A Homebrew Weller RT Soldering Station

Like a number of hackers before him, [MarcelMG] was impressed with Weller’s RT soldering iron tips, but considerably less enthused about the high purchase price on the station they’re designed to go into. Inspired by similar projects, he decided to try his hand at building his own soldering station which reaps the benefits of these active tips without the sticker shock.

The station’s user interface was kept intentionally simple, with little more than a four digit LED display to show the temperature and a rotary encoder to set it. The display alternates between the current temperature and the set temperature every few seconds while the knob is being turned, and if you push it in, the set temperature will be saved as the default for next time.

[MarcelMG] also included a feature that drops the iron’s temperature when it’s sitting in the holder, reducing tip wear and energy consumption. He originally planned on using a Hall effect sensor to detect when the iron was holstered without needing to physically interface with it, but in the end he realized the easiest approach was to simply connect one of the input pins on the microcontroller to the metal holder. Since the tip is grounded, he could easily detect if it was in place with a couple lines of code.

Speaking of which, the station is powered by an ATtiny24A with firmware written in C using the Atmel Studio IDE. [MarcelMG] mentions that the limited storage on the 24A was a bit of a challenge to work around, and suggests that anyone looking to follow in his footsteps uses something with a bit more flash under the hood. The LED display is a very common TM1637 type, the rotary encoder was salvaged from a radio, and the power supply was from an old laptop. All told, this looks like a very economical build.

Depending on your needs, a DIY soldering station can either have features to rival the commercial models or be exceedingly simplistic. In either case, the advent of low-voltage irons and active tips have made self-built soldering stations much more approachable. Attempts without the use of these modern niceties tended to be somewhat less glamorous.

Your TS80 – Music Player

By now most readers will be familiar with the Miniware TS100 and TS80 soldering irons, compact and lightweight temperature controlled soldering tools that have set a new standard at the lower-priced end of the decent soldering iron market. We know they have an STM32 processor, a USB interface, and an OLED display, and that there have been a variety of alternative firmwares produced for them.

Take a close look at the TS80, and you’ll find the element connector is rather familiar. It’s a 3.5 mm jack plug, something we’re more used to as an audio connector. Surely audio from a soldering iron would be crazy? Not if you are [Joric], who has created a music player firmware for the little USB-C iron. It’s hardly a tour de force of musical entertainment and it won’t pull away the audiophiles from their reference DACs, but it does at least produce a recognisable We Wish You A Merry Christmas as you’ll see from the video below the break.

Since the TS100 arrived a couple of years ago we’ve seen a variety of inventive firmware for it. You may remember [Joric]’s previous triumph of a Tetris game for the iron, but our favourite is probably the TS100 oscilloscope.

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Adding USB-C To The TS100, But Not How You Think

USB-C has its special Power Delivery standard, and is capable of delivering plenty of juice to attached hardware. This has led many to modify their TS-100 soldering irons to accept the connector. [Jan Henrik] is the latest, though he’s taken rather a different tack than you might expect.

[Jan] didn’t want to modify the original hardware or hack in an adapter. Instead, he struck out on his own, developing an entire replacement PCB for the TS-100 iron. The firmware is rough and ready, and minimal work has been done on the GUI and temperature regulation. However, reports are that functionality is good, and [Jan]’s demonstration shows it handling a proper desoldering task with ease.

Files are on Github for those that wish to spin their own. The PCB is designed to snap neatly inside the original case for a nice fit and finish. Power is plentiful too, as the hardware supports USB Power Delivery 2.0, which is capable of running at up to 100W. On the other hand, the stock TS-80 iron, which natively supports USB-C, only works with Quick Charge 3.0, and thus is limited to a comparatively meager 36W.

We’ve seen plenty of TS-100 hacks over 2019. Some have removed the standard barrel jack and replaced it with a USB-PD board. Meanwhile, others have created adapters that plug in to the back of the iron. However, [Jan] is dictating his own terms by recreating the entire PCB. Sometimes it pays to go your own way!

[Thanks to elad for the tip!]

3D Printing New Cases For The TS100 Soldering Iron

About a year back, [BogdanTheGeek] found himself in need of a new case for this TS100 soldering iron. Unfortunately, while the product is often billed as being open source friendly (at least in the firmware sense), he was surprised to discover that he couldn’t find the detailed dimensions required to 3D print his own replacement case. So he took it upon himself to document the case design and try to kick off a community around custom enclosures for the popular portable iron.

The main goals while designing the replacement case was to make it printable without support, and usable without additional hardware. He also wanted it to be stronger than the original version, and feature a somewhat blockier design that he personally finds more comfortable. The case was designed with PLA in mind, and he says he’s had no problems with the lower-temperature plastic. But if you’re still concerned about the heat, PETG would be an ideal material to print yours in.

It took him many attempts to get the design to where it is today, and still, there are improvements he’d like to make. For one, there’s no protective cover over the iron’s OLED screen. He’d also like to make the switch from SolidWorks over to FreeCAD so the project is a bit more accessible, and says he’d appreciate anyone who wants to chip in. We’re excited to see what develops once the hacking world realizes that there are accurate open source CAD files for the TS100 floating around out there.

Our very own [Jenny List] put the TS100 through its paces not so long ago, and found a decidedly solid little tool. While it won’t replace your high-end soldering station, it’s very convenient for quick repairs and simple tasks, especially if you find yourself away from the workbench proper.

Soldering Your Own Soldering Iron

A device that even DIY enthusiasts don’t usually think to DIY is the humble soldering iron. Yet, that’s exactly what one Hackaday.io user did by building a USB-powered soldering pen with better performance than a $5 Chinese soldering pen.

The project draws inspiration from another Weller RT tip-based soldering pen by [vlk], although this project has a simpler display than an OLED. Slovakia-based maker [bobricius] was inspired by the DiXi ATSAMD11C14-based development board. The project uses the same 32-bit ATMEL ARM microcontroller with a USB bootloader, which makes updating the firmware a lot easier.

Two buttons control the heat (+/-) and the jack for the Weller RT soldering tip controls the power out with PWM. For the display, 20 Charlieplexed 3014 LEDs are used to show the temperature from 0-399. The last missing LED is left out since 5 GPIO pins can only drive 20 LEDs.

Assuming that the main heating controls stay the same as [vlk]’s project, the pen uses a current sensor and heating controller for PID control of a heating module, which connects to the SMT connector for the Weller RT soldering iron tip. The temperature sensor uses a an op-amp for amplification of the signal from a type K thermocouple.

While there aren’t currently GERBER files for the PCB yet, the project is based on the open-source OLED display soldering pen project by [vlk], whose schematic for the device is published.

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The Miniware TS100 As A USB-C Soldering Iron

Many readers will be familiar with the Miniware TS100 soldering iron, a lightweight temperature-controlled iron that is giving significantly more expensive soldering tools a run for their money. There is another model in the range, the TS80, which though it uses different tips than its sibling has the main distinguishing feature of USB-C power rather than a DC barrel jack. A cadre of users still prefer the TS100 for this reason, as an iron that can run from almost any low voltage DC power source. Any except USB-C, that is, an omission that [thinkl33t] has rectified with a USB-C adapter for the older model.

To achieve this, he’s used a readily-available ZYPDS USB-to-DC module and attached it to a barrel jack. For now, it’s simply held on by solder with a bit of heat-shrink over the top. [Thinkl33t] observes that this may not prove to be strong enough and he’ll eventually have to put it on a bit of cable. It’s a simple enough hack, but it serves as a quick introduction to these parts which perform the necessary USB-C magic to deliver a DC supply, as well as to highlight the relative scarcity of higher-power USB supplies.

At the moment there’s an inevitable move to USB-C All The Things, but it’s a trend that it seems many manufacturers of power sources have yet to catch up with. When a typical TS-80 owner finds their shiny new USB-C battery bank is, in reality, an older 5V USB bank with a USB-C connector fitted, it’s no wonder that their friends prefer the TS100. We hope that coming years will see a greater range of USB-C power options, but until then we like the versatility of the barrel jack on the TS100. Especially now that it can so readily be made to take USB-C power.

We reviewed the TS100 back in 2017, and two years of using it since then have not changed our opinion of it.

Thanks to the several tipsters including [thinkl33t]  himself who sent us this.

Solder Ninja Dabbles In USB Power Arcana

USB first hit the scene in the 1990s, and was intended to simplify connecting peripherals to PCs and eliminate the proliferation of various legacy interfaces. Over 20 years later, it’s not only achieved its initial goals, but become a de facto standard for charging and power supply for all manner of personal electronic gadgets. If you asked someone back in 1995 whether or not you could build a USB-powered soldering iron, they’d have politely asked you to leave the USB Implementers Forum. But times change, and Solder Ninja is just that!

With a maximum power draw of 40 W, the Solder Ninja required careful design to ensure practicality. It supports a variety of USB power standards, including USB-BC 1.2, USB Quick Charge, and USB Power Delivery. This enables it to draw the large amounts of current required for the heating element. To make it easy to use with a variety of chargers out in the wild, it displays the current negotiated voltage and maximum current draw. This enables the user to understand the varying performance of the device, depending on the charger it’s plugged into.

Given the multitude of different USB power standards, we imagine [Nicolas] has the patience of a saint to perfect a project like this. We’ve seen similar builds before, too. Video after the break.

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