Iroda SolderPro 50
I've struggled for years with a butane soldering iron (an Iroda SolderPro 50). Its only form of temperature control is a vague slider which changes the amount of gas it squirts. The ambient temperature where I'm working can be anywhere between -5C and 40C. I've never had any idea what temperature my iron is operating at, or if problems I have while soldering might be caused by the tip being too hot or cold.
Power up: Blue Fireball!
The SolderPro 50 is filled with butane (lighter gas from a can). Every time I refill it there's a 50% chance (maybe that's where the model number comes from) that my hand will be engulfed in a fireball next time I spark it up. I'm not joking, I think there must be a leak somewhere. Apart from the odd arm-hair I don't get burned when it happens, it's just a big blue woof of flame which then persists as a smaller flame which I have to extinguish by shaking the soldering iron... which is hot, getting hotter, on fire and filled with gas. This adds quite an edge to the experience of learning electronics. It's been like this for as long as I can remember, I originally put it down to my lack of experience (maybe I'd been overfilling it) but I'm pretty sure I know how to use it by now. The fireballing is just an added feature. Or maybe it's taken a bash at some point and is damaged - although I don't remember any specific accidents and there are no visible cracks or anything like that. I don't know what's going on with it, I should have got in touch with Iroda about it when I had my first fireball but as I said I thought it was my fault. I don't solder frequently - even less back in those days, so it soon became too late to expect any warranty to still be in effect. I think these are relatively popular tools so I'm sure there are plenty of people out there using them without problems, I'm just giving an honest account of my experience. I feel I'm still worse at soldering than I should be by now so like any bad workman I'm going to (partly) blame my tool. Anyway... I have an excuse to buy new shiny.
Today I took delivery of a lush little TS100 soldering iron made by miniware. If you're into electronics you may be aware of this product as it's getting a bit of attention. It's relatively inexpensive, tiny, the firmware can be upgraded over USB and it has a little OLED screen. All this is less superfluous than it sounds. Using two buttons on the unit I can set a desired temperature and get a readout on the screen of the current temperature, watching it as it climbs and stabilises. Using a custom firmware (from Ben V. Brown/Ralim - thanks!) I can make the iron go to sleep (going down to a reduced temperature) if it's not been picked up for 1 minute, then turn off completely after a few more minutes. Sleep time, power-off time, sleep temperature and all kinds of other numbers are completely customisable. Also importantly for me, the TS100 can run off 12V. I do have a 230V inverter if necessary but I try to avoid using it as some electricity gets wasted in the conversion and as I'm all solar-powered I can't be wasting electricity. I bought the iron without a power adaptor as I have a couple of plugs that fit it (DC5525) already wired up dangling around the caravan. It heats up more quickly if you let it have 24V but even at 12V it takes less than a minute to heat up. That's quick enough for me. I bought the iron with two alternative tips, the TS-K and the TS-BC2, following the advice of YouTube electronics hero and ace-swearing-person Louis Rossmann. They look much more useful than the conical standard tip that would otherwise have come with the TS100. All I've done so far is update the firmware and melt a blob of solder to make sure everything's working properly - I'm looking forward to making some actual connections with it, I've plenty of little jobs on my list so won't be long!