Thursday, February 23, 2012

Initial review: Hakko FX-888 Soldering Station

Introduction

During many years of orbiting around the world of electronics and related fields, soldering was not really one of my strong points. After moving more seriously into this field it occurred to me that my choice of soldering weapons played a part in the end results. So a few days ago I pulled the trigger and ordered my first “real” station – the Hakko FX-888.

Opening…

After waving goodbye to the courier and opening the delivery carton, the following was presented:

Frankly it’s only a box and shouldn’t matter, but you can appreciate the effort involved from a retail perspective. Opening up we find a neatly and safely packaged station with the multilingual instructions on top:

Everything is included to get going without any surprises. The station itself:

This is quite solid and weighty – at 1.3kg, so will not be moved by accident. The colours are quite snazzy and in some markets you can choose different colour schemes. According to Hakko – this is a “High-performance soldering iron that, in the pursuit both “usability” and “appearance”, has evolved beyond being a mere working tool”…

As you can see the temperature can be adjusted between 200 and 480 degrees Celsius. There is a calibration adjustment below the temperature knob, and the tool for calibration (“thermal correction”) is hidden away underneath the station:

You can also see the power switch on the right-hand side of the unit (when positioned normally). A tiny Allen key is included which is used to lock the temperature control to a desired position, however there isn’t a spot to keep it – so for now I have used (once again) some blu-tac to stick it under the base (not shown in photograph). Finally there is one red LED above the Hakko logo which lights when the heater is on – however it turns off once at the required temperature.

Next we have the soldering iron with fixed lead to the station:

This is a very light iron – for me the lightest so far, with a weight of 44 grams excluding the cord. The iron ships with a 0.5mm conical tip (type T18-B) that is fine for normal through-hole work, however there are sixteen different tips available from Hakko. What took me by surprise is the flexibility of the cord bushing, no matter which direction you turned the iron in your hand – there was hardly if any at all resistance from the cord. When changing tips be careful when unscrewing the nut, it is easy to unscrew the handle instead.

Finally we have the iron holder and parts:

The holder is made from metal, although it may not look so in the image. There is space for the included sponge and brass cleaning wire. You can also use the rubber cleaner (the grey/green lip) for cleaning as well. You can fit a large cleaning wire in the holder, however only small amount is presented at any one time, so you will need to rotate it now and again by opening the bottom of the holder which reveals the wire space.

Specifications

For those who like the numbers, here they are:

  • Station power consumption - 70W
  • Temperature range – 200~480 degrees Celsius
  • Temperature stability – +/- 1 degree Celsius at idle temperature
  • Iron power consumption – 65W at 26V AC
  • Cord length – 1.2m
  • Tip to ground resistance – 2Ω

The system is designed to protect against anti-static discharge, and the handle and other parts are conductors – not insulators. For more details please see the Hakko website.

Question - What nationality is the Hakko company?

Australian pricing – WTF?!

There is one thing that I am not too happy about – the price. In Australia the FX-888 can be found for between $160 and $175+GST – and delivery should be free. However the exact same product in the US market works out to be around … Au$89+sales tax. Ugh. I don’t mind paying an extra 25% due to the distances between sunny Melbourne and the rest of the world – but the local price is just too high. Sure, I could import one – but then there isn’t any warranty. Not that I expect the Hakko to break anytime soon, but who knows? So one pays more and deals with it.

Other observations

The reheating speed is excellent, the iron can reach any selected temperature in less than sixty seconds. This also helps avoid cold joints by recovering from temperature loss at a rapid rate. Furthermore having such a light iron without the burden of an AC lead at the back allows much more tip control and reduces wrist and muscle fatigue over long sessions.

Finally, the user manual includes exploded diagrams for all parts and the matching part numbers, which tells me Hakko want this station to last and are happy for you to maintain it yourself. Unlike using my older iron, I am sure with extended use the FX-888 will be less of a physical drain and also help improve my confidence in soldering.

Conclusion

Although the FX-888 is not inexpensive, it is very easy to use and light-years ahead of using a normal hand-held soldering iron. If you are finding yourself doing more soldering than the occasional hobbyist or are looking to work with a wide variety or components and soldering joints then you could do a lot worse than considering the FX-888. At this juncture it was not the cheapest, however I feel it was a solid investment and will last me a long time.

The Hakko FX-888 Soldering Station is available worldwide. Residing in Australia I purchased mine from element14.

Disclaimer – The items in this review were purchased by myself and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer. 

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