This unholy lovechild of a cheap solder sucker and an even cheaper soldering iron is the HBTool HB-019 desoldering iron. It came to me for the princely sum of five pounds ($7). So for somewhere between the cost of a pint of foaming ale and the pub’s pie and mash I’d eat alongside it, what had I got?
Regular Hackaday readers will be familiar with my penchant for ordering cheap tools and other electronic gizmos from the usual suppliers of Far Eastern tech, and subjecting them to review for your entertainment and edification. Sometimes the products are so laughably bad as to be next-to-worthless, other times they show enough promise to be of use, and just occasionally they turn out to be a genuine diamond in the rough, a real discovery. This is no precious stone, but it still makes for an entertaining review.
The Mystery is in the Power Cord
Taking the unit out of its blister pack, I had what looked like a slightly chunky take on a cheap iron, but with the plunger of a solder sucker protruding from the end of its handle where you would normally expect the power cord to be. The cord in turn came from the side of the handle near its business end. At the tip of the element, instead of the normal soldering bit there was a wide nozzle with a roughly 3mm (1/8″) hole in its end.
The cord is 3A twin-core, with no earth conductor. There is no regulatory information on the iron itself or on the box that I could find after a Chinese translating session with Google Translate, so it was in question whether or not the unit was double-insulated. The brown and blue live and neutral wires were just visible through the narrow gap between the element base plate and the handle, so I suspect that the unit wouldn’t qualify as such. Undoing the three screws revealed that they immediately passed into heatproof insulated shrouding to connect to the element.
Unusually the desoldering iron came with an American-style NEMA 2-pin plug stamped “240V 6A”. Since this is normally a 120V connector I checked my order, and yes I’d bought the 240V version. Erring on the side of caution I measured its resistance, which at 2K ohms equates to just below the rated 30W at 240V. Still reserving some caution, I plugged it in through a travel adaptor and a plug-in power meter, and found it to be drawing 29W when at full temperature. I have no idea where in the world they use two-pin NEMA plugs with 240V, but I’m not sure I want to live there. Off came the NEMA, on went a BS1363 with the appropriate fuse.
Plugging the iron in for the first time to try a bit of desoldering, it generated a lot of smoke. It is normal for a new iron to smoke a bit due to oil from its manufacture, but this one generated significant smoke. I’m guessing this is because the plunger mechanism carries some grease, and that this had found its way into the hot end.
In use, a desoldering iron such as this one is an effective tool, and more so than the standalone solder suckers we all know and love. It required a bit of tinning before first use, and it isn’t very powerful so sometimes it takes a while to melt large joints. But the combination of direct heat and a tool that is itself at solder melting temperature meant that surplus solder was removed extremely effectively, allowing components to be quickly removed with minimal damage to the test scrap ATX power supply PCB.
Like Archery, But With a Soldering Tool
You might think that would be it, a review of a tool that was found to do exactly what it should. Sadly not, because it was during the testing phase that the solder sucker revealed an unexpected property: the ability to shoot its plunger a few feet at will.
Retrieving all the parts after the unexpected self-dismantling on the tool revealed the culprit: the piston seemed only to be an interference fit on its end. Repeated mechanical shock from operating the plunger had caused it to work loose, and the spring was strong enough to catapult it across my bench. It was easy enough to reassemble, but using it now becomes a lottery of waiting for the next plunger ejection.
So, what can we take away from this review? First of all, desoldering pumps with built-in heat are excellent tools that make the task so much easier than when performed with a traditional solder sucker. Buy one now. But don’t buy this one, it’s no diamond in the rough and I’d have done better to spend my fiver on that pub meal.
It probably won’t subject you to electric shock but probably isn’t really good enough, and its build quality is poor enough that its explosive deconstruction is suitably comedic. If I wanted to fix it I’d cut a thread on the end of the plunger and put a nut on it, but then I’d also have to look at adding a mains flex with an earth wire. Whether I find the motivation to do this will probably depend on the future urgency of my need for efficient desoldering, so it will inevitably be done in a hurry alongside something on my bench in need of urgent repair.
The HBTool HB-019 desoldering iron then. Not a hit, but a comedy of ballistic plunger parts, inappropriate connectors, and mains safety that could perhaps use a little bit of attention. I bought one, so you don’t have to.