Let's take a look one of our principal suppliers of soldering tools -- Weller!
As “Parts Hunter” here at SparkFun, I have the privilege of interacting with a variety of suppliers, manufacturers and their representatives as a regular part of my job. Today, I'd like to highlight a particular company whose name may already be familiar to many of you — Weller Tools.
Weller (part of Apex Tool Group) has been kicking out innovative soldering tool designs since the 1940s. An American radio repairman named Carl E. Weller, dissatisfied with the long periods spent twiddling his thumbs waiting for his old-timey soldering iron to heat up, first patented the “Weller Electrical Heating Apparatus” in 1941. It looked like a ray gun straight out of “Buck Rogers,” and it paved the way for so many of the soldering tools we've come to love and cherish in our modern age.
Today, Weller offers a wide array of tools for hobbyists and professionals alike, including the Erem and Xcelite brands of hand tools. I asked Pete Jenner, Field Application Manager for Apex, to outline some of the most unusual soldering applications he's assisted customers with, and his answers did not disappoint. Number one on his list was—drum roll—SOLDERING IN SPACE!
“NASA,” Pete explained, “asked us for a soldering iron to conduct an experiment to solder on the International Space Station with one of our stick irons like the WP25.”
The video below shows the mesmerizing results of this experiment.
Other unexpected uses of Weller irons he's encountered include cauterizing tissue around wires used to make pediatric aortic stents, and melting a composite material to fill seams and rivets on Air Force jets to help make them stealth. Pete also mentioned the artist market for soldering irons used to create stained glass and burn designs onto wood.
SparkFun currently offers the following items from their catalog, plus a variety of tips for the three irons included below:
Mike Schock (of Schock Enterprises) is our Johnny-on-the-spot for all things Apex. He hooks us up with demos and samples, and helps us find solutions to a wide variety of tool needs. Chatting with Mike is always a trip, because in addition to being a sales representative, he's also a Maker, tinkerer and fellow history buff (Mike, I owe you a book!). He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me:
How long have you been repping for Apex/Weller?
I have been an Apex rep for nearly three years now. It has been a fun and rewarding experience. I get to see amazing processes and sell fun tools.
What are some of your favorite Weller tools for your own use?
I do have my "go-to" tools from Apex/Weller that I use all the time. I have two Erem cutters that I love, an older WD1 solder station for bigger jobs and a 12W rechargable soldering iron (my new favorite for small jobs).
Can you describe a favorite personal project for which you've used Weller tools and/or SparkFun products?
I am going to include my three most recent projects. Two of which have SparkFun products in them:
The most rewarding project this summer was a prototype product of my own design that I plan to release to market next year. I bulk purchased a number of parts for this project from SparkFun. Unfortunately I can not disclose what that project entails, but I now have enough parts to build 300 units thanks to SparkFun. All other parts are 3D printed.
The project I just finished this week is a Jack-in-the-box [pictured above] with several different LED bulbs purchased from SparkFun. This one can be seen on Instructables under Snake-in-the-Box.
That about wraps up our "Supplier Spotlight" look at Weller! Be sure to check out Mike's projects above and have a gander at SparkFun's Weller, Xcelite and Erem offerings.
I will close with a question for you, dear readers -- what are YOUR go-to soldering tools?