|GadgetScope.com > Tools > Cold Heat|
|Reviewed 10-25-2005 by John Shirrell - Produced by Cold Heat - List price: $19.95|
Soldering can be a hobby, much like any other craft. For some knowledge of soldering offers the ability to refurbish expensive electronics instead of replacing them, and for others it is a way to modify electronics to get more out of them. There are modchips for game consoles, cable converters, DVD players, and Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) that enable some level of control that the user would ordinarily not have, such as unlocking copy protection and removing region control. However, using the typical soldering iron, which costs about $10, can be clumsy and dangerous to a novice user. Anyone who has used one has been burned by accidentally touching the 400° tip. This is where innovation leads us to a new product, the Cold Heat. This soldering tool will no doubt make its way onto many a Christmas Wishlist this holiday season, but the big question is: Does it work?
There is no easy way to answer that, naturally, because everything has its pros and cons. For this tool, I have found a very bothersome majority of cons, but still cannot dismiss it as a handy little gadget. The principle of the Cold Heat tool is that it runs on battery power, cools instantly, and is more precise than a regular soldering iron. It comes in a case and includes one tip, the beveled tip. It works by generating a large current between both halves of its tip for a moment to melt the solder. The tips come in three shapes: conical, bevel, and chisel, and all are made of a soft non-stick carbon.
I tried performing a modification on my old Nintendo, soldered some wires together, and soldering a lead onto a power supply board to tap into a certain voltage. In both the Nintendo and power supply projects, I found that my regular soldering iron was necessary, and I found that the regular iron also worked better at coating wires than the Cold Heat.
The first problem with the Cold Heat is that even though it melts the solder you get at the shop like butter, it simply does not produce enough heat to melt the solder already on a circuit board. What I found was that I would try to solder a wire onto the board, and the solder would just create a bubble on top of the solid solder already on the board and it would never stick. I tried holding the Cold Heat directly on the joint in question, and even though I found that the resistor above was too hot to touch, that solder was still solid as a rock. It would not melt at the Cold Heat's maximum temperature. Of course it took just one touch with an ordinary soldering iron to melt the solder and make the connection stick.
For soldering wires together, or soldering wires to the leads of a component (in my Nintendo mod, a transistor), the Cold Heat does an okay job. It is sometimes difficult to get the wire in a position where it touches both ends of the tip, as is necessary to make the heat flow. Sometimes if you wrap the wire in solder and just hold the tool up to one side of the wire, it melts the solder on the one side and doesn't get any heat to the other side. What happens then is you have bits of solder stuck on one side and properly melted solder on the other. This might be considered a feature on a circuit board job where it is important not to heat up the surrounding area, but for soldering wires it is a tad annoying. The way to prevent this is to move the tip up and down and all around on the wire until every bit of solder has melted.
As an aside, the wire stripping tool they offer is a mail-in coupon with a shipping and handling price that well exceeds the value of the wire stripper and the company's expenses of mailing them. I did not send off for one because I already have one. It is my second, because the first one broke the second time I used it. I have learned since then that it can only strip wires about as thin as a phone or ethernet wire (not the outer sleeve, mind you, but the coating on one of the twisted wires inside). For the kind of wires this tool can strip, I found that more often than not it pushed the coating backwards on the wire leaving a crumpled mess, rather than stripping. As easy as it is for me to just use a pair of ordinary scissors or two fingernails to strip a wire, I found the tool worthless. I cannot say for sure if the quality of the tool Cold Heat sends out is any different from the similar tool I tried, but based on the quality of the Cold Heat itself, I wouldn't doubt it.
The complaints of weak tips on the Cold Heat are largely true; they are fragile and break more easily than even the lead of a sharpened pencil. If there is anything the manufacturers need to improve, it is the durability of their tips. However, I suspect that since these tips are readily available at $9.99 a piece, the manufacturer is well aware of this flaw and hopes to create a tip market akin to razor blades and inkjet cartridges, where the product itself is a break-even deal, and the profit comes from replacement part sales. If you are gentle with the tip, you will still break it eventually but you might get a life of 50-100 uses before that happens. I was being pretty careful with mine and still broke my first tip on about the fifth use.
The Cold Heat does not work very well for desoldering. The manual claims that it can be done with solder wick, so I got some and tried it. While the solder wick did its job, it still did not pull out nearly enough solder to release the component even after several tries. I finally used my handy Radio Shack desoldering iron with a vacuum bulb, and that did the job in seconds. The Cold Heat might by some stretch of the imagination be considered a soldering tool, but it has no usefulness as a desoldering tool.
My final verdict is that the Cold Heat has its place, and for some jobs it works very well. But it does not produce enough heat to melt the solder on circuit boards and make connections to them stick, so you will still need to keep your old-fashioned soldering iron. The Cold Heat does not replace the soldering iron, but it might be used alongside it. Before it can be taken seriously, there needs to be several significant improvements in its design, such as the tip's durability, and the inadequate temperature for melting solder already on a circuit board.