Soldering stations and reworking stations share a common purpose; to melt solder to create solid joints or break them; in other words, soldering and desoldering.
While both tools may look similar, they have more differences than similarities. In this article, I will provide you with all the information you need so that you can decide which one best suits your needs.
Soldering stations are an improved version of soldering irons.
They have a heating element that heats their tips, reaching enough temperature to melt solder. They require pre-heating the parts being soldered and melt solder that sticks on the tip to be then transferred to the workpieces. Because the tool’s tip interacts directly with solder and parts, this type of soldering is called “contact soldering”.
Soldering stations allow you to regulate the desired soldering temperature, and many models can display the actual tip’s temperature in real-time.
The pencil-type soldering irons included in the soldering stations have removable tips for easy cleaning and replacement. There are different types of tips depending on the job; however, the most common tips are pointed and thin.
Depending on the device’s quality and specs, soldering stations provide good thermal stability and fast heating recovery times.
It’s important to highlight that in “contact soldering”, the tip’s temperature varies; for example, it lowers when it comes in contact with solder. So, heat recovery speed is something important and varies depending on the soldering station’s quality and design.
Pros of Soldering Station
- Versatility: Soldering stations have the advantage of including a soldering iron, which can be used for some jobs that would be impractical or impossible to do using reworking stations, like, for example, working with jewelry, stained glass, and other non-electronic related tasks.
In electronics, they can be used for working with through-hole soldering and some SMD jobs.
While soldering through-hole components using reworking stations wouldn’t be impossible, it would be more time-consuming and impractical.
- High-Precision: Thanks to thin pointed tips, they are ideal for precision jobs where heat needs to be as concentrated as possible.
- Great for Connecting Wires and Assembling Connectors: Soldering stations’ precision makes them ideal tools for connecting wires and assembling connectors. Their thin tip allows the application of direct heat, preventing bridging or damaging the connectors’ housings.
- Comfortable: The soldering stations’ irons or pencils are attached to the controller by a relatively thin wire and are ergonomic and light. Besides, they don’t have any moving parts, so they are 100% silent.
- Low-Maintenance: Soldering stations can last for years without requiring more maintenance than cleaning the tip frequently, as you would with a standard soldering iron.
- Price: Even semi-professional soldering stations are pretty affordable. You can buy a simple one for about $50 and a complex one for about $130.
- Limited SMD Compatibility: Soldering stations allow working with some SMD components and surface-mount PCBs; however, some of these components can’t be soldered using contact soldering methods.
- Potentially Harmful to Workpieces: The same feature that makes soldering stations versatile is what makes them potentially harmful to components, circuit boards, and other workpieces. Many components can’t endure much heat concentrated in a single spot, and soldering stations are more dangerous for delicate parts than reworking stations.
- Slow for Desoldering Tasks: Desoldering components using a soldering station is tedious and requires heating and removing solder pin by pin. It could be done faster using a broad tip, but it could harm the circuit and the nearby components.
- Incompatible With Large Components: Some large components require heating a broad area. Using a soldering iron with a standard tip won’t do the job, and using a wide tip may damage the components or the PCB. That’s why soldering stations are not recommended for these types of jobs.
- Not Ideal for Components With Multiple Pins: Using a soldering station for working with these components requires pin-by-pin soldering, which is time-consuming and can lead to component misplacement. While using a broader tip and soldering paste may speed up the process, using contact soldering like this creates a high risk of damaging the circuit, the component, and its surrounding parts.
Reworking stations use small heat air guns to melt solder. They produce a stream of hot air that melts solder without physical contact.
This is why this method of soldering and desoldering is called “contactless”.
Working Principle of a Reworking Station
The way a reworking station work is quite straightforward; the air is inducted by a fan, passes through a heating element that heats it, and then is streamed through a nozzle located at the tip of the tool. The basic principle is quite similar to the working of heat guns and hair dryers.
The airflow and temperature of a reworking station are easy to set with knobs or buttons, and an LCD display shows the set temperature and some models display the actual temperature, similarly to soldering stations.
Some advantages of contactless soldering and desoldering are that it allows working with tiny components or hard-to-reach parts and allows reaching to the pins underneath some SMD components that couldn’t be reached by a soldering iron.
Besides, reworking stations enable soldering and desoldering many pins at once and desoldering several components at a time.
Their nozzles are exchangeable, and they usually come with a set of basic nozzles for working with different components and types of jobs. Contactless soldering provides excellent thermal stability but can still be an issue in low-budget units.
Pros of Reworking Station
- Ideal for All Kinds of SMD Jobs: Thanks to their contactless operation, reworking stations are ideal for working with 99% of SMD components and boards, including the most difficult and hard-to-reach ones.
- Gentle Operation: Hot air is less aggressive to the components than soldering iron tips, making working with reworking stations safer for the components and boards than soldering stations.
- Effective Desoldering: The ability to heat large areas safely makes reworking stations ideal for massive desoldering tasks and to desolder large components like microchips with tens or hundreds of pins.
- Ideal for Soldering Multi-Pin Components: Reworking stations can heat large areas without risking damage to the parts, making them ideal for soldering multi-pin components simultaneously.
- Limitations: Reworking stations are excellent for working with surface-mount components and desoldering tasks but are pretty much limited to those jobs. They are unsuitable for joining wires, or other works besides electronics, like woodburning, stained glass, or jewelry. Besides, they lack the precision required for working with complex through-hole soldering tasks and, overall, are limited in terms of the types of jobs you can do with them.
- Poor Precision: Some of the reworking stations’ limitations are due to their lack of precision. Their ability to apply heat to large areas is a pro for some tasks but limits the accuracy for tasks like attaching wires or assembling connectors.
- Slightly Uncomfortable Operation: Reworking stations can have the fan and heating element inside the controller or the hot air gun. If they have it in the controller, the handle becomes lighter, but the line connecting it to the controller is quite thick and might take some time to get used to. If the fan and heating unit are inside the handle, it becomes thicker and heavier, making it slightly inconvenient, especially when using the tool for an extended period.
- Noisy: Depending on the location of the fan and heating element, reworking stations have noise levels of between 40 and 60 dB. While 60 dB is considered a safe noise level, it can become overwhelming during extended periods of use.
- Require Maintenance: Reworking stations require frequent maintenance, including cleaning the nozzles, air entries, and filters. Besides, when turned “ON”, the fan operates continuously and may need to be replaced before the tool’s end of life.
- Costly: You can find cheap reworking stations for what you would pay for a simple soldering station; however, a good, durable unit that works properly costs between $250 and $300. The prices for top-notch models can go over $1,000.
Which Tool is Best for You?
Both tools have solid pros and cons and excel in different tasks. Choosing which is best depends on the jobs you plan to do, the soldering techniques you will use, and the components and materials you will be working with.
- Rework Station: If you will be working with SMD components a lot and you don’t plan to work with through-hole boards, you should consider buying a reworking station. The same applies if you will be repairing modern circuits and desoldering components frequently. In that case, a reworking station backed up by a high-quality soldering iron is an excellent way to go.
- Soldering Station: On the other hand, a soldering station may be ideal if you won’t be working with SMDs, or your work is more oriented to power electronics, where the components are tougher and don’t have as many pins.
However, in both cases, I recommend you check the 2-in-one devices; some models offer both worlds at a very convenient price. They feature a hot air gun in one port and a soldering iron in the other, with separate controls, memories, and countless functions.
- Tool Type: 2-in-1 Solder and Rework
- Wattage: 775 watts
- Soldering Iron: 392°F – 932°F (200-500°C)
- Hot Air: 212°F – 932°F (100°C-500°C)
- Digital temperature control
- Price: Click Here to See Latest Price
If you are a professional, 2-in-one stations are a good investment, mostly when working with boards and circuits that require contact and contactless soldering simultaneously.
David Castillo is an automotive industry expert specializing in vehicle electronics and stand-alone fuel management systems. He has over 20 years of experience and owns a car repair garage and tuning shop.
David still runs his shop but is now more focused on pre-purchase car inspections and writing for FinePowerTools.