Tools: Aoyue 968 3-in-1 soldering and rework station

aoyue968-front

The $10 “fire-starter” is the most common beginner soldering iron. These are simple irons with a hot end, a handle, and little else. There’s no temperature control or indication. Despite their simplicity, they’ll do just about anything. You can solder any legged chip type with this type of iron. We used fire-starters in the lab for years.

Eventually, we wanted a hot air rework tool to salvage SMD parts and solder QFN chips. Aoyue is a relatively unknown Chinese brand that makes soldering stations very similar in appearance and function to Hakko. Aoyue stations are recommended and used by Sparkfun Electronics, something that factored heavily in our decision to buy an Aoyue. Read more about our experiences with this tool after the break.

aoyue968

The Aoyue 968 combines three tools: an adjustable soldering iron, a digitally controlled hot air tool, and a fume extractor. We usually prefer separate units because the parts can be individually upgraded or replaced, but this combined tool is much cheaper and saves valuable bench space in the lab.

iron-and-filter

The soldering iron temperature is adjusted with a knob, with a range of 200 to 480 degrees Celsius. We usually solder between 300C and 350C.

The iron handle is an inexpensive plastic assembly that eventually broke along the threads that hold the iron in place. New irons are available for around $15, but we fixed the old one with some high-temperature epoxy.

The fume extractor is a tube that attaches to the soldering iron. The hot air rework tool air intake is used to suck fumes away from the tip of the iron. The fumes are filtered with a small plastic net before exiting through the hot-air tool. It works really well, and eliminates the breath-hold-solder-breath system we used to avoid getting a nose full of flux fumes. The tiny filter doesn’t look like it does much, but it came with a replacement. We worry somewhat about the long term effects of coating the hot air tool’s heating element with rosin and other crud.

iron-holder667

It’s pretty obvious that the iron holder wasn’t intended for this particular iron because the holding ring doesn’t fit the fume extractor attachment, this is a bit of a pain.

rework-and-nozz

The hot air rework tool has a temperature range of 90 to 480 degrees Celsius. We use 400C hot air to remove passive parts, and 420C to remove chips.

The temperature is adjusted in 2 degree increments using the digital numerical readouts. The air flow rate is adjusted with a knob, volume is indicated by a floating ball gauge. The hot air tool came with a half-dozen nozzles, we’ve only used the medium size.

aoyue-inside1

We’re extremely happy with the Auyoe 968. It’s already paid for itself twice, in terms of not having to replace $10 soldering irons every month. If it breaks, we can buy a new one without regret. The hot air rework tool has opened a world of possibilities for salvaging parts and repairing projects. The adjustable soldering iron provides enough heat to solder something big and dirty, but also adjusts downward so it doesn’t destroy delicate traces.  We haven’t needed to replace the iron tip or either heating element, but we understand they’re compatible with parts from other major manufacturers .

aoyue-inside2

Until recently, Auyoe was only available in Asia and Europe. We bought this one in Germany for about $100. The Aoyue 968 is now available on Amazon in North America, Sparkfun also has several other Aoyue models.

Sure, Aoyue isn’t haute couture for geeks like a Hakko or Weller, but for less than a third of the price you get a respectable rework  station that’s not a lifetime investment. As heavy DIY users, we think this station has performed great. We highly recommend it to anyone buying their first serious soldering iron. If you’re a pro with an industrial budget, buy yourself a Hakko or Weller; we’re doing just fine with our Aoyue!

Learn about soldering with an iron and hot air, and see an Aoyue in action, in the Sparkfun soldering tutorials.

Are there any tool reviews you’d like to see?

Comments

  1. Jake says:

    I’ve had mine for at least a year or so for light soldering and occasionally rework and its great. The holder is mildly annoying but you can get the air extractor to fit outside the ring and the soldering part in the middle.

    The one thing you might want to mention is the filter is NOISEY, i mean its not too bad, but after its been on awhile and you turn it off its always that ‘ahhh so much better’ relief feeling. So if you used it a lot, might want to consider that. BUT, its much better having it than not. The amount of fume reduction is huge.

    The heat gun is also quite useful. My only other wish is that it was a desoldering station as well :P

  2. Stu says:

    Chinese eh?
    So how many child labour facilities with abysmal health codes does it take to put these units together?

  3. craftyguy says:

    @ stu

    7.

  4. Dak says:

    @craftguy I believe it only takes 1 “facility” maybe 7 children…

  5. Derek says:

    Weller? Maybe for hot air rework.
    Hakko is for most stuff, but when you flip the switch on a Metcal, the bullshit ends.

  6. aficionado says:

    my digital weller with its $120 price tag and $4 tips and 9 °F control is just fine.

    there is no reason to spend the extra money on a metcal.

  7. Gabe says:

    See, this is what I call a review!
    Unlike the tweezer RLC meter review, this one is realistic, constructively critical, and geared towards the hacker.

    Nice improvement HACKADAY!

  8. BronzeG3 says:

    For those who only want a hot air station, try the Aoyue 850A++ and solder paste from dealextreme.com. The 850A++ doesn’t list actual temperature, so you will have to play with the settings to find the ideal temperature and air flow.

    I’ve used this setup to solder QFN16 chips and pull smd resistors, caps, and various ICs from random computer cards.

  9. Ironz says:

    I have two of the Aoyue 2702 stations in my office with an assortment of tips and nozzles. They have been very good machines and the tips have good lifespans even with the abuse some undergrads provide. We also have Weller WESD51’s everywhere but I prefer the Aoyue’s, esp with the fume extractor built in.

  10. nrp says:

    Hakko knockoffs are wonderful. I have a clone of the 926 that cost half as much as the real thing and has served me well for the past few years. The finish quality is obviously lacking, but the temperature is stable and the parts are interchangable.

  11. Spork says:

    I have the exact one pictured. It works like the price suggests. Small quirks, not perfect. On the other hand, it’s great for rework and I can fit a 0.5mm tip on, so my SMD work is awesome.

  12. Gabe says:

    @BronzeG3

    I didn’t see the Aoyue 850A++ at dealextreme.com . Do you know if they stopped selling it there? How much was it? How long ago was it?
    Thanks

  13. Josh says:

    @gabe
    I think he was talking about the solder paste from dealextreme. there’s some pretty cheap (sometimes price, sometimes quality) stuff to be had from there. if you don’t mind the waiting (and waiting) for it to ship from china.

  14. Steve Shockley says:

    How useful is the hot air for desoldering thru-hole components?

  15. jproach says:

    I also have the same unit pictured.

    Works great except for the ergonomics of the handle. I prefer a small handle with some foam, so I swapped it out for a weller PES51 (the heating element, and bit holder were left as is).

    Fume extractor is really cool, but too noisy. So I just stick with my pc fans.

    Nice review.

  16. sanchoooo says:

    great review. almost makes me wish i didn’t buy my weller.. almost.

  17. Jose Torres says:

    @ Steve Shockley
    It is not useful at all to remove thru-hole components. It’s a waste of time.

  18. nxb says:

    Have a similar chinaco piece at work. Needless to say the hot air gun caught on fire. They sent a replacement but then the tip on the soldering iron wore away for reasons I still can’t figure out and they won’t elaborate on. I bought the $100 one on ebay so maybe this one is slightly better.

    Through hole components? My old job used hot air guns when replacing dc plugs on laptops. It was quicker than with iron and braid and waiting for it to heat up. If you were good the holes would all be clear and the broken dc would fall to the floor.

    The best use out of these things? BGA rework.

  19. Todd says:

    I would love to see a review of your favorite multi-tester. I recently killed (unsure how) my beloved old RadioShack (high end, really nice) multi-tester, and RadioShack no longer carries any high-end testers.

    Looking for something in the $100 range that handles all of the basics.

  20. nxb says:

    Harbor freight sells $10 multimeters. The only thing they are missing is noise on the continuity test.

  21. nick says:

    @todd, i have a Fluke 83V, i know its really really expensive. but If your really serious about your reading accuracy get a fluke, even a used fluke or an old series is still really good. But for a good accurate “throw away” multimeter i picked up a greenlee dm-60 at lowes for only 70 bucks. That cheep little thing is good for if i have to mess around the house to troubleshoot something..

  22. philpem says:

    @josh: dealextreme ships from hong kong, not china. not that it makes much difference :)

    I’ve got two soldering irons — an Antex 660TC kit (TC50 50W iron and 660 temperature controller) and an Aoyue 852A+ hot-air station.

    The 660TC is *very* nice. Got mine for ~£100 sterling in a Maplin sale (just before they stopped selling them) and it’s lasted somewhere on the order of five years. The only fault it’s picked up along the way is a slight buzz (I think the transformer laminations have come loose).

    The 852 is very nice, for what it cost. I’ve spent about an hour using it, and managed to remove some SMDs from an old mobile phone PCB quite easily. Truth be told, I bought it for SMD rework and because I wanted to have a go at QFN soldering (there’s an Intersil appnote about doing this with a soldering iron and a hot air station).

    Got my 852A+ from here — http://www.pcb-soldering.co.uk/index.php?target=products&product_id=37. It looks like they’re a bit thin on the ground at the moment, which is a shame… :(

  23. chippy says:

    Have a similar model, #1 once burned up on first use. Second worked fine.

    Can’t complain for the price.

  24. ragnar says:

    I have good experiences with ERSA all my life. Now I use a RDS-80 Station and I’m very happy with it. If I need hot air I will take a look at aoyue, they seem to offer good prices.

  25. DarkFader says:

    Simple mod for the holder: http://flickr.com/photos/darkfader/231499729/
    And I had to put some aluminum foil between the black ring and grip since it was too loose.
    Also, the black paint of the holder totally comes off. I’m using a metal wool ball now but requires another stand.
    The hot air heater also sometimes resets to 90’C.
    And the blue light is always on.

  26. Lewis says:

    I had one of these up until last week.
    It caught fire.

  27. Roboguy says:

    @nick
    $70 dollars buys you a “throw-away” multimeter? How much do you pay for “regular” gas?

  28. Mike M says:

    I have their “3 in 1″ model that includes a desoldering iron. Its complete crap. The desoldering iron gets clogged after every suck and you have to disassemble it and clean it. But thats not the worst part. The “3 in 1″ is a lie! Oh you want to use the soldering iron and the desoldering iron at the same time? I mean is that too much to ask? Apparently so! You have to manually swap the irons because there is only one power port making this thing pretty much useless for rework.

    All I have to say is you get what you pay for. These systems look nice but they are absolute crap. I’ve had a Weller WRS3000 rework station for over 6 years now and it’s been great, but I paid nearly 4 times as much for it. The Aoyue got shelved after a month of work and has been since replaced by a refurbished Hakko 703 I found on fleabay.

  29. seantech says:

    After soldering with some of the major players in the market of industrial soldering stations, I now privately own a Metcal (sitting right next to me on my desk) and swear by it. :-)

  30. Justblair says:

    interesting find. These chinese units offer for the amateur very good VFM.

    I got the Kada 852D (swap Kada with any brand name you like, the same unit can be found with many brands upon it.

    I reviewed mine a while back….

    http://www.justblair.co.uk/the-kada-852-smt-solderstation.html

    Like Hackaday, it’s got it’s niggles, but I am totally happy with the product. It’s unfair to compare these with the expensive units, but in reality they come much closer to the premium units than teir price would suggest.

  31. Bob says:

    This ‘small plastic net’ – is that not an activated carbon filter? Or am I expecting too much?

    We use the ERSA i-CON soldering irons and the JBC JT-7750 hot air rework station at work. You could probably buy 10 Aoyue 968’s for the price of just one of each of those two, but to be honest I think it’s definately worth the extra money to get some quality tools.

  32. PlatinumT says:

    i have had the one pictured for at least two years and love it. the only problem i had with mine was that within the first hour of use it blew a fuse. i ended up destroying the fuse holder trying to get it open. i almost want to say the cap to the fuse holder was glued on. i ended up replacing the fuse holder with one from rs and a slow blow fuse of same value. no problems after that… probably my best investment on my bench.

  33. Terry says:

    @bob I doubt these things have an activated charcoal filter but adding one would be pretty easy. I have an electric water fountain for our cat that uses replaceable activated charcoal filters. Petsmart and Target sell replacement filters that are a great shape for a use like this.

  34. dubmuffin says:

    @terry:

    Drinkwell filters are painfully expensive compared to a floss bag and loose activated charcoal available at the same petsmart for use in a fish tank.

  35. JK says:

    That’s interesting. I got myself a soldering iron station from Aoyue about two years ago because it has temperature selection (analogue, though) and was quite inexpensive. It actually works quite well so far for my not-so-professional needs.

    The one thing that made me nervous was the smell of the handle and cable of the iron as well as the power cable. This sort of smell usually tells that Diethylhexylphthalat (DEHP) or similar, cancer-related chemicals are involved. Here, cheap tools and the like made with that are usually removed from sales when catched by testers.

    In my case, I replaced the power cord (standard plug as used in ATX PSUs and what have you) with a “clean” one and wrapped the handle in duct tape to largely reduce the chance to touch it (the toxins are transferred through skin contact, for what I’ve read). I think I should to that to the cable, too.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not whining, but this was too obstrusive to ignore. But that’s what you get when you save money where you shouldn’t.

  36. Tec says:

    I’d buy this right now, but the US prices are -way- up there. The $115-125 set wants ~$90 shipping, and the rest are $160 or so (+ real shipping.) And Sparkfun isn’t showning any units on the link in the article.

    Anyone have a lead on these for the ~$100 mentioned for US customers?

  37. Ben Jackson says:

    These look like they’d take Xytronic tips. I even saw a page which listed the specific included tip with a Xytronic part number. Can anyone verify?

    I’m also interested in a source where the total w/shipping is < $150

  38. Ian Lesnet says:

    I bought this one three years ago (2006) from WilTec in Germany. At the time, it was about 100USD plus less than 10USD shipping to anywhere in the EU.

  39. Ian Lesnet says:

    …adding – WilTec sells the EU model that runs at 220volts@50Hz and is intended for use in Europe and the UK. If you don’t have a handy 220 supply, you’ll need the North American 110volt model.

  40. doc says:

    I contacted Wiltec, Germany, today.

    They have all models from AOYUE in stock http://www.aoyue.de They told me, that they are the largest distributor for Aoyue products worldwide and deliver to many resellers in Europe. They just can deliver 230V machines. For 110 V they gave me the address: http://www.sra-solder.com.

    The Web-Shop from http://www.WilTec.info is partial in English and French, they still translate the site. Emails in the both languages are answered very fast.

    I think I will visit them shortly, because it is not so far from brux.

    doc

  41. Seb says:

    I have the 868 for the lab since 3 year now.
    The problem with the handle is the little PCB
    that hold heating element, it burn and fail to
    correctly hold the tip in place.
    I have successfuly used Hakko tip like 900M-T-0.8D
    on it.
    The solder iron lack a little power when heating large copper surface but do the job.
    The heat gun is very powefull but let it stabilize when you change temperature.
    And for the price, yes , you have the noise !

    Seb.

  42. dago says:

    anybody know is the connector for the soldering iron the same as for Hakkos? my point is that the soldering iron handle MELTED when I turned it on full power (was soldering some largish pieces of copper). I don’t feel like buying another one of these crappy handles so I though if it could fit hakko handles?

    the hot air side has worked really well, no problems there, just the soldering iron holder and handle are pretty crap.

  43. doc says:

    hi, some of the hakko parts are compatible. But hakko is much more expensive. I changed from Hakko to Aoyue, and if heating elements bruns, it is a failure of user. sorry.
    doc

  44. Ian Lesnet says:

    @doc and seb – Thanks for the compatibility report. We’ve been told that some parts are compatible, but yours are the only first-hand reports we’ve read.

  45. dago says:

    well the heating element didnt “brun”, the metal part of the handle melted off from the plastic handle…

  46. ericwertz says:

    I also have one of these — got it almost two years ago. It hasn’t gotten a huge amount of use, but it’s held-up ok. As previously mentioned, the fume extractor *is* kinda loud, but I don’t have anything to compare it against either, so…

    I got mine at http://store.sra-solder.com/index.php when they had them on sale (for about 25%, IIRC), perhaps during their line’s introduction on the site, which was considerably cheaper than I could find them elsewhere at the time.

    I have no reason not to recommend them, other than the aforementioned noise and wanky solder pen holder.

  47. Terry says:

    Now the only question is where to get one of these cheap. Anyone?

  48. space says:

    I have worked on that one for two years. My advice for new users: Leave air high, and temperature low when powering off. That way you wont blow up the heater if something goes wrong. Crank up the temperature in steps of 50C to working temperature. That way you’ll save the heater form melting down.
    If the ball jumps up and down it might be that air channels are dirty or blocked. Do not use the suction, and place the air filter in front of it. That way You’ll be able to use it for years full time, without any problems.

  49. joseph says:

    Hi space, I will receive my station tomorrow. What do you mean with “Do not use the suction, and place the air filter in front of it”.

  50. doc says:

    @ dago and @ space
    the problem with melting elemetns is just given if you are a new user.

    New users, like our trainees, damage the elements more often than a prof. user.

    If you use it like written from space you ‘ll never have problems with Aoyue elements anymore.

    But low air and hot temperature is the totally wrong way. If you need more heat use the preheater: http://shop.wiltec.info/product_info.php/language/EN/info/p2977_AOYUE-853A-Quartz-IR-Preheating-Station.html

    That is the better way for heating element and PCB.

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