|The Kada 852 SMT Solderstation|
Do you get just what you pay for, or are these Far Eastern imports true bargains? I received the Kada 852D smt solder station on Saturday.
Supplied in a plain white carton, with the model details printed on the side, it was perhaps a relief to see that very little of the paltry £70 that the item costs had been squandered on fancy packaging. Opening the box, everything was well packed.
I unpacked the solder station carefully and laid out the contents.
Initial impressions of the package were favourable. included in the box were:
For around £70 including international shipping, you get a fair bit then.
Yep, I scoured the manual for mention of this solder tip net, in 10 pages of so so English, there was no other mention of it. Eventually i thought i would just be very careful with metal articles until I got to the bottom of that one!
Onwards then, i inspected briefly the individual items. First the Kada 852D station itself.
As you can see the front layout is pretty simple, and easy to follow two knobs control the hot air for flow and temperature, one more controls the soldering iron.
There are two digital displays on the unit indicating the temperature selections for the hot air and solder tip temperatures.
Two unmarked switches control the on/off for either the solder iron or hot air.
Three leds indicate that air is flowing, or that heating elements are warming up.
A 5 pin locking connector is for connection of the soldering iron. (No sign yet of a soldering tip net!)
Turning the machine over reveals two shipping screws...
The reason for the shipping screws is that the air pump has been mounted by soft rubber grommets to the base of the case. This is clearly to reduce the operating noise of the pump. I thought this might have been a noisy device, again because of the relatively low sale price. The manufacturer has though about the product design.
I found the shipping screws easily, and it was easy to remove them.
Turning the unit back over I examined the back.
Pretty band here, a couple of cheap basic stickers, a warranty protection sticker and a voltage marker. Not the very best production values being displayed here. Nothing is in line, the paint finish is basic to say the least. Worse still is a captive mains lead. I would have preferred a kettle lead style connector as it easier to store the unit this way. However I have to remind myself this is budget equipment.
The mains lead is pretty short, though not horribly so. However one problem presents itself to me.
This of course is not a standard UK 13amp plug. Not a huge problem you would think, but in Europe that law is that all electrical items must include a moulded 3 pin plug. For a business premises this could be a problem. to comply with electrical regulations devices must be PAT tested. I'm not sure of the legalities if chopping the plug and using an older fashioned manually fitted plug.
For the hobbyist it is less of a problem. Though finding a replacement plug is not as easy as it used to be. Since devices have been supplied with plugs, most shops here have stopped selling them. Problem two is that in order to test the device you are going to need an adaptor or else if there is a guarantee return, you will have altered the product!
Fortunately I happen to have the correct adaptor (with the correct rating, look out for the cheap ones!. After 15 minutes of frantic searching I discovered it was in use by my Roomba charging station. Looks like the vacuuming will be done less frequently than before!
I will however change the plug over to something more permanent once I am satisfied with the machine.
Next I looked at the holder for the hot air gun. This is reasonably well made.
The holder has mounting points on two sides which correspond with screw holes on either side of the Kada 852D Smt Solder Station. Thus you can decide for yourself which side of the station you wish to mount the bracket to. The instructions gave no indication of what way up the bracket was to go. I spent a good couple of minutes trying it out to see what was most secure. Not a very challenging task, but it could have been more clearly documented.
Next thing to do was to plug in the soldering iron. Helpfully, its tip was already fitted. though installing one is not hard, the shaft has a screw collar at the bottom which disassemble it. Looking at the soldering iron tool itself i noticed that it was very light. There was a small build issue present.
As you can see the cable strain for the soldering iron lead was not attached to the unit properly. It took me several attempts to push fit it into place. I don't have great confidence that it will remain attached. i may have to invest in some contact adhesive to cure this issue once and for all. I don't think it is a major problem. But disappointing slightly that the manufacturer has allowed it to leave in this condition.
The solder tip seems of reasonable quality, and is certainly fine enough for smt soldering. I will invest in some other tips I think to make the machine more adaptable to other jobs. A good tip (pardon the pun) would be to order a selection of tips from the supplier of the machines. I recall the prices were good if you ordered with it.
The soldering iron is very light compared to the 240v all in one house burners that I am used to. I think that this is going to help with the precision of the soldering that I do. The handle is reasonable narrow allowing me to hold it pencil style with little strain on my wrists.
The manufacturer has also included a soft rubber collar on the iron which feels comfortable and aids grip. The locking connector to the Kada 852D solder station fits well and is easy to lock in place with a screw in collar. There is a reasonable reach on the lead as well.
I looked at the stand for the soldering iron. This is a moulded plastic affair, and is very light. I would have preferred to have had a heavier base.
The iron push fits into the base, the friction fit holding the hot tip away from the plastic. The rubber grip of the iron is soft enough that it peels back revealing a grooved collar on the iron that gives the friction fit. I am somewhat untrusting of the fit. I'll try it out certainly, but i am not sure that i wont go bak to my heavier metal holder.
Another quality issue presents itself here. Turning the holder over two things were evident.
OK a loose screw is not a major issue, but it is another indication of the cheaper build quality of the unit. Took me all of a few seconds to rectify this.
More annoyingly, the underside has rectangles moulded there clearly for push in rubber feet. However these were not included with the holder. This combined with the lightness of the holder mean that it does not stay still on a smooth surface such as a work bench. I consider this to be slightly dangerous. I certainly will be looking to adapt this to something more secure. probably I will make a board for soldering, with the base (if I choose to keep it) screwed to it. In the meanwhile I will revert to my cast metal solder stand.
Time to try it out.
I have never hot air soldered before, so I was not sure what to expect. My first victim then had to be something that I did not care to much for. I had a broken PC PSU that I have already robbed of its aluminium heat-sinks and metal case. So I thought I would have a go at harvesting some components.
Plugging the unit in was aware of a quite electrical hum emanating from the unit. The manual mentions that the unit draws current if plugged in, even when the Hot air tool and the solder tip are not switched on. The manual recommends unplugging the device when it is not in use.
I tried the hot air tool first, fixing the narrowes of th nozzles to it with its jubilee clasp style fixing.
The hot air tool is activated by n on off switch at the front. You then dial in the temperature you wish with a rotating knob. The ideal temperature you dial in is displayed on one of the 8 segment LED displays. The green display is easy to read. I followed the instructions and dialed to 300c with a low flow of air.
Working on the underside of the PSU board, I was finding it slow going, However I was trying to melt huge gobs of solder. Eventually I dialled in a higher temperature and a higher airflow. Soon solder was melting away rapidly and it was easy to prise free components from the other side of the board.
I must stress how new I am to this tool. I think that lots more practice on broken circuit boards will be required before I get good. What surprised me was how easy it was to "pop" the laminated PCB of the power supply. The heat from the nozzle only needs to be held too long and it goes. I suspect though that I will get better with practice at setting the airflow and temperature to just right.
It was I have to say good fun harvesting the board. My junk-box has gained some transformers that I would never have been able to extract with just a soldering iron. Smaller components can be just picked out from the board with the heat applied to the solder side. You can see some scorch marks in the bottom corner of the picture. As I worked my way over the board, I got better at removing the components without toasting the PCB.
The hot air tool heats up very quickly to its operating temperature. The great thing about this is that you don't need to leave it running for long to heat up and it is not a bind to switch it off between solder jobs. That is good from a safety point of view as well as on an energy efficiency basis. I was also very pleased with the comfort of using the tool. The component is very light and easy to maneuver. The speed that i could work at was immensely better than when using my old house burner iron. This is a very efficient tool to work with, albeit it wont do the detailed stuff so accurately in my novice hands.
The Kada 852D is a pretty quite performer when the pump is working. It is audible, but is not much louder than a normal PC in operation. The noise is consistent and I would not think that I would become annoyed by it, even after a prolonged soldering session. It is also worth noting that it smelled a bit when first started and gave off a little smoke. However the manual had warned to expect this, and after a few minutes it had stopped. I was luck though that my partner was out. She would not have been best pleased to have a burning smell in the house.
When switched of the Kada 852D smt solder station maintains the airflow for a while afterwards to cool the heating elements down evenly. This should maintain the health of the part. A spare was included with the station, but hopefully it will be a while before it is required.
My next victim was to be a Sure tripath amplifier. I wanted to remove a smt diode from the board. I tentatively tried this using the heat gun, but found that the tightness of the board coupled with my newbie nervousness meant I was getting nowhere fast. Instead i used the soldering iron and some flux to remove the diode and replace it with a wire bridge.
Again the heat up time on the soldering iron was very good. It was at operating temperature in what felt like around 20 seconds (no I'm not sad enough to time it, even if my commodore watch is capable of doing so!). Using the iron is so much better than using my well worn Antec iron. The detailed tip quickly transfers heat to the used solder to melt it. Soldering a couple of pieces of component lead to bridge the pads on the PCB left by an unneeded diode was made easy. One the solder tip remained at ideal temperature throughout soldering, and secondly the light weight and fine tip made the detailed work easier.
Again with a little more practice I think that my skills will improve. I also ran out of flux cleaner, this will look a lot neater when I clean it up.
Comparatively the Kada 852D SMT Solder Station is a cheap piece of equipment. As such I don't think that I was expecting it to be gilded with gold. Its a lightweight machine. The casework is made from reasonably thin metal, the paintwork is not up to Daimler standards. However. It has many good points, price being perhaps its main selling point.
I think I have perhaps knit picked a little, please bear in mind just how much better a tool like this is compared to a 240v AC basic soldering iron:
If I was asked to recommend this product to another hobbyist what would I say?
I think it would have to be a thumbs up. Sure you maybe don't get the most refined product in the world. But you are not spending hundreds of pounds here. This machine is less than £80 if you buy it and a selection of solder tips. You cant say fairer than that. Of course the proof will be in the reliability of the machine. I will be giving it some use in the coming months. If it earns its keep then I will be 100% chuffed.