Is there a difference between Lead-Free Soldering Stations vs. Leaded Soldering Stations?
In my estimation, there is a substantial difference for soldering stations built for lead-free soldering vs. the old standard lead soldering. A few of the particulars are heat upper levels, heat recovery, and localized heat intensity. Yes, there are many soldering stations that don’t specify that they are for lead-free soldering, and I would suggest staying away from these. I can also tell you from first hand experience and that of most of my readers that have sent me emails, who have tried to use their old Weller soldering stations and even other high end Hakko soldering stations designed for the lead solder, that it doesn’t work for lead-free soldering.
It is important to realize that just about everything in electronics life is going to lead-free PCB designs. With the new laws on the books in just about all the major developed countries of the world, electronic manufacturers are building boards with components that are all soldered in place using lead-free solder. It only makes sense to get a lead-free soldering station today. You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get a good quality soldering station, but you definitely should look for one that specifies that it is designed for lead-free soldering. Some manufactures also have special lead-free soldering tips requiring special maintenance in keeping the tips from wearing out.
Solder wetting issues are another factor with lead-free soldering. It takes more heat to melt lead-free solder. And, because of the increase in the heat required to melt lead-free solder, the tips will tend to wear out faster. There are some common sense approaches to maintaining tip life, such as: turning the heat down when not required, keeping the tip tinned properly to prevent oxidation, and use proper solders with flux cores designed for lead-free soldering repairs.
Yes, you can use lead-free soldering stations with leaded solder, but keep the temperatures down and never use acid core solder for electronic repairs.
I would also suggest reading this article for Lead Free Soldering Tips in order to have a better understanding of the difficulties facing PCB repair folks today. If you want to make a quality repair on a circuit board that uses lead-free solder to begin with, you need to do it with a quality lead-free soldering station.