I finally decided that the ageing cheap soldering iron I bought many years ago was probably not the best tool around for the job. My requirements haven't really gotten that much more complex, but I had noticed while helping people out on their first soldering experience the iron I have is heavy and slow.
But could a soldering iron that costs about ten times as much as a cheapie really be that much better? It turns out, absolutely it is.
I'm not going to do a full review, but here's a few thoughts on the Hakko FX-888 I ended up buying..
- The iron itself is very light and the cable is flexible. This makes it much easier to handle as a tool and position it without fighting both the mass of the iron itself and it being dragged out of place by a heavy cable.
- The power/control base feels solid and well built. The teardowns I've seen floating around the net suggest the internal build quality is pretty good, and the base won't move easily at all (which again helps with the whole cable thing).
- It's really fast. The ceramic heater in the iron seems to hit the dialed temperature (since this is a temp controlled iron) in around 10 or 15 seconds, way quicker than a cheapie iron. I'm far too used to having to plug in the old iron several minutes before I can do anything with it.
I really wasn't that sure a soldering iron many times more expensive than my cheapie would make such a difference, but it really has. I find it much easier to clean up solder bridges on 0.65mm pitch TSSOP parts with the new iron than I've ever had luck with using the old one.