Welcome to our site! Electro Tech is an online community (with over 170,000 members) who enjoy talking about and building electronic circuits, projects and gadgets. To participate you need to register. Registration is free. Click here to register now.
Lead free soldering station is a bit of a misnomer, unless the soldering station was actually made without any lead in it's PCB. There is no difference between a lead and lead free soldering station except the solder itself the station has nothing to do with it.
I still use leaded solder, but this is a hobby for me I'm not in a professional environment where you're likely going to have to use lead free solder due to ROHS compliance issues.
Keep in mind aside from direct ingestion there is no real health issue with leaded solders, for it to be dangerous to a human it has to be ingested (simple, don't eat solder) or small particles breathed in (vaporized) But it has the boiling point of lead is over 3000 degrees F you're not going to be breathing solder vapor any time soon. This is not to say lead isn't bad, if disposed of in a land fill over a long enough period of time the lead can leach into the ground water which would be bad. But on a small scale it's irrelevant as long as bigger industries switch to non-leaded solders.
I've heard complaints from people that have used lead free solders that it doesn't flow as well and the joints are more brittle. If you're a hobbyist I wouldn't worry about it at all and continue to use leaded solders. Also unleaded solders usually have a higher melting point.
A soldering station labelled lead-free doesn't mean it was made with no lead...it means that the station was made to more better and more easily with lead-free solder.
Lead-free soldering stations (depending on how it's specified) are supposed to have some or all of the following features:
1. more power to more easily melt lead-free solder which as a higher melting point
2. the tips have thicker plating since lead-free solder corrodes soldering tips faster than regular solder reducing life.
3. the initial coat of solder applied at the factory to tin the tip on the tips are lead-free (though this alone does not make it a lead-free station)
I used to use lead-free because I was OCD paranoia and still am. But it was really hard to work with and really hard to fix and I ended up destroying boards or using way more solder (after repeated application and removal). Now I use leaded solder for most things, but I still have my lead-free stuff for very large un-intricate parts like power contacts where precision is not important (so the fact that it's harder to work with isn't as much of a factor) and temperatures are higher (since it does have a higher melting point after all) and I can just glob it on.
But if two stations are identical except one was made specifically to work with lead-free solders, the lead-free station is the longer lasting, more powerful of the two stations because of the features 1 and 2 mentioned above, whether or not you intend to use it with lead-free or leaded solder.
Dk, the only problem with that is you know this, the maker of a 'lead free solder station' may not, so there is NO guarantee of any kind that the label "lead free" if assigned to the station means it has more power (the power should be stated separately)
I have never seen a soldering station that certified the plating thickness on their iron. The thicker the deposit does not mean better because thicker plating also flakes/chips off faster than thinner deposits do and generally are more porous, especially under repeated heating/cooling cycles. You should LIBERALLY use tip tinner/cleaner on your iron. The 'cleaner' portion is just an acidic flux which removes oxide and 'crud' from the iron tip. The 'tinner' portion is tiny tin/lead solder flakes dissolved in the solid flux, you dip the iron, clean it off with a damp sponge and bam it's like a new tip. I got the stuff I use as a small disc from radio shack. I hate radio shack but the stuff works incredbly well, I will be finding a new place to get solid tinner/cleaner discs when the two I have run out.
I tin/clean the tip of my iron before I start soldering, and if I set the iron down for more than 10 seconds (oxidiation), I also tin/clean it about 5 seconds after I shut the iron off and then cool it down to the point where it won't vaporize water anymore, (no oxidation can occurs then) The tip on my iron is still as good as the day I bought it.