Low-cost PCB soldering and inspection station

-June 15, 2016

I'm going to be celebrating the 38th anniversary of my 21st birthday next month (coincidentally, it will also be the 29th anniversary of my 30th birthday). The reason I mention this is that my eyes are not what they used to be. When I'm soldering a circuit board these days, it's only the countless years of practice and self-denial that allow me to achieve anything like the results I'm aiming for.

Actually, the soldering part really isn’t the problem. I can get the solder and the tip of the iron together in the right place at the right time, and – based on the thickness of the wires and what I'm soldering to (e.g., a single pad vs. a honking big ground track) – I know just how long to leave things when I see the solder start to flow. The trick is spotting those little gotchas that can happen to the best of us.

Thus, I was really interested when I ran across a low-cost soldering and inspection station called POLUS on Amazon. The base of the station is mirror-smooth stainless steel. This is accompanied by four holders whose super-powerful magnets allow them to be located anywhere on the base. These little scamps can be adjusted to any board thickness from 0.1 to 5.0 mm, and the fact that they can be placed anywhere on the base means that they can accommodate any board shape from square to rectangle to triangle to circle to... well, anything from 2 to 400 mm in size, really.

But the thing that really helps me is the fact that this station comes with a flexible stand that also clamps magnetically to the base. This stand holds a USB microscope featuring a two-megapixel CMOS sensor with a 10× to 500× optical zoom that supports 1600×1200 resolution images and videos. Below we see the setup on my kitchen table when I was soldering stackable headers onto an Arduino Nano:

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