The hot air rework station that everyone needs
Update: I just reevaluated options for 2017 and came up with the same answer, so here it is:
Hot air rework stations have historically been one of those "second tier" pieces of electronics equipment. You know, once you have all the basic tools, these are the tools for more niche uses. Well, as you know, the niche for SMD work is pretty wide now--most projects have SMD parts. So the barrier to getting equipment like this on your workbench has been #1 the cost and #2 the complexity of using it. This particular hot air rework station just did away with both of those excuses.
I'm talking about this one or ones that look identical to this except for the brand name. For some reason the same product is available by several brands for about the same price. I've seen them from:
and probably others.
What I love: $60, two buttons, and a knob.
First, the cost. It's cheap. Street price is about $60 (US) and that puts it at about half the cost of (more complex) competitors. This is in the price range of a low-end soldering iron or oscilloscope probe. This seems pretty reasonable for anyone who needs it, and even for hackerspaces/makerspaces to buy a few of them.
Second, the complexity. This unit is really easy to operate. You set the temperature and the air flow rate and the unit automatically turns on when you pick up the wand. It comes with a set of nozzles (small, medium, and square) so you can select the nozzle size that's appropriate for your work.
Dave Jones over at the EEVBlog did a thorough (as usual) review of a hot air rework station by Atten. Check out the video below.
You'll get the hang of it.
But successfully using a hot air rework station like this takes more than two buttons and a knob. To do it right, you need to keep your parts and PCB below ther max temperature and, if possible, follow a reflow temperature profile. All that depends on your hands and your timing. You need to calibrate yourself.
Maybe do a practice run on a scrap PCB. I've used a multimeter with a thermocouple probe laying on the PCB so I can watch the temp, and a clock, to get a feel for how a normal reflow profile will feel. Then, I replicate that on the real part and watch the behavior of the solder and the flux as a guide. Expect to ruin something on your first try.
At that price, and with similar products branded with several names, I really wonder how reliable any warranty is or if replacement parts are available. But for 60 bucks, I bought it anyway.
UPDATE: After approximately 2 yeas of intermittant work, it's holding up fine. I don't use it every day (sometimes not every week) but when I need it, it's there and ready. Would definitely buy again.