Review: CXG E90W Temperature-Controlled Soldering Iron

It’s an entertaining pastime when browsing the array of wonders available from the other side of the world at the click of the mouse, to scour the listings of the unusual, the interesting, or the inexpensive. Sometimes when you find something unexpected you are rewarded with a diamond in the rough, while at other moments your bargain basement purchase is revealed as a hilariously useless paperweight. This is a game in which the stake is relatively low and the reward can be significant, so rarely does an order for some parts or sundries go by without a speculative purchase.

The latest to arrive is a soldering iron. The CXG E90W is a 90W mains-powered temperature controlled iron with its control electronics built into its handle. Such irons are by no means unusual, what makes this one different is that it has a low price tag.

The Miniware TS100, an iron I quite like and the current darling of the pack, is priced at nearly £50 ($71). Just how can this iron priced at just under £15 ($21) be any good? I placed one on the order, and waited for delivery.

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Protect Your TS100 Soldering Iron

The TS100 is a compact temperature-controlled soldering iron that’s long on features without too eye-watering a price. One thing it lacks as shipped though is anything to protect it from the thumps and bumps of everyday life in a toolbox, save for its elegant cardboard-and-foam retail box which requires iron and element/bit to be separated.

[Jeremy S. Cook] has a TS100, and decided to do something about it with a bit of work that may be quite simple but should be something that all TS100 owners take a look at. He made a very tough carrying container for it from a length of PVC pipe lined with the foam from the iron’s retail package. His short video which we’ve placed below the break takes us through the build, which bits of the packaging foam to cut, and uses a pair of PVC end caps to terminate the container. It’s not high-tech by any means, but enough of you will have TS100 irons to appreciate it.

You can read our review of the TS100 if you are interested, or you can marvel at the additions people have done to its software. Tetris, for example, or a working digital oscilloscope. Meanwhile [Jeremy] is an old friend of Hackaday, whose many projects include this recent unholy hybrid of fidget spinner and multirotor.

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Roll Your Own JBC Soldering Station

[Marco Reps] was soldering some boards with a lot of thermal mass and found his usual soldering iron was not up to the task. He noticed some professional JBC soldering stations that he liked, but he didn’t like the price. Even an entry-level JBC station is about $500 and they go up from there. He decided to build his own, but it did take awhile to complete. You can see two videos about the project, below.

How can you build your own soldering station and still claim it is a JBC? [Marco] noticed that the real performance of the iron came from the tip — what JBC calls a cartridge. In addition, the handle provides good ergonomics. You can buy the tips and handles from JBC for considerably less than a complete station. You just have to add the electronics to make it all work.

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Is It A MagLite Or A MagnaStat?

[David Schneider]’s love affair with Weller temperature controlled soldering irons began many years ago, but when he came to the point of needing a cordless iron he had problems finding one that replicated his trusty mains-powered soldering station. His solution was simple, to build his own, and in a stroke of genius he did so with an odd combination of a Weller MagnaStat element and bit, and a repurposed MagLite flashlight.

The Weller parts are all available off-the-shelf as spares, and the MagLite was easy to source. But its D cells would never give the required 24 V for the iron, so he had to incorporate a set of 14500 Li-ion cells with built-in electronic protection. The element protrudes from the front of the flashlight, giving an iron that seems to do the business but to our eyes looks rather unwieldy. Still, it does the job, and provides a far more sturdy and reliable iron than any cordless one we’ve yet seen, so we think that’s a result.

We’ve reviewed a Weller MagnaStat in the past,with a special look at availability of bits for older models.

Part Soldering Iron, Part Hand-Held Oscilloscope

If you are in the market for a temperature controlled soldering iron, an attractive choice of the moment is the TS-100 iron available by mail-order from China. This is an all-in-one iron with a digital temperature controller built into its handle, featuring a tiny OLED display. It’s lightweight, reasonable quality, and all its design and software are available and billed as open source (Though when we reviewed it we couldn’t find an open source licence accompanying the code.) This combination has resulted in it becoming a popular choice, and quite a few software hacks have appeared for it.

The latest one to come our way is probably best described as coming from the interface between genius and insanity without meaning to disparage the  impressive achievement of its author. [Befinitiv] has implemented a working oscilloscope on a TS-100, that uses the soldering iron tip as a probe and the OLED as a display. It requires a small modification to the hardware to bring the iron contact into an ADC pin on the microcontroller, and there is currently no input protection on it so the iron could easily be fried, but it works.

It is strongly suggested in the write-up that this isn’t a production-ready piece of work and that you shouldn’t put it on your iron. At least, not without that input protection and maybe a resistive divider. But for all that it’s still an impressive piece of work, a working soldering iron that becomes a ‘scope on a menu selection. Take a look at the ‘scope-iron in action, we’ve posted a video below the break.

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Field Expedient Quenches Your Thirst for a Soldering Station

In the category of first world problems, it seems that these days no one is happy with just a plain old soldering iron. Today, everyone wants a station with bells, whistles, and features. If all you have is the iron, take heart. Grab a soda, drink it, and then duplicate [Kalvin178’s] makeshift solder station.

The idea is simple: cut or tear a soda can and press in the sides to make a V-shaped holder for the iron. A smaller part of the can might hold a wet paper towel, a sponge, or some copper scrubbing pads to clean your tip.

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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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