of the workpiece, especially when desoldering through-hole connections where you can surround the projecting pigtail with the desoldering tool and maintain vacuum while jiggling the pigtail loose in the through-hole.

For best results you will certainly want to deploy the little brass wired interdental brush after every few sucks to keep the tip clear of oxide deposits, and change the tip before it starts to pit.

I've used power desoldering tools from Hakko professionally and will happily join the chorus recommending them, though personally I vastly prefer pen-shaped handpieces to the gun-shaped ones.

Note that the vacuum desoldering tip cannot also be used for soldering, because it's made from an alloy designed to resist being wetted by solder so as not to clog up instantly with solder oxides, and won't transfer heat well to a joint that isn't already wetted. So you're best off with a soldering station that has parking bays for both soldering and desoldering handpieces.
posted by flabdablet at 12:45 AM on October 4, 2021

worthless, difficult wick

in my experience is pretty much any wick that doesn't get used up within a couple of weeks of being first exposed to air, though added flux can help a lot with this.

Wick works really well if you're using it all the time so that you go through a lot of it. It does need to be the right size, too; too thin and it clogs without emptying the joint of solder, too thick and you can't get it to go where it needs to be.
posted by flabdablet at 12:50 AM on October 4, 2021

Best answer: Seconding the ZD-915. There's one on the shelf over my workdesk, and one (called Bertha42) at the hackerspace.

One thing to observe is that you should keep the vacuum on until the tip is well free of the circuit board, so that all the molten solder can get sucked into the reservoir. Some people at the hackerspace just released the trigger too early, causing the channel from the tip to the reservoir to clog in a way that the poking tools supplied with the unit were unable to clear the blockage. Removing the reservoir and heating the end of the channel where it entered the reservoir, using a conventional soldering iron while poking a pokingtool into the tip cleared those blockages.
posted by Stoneshop at 2:11 AM on October 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Wick is almost entirely useless on lead-free.

Old but serviceable Pace machines do the job very well, and they're built like tanks.
posted by scruss at 8:13 AM on October 4, 2021

Wick is almost entirely useless on lead-free.

Lead-free solder is a complete pain in the arse to work with in pretty much any hand assembly/disassembly process.

The easiest way to desolder a tricky lead-free joint is to suck out as much as will come with a power desolderer (or wick and a good flux if that's all you've got), then re-work the joint with leaded solder to dilute the lead-free remnants holding it together, then desolder that.

Contrary to popular belief, leaded solder is not significantly riskier for the typical hobbyist to work with than lead-free. The main reason you want to wear respiratory protection when working with solder is to prevent inhalation of vapourized flux residues, which get emitted regardless of which alloy you're using; the only place you're likely to see significantly elevated lead vapour levels in a soldering context is around industrial wave soldering machines that melt the stuff in large quantities. In fact, the lower melting temperature of leaded solder compared to unleaded might actually reduce the level of toxic flux fumes you're exposed to while soldering.

That said, if your hobby or occupation involves working with solder for extended periods every day then the risk calculation is probably a bit different; but if you're the kind of hobbyist who is just now contemplating acquiring a power desoldering tool you're clearly not in that category. The main route by which lead is going to make its way into your body as a casual soldering hobbyist is via contaminated fingers going in your mouth, especially if you're using solder pastes.

Also, if you're building stuff for sale then you'd definitely want to learn how to use lead-free solder effectively. Lead really isn't a material that you want to be sending out into the world willy-nilly; it won't vapourize much at all when you melt solder, but it will leach into groundwater from landfill.
posted by flabdablet at 1:12 AM on October 6, 2021

Some sound advice on lead risks at
posted by flabdablet at 1:19 AM on October 6, 2021

Response by poster: I went with the Hakko FR-301 and it's everything I thought it could be.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:52 PM on November 29, 2021

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