|Product Performed to Expectations:||8|
|Specifications were sufficient to design with:||10|
|Demo Software was of good quality:||10|
|Product was easy to use:||9|
|Support materials were available:||7|
|The price to performance ratio was good:||8|
|TotalScore:||52 / 60|
I started to get interested in electronics when I was 8 years old having been given an electronics kit as a present: it had spring connections to each component so a quick push allowed a stripped back connection wire to be inserted. Great as that meant no soldering...indeed I didn't even know what soldering was at that time. Years moved on and my electronics equipment didn't really expand quickly but I started to visit Tandy stores, Maplin and the local Electro-outlet (that had benches full of new and recycled components, elements for cookers, vacuum clearer belts etc). I think it was from Tandy that I picked up some 'solder strips' (maybe 20mm long by 5mm wide) that could be wrapped around some wires and melted with a match - they were not great, but I think they did sometimes work. And that experience led me to spend some of my pocket-money on my first real soldering iron - a 25W Antex unit. Yellow with a nice yellow plastic hook.
My 25W Antex iron served me well for approximately ten years before but eventually stopped working. At that point, some twenty five years, or more, ago I decided to make an investment; I purchased a Weller TCP-Z 45W soldering iron and base unit, and it has served me very well up to the current day. I believe it used magnetic bits that activated at set temperature values. At the time I could never foresee my choice of iron not being the main iron I would need for electronics. I also have a much larger power Weller SP200 iron for heavy duty connectors and a butane powered portable Weller unit: useful for working on the car, although I need a new tip for it as it got dropped and bent.
However what I didn't really consider was the change-over already underway by industry to lead-free components. My old Weller cannot use lead-free solder and although that may not be a huge issue for a hobbyist making small numbers of boards from scratch it does limit me when I need to repair a board that is lead-free as I cannot melt the solder. However there is a little cheat that may help others in a similar situation: add a small amount of leaded-solder to the joint to lower the melting point and often that works.
When this roadtest was offered on Element14 I was intrigued as to what innovations had been achieved in those decades since my soldering iron had been designed. Surely, apart from maximum temperature and heat capacity of the iron to enable large soldering tasks to be undertaken, what else could have changed? Therefore I applied for this roadtest so I could find out the answers, and in doing so enlighten the Element14 community about this Weller product.
My roadtest application was probably one of the hardest ones I've written, although far from the longest or most detailed. The reason being is 'How do you actually test out a soldering iron?'. I pondered what the sponsor would likely wish to see their iron being used for, what the Element14 team wanted to see and what us members would like to see (remembering we have a very varied range of backgrounds). I asked myself if I were reading one of these roadtests then what would I be looking for? Twenty five years on and I might be looking for that next investment or perhaps a newcomer deciding to make that large investment rather than buy a low-cost starter soldering iron. Hopefully my roadtest that follows helps to answer some of these questions.
I'm trying to think where I learnt to solder properly. There wasn't the internet or Youtube to watch when I setout and I remember making Veroboard circuits up long before getting my apprenticeship. I'm concluding that I probably learnt from articles in the Maplin catalogue and one of their thin paperback books they used to sell. I'd also say I was quite pleased with the quality of my soldering - this was all through hole components and with clean copper strips I had very few dry joints. The components were soldered to make the nice meniscus of solder up the lead and then cropped off with side cutters.
During my apprenticeship I ended up on a small production run and immediately fell foul of the quality inspector. He insisted that I cropped leads first and then soldered to create a balled surface! I still wonder how many were rejected at later stages due to dry joints. A few months later I was back on a standard production run and able to return to normal soldering practices.
My soldering experience since those early days varied between final equipment installation, requiring the soldering of 28+ buckets, to bespoke PCB population and prototype board layouts. Somewhere in that period I also started to look at Surface Mount Technology (SMT) and also started to experiment with soldering SMT at home. As an aside on the multipin connectors - there is a correct end of the cable for each connector: the individual cores run in a pattern that allows one end to be soldered to the final connector without swapping anything over.
This section of the roadtest report details what was supplied in the box from Weller. I've omitted the unpacking stages for two reasons: (1) who really wants to see the outside box that it turned up from UPS in ? (2) And more honestly, I was too eager to get the parts out and assembled (this was the main reason, my other is justification to make me feel better). This roadtest item from Weller consisted of three main parts:
Although this all arrived in a single Weller box it consisted of these three separate packages, so think of it more as a crafted bundle. This allows Weller to tailor several bundles of stand, iron and base unit accordingly....quite a nice way of doing things in my opinion.
The stand needed a small amount of assembly which luckily was quite self-explanatory. That was good as I actually found the simple A6 folded diagrammatic supplied was not too helpful being language agnostic, although I could get the gist of what was being relayed. The instructions are available online here and and diagram in it shows this, my bit stand was as in the lower-left diagram and that agreed with the WSP80 manual that listed other available bits as LTxx. I guess the choice was whether to go for the sponge or the wire-wool....I configured mine for wire-wool at the front initially.
What was great to see in that A6 sheet is that these stands can be joined together, great for professional setups where several different irons are being used for various assembly tasks. The blue plastic side cheeks can be removed to allow this at a later stage if required. Of note here is that the stand is also very robust and of a decent weight (who want a flimsy stand and the iron getting knocked off ? ).
I'm still not quite sure what stand I have received. It seems to hold the WSP80 iron correctly although the WT1 manual also has this diagram which shows the WSP80 in a simple sprung stand. Other roadtesters also discussed this, maybe it is the wrong part but it does seem to work OK, and therefore I think I'll move on from the subject.
My first note was that the base power unit was heavier than I'd expected. Great news as in my opinion that equates to a decent amount of transformer or other circuitry. The specification lists the WT1 as 1.9Kg. Another observation was that it was larger than my old Weller base unit and also had a much more useful flat top - indeed this was covered with a removable rubber insert (nice to remove and wash or tip off into a bin). This flat top would be useful for holding reels of solder or hand-tools that needed to be close by.
There is little connectivity to the WT1 base unit: a circular connector for the WSP80 iron, the mains voltage input IEC connector on the rear and on close inspection there is a RJ11 connector on the underside (more about that later).
The display was protected by a peel-off and I noticed a slight 'effect' on the LCD which after peeling off persisted as if the LCD had been knocked or stressed during assembly.
The WT1 base unit draws 95W from the mains supply.
This iron is rated at 24V / 80W and my first thoughts were how thin and lightweight it was. Straight away answering my questions on soldering iron development over the last few years I can see that materials and cable construction has obviously improved to allow these higher currents in thinner and more flexible, heat-resistant cables. Also, to be investigated after turning on, there is little separation between that 400 degree centigrade heater element and my fingers !
The plastic knurled nut allows a tool free removal of the metal barrel sleeve and the bit is constrained in the end of that. Another surprise was how small the overall tip/bit was although I was unable to determine which tip was supplied. The WSP80 manual listed some other tips as available and to give myself a wider choice I bought two from CPC Farnell and these were:
The range of available tips is vast and I was also very pleased with the prices. My choices were a fatter/squatter bit for soldering larger connectors or earth plane components and a thinner-longer reaching for close pitch SMT parts.
Having assembled the WSP201 stand and connected the mains voltage to the base unit and the iron to the base unit I was ready to turn on. At this point I was armed with just the Weller WT1 manual which consists of a couple of language agnostic diagrams and 24 different language sections. Unfortunately the section did not actually explain anything else from the diagrams and so initially I had to try and work through the menu options from that language agnostic diagram. What I would state is that in time the functions became more obvious but initially I really struggled to determine what some of them were.
However I did manage to find a supplementary manual which did help, but was hard to find and not obvious.
From the four front buttons the user can adjust various settings within the WT1 unit. There are essentially two setups, some functions are explained later, and these are:
Setup A - quick press of the 'MENU' button. This then cycles through options for:
Setup B - holding the 'MENU' button for greater than 3 seconds enters this mode, with options for:
My soldering normally consists of having to go out to the cold shed. Indeed whilst making my Happy New Year Element14: my last project for 2019 LED fireworks I've had to resort to two pairs of socks, wool hat and some Faggin style gloves [as in the fingerless type often worn in Victorian England]. And after about an hour my hands and feet were still going numb. I had expected to have to test this iron under the same conditions but as luck would have it, and quite by surprise, milosrasic98 picked my Catherine Wheel blog post as his Gift to Give. Well that was the ideal opportunity to spend the money on a solder-fume extractor. More importantly this means I can now sit in the warm and comfort of the house and undertake my soldering projects .
Standby: On the WT1 unit after the last adjustment of temperature or turning the unit on a timer will run and after the set time the WT1 unit will turn the soldering iron temperature down to a preset value. The default period is 2 minutes, the minimum is 1 minute (or OFF) and the maximum is 99 minutes: when the timer is expired at that point the iron will drop to 180 degrees C (or whatever value is set). When in standby mode the LCD displays an icon to show that is the mode and the user will see the temperature starting to drop. It is also possible to deactivate this feature from the Setup A menu and then the WT1 will behave more like a traditional iron where the user would have to turn the unit off when not in use. At this point the user will see the 'HEAT' bar flickering periodically as the WT1 occasionally heats the iron to maintain that 180 degree C temperature.
The standby temperature can be adjusted between 100 degrees C and 300 degrees C
The feature is useful to help prevent leaving the iron running at high temperatures when not required as that will waste energy and also shorted the tip life (and likely the element).
Auto-Off: there is also another timer that will expire and start the unit shutting down whilst showing the tip temperature. The display will show OFF and COOLING whilst this happens. The auto-off timer can be set between 1-999 minutes. Pressing the UP and DOWN buttons together will abort the shutdown. As the cooling process is simply by convection this can be quite a slow process when compared to the 10s heat up times. At 50 degrees C the display light turns off and the user can just see OFF on the display - of course the units switch is still physically ON. Pressing UP and DOWN will make the unit switch back into life. The default value is 10 minutes before auto-off activates.
This feature is useful for people like me that inadvertently leave irons running overnight (or sometimes even longer). During that time there is always the risk that they will char and ignite something nearby or someone else will burn themselves not knowing the iron is running.
Window: this feature is not clear from the basic user manual where it is referred to as PROCESS WINDOW. Some more detail is provided in the supplementary manual but it is still not clear. It appears there are two options available depending upon the setting of ES-FE and ES-rob in the Setup B menu.
These features allow tow different features to be enables. The ability for the unit to be locked whilst still allowing the 'untrained' user a slight adjustment window on temperature. However more interesting is the ES rob which is intended to allow automatic fume extraction. The RJ11 would power the fume extraction system and this setting would allow hysteresis rather than the fan constantly coming on and off as the unit heats and cools.
Lock: the lock feature is where I fell over. I inadvertently managed to activate it and only later realised and managed to tr a few codes to get the unit working again. With the default WINDOW range of 0 degrees C there is no adjustment available to the user when the unit is locked. The STANDBY and AUTO-OFF still function but the user can only adjust the temperature within the range given in the WINDOW option (which is defaulted at zero). When activated the user uses the UP and DOWN keys to set a value between 1 and 999...this is the code required to unlock the unit.
Offset: this is detailed as being between -40 degrees C and plus 40 degrees C. I conclude it is used for calibration such that the system can be setup to account for differences between the LCD display and the actual tip temperature, perhaps invaluable if a long/high loss tip is being used. Once the actual tip is measured accurately by a calibrated thermometer then this value can be adjusted to allow the LCD display to be correct.
Display Options: these include the ability to change the temperature reading between Fahrenheit and Centigrade as well as to adjust the LCD back light level. Both are accessed from the setup menus and fairly straight forward to set.
Fixed Temperatures: in Setup B there is the ability to set two different temperatures. These are both adjustable by the user once selected and the user can simple switch between them using the UP to select the upper temperature or the DOWN to select the lower temperature setting. After selecting there is a very brief window where the user can use UP and DOWN to change that temperature setting.
Floating Switching Output: I am still unclear about the explanation in the supplementary manual for this feature. The Setup B allows the user to switch between ES-FE and ES-rob. The ES-rob can be seen to operate the Optocoupler and therefore allow a fume extractor to be switched on remotely. However the ES-FE is detailed as 'Zero-smog' but no other description is given. I need to check but I believe the opto-coupler is permanently activated when in this mode.
Sensitivity: The sensitivity of the iron is adjustable between 1 and 5 in this setting and comes as setting 3. I had hoped this was the feature that allowed the iron to come back on if the user was still using it however it was unclear from the instructions if this were the case.
The WT1 base unit allows units to be stacked or for a handy storage of solder reels and small tools. The stands to also be joined together.
My initial plan was to also do some comparisons with Sn/Pb and Pb-free solders. However before starting on the Sn/Pb versions I realised that I would like to keep this setup completely clean of Pb, or as clean as I can knowing that reworking an unknown board would likely introduce some. After some reading I found these solder melting ranges:
During this 60-day period I knew I'd have a wide range of products needing soldering and therefore decided to take that informal approach: when something needed fixing or building I would flash up the WT1 and add that experience to my roadtest. I had planned to do some intense projects but they didn't materialise but the variety of smaller projects soon seemed to cover many of the tasks I could envisage anyone using this iron for. In the 60-days of this roadtest I tried to take a photo of some of the tasks I got up to, although some slipped through as I got caught up in the moment !
Having used the Weller equipment for a multi-tude of tasks over the full 60-days I wasn't disappointed with the ergonomics of the WSP80 soldering pencil. The cable was light weight and flexible so it laid well when the iron was placed back into the stand and wasn't a burden when holding the iron for long periods of time. The thin soldering pencil diameter fitted naturally into my hand and again I didn't notice any issues over time. Generally it also stayed cool apart from when I took the temperature up to 450 degrees C for a about 20 minutes whilst I was trying to re-work the power connector on a webcam...at that point it did start to get quite hot towards the knurled knuckled.
There was some confusion about which stand should have been supplied and also how it was meant to be used. Although generally I was quite content with the provided stand and can adjust my practises to make it work. The bits sit quite neatly in the horseshoe but if the metal sleeve is included they will touch the sponge.
The above is not an issue if the sponge is configured at the front instead of the wire wool.
Coupled with some of the soft-features in firmware there RJ11 output allows the unit to remotely power up a fume extraction system. Although my lower-cost Weller fume extractor doesn't specifically have this feature I do plan to use the output from the WT1 to activate a mains relay and turn my fume extractor on accordingly.
Quite early on I managed to get the base unit into some kind of locked mode where I was unable to make any adjustments. Was I the first person to ever be able to state that they had 'bricked' a soldering iron ? I let Randall know I was having trouble and had also contacted Weller for help. What it turns out is that I had inadvertently activated the lock mode but without realising what code I had entered to lock the unit. This was because of the difficulty understanding the instruction manual and where I just started to experiment with the settings.
On reflection I was then able to see that to unlock I was able to enter a value, which always started at 000. I recalled incrementing this value as I experimented and therefore thought I didn't take it too high. Working my way through I soon found that at 7 the unit unlocked again.
This is a great feature however as the iron cannot sense the user actions the timer will keep running regardless and this can lead to the iron deciding to go into standby mode whilst being used. That happened to me a few times and was really annoying. Even pressing the temperature UP button prior to the period expiring didn't seem to extend it. Personally I will likely keep this at the 99 minute maximum setting or even turn it off completely, although I do like the idea of the temperature being retarded when not required. This feature could be improved upon.
Another great feature but like the Standby feature, the unit has no idea the user is actually doing anything. Therefore this feature can start to activate whilst the user is busy soldering. Without looking they would soon wonder why their joint won't melt. The feature could be supported by a simple audible beep or better still the iron can tell the WT1 when it is being used and therefore reset this timer.
Whilst the ability to allow a locked unit to be adjusted is perhaps debatable I did like the range that allows the RJ11 contacts to make and thus run an external fume extractor to be interesting. It is this feature that I hope to exploit myself to connect up my Weller fume extractor to.
Needless to say I don't like the lock feature having 'bricked' my unit, albeit temporarily. I can see huge utility in a production environment where there are strict limits on temperatures and it would be disastrous to quality if users inadvertently adjusted them. The feature is quite simple and combined with the WINDOW feature should provide much flexibility. In the home setting I would see this feature being turned off.
Another professional feature that allows the unit to be calibrated accurately and this offset utilised to ensure the LCD display correlates to the tip temperature. This feature would likely be used in controlled production runs of quality products and the previously mentioned LOCK feature would ensure it remains locked in its calibrated state.
These are useful features enabling the user to change the display units between Fahrenheit and Centigrade as to suit their preference. Additionally the LCD backlight is also useful to adjust between the darker 'shed' and the bright sunshine lit office.
Although hidden away somewhat, this is a great feature in my opinion. I can easily use this to switch between my favourite Pb-solder or Pb-free temperatures as required. Alternatively if using Pb-free I might have one setting for normal use but a slightly higher one for that added 'ooph'. I like this feature.
The ability to run the fume extraction when only within a set temperature range is interesting although I never got around to exploring what the ES-FE feature meant. Hopefully I'll update this roadtest when I find out.
I hoped this would allow the iron to activate again if the soldering iron were moved however having tried all settings of sensitivity I was unable to get the WSP80 to re-activate the WT1 unit remotely.
Such a product cannot properly be tested in such a short timeframe and it could be possible that with continued use certain parts break or wear far quicker than expected, perhaps annoying traits start to surface or the user may find previously unknown useful functions. Therefore as I finish my 60-day roadtest of this Weller WT1/WSP80 combination I propose that this will not be the last mention of this great product.
I feel it is useful and constructive to justify the marks given in the various categories at the start of the roadtest. My reasoning therefore is:
The product is well made and gives a feeling of quality build which should last for many years.
This is Not Applicable and therefore has been given top marks to not offset the result
As above, this is not applicable to this product
It was fairly intuitive. Probably because it isn't too complex it was easy to determine many of the features by experimentation.
This was the area in my opinion where the product lacked support. The manual and online material could have made the features far easier to understand and make use of.
Perhaps slightly over-priced as there are other features that could easily have been incorporated for the same price.
For the price I think Weller could have included more in the package for very minimal extra cost:
Although the Weller WT series is quite high priced I believe the quality of product is there and therefore it should be a great investment for anyone undertaking a reasonable amount of soldering without the disappointment of failing equipment or replacement obsoleteness. The range also allows for additional expansion of capability in time (should the budget allow).
My roadtest review ends with the greatest thanks to Weller for sponsoring this with equipment and to Randall Scasny for organising the roadtest and passing my application onwards .
Finally, more so than ever, best wishes to all.