Like most things soldering is something that can be improved on or made easier with the addition of a few extras. There are plenty of soldering iron accessories around. So what do you need? What do you want? What’s god and what’s bad? Let’s take a look.
Coming from an industrial and defence electronic background we always had to have bench mats. I guess I got so used to them that my setup at home seemed naked without one. There are definite advantages to them although not essential. Not cheap either but then once you have it you’re not likely to be replacing it very often and you do get the safety of ESD safe (electrostatic discharge) so you won’t have to worry about your sensitive IC components. It’s always nice to have a decent working surface as well. Not high on most peoples list of soldering iron accessories but one that you miss once you've had it.
Antex ST6A Deluxe Soldering iron stand
This one for me has no opposition. As soon as I saw it I wanted it and having got one it hasn’t disappointed. If you have an Antex XS25 or an Antex CS18 and if you’ve read my reviews then you’ll know I’m a big fan of these two then this is the perfect complement. Gone is the spring of the old days. What you get now is solid and black. The iron gets totally enclosed in this housing and as a result not as much heat escapes from the iron making it more efficient. It is well ballasted to make it very stable, has non slip feet and the Antex XS and CS irons fit it perfectly. I haven’t had chance to personally try the others but Antex claim the M, C, TCS, TC, & SD are all compatible. I also like the circular cut out and circular sponge as you can dispense with the sponge and put a metal shaving tip cleaner in the space. If you've not got a soldering station, among soldering iron accessories, a stand must be considered essential and you'll find it hard to find a better one.
Wire tip cleaner
You have probably seen these and wondered what the fuss is about. It’s not very often something new comes along in the established world of soldering. What’s good about them? Well the wire or shavings are made of brass which is softer than the iron tip plating so you won’t damage or remove it, but it’s a harder than most of the oxidation that forms so it’s more effective than a wet sponge. Also a wet sponge has a violent cooling effect producing thermal shock. Avoiding this will prolong the life of your soldering iron tips.
The Antex St6A soldering iron stand and the wire tip cleaner make a good combination, it's as though they were made for each other.
I made do without one of these for ages thinking they were a gimmick. We didn’t use them at work so I thought they were a bit of a toy to be honest. After getting one I couldn’t have been more wrong. I couldn’t do without it now. They are great for holding various things while you solder them like sockets and variable resistors without burning your fingers or moving things. My eyes probably aren’t what they used to be and parts are getting smaller as well so the magnifier also come in useful. I always know where this one will be as I always seem to mislay my portable magnifier. I would try to save money by going for the cheaper units. Some are pretty badly made. You do get what you pay for with these in my experience. Of all the optional soldering iron accessories this is one of the cheapest and most useful.
There is a bit of conflicting advice floating around the internet about having to remove flux off a circuit board after it has been soldered. This probably originates from the days where the solders contained corrosive flux. Left in place some of these would eat away at the solder joints and the copper on the board. Today’s rosin cored solders don’t have this problem so you don’t have to remove the flux. It has even been suggested that it provides more of a protection. I personally clean a finished board of the remains of flux after it has been soldered. This is mainly for cosmetic reasons. Again at work we used to clean boards in some horrible chemical that used to melt some capacitors (these were hand soldered on after the clean). There is something about a newly soldered and cleaned board that I just can’t give up. It does make trying to locate faults like bridged tracks easier. People talk about using isopropanol alcohol and other chemicals. I prefer to use the recognised sprays that are available. They may seem expensive but when you work out how many boards you can clean you’ll see that in fact the price isn’t too bad. The one shown below is one from Amazon that I’ve successfully used for a while.
Some form of desoldering is pretty essential unless you plan on never making a mistake. There are various soldering iron accessories that can help. Desoldering is such a large area that I’ve broken it down into different sections. You can find a guide on how to desolder components, what is the best desoldering pump? And what is the best desoldering braid?
Although there’s no proof to say that soldering fumes are any danger to health I’m sure they can’t be doing you any good either. The cynical part of me says that the government have known for years that its bad to breath in the fumes from soldering but it’s been kept secret because of the massive expense and claims that it would involve. You can get small extraction systems for not too much money. I’m not sure how good they are at protecting you but I’m of the view that anything is better than nothing. The one shown below is one that I’ve recently purchased from Amazon.