TechAmerica is the old name for Radio Shack's commercial catalog. While the catalog has been renamed RadioShack.com, a house branded line of catalog items apparently is retaining the TechAmerica name. I ordered the TechAmerica Digitally Controlled Soldering Station, part number 910-3893. There is no separate model number. The list price is $149.95.
The soldering station appears to be aimed at the professional market. The catalog asserts that it is ESD-resistant, and has a temperature range of 200-450 degrees C (392-842 F) with an accuracy of +/- 5%. It also claims a microprocessor controlled system status display; easy temperature control; a slim, lightweight iron; and instant tip replacement. It is rated at 80 watts and comes with one conical tip. Two bevel tips and two chisel tips are available as accessories. Tips are $2.99 each.
The unit is housed in an attractive dark blue plastic case with a charcoal front panel which contains the power switch, LCD temperature readout, temperature switch, mode switch, a DIN socket for the iron, a power indicator, and a fuseholder. The iron stores in a large spring type holder mounted on the right side of the case. A small sponge and tray reside below the holder. The unit is quite heavy and rests on four small rubber feet. It is made in China.
When the soldering station arrived I was surprised to find the slide type power switch was upside down. To turn the unit on the switch is slid down. To turn it off it is slid up. This is contrary to the catalog illustration which clearly shows the unit on with the switch up. It was not an assembly mistake as the front panel is labeled for the upside down operation.
A second surprise was the two-wire power cord. A banana jack is provided on the rear panel for a separate ground wire. If this is not used the tip floats, and a static discharge might easily occur. Since the banana jack is out of sight on the rear of the unit, it is easy to overlook with potentially damaging consequences.
The soldering station has two modes: set and read. The mode switch alternates between the modes, and its use is described incorrectly in the instruction manual. The unit comes on in the set mode with the temperature at its lowest setting. The user then depresses the temperature rocker switch until the setting climbs to the desired temperature. Pressing the mode switch once puts the station into the read mode (the manual says twice), and it then regulates the temperature to the value that was set. The LCD now displays the actual temperature.
The temperature display is in celsius--something of an inconvenience for me. There is no provision to switch it to farenheit. Since the display is a custom unit containing english words, I am surprised that Radio Shack didn't use its immense buying power to insist on a farenheit version for the US market. Temperature regulation appears to meet the published specification--but only for the point where the sensor is located in the iron's barrel--not necessarily the tip.
The iron, advertised as slim and lightweight, feels heavy and clumsy to me. It is quite long. The overall length is over nine inches, but the handle comprises less than half of that. The tip is so far from the grip that it really takes a steady hand to solder in cramped quarters. Its cord is long, moderately heavy, and fairly inflexible, and does not appear to be made with high temperature, burn resistant insulation. A soldering station in this price range should have a thin, highly flexible, burn proof cord.
The tips are rods with shaped ends, and are an amazing three inches long. They slide into the iron's barrel with a full inch and quarter left sticking out. It is impossible to tell what they are made of, or what kind of thermal conductivity they have. They have some sort of shiny coating, but do not appear to be iron plated as are the high quality tips used on the Weller soldering stations. It's too early for me to tell how long they will last. The tip that came with the unit was slightly bent and had to be 'persuaded' to go all the way into the barrel.
The tips are held in by a plain old set screw. So much for Radio Shack's claim of "instant tip replacement." Changing a tip requires a screwdriver and pair of pliers if it is hot. If it is cold, then just a screwdriver will do. The manual warns that the set screw must be tightened twice, once while the tip is cold, and again after it heats up. Contrast this with the Weller soldering stations whose tips can be changed without tools when cold, and only require a pair of pliers if hot.
The iron rest consists of a large but surprisingly floppy chromed coil spring with a plastic insert at the mouth. The insert has a hexagonal opening which tightly matches the iron's handle guard--also hexagonal. Because of this, the iron has to be aligned properly to return it to the holder. This is an unnecessary complication which just slows down soldering operations. Worse yet is the tight fit between the iron and the holder. If the iron isn't inserted with just the right amount of pressure, it either tends to flop around loosely or jam in the holder. If it is inserted fully into the holder, the pull required to remove it is enough to slide the station toward the user. Larger softer feet would help in this regard, but the entire holder assembly needs a redesign in my view.
The station is rated at 80 watts. With that rating and the microprocessor based temperature control, I wondered if it could handle soldering UHF connectors onto RG58 coax. No go, even with the temperature set at maximum. The station simply couldn't keep up. I had to switch to my Weller gun to finish the job.
The tiny cleaning sponge is simply a joke, and is next to useless. Any serious use requires a separate sponge in its own holder.
Perhaps innocently, perhaps not, this is the only soldering station pictured in the RadioShack.com catalog with its iron in its holder, thus obscuring it. All the others display the iron laying in front of the base. Unlike the other offerings, Radio Shack does not display the available tips either.
I bought my unit on sale for $74.97. According to the sale flyer, the price was supposed to include a ten dollar soldering kit, free of charge. It was not included. When I called the Radio Shack customer service line, I was told that the omission was my fault, as I was supposed to have specified the soldering kit with the order. I pointed out that the flyer did not state that, and their computers should have automatically included the item.
At this point the customer service representative started to apologize and admitted he had personally handled several complaints regarding this item. He then offered to ship it to me at no cost. So I will be getting my free soldering kit (apparently a pound of solder and some desoldering wick). Nevertheless, I feel that had I rolled over and accepted that it was my fault it was missing, it would have stayed missing.
Overall, I wish that I had not purchased this soldering station. I came very close to sending it back. But by the time I paid the return shipping, and ordered a Weller, which I should have done in the first place (either from Radio Shack or somewhere else), I would have added an extra $15 to $20 in shipping to its cost. That and the hassle just weren't worth it.
As should be evident, I do not recommend this soldering station, nor will I be purchasing any other TechAmerica branded items.