Over the past couple of years I have been upgrading the soldering equipment that I used to mostly repair Amigas and build new Amiga parts. Today I’m going to go through what I use and why I decided to purchase each one. The hope is that will help people trying to make similar purchasing decisions in the future.

I have a workshop with a 6 meter kitchen counter on it and my soldering section takes up half that counter. I’m going to go from right to left in this post.

Desoldering Gun

When repairing Amigas and related hardware you will inevitably need a desoldering gun. Some people use a manual solder suction tool with a soldering iron, but when you are dealing with 64 pin DIPs and many other things it can get tedious really fast. I started out with a generic ZD-8917 which is similar to the popular ZD-915, but I wasn’t getting the best thermal performance from it. I have recently upgraded to a Hakki FR-410 and the difference is very surprising.

It appears to have extremely good thermal performance, much better suction and very rarely clogs (comes with tools to clear them) and has made desoldering effortless. With the ZD based stations a couple of pins sometimes required extra work as tiny bits of solder were left behind. This tool gets all the solder every time.

There is a comparison video on YouTube which shows the difference.

Soldering Station

This is probably the first bit of equipment I purchased. A good soldering station is very important. JBC was not my first choice, but I got a very good deal on it and now I’m hooked. This is a cartridge based soldering station which means that the heating element and sensor are part of the tip. This means that the temperature at the tip is very accurate and can stabilise quickly when dealing with large thermal masses.

It could definitely do with a clean, but it is heavily used.

I primarily use a spoon tip for drag soldering SMD work and a knife tip for drag soldering through-hole pins and sockets. I also have several other tips for other jobs. Another great thing about this system is you can change the tip on-the-fly. You can see two of my tips ready to swap out in the station, the section can hook the tip and pull it out of the handle, you can then load in a new cartridge.

Fume Extractor

Soldering generates a lot of fumes, some of those are really not good for you to inhale, particularly flux fumes. You can get worktop mounted fans with a carbon filter, but really they only capture the larger particulates and not the actual harmful chemicals. They basically blow them out the back to fill your room. That may be OK if you room is well ventilated, but if it is not then you probably need something better.

I use this HEPA filter based extractor I purchased from Ali Express. It is a fantastic device and easy to change the filters on, it also extracts all the bad particulates from the air. The downside is it is very noisy, like having a vacuum cleaner near your head. So I use noise-cancelling headphones when soldering.

Microscope

For a long time I have been using a microscope that is probably as old as me for soldering. It worked great but it was fixed-focus and the eyepieces were vertical rather than angled which was not a great posture for soldering. I have been eyeing up an AmScope based system for a long time and it recently came up with a good discount.

It is a stereo microscope on an arm with a light ring and 1080p autofocus camera. There is a mouse connected to the camera which can be used to change the settings and focus point for the camera. The great thing about the autofocus is you can tilt the PCB to look at the soldering from different angles to make sure that everything is tacked correctly.

Possibly the only negative I have to say for this setup is that due to it being a stereo microscope you have to switch between having the left eye or the camera. You can not have a binocular view and the camera at the same time. This isn’t a big deal for me as I mostly use the camera anyway.

Hot Air Station

When working with certain SMD parts, especially when you need to rework or remove them, a hot air station becomes essential. I started out with a YiHua 959D which is a generic Chinese station. This was OK, but for 4-layer boards it really struggled to get the heat where it needed to be. There is also a concern that these types of stations can get stuck with the heater full on when the fan fails, causing them to catch fire.

I therefore decided to get a Quick 861DW station. I was interested in the Atten ST-862D as well, but what swung it for me was the availability of more nozzles for the Quick. Also the Quick was available from a supplier I already use for JBC parts.

This makes light work of pretty much anything I throw at it. I’ve even used it to swap out 100pin CPLDs on PiStorms a bunch of times with no issues.

Ultrasonic Cleaner

Good soldering can get quite messy. I use flux when soldering as you should, and cleaning it off can be difficult. Whilst I do use alcohol and lint-free cloths during the intermediate phases of soldering, the entire board usually needs a good clean. I have a generic 3L ultrasonic cleaner for this.

At some point I want to get a larger tank, but for a majority of what I do this size is OK. Inside it I use Safewash Super to clean the PCBs and rinse them in deionized water.

Reflow Oven

Beyond hot air and a soldering iron, another way of soldering is to use a reflow oven to carefully run a specific heat profile to solder an entire board in one go. I have a used Puhui T-962C reflow oven that has had a controller upgrade.

I actually use this for drying cleaned PCBs more than reflowing them right now. But either way it is a very useful tool.

Other Tools

I have some other smaller tools I use that are worth mentioning. Some in this photo below.

These include:

  • A Metcal 30cc gun to use for flux (currently loaded with Amtech)
  • Hakko 394 vacuum pickup tool, mostly used for picking and placeing QFP components
  • ESD safe gloves and protective glasses. These have saved me from getting hurt a couple of times
  • MHP30 USB-C PD mini hotplate, useful for heating small areas of PCBs
  • TS-80P USB-C PC soldering iron, usually used when soldering away from the bench or for dual-wield desoldering of SMD capacitors
  • TP-Link WiFi Power Strip so I can use my phone or Alexa to turn on the devices above which do not have front power switches

I’ve also recently acquired several of these ESD safe racks so that I can have in-process batches of PCBs carried together safely.

Conclusion

I hope people find this useful, I’m happy to answer questions on any of it. It is thanks to designing, building and selling Amiga parts that I’ve been able to get my workshop to this point. All of which will help me with further designs in the future.