HackSpace magazine

Soldering irons are great, but if you start to work with smaller and more complex components, you might find you reach a point where a hot stick no longer has the dexterity to do what you need. At this point, you’ll need another way of applying heat to your soldered joins. The most flexible and affordable way of doing this is with a heat gun that blasts hot air at your PCBs. We decided to test one of the cheapest ones we could find to see if it was worth the money.

We got a ‘JCD Hot air gun 8858 Micro Rework soldering station LED Digital Hair dryer for soldering 700 W Heat Gun welding repair tools’, from JCD store on AliExpress. It’s a little concerning that this is labelled a hair-dryer. It’s nowhere near powerful enough for that (but can get hot enough to cause serious injury). It cost £19.94 (including delivery to the UK), which makes it just about the cheapest of the serious hot air tools. You can get cheaper hot air guns, but they tend to be the on/off kind with no control over temperature or airflow, which makes it difficult to use them for soldering.

At just under £20, this tool comes with three nozzles (5, 8, and 10 mm), and can fire air at between 100 and 480 °C. Once you power it on, press the Setup button to start, then select the force (for some reason the scale goes from 5 to 10) and temperature. Hold Setup to power off the heater, and the fan will turn off once the temperature drops to 70 degrees. We were able to solder and remove surface-mount components with this gun without problems, which we’d imagine would be the main use of this. It can also do heat-shrink without any issues. If you’re after a heat gun for paint stripping, or other more DIY-y tasks, you might need a more powerful model.

In the hand

The hand-held part is a bit chunkier than some hot air tools, as the heater and fan are both in the portable part. In others, you often find that the fan is desk-mounted, and it pipes air to the hand-held portion. However, it’s not big or heavy enough to cause us any real problems.

With a lot of the functionality in the hand-held part, the desk-mounted part is just a power supply and control panel – it’s no larger than a standard laptop power brick. If you’re a hobbyist with limited storage space, this can be tucked away in a drawer much more easily than most hot air stations.

There are a couple of drawbacks. The mount for the gun is a bit of a hack. It can be cable-tied onto the top of the device, but this interferes with the controls. Having hot parts exposed this close to where you need to put your hands isn’t, in our view, a particularly safe idea. There’s nothing to stop you mounting it somewhere else, but you’ll need to find a heavy base to make it stable enough.

The second major issue we had was airflow. Unsurprisingly for such a small device, there’s quite limited airflow. It was fine for simple use, but it will limit how useful the device is. The website claims 150 L/min which, frankly, is a lie. We don’t have the equipment to test this, but it’s nowhere near this level. It’s about equivalent to a moderate to gentle blow. This author blows harder when whistling.

We also have some concerns about how long this will last. While it worked fine for our test, heat guns are fickle beasts. It takes a lot of power to produce that much hot air, and the temperature can also take its toll on the parts.

While this hot air gun may lack some features, and we’d like a bit more airflow, there’s still plenty here for most uses. Balanced against the price and size, this can be a good choice for light hobbyist use.


From HackSpace magazine store