Hakko FX-901: Better than TS-100?

You’ve surely seen the TS-100 soldering iron. It has an OLED display, an ARM processor, and will run with an external battery pack. They are not too pricey, but at $80 or so they aren’t exactly an impulse buy, either. [Drone Camps RC] used one in the field and decided to try a Hakko FX-901 instead. He did a video review that you can see below.

The FX-901 is about half the price of a TS-100. Granted, it doesn’t have a fancy display and you can’t hack it to play Tetris. However, it does take batteries (including rechargeable) without an external pack. The manufacturer claims up to two hours of use and that it will melt solder in 40 seconds. From the video, the iron actually melted solder in under 30 seconds. The two hours, by the way, is with rechargeables. Alkaline AA batteries should give about 70 minutes of operation.

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One Soldering Controller To Rule Them All

If your favourite programming language is solder, they you’ve surely worked your way through a bunch of irons and controllers over your hacker existence. It’s also likely you couldn’t pick one single favourite and ended up with a bunch of them crowding your desk. It would be handy to have one controller to rule them all. That’s just what [sparkybg] set out to do by building his Really Universal Soldering Controller. His intent was to design a controller capable of driving any kind of low voltage soldering iron which used either an in-line or separate temperature sensor (either thermocouple or resistive PTC).

This project has really caught on. [sparkybg] announced his build about two years back and since then many others have started posting details of their own Unisolder 5.2 builds. [zed65] built the version seen to the right and [SZ64] assembled the boards shown at the top of this article.

The controller has been proven to work successfully with Iron handles from Hakko, Pace, JBC, Weller, Ersa, as well as several Chinese makes. Getting the controller to identify one of the supported 625 types of iron profiles consists of connecting two close tolerance resistors across the relevant pins on the 9-pin shell connector. This is a brilliant solution to help identify a large variety of different types of irons with simple hardware. In the unlikely situation where you have a really vague, unsupported model, then creating your own custom profile is quite straightforward. The design is highly discrete with an all analog front end and a PIC32 doing all the digital heavy lifting.

To get an idea of the complexity of his task, here is what [sparkybg] needs to do:

“I have around 200 microseconds to stop the power, wait for the TC voltage to come to its real value, connect the amplifier to this voltage, wait for the amplifier to set its output to what I want to read, take the measurement from the ADC, disconnect the amplifier from the TC, run the PID, and eventually turn the power back on. The millivolts to temperature calculation is done using polynomial with 10 members. It does this calculation using 32bit mantissa floating point numbers and completes it in around 20 microseconds. The whole wave shaping, temperature calculation, PID and so on is completed in around 50-60 microseconds. RMS current, voltage and power calculations are done in around 100 microseconds. All this is done between the half periods of the mains voltage, where the voltage is less than around 3 volts.”

The forum is already over 800 posts deep, but you can start by grabbing the all important schematic PDF’s, Gerbers, BoM and firmware files conveniently linked in the first post to build your own Unisolder5.2 controller. This Universal Controller is a follow up to his earlier project for a Hakko T12/T15 specific controller which gave him a lot of insight in to designing the universal version.

[sparkybg] has posted several videos showing the UniSolder5.2 controlling several types of Irons. In the video after the break, he demonstrates it controlling a Weller WSP80.

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60 Watt USB Soldering Iron Does it with Type-C

Some time back we ran a post on those cheap USB soldering irons which appeared to be surprisingly capable considering they were really under powered, literally. But USB Type-C is slated to change that. Although it has been around for a while, we are only now beginning to see USB-C capable devices and chargers gain traction. USB-C chargers featuring the USB-PD option (for power delivery) can act as high power sources allowing fast charging of laptops, phones and other devices capable of negotiating the higher currents and voltages it is capable of sourcing. [Julien Goodwin] shows us how he built a USB-C powered soldering iron that doesn’t suck.

He is able to drive a regular Hakko iron at 20 V and 3 Amps, providing it with 60 W of input power from a USB-C charger. The Hakko is rated for 24 V operating voltage, so it is running about 16% lower power voltage. But even so, 60 W is plenty for most cases. The USB-C specification allows up to 5 A of current output in special cases, so there’s almost 100 W available when using this capability.

It all started while he was trying to consolidate his power brick collection for his various computers in order to reduce the many types and configurations of plugs. Looking around, he stumbled on the USB-PD protocol. After doing his homework, he decided to build a USB Type-C charger board with the PD feature based on the TI TPS65986 chip – a very capable USB Type-C and USB PD Controller and Power Switch. The TI chip is a BGA package, so he had to outsource board assembly, and with day job work constantly getting in the way, it took a fair bit of time before he could finally test it. Luckily, none of the magic smoke escaped from the board and it worked flawlessly the first time around. Here is his deck of slides about USB-C & USB-PD [PDF] that he presented at linux.conf.au 2017 Open Hardware Miniconf early this year. It provides a nice insight to this standard, including a look at the schematic for his driver board.

Being such a versatile system, we are likely to see USB-C being used in more devices in the future. Which means we ought to see high power USB Soldering Irons appearing soon. But at the moment, there is a bit of a “power” struggle between USB-C and Qualcomm’s competing “Quick Charge” (QC) technology. It’s a bit like VHS and Betamax, and this time we are hoping the better technology wins.

Electronic Message In a Bottle

We remember going to grandfather’s garage. There he would be, his tobacco pipe clenched between his teeth, wisps of smoke trailing into the air around him as he focused, bent over another of his creations. Inside of a simple glass bottle was something impossible. Carefully, ever so carefully, he would use his custom tools to twist wire. He would carefully place each lead. Eventually when the time was right he would solder. Finally he’d place it on the shelf next to the others, an LED matrix in a bottle.

led-message-in-a-bottle-assemblyWell, maybe not, but [Mariko Kosaka]’s father [Kimio Kosaka] has done it. In order to build the matrix, he needed tools that could reach inside the mouth of the bottle without taking up too much space to allow for precise movement. To do this he bent, brazed, twisted, and filed piano wire into tools that are quite beautiful by themselves. These were used to carefully bend and position the LEDs, wires, and other components inside the bottle.

Once the part was ready, he used a modified Hakko soldering iron to do the final combination. We wonder if he even had to be careful to solder quickly so as not to build up a residue on the inside of the bottle? The electronics are all contained inside the bottle. One of the bottles contained another impressive creation of his: an entire Arduino with only wire, dubbed the Arduino Skeleton. Batteries are attached to the cork so when the power runs low it can be removed and replaced without disturbing the creation.

It’s a ridiculous labor of love, and naturally, we love it. There’s a video of it in operation as well as one with him showing how it was done which is visible after the break. He showed them off at the Tokyo Maker Faire where they were surely a hit.

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DIY Hakko Soldering Station

[Julez] wanted another soldering station, so he decided to build one himself using a Hakko 907 soldering iron (or a clone). Of course, he could have bought a station, but anyone who reads Hackaday doesn’t require an explanation for why you would build something you could buy.

The station has two switchable outputs so you can use two different irons (perhaps with different tips) although you can only use one at a time. [Julez] bought a case with a transparent top from eBay and also got a digital temperature controller from eBay, which is the heart of the project. As for the actual iron, you can find clone versions of the 907 handpiece for well under $10.

Because the station uses a module, the actual wiring isn’t terribly difficult. There’s a pot to control the temperature and the controller directly connects to the iron’s heating element and temperature probe. There’s also a standby switch that reduces the temperature using a fixed resistor in series with the control pot.

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A New Handle For An Old Soldering Station

About 20 years ago, [Simon] spent a few week’s pay on a soldering station, a Micron W/2172. It served him well for the past few decades, but lately he hasn’t been able to find a supply of new tips for it. The Micron went into a cupboard and he upgraded to a newer Hakko soldering station.

The old Micron was still sitting in the cupboard when [Simon] realized both stations use a 24V supply for the heater, and you can buy replacement Hakko handle for a few bucks. Having two soldering stations would be handy, so [Simon] set out to convert the old Micron station to accept Hakko handles.

The only technical challenge for this modification was to figure out how the old circuit board in the Micron would read the thermistor  in the new handle. The original circuit used a dual op-amp, with one side used to amplify the thermocouple and the other to compare it to the temperature set point. After measuring the set point and a bit of Excel, [Simon] had a small circuit board that would replace the old op-amp. After that it was only a matter of wiring the new handle into the old station, calibrating the temperature settings, and enjoying the utility of two soldering stations.