# What to look for in desoldering/rework equipment?

I am considering purchasing a desolder/rework station for through-hole work. I'm a hobbyist and don't often repair boards, but do sometimes remove components from things for reuse.

I recently repaired a motherboard by replacing damaged electrolytic caps, and after struggling with a 30W iron and a spring-loaded vacuum tool, I took the board to a friend who had a Pace rework station with a vacuum nozzle. What a difference the right power and tool makes.

So now I'm on the lookout for purchasing a similar station for my workshop. But the array of features and manufacturers is confusing, and most units are priced out of my budget (which, ideally, would be less than $500). Does anyone know of the type of solder/desolder station a hobbyist should look for? What features can I safely ignore, because I do not do production work on a daily basis? Conversely, what should I opt for that will make things easy and are worth the cost? For example, I've looked a Hakko FM-205 which seems like a good idea, but I'm wondering if its requirement for shop air is going to be a huge headache. (I do have a compressor.) Should I opt for one instead with a built-in pump? I want something that can be used for soldering and desoldering both, to replace my worn-out RS pencil irons. We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed. • Have you checked eBay (or your favorite store), for "SMD Rework Stations" ? Many of them in the sub$150 range come with in-built hot-air pump (blower/suction), array of interchangeable nozzles, and upto 90W soldering iron, sometimes with a small assortments of solder bits. Unable to recommend a specific brand though. Maybe something like this one. BTW, I think shopping list questions are frowned-upon on SE!! – icarus74 Jan 5 '12 at 9:14
• @icarus74 This actually falls a little bit more into the "good" shopping questions. The bad example is "Q: What’s the best low light point-and-shoot camera?" while the good example is "Q: How do I tell which point-and-shoot cameras take good low light photos?". See blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping. However, I do feel like this question has been asked before, but since I can't find it, oh well. – Kellenjb Jan 5 '12 at 13:50
• @Kellenjb - We've had What tools, equipment, and techniques do you use to solder fine-pitch SMT parts?, but I'm unaware of any questions specifically about desoldering and rework. I agree that this is a decent shopping question. – Kevin Vermeer Jan 5 '12 at 16:55
• @icarus74 - Let's stay away from ebay searches for "SMD Rework Stations" and arbitrary price ceilings. Instead, answers should address the utility of built-in pumps vs. shop air, appropriate iron wattage, and the relative cost and utility of these features. I think I'll add my favorite post notice to this one.... – Kevin Vermeer Jan 5 '12 at 16:57
• Note that I'm interested in through-hole work, not SMT. – JYelton Jan 6 '12 at 3:42

After doing plenty of research and asking some electrical engineers who use them, I've found some points that were helpful in deciding.

Benchtop desoldering or rework stations tend to have the most accurate temperature controls, best thermal recovery, and extra features like programmable timing and hot-air, etc.

For example, if you plan to remove surface mount IC's on a regular basis, a hot-air rework unit may be ideal. They have nozzles for just about every IC package, and the higher end units can be programmed to pre-heat for a specific number of seconds, then heat for a number of seconds, and some have a vacuum nozzle to pick up the now-free part. (For example, see the Hakko FR-803B, a $1300 unit.) You have to weigh the cost heavily with the amount of desoldering or repair work you expect to do. For the occasional removal of parts, on a hobby level, this is likely overkill. If you're just looking for a step up (or two) from the soldering iron and vacuum pump or solder braid, self-contained desoldering guns like the Hakko 808 can be found for about$200. While it has less fine control over temperature than a bench unit, it does have several benefits: self-contained vacuum pump, replaceable filters, and highly portable. Unless you have specific requirements for performing repair work, it will probably handle any through-hole work.

There are many online videos and tutorials about surface-mount desoldering. It is more tricky than through-hole for a variety of reasons. If you have to desolder SMT, you will want to check some of them out first. Some irons have tips specifically designed for multi-pin SMD packages, there are also hot tweezers and of course the aforementioned hot-air rework systems.

To recap, here are some solutions for desoldering through-hole and their relative price ranges:

The old desoldering pump, for about $15-20. Works "ok" but requires both hands and sometimes creative angles.$12 at Radio Shack, requires one-and-a-half hands. I've not used one, so I'm not sure if it would be more or less convenient than a separate iron and pump.

Between $50 and$200. I found some for $50-100 online, but I have actually tried a Hakko 808 and can attest to the performance. Great for through-hole.$400 and up. Lots of brands to choose from, Metcal, OKI, Hakko, Weller, etc. Once you start looking at stations, a variety of features and use-case scenarios start to emerge. Definitely geared more for commercial and industry use where soldering rework is an everyday occurrence.

One important thing to look for in soldering or desoldering equipment is the availability and price of consumables. Filters, tips and nozzles. They will need replacement. If you find an off-brand version, can you find parts for it later? If you get a quality station for cheap, do the replacement parts cost a fortune? Can they only be ordered from a foreign country?

Many manufacturers provide documentation and videos of desoldering equipment. Take some time to go through them, realistically evaluate what you will use (and what you can afford).

When I started looking, I thought I wanted a dual-port station (one solder, one desolder). Such stations are about $600. I probably am not going to desolder daily. I went instead with a single-port soldering station for$300, and a desoldering gun for $200. For my shop, the portability of the desoldering gun is worth the$100 saved and then some.

Honestly, a heat gun (500-1200 F) and a solder sucker have always been sufficient for my use, and cheap. Solder braid is good too, but get yourself a flux pen. It makes all the difference.

• I've worked with a real, professional desoldering gun, and solder wick. The real tool is spectacularly better at removing through-hole parts. Something that would take 20 minutes with a solder-sucker (say, desoldering 10 14 pin DIPs) will take 5 minutes with the desoldering gun. – Connor Wolf Jan 8 '12 at 3:29
• Can you elaborate on how a flux pen helps? (I know it helps in soldering, but how would it help in desoldering?) – JYelton Jan 8 '12 at 8:25
• Adding flux directly to the solder braid makes it far more effective than otherwise. – Argyle Jan 8 '12 at 18:31
• Doh! To the braid, that makes sense. Thanks @Josh. – JYelton Jan 8 '12 at 23:48
• In response to this answer: I have a heat gun and use it liberally when removing parts when I don't necessarily need the PCB to work afterward. It tends to be overkill for the more delicate component swap. Unfortunately I can't say that this answer is helping on the desoldering equipment advice. (But thank you!) – JYelton Jan 9 '12 at 23:49

If you want to make a desolder machine yourself, you can.

Buy a solder machine; then on its tip where it gets heated, take a metal pipe and connect it to a vacuum cleaner. When lead or solder material gets melted it will easily get sucked off.
But before that, keep mesh of any metal inside the vacuum cleaner so it does not damage the vacuum cleaner motor. This will also prevent burning of filter material.