Weller Soldering Station WT Series - Review

Table of contents

RoadTest: Weller Soldering Station WT Series

Author: colporteur

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Workshop Tools

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: The RoadTest review was conducted using the Weller WT1012N, a Power Fist ZD-99 and a Mustool® MT223.

What were the biggest problems encountered?: Component shipping error.

Detailed Review:

Soldering is a process of bonding two or more metal surfaces by melting a filler metal. The filler metal has a lower melting point than the joining metals. Heating the metal surface with a soldering iron and melting solder on the joint creates an electrical bond between the surfaces.

 

According to Wikipedia soldering is thought to have originated very early in the history of metal-smithing around 4000BC. Soldering has historically been used to create jewellery, cookware and tools. Today, the ability to solder is necessary is a skill required to fix electronics or build circuit boards.

 

A soldering iron and the skills to use the tool are essential for a professional and just as important for a hobbyists. While all soldering irons are designed to accomplish the same task, they’re not all built the same. If you are looking to achieve high-quality results and have an enjoyable user experience, purchasing a good soldering iron is a must.

 

This RoadTest (RT) is going to review the WT1 solder solution. The application that awarded this RT proposed using a test group of individuals with varying levels of soldering experience to use the unit and provide their feedback..

 

The goal of the RT was to solicit user feedback on the Weller WT1 soldering solution. This was accomplished by having the test group complete soldering tasks using the Weller tool and two other soldering tools.

 

The testing group was made up of a retired Banker, retired Emergency Measures Coordinator (EMC) and two retired Electronic Technologist (EL). The former banker and EMC have minimal soldering experience through their involvement with model railroading. The EL’s had careers in broadcast electronic systems and ground based electronic systems for the communication and navigation of aircraft. Soldering experience was highest with the EL’s.

 

A paid lunch at the local diner was the compensation provided to the test subjects. In addition one member (i.e. EMC guy) got to keep the unit in his model railroading workshop.

 

The test group were provided instructions to complete four soldering tasks. Circuit board soldering, soldering wire assemblies, adding and removing components and making configuration changes to a stations were some of the tasks.

Three Solder Stations for User Exposure

 

Each test subject completed the same tasks using three different soldering work place solutions, the Weller WT1012N, a Power Fist ZD-99 and a Mustool® MT223. After completing the series of tasks with one soldering tool, the test subjects responded to a survey before moving on to complete the same tasks on the remaining tools. A post project review (Scrum Session) with all members discussing their findings wrapped up the exercise.

Bench Setup for Task Completion

 

The intent of using the three soldering tools was to create an environment that exposed the test subjects to a variety of user experiences when soldering. For example, if a user has never experienced a stiff cord attached to a soldering iron, then a flexible cord may go unnoticed. If a user has only used a short pencil iron, they may find some difficultly if the pencil tip is longer.

 

This RT was initiated to garner commentary on the Weller product. For that reason, the feedback that is being published from the test subjects is Weller product centric feedback.

 

The tool survey was broken into three areas, comfort, construction and controls. In the Comfort section, test subjects were asked to provide feedback on their user experience with the tool. The Construction section was to provide feedback on the physical aspects of the unit. The feedback in the Controls section had the test subjects describe their experience making changes using the controls provided. (*)-indicates multiple responses from test subjects.

 

Comfort

-nice thin & light pencil handle (*)

-comfortable to hold (*)

-more usable compared to a thicker pencil handle

-handle cool to the touch

-nice flexible cord on the pencil (*)

 

Construction

-pencil stand and support seems complicated

-wet and dry cleaning on opposite sides of safety rest not convenient (*)

-needed conical solder tip and not wedge tip for printed circuit board work (*)

-solid construction good quality

-convenient spots for wet and dry, being able to reverse the pencil iron holder was of benefit

-pencil slides in and out of safety rest easily

-tip removal to make substitution would be easy to do using the Safety Rest

 

Controls

-menus easy to move through (*)

-comprehensive controls (*)

-not immediately understandable (*)

-need to some time to become comfortable with controls

-heats fast

 

Post Project Review Feedback

-Manual not helpful. It is an impressive thick book with nothing in it. Why not include the website manual details for controls to replace the minimal three pages in the manual that are less than helpful.

-The safety rest seems underdeveloped. Went to production before design fully flushed out.

-Completing the multiple tasks using three tools provided insight a user wouldn’t normally get.

 

Post Project Review Question

Looking at three price points low (<$15 CAD), medium ($50CAD and high ($495CAD) would you purchase the unit?

 

Tool is designed for individuals that have high expectations with soldering. The casual user wouldn’t have the experience to appreciate the design features provided in the tool. It is a tool for a professional or the high end hobbyist.

 

RoadTester Coordinator Final Comments

Some Assemble Required

 

Solid packaging that would protect the unit well in shipping. Both power unit and Safety Rest have considerable weight so good sturdy packaging will ensure the components are not damaged during shipping.

 

The Safety Rest WSR200 provided was for a WTP90 pencil. The pencil provided in the package was a WSP80. The pencil didn’t sit well in the rest because of this mismatch. In addition the tip holder wasn’t compatible with the long WSP80 tips causing it to touch the sponge. These short comings were identified to the RoadTest coordinator before proceeding.

 

I was surprised some assembly was required to put the unit together. The front and back dry and wet tip cleaning safety rest is not a good design in my opinion. Providing the option to switch the pencil holder placement is a poor alternative at best to having both one one side of the stand.

 

The manual that comes with the unit has a pictorial that spans two pages to guide the user into using the controls. The supplement manual provided on the website provided detailed descriptions of each control selection. The manual included in the box would be useful if it contained the supplement material.

 

There was a plan to do a tip temperature evaluation. The test procedure would monitor the tip temperature during the warm-up cycle while recording the time and then establish the final tip temperature and time. Two different temperature probes were used for the test in addition to purchasing a temperature gun. All the temperature tests failed.

 

The temperature probe from the electric oven kept shutting down because the oven considered the probe in error. The second probe for measuring meat temperature didn’t have a high enough temperature range.

 

Why doesn't this gun provide temperature reading? Hope I can get a refund.

 

A temperature gun was purchased from a local store with the intent of measuring tip temperatures. It would only read a maximum of 35 Celsius. The same result was obtained using a friend temperature gun. I would be interested to know why the temperature guns failed to provide a reading.

 

The tip temperature test conducted that was successful was to record the time it took for the soldering irons, from a cold tip start, to reach a temperature to melt 60/40 solder.

 

Common solder formulations based on tin and lead are listed below. The fraction represent percentage of tin first, then lead, totalling 100%:

63/37: melts at 183 °C (361 °F)

60/40: melts between 183–190 °C (361–374 °F)

50/50: melts between 183–215 °C (361–419 °F)

 

The Weller WT1012N melted the solder in 10 secs

The Power Fist ZD-99 melted the solder in 148secs

The Mustool® MT223 melted the solder in 52 secs.

 

I didn’t believe the Weller results of 10 secs from a cold start to melting solder. In my forty year career I had never seen performance like that. I ran the test a number of times and yes it was consistently in the ten second range. Impressive Weller.

Anonymous
  • The electrical isolation didn't appear to be a problem. The martial bedroom isolation might be

  •   wrote:

    My wife was shocked to find me pipe clamping the temperature probe on her new stove to a solder tip in order to try and get an accurate readings.

    I fail to see how she was shocked in this situation. There should have been clear electrical isolation between the stove and the ..... Oooooooohh. Nevermind.

  • Thanks for the kind words James. It took me a while to place the name. I have watched some of your Work bench Wednesday content and found it very informative.

     

    I had this grand plan to measure tip temperatures as a objective measurement to balance the subject contributions of the test team. I had hoped to compare what the controls indicated to what is actually happening at the tip. All my efforts failed. My wife was shocked to find me pipe clamping the temperature probe on her new stove to a solder tip in order to try and get an accurate readings.

     

    My inquiry on the temperature gun failure was licking my wounds. The temperature gun looked so nice in the tools catalogue and it was on sale. I am happy to say, the vendor I purchased the temperature gun from was content to refund the $45 purchase.

  • I definitely agree with part of the sentiment. Before I could afford a proper soldering station, I too lived with direct-to-wall thermally balanced irons. I lived through the frustration, but I learned to gauge the temperature by watching solder melt and I also learned to give it a break when the grip got too hot. The first thing I did was to replace the nasty tip with a Weller tip that fit into the iron ... while this didn't fix its slow response, it did mean that I had a reliable shape of tip to use and made soldering a lot more pleasurable. It can be done without the conveniences of flashy high-end tools - my first multi-layer board repair was with this iron ... it was successful even though a few pads were lifted and bodged.

     

    But sometimes, your perspective can change after using a professional-grade tool for a while. When it makes jobs quicker, improves your chances of success and frees your mind from worry, it becomes a dependable friend. Someone I know once told me that better tools mainly help you achieve better results quicker and more consistently, but if you haven't developed the skill to use that tool effectively, you might never know it. In the past, I lived only with cheap DMMs - but later on, I gained an appreciation for more expensive DMMs because I understood what that meant in terms of accuracy, dependability and safety. I think it's the same thing here - the more you use it and the more complex tasks you undertake with it, the more you might come to appreciate the benefits and differences on a daily basis. Part of it may be a brand loyalty - after all, it feels like a dependable friend that we get used to. I often take a little while to adjust to a different iron, especially since I'm the one trying to fix SMD issues like this by hand (wire is 30AWG Kynar):

    That being said, I'm not saying that everyone needs a Weller on their bench ... far from it. But if they are slumming it with a wall-plug unregulated iron, they might be missing out on the fun in soldering ... and getting the wrong impression that it's an exercise in frustration.

     

    - Gough

  • Great review Sean. I always like RoadTests that make comparisons to other tools. I also appreciated your tidbit about the origins of soldering. That's something I never knew!

     

    Others have already covered the issues on measuring with the IR thermometer. On Workbench Wednesday 20: Thermal Tools for Circuits episode, we included thermocouples and IR thermometers for temperature measurements. One of the examples I showed was a thermocouple measuring my (Weller) soldering iron's tip.

     

    I can also vouch for the Hakko calibrator that Gough mentioned. I am confident the one I have is a knock-off. However, its measurements tend to agree with the thermocouples that I have in the lab.

     

    Here is one note on using either thermocouple type: measure with a small blob of solder on the tip. It'll transfer the heat better for more accurate temperature measurements.

  • Thanks Gough, and all the other people that responded. I will make my commentary on Gough's post strictly because I am lazy and want to do as little work as possible to consolidate my perspective.

     

    I realize I am walking a fine line challenging the costs in a public forum. Especially in light of the fact, the vendor has provided the product free of charge. I mean no disrespect in exploring the topic but I am troubled. I am still not convinced the costs are justifiable. I can replace a lot of tips on my $40 solder iron with 500 bucks and still be in the game.

     

    I worked in electronic support for 17 years. The 15 tech's had a Weller lamp cord powered solder pencil in their tool boxes and a Pace solder station back at the workshop. During the Pace course it was suggested the price for the station was in the thousands of dollars. The workshop station had a solder sucker and a pencil iron no better or worse than the pencil in my tool box. The solder sucker was a gem compared to the pump action blue plastic sucker. Come to think of it, those blue solder sucker are still around.

     

    If I make the comparison, that a tool like the Weller is akin to a golf club, then I can see my way past trying to convince myself that there is a costs to benefit analysis that supports the purchase. I am not a golfer but I have seen people invest hundreds of dollars in a putter. My weakness is goalie equipment. The expensive gear I think is better. It has more padding and is designed to fit more comfortably. It doesn't make me a better goalie, even though I have used that argument. What it does do is reduce the bruising and is so much more comfortable to wear for three periods of beer league puck shots.

     

    Soldering is a skill that boarders on artistry. Those that are good at it, have developed their skills that in some part may rely on the tool. I believe only a small part of the mastery is the tool. Us solder mortals seek solace in our tools believing they can help us through the rough spots.

     

    The <$15 pencil used as part of this road test, I have had for a few years with success. I put solder to the end of an iron and wait until it melts to determine if the iron is hot enough to work with. If the tip is in good shape I can do a reasonable job. Would I tackle a computer printed circuit board repair with it? I say no. Not because of the tool but because I lack the skill and experience for such work. If a ten second warm-up is important to me, then I would make a requirement to get that in a tool. Trust me when I say, I was really impressed with the performance. If temperature control is a requirement then there are tools that do that. I know this is sacrilege to say but I think the vendors get us to buy into our passion. It is not a golf club or the Kevlar hockey goalie chest protector but it has the same price tag.

  • The high power high heating speed and controlled temperature feedback makes just a few soldering tips really flexible for development purposes. I like that I can solder 0.5 mm pitch surface mount, most through-hole, and medium-sized connectors, all with a single 1 mm tip, although for production use procedures are well-defined and the pin/pad size would dictate which size tip to use. I'll only swap to a larger tip for the biggest connectors (like 1/4-inch jacks and so on). Plus the ability to swap out tools as needs change. And ease-of-use with more lightweight tools that are almost pen-like in size. Also, as you say, the longer life. Everything seems more reliable.

    Basically I like that with modern solder stations, tip life, solder station life, tip cleaning, reliable joints every time, versatility for design engineers, are all solved problems.

  • Cost is always dependent on the situation of the end user, their needs and where they see value.

     

    The element14 Australia website has the WT 1012 "kit" consisting of the WT1, WSP80 and WSR201 for AU$511.52. For comparison, a Metcal PS-900 is listed at AU$443.29 (which I have but keep in reserve), the Ersa i-CON is AU$875.31 (which I covet and have seen used at a tertiary institution lab, not mine though) and the Tenma hot-air and soldering rework station is listed at AU$305.90 (which I use most of the time). In light of this, I wouldn't say the Weller is cheap, but I wouldn't say the Weller is unreasonably expensive either as it would be considered a proper professional iron much like the Metcal. I suspect there is some premium in the fact it's Weller branded and it has a higher power output, but alas, the market has options for the hobbyists and pro-sumers too.

     

    For the serious hobbyist and professional, considering a high quality soldering station has some key benefits:

    • Often the better irons have a good range of different tip shapes and sizes, with good tip availability and the possibility of replacing the iron or heater. This means that any failure isn't going to necessarily mean replacing the whole set-up and usually means the set-up will last longer. It also makes doing heavy and fine work with the one unit a possibility rather than a compromise.
    • Better tip platings on the branded stuff means that instead of having tips last only a matter of months, they usually are serviceable for at least a year or two under heavy load. There is peace of mind that the tips can be acquired if necessary.
    • The better temperature control makes soldering much easier and reduces the risk of damage from overheating traces or components. Along with this, most temperature-regulated irons have more aggressive power outputs to speed up recovery times and make soldering larger joints almost painless.
    • The ergonomic benefits of longer, more flexible cables, ergonomic soldering pencil grips, weight-balanced irons and proper stands reduces the likelihood of being burned or having accidents.
    • Proper grounding and reduced risk of mains-induced voltages (e.g. from direct-powered irons) causing damage to ESD sensitive components.

     

    The question I pose to some people looking to buy one of those cheap mains-powered thermally-balanced unregulated irons is this - how long do you figure you're going to be using this iron, and how much are all of the devices you're going to be working with worth? I've used my irons to repair so many power supplies for computer/IT equipment, including multi-layer boards, that using anything cheaper would have probably spoiled the board or at least increased the frustration level and risk. How much is a burn worth, or your time? Often, to shop at the bottom end of the market is to get something that's only good for a real beginner, meaning they would have to pay again to graduate to something more decent. That's why at the minimum, I try to convince hobbyists who ask me about the subject to at least save up enough for a Hakko FX-888D (~AU$197) which is what I'd consider a good entry-level product.

     

    - Gough

  • Good on you for calling out the cost question.  I asked it of myself.  The tips on my cheapest iron don't last very long at all.  If I use a lot of flux, they basically rot away.  The slightly more expensive iron has better heat management/recovery.  The only thing that I could think of that might justify the expensive model you actually addressed with the heat-up times.  If I soldered professionally (repair work), I would seriously consider a high quality, fast heating station.  Time is money in that application and it would justify the expense.

  • Hi Sean,

     

    UK price is £333 GBP + VAT. That's a reasonable price here, if it's a decent solder station. It's in the ballpark for an R&D design engineer, or a serious hobbyist. I had a Weller station as a design engineer - mine was not as nice as this, but equally there were design engineers that had similar priced units.

    I don't know about production shop-floor work (not seen much of that for a long time!) - I can't recall what equipment they used.

    For home use, I'm sure my older unit cost a similar amount, probably more once I factored in soldering iron tips I didn't use! The soldering station works out to be more cost-effective if you need two irons (or more).. for instance, you can likely get a second iron for your base unit (i.e. with a second stand).

    The unit might look like it only supports one iron, but the base station has a socket, it's not permanently wired, so it can be swapped out (not as convenient for production, sure, where they may want a multi-socketed higher power solution with all irons on hot-standby, but I'm strictly speaking from design engineer perspective, or hobbyist).

     

    As an example, I have one base unit (with one socket), and two irons (a thin one and a fat one, so I don't have to keep swapping out tips).