Station for the Rest of Us.
I have been building little gadgets for my Radio
Room for several years. During all this time, I never had a proper variable heat soldering station. I had a 40 watt soldering
iron, and a 140 watt soldering gun, and that seemed to work for me. In the back of my mind though, that little voice kept
telling me “You need a real soldering station”. Every so often I would scan the catalogs and the internet for
a “real soldering station”, but they always seemed too expensive. Then one day I came across a passage in the
2007 ARRL Handbook that offered two different ways to build a variable heat soldering station. My fever for home-brewing equipment
kicked up a notch or two and away I went.
The design I used is based on a variation of
one of the two designs in the Handbook. It uses a very inexpensive dimmer switch to vary the voltage going to the soldering
iron. As a way of putting everything in one place, I combined the various components on a small slab of ¾” plywood (about
6” x 9”). These include the dimmer switch and a holder for the iron, a holder for my solder sucker, a holder for
my reel of solder, and a small tuna can to hold a damp sponge for cleaning the tip of the soldering iron.
An extension cord that was available became the
source for the wiring. The dimmer switch is housed in a PVC exterior grade electrical box and water resistant fittings keep
the moisture outside in the sponge where it belongs. A scrap of aluminum tubing (1/2”dia.) was flattened at one end
and bent to form a holder for the roll of solder. Apart from the tuna can, everything can be found at almost any home improvement
The wiring of the dimmer switch was done as per
the manufacturer’s instructions except that since a polarized 2 conductor extension cord was used, no separate ground
wire was used. Since the iron itself has only 2 prongs on it’s polarized plug, I saw no real problem to doing it this
way. Had the iron had a 3 prong plug with a ground pin, I would have wired the rest of the project using a different type
of wiring so that all would be wired the same way. Since the dimmer switch did not come with an indicator light as some more
expensive ones do, I added a small “night light” which is plugged into the same extension cord end as the soldering
iron. If the dimmer is powered, then so is the “night light” and so is the iron. Another method would be to wire
a small neon indicator light across the output of the dimmer switch and mount it somewhere in the electrical box wall. I had
the “night light” on hand so I used that.
The only real difference I added to the soldering
station was a 5 ½” long piece of ¾” PVC pipe. I screwed this to the outside of the PVC electrical box so that
I would have a convenient place to store my spring loaded solder sucker. It fits very neatly into the PVC pipe and the length
of the pipe keeps the tip of the tool off of the plywood. The holder for the reel of solder is, as, mentioned before, just
a chunk of aluminum tubing that fits inside the spool of solder and one end is flattened and bent so it can be screwed to
the base. I found that a notch in the spool kept locking on the screw head so I drilled out the center of the extra knob that
came with the dimmer switch so I could slip it over the aluminum tube and thus present the spool of solder with a smooth surface
upon which to rotate as the solder is drawn off by the operator.
The holder for the soldering iron is just the
usual wire spring type. I purchased it when I bought the iron several years ago. It used to be screwed to my workbench but
for this project it was moved to the base of the soldering station along with the 6 ounce tuna can (minus the tuna) that holds
the cleaning sponge used to keep the tip of the iron clean and bright.
Because I had so many of the parts already on
hand, the total cost was very low.The dimmer switch itself cost only $4.98 at our local home improvement store. The exterior
grade electrical box was probably a bit over the top, it cost more than the dimmer. Any standard box, whether plastic, PVC
or metal will work fine. Not counting the soldering iron or the solder sucker tool, the total cost of the entire station was
less than $20. In my case, the dimmer switch and the electrical box were the only parts I had to buy, so my cost was less
So, what did I get for all my “trouble”.
Well, I have a soldering station that allows me to adjust the temperature of the iron to fit the task at hand. I have my solder,
my cleaning sponge and my solder remover all immediately at hand, close to the iron itself. I can unplug the station and take
it anywhere the work is and not have to go back for the stuff I forgot, because it all came with the soldering station. I
also saved about 30 or 40 dollars over the equivalent commercially available station. Not bad, and in the best traditions
of amateur radio, I can say “I built it myself”.