The humble soldering iron has come a long way. From a simple hot piece of metal melting a mixture of tin and lead to temperature controlled precision instruments powered by RISC-V. Soldering is a great skill to learn and can be used to create custom circuits, Solder the GPIO pins your Raspberry Pi Pico WBut which soldering iron to buy?
In the past, when choosing a soldering iron, it was either a cheap “introductory” soldering iron or a top brand soldering iron such as Weller or Haako.in steps Pine 64known primarily for its range raspberry pi Alternative single board computers, Linux-powered mobile phones, and Arm laptops with Pinecil temperature-controlled soldering irons. Released in 2020, Version 1 was a lower-cost alternative to Waveshare’s similar irons. But Pinecil has introduced his RISC-V CPU inside a low-cost soldering iron.
Released in August 2022 for $26, the Pinecil V2 is a further update to the original model. The two look the same, only the soldering iron has a shorter tip and is distinguished by a colored band. Under the hood are stronger RISC-V CPUs, more memory, and the option to use higher wattages for those heavier connections.
We took the Pinecil V2 to the bench and tested its pace while soldering and desoldering the board of choice.
Pinecil V2 Specifications
|CPU||32-bit RV32IMAFC RISC-V “SiFive E24 Core” @ 144 MHz|
|sheep||132KB of SRAM|
|Power||USB C PD and QC 3.0 12-20 volts at 3 amps|
|screen||0.69 inch 96 x 16 pixel OLED|
|temperature||up to 450 degrees Celsius|
|size||103 x 12.8 x 16.2 mm (body)|
|155 x 12.8 x 16.2mm (body/tip)|
Pinecil V2 look and feel
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Pinecil V2 is no different from its predecessor. Aside from the V2’s green sleeve, the two are practically identical. The body of the iron is simple, with only two buttons (+ and -) that are the only interface with the iron’s OS. The business end of Pinecil is the tip and is fixed with M2 screws. The included tip is a conical generic tip, the ST (Short Tip) B2 which is much shorter than the stock tip that comes with the Pinecil V1.
The Pinecil V2 is 157mm with the included tip. V1 is 175mm. The size difference is impressive, but it’s no reason to throw away the Pinecil V1. Both V1 and 2 have the same body size. The body with a total length of 103 mm is comfortable to hold for a long time. The button placement is good with + on the hot end of the iron and – on the other side. The button is away from your finger, which minimizes the chance of your finger slipping off and changing temperature.
When powered on, the Pinecil V2 defaults to a basic start screen waiting for user input. – Press the button to open the settings menu, further press to navigate the main menu. Press + to bring up a menu where you can fine-tune various settings.
You can set the power, set the soldering tip to autoheat to a low sleep temperature (150 degrees Celsius by default), or heat to your preferred temperature. The sleep mode menu is a way to set the iron to go into low temperature mode if left unattended for a user defined amount of time. A user interface menu is used to change the animation speed, temperature units and set the detailed standby screen (which is recommended as it shows voltage and temperature). The advanced menu allows you to adjust the temperature and voltage of your iron. An onboard accelerometer detects the orientation of Iron and flips his UI on his OLED display accordingly.
Soldering with Pinecil V2
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Now that you’ve checked the menu, let’s get ready to solder the Pinecil V2. Press the + button to heat the iron to the desired temperature. A short press of the + and – buttons in succession adjusts the temperature by 1 digit, and a long press adjusts the temperature by 10 degrees.
The Pinecil V2 heats up quickly. Using the included cone tip and connecting to a 20V USB-C power supply, the Pinecil went from 35 degrees Celsius to 350 degrees Celsius in 20 seconds. This is great for those of us who need to solder something quickly.The Pinecil V2 is a temperature controlled soldering iron and usually soldering irons of this standard have a large base to control the temperature. A unit is included. Waveshare’s TS100 (and later TS80) set the standard for temperature controlled soldering irons without a base unit. Pinecil offers the same functionality but half the cost.
I tested the Pinecil V2 using a simple blinking LED project kit. Using the included cone-shaped short tip, I plugged the iron into a PinePower desktop power supply with a USB C port capable of delivering 65 watts. Pinecil V2 made a short work of the kit. The lead solder melted completely and had peaks connecting the PCB to the component. There were no cold solder joints (where the solder would not bridge between the PCB and the component) and our LEDs flashed just fine.
In 90% of projects where Pinecil is used, it works fine, but it can struggle on boards that absorb heat through large ground planes or multi-layer boards with lots of copper. PC motherboards are notorious for absorbing all the heat from a soldering iron. We tried desoldering the capacitors on his early 2000s Asus motherboard, which required a heat gun and a soldering iron. I tested the capabilities of the Pinecil V2 by trying to desolder the alignment tabs of the USB 2.0 port of a non-working Raspberry Pi 3. It didn’t work at normal soldering temperatures of 350 degrees Celsius, and running new lead solder did nothing. I increased the temperature to 400 degrees Celsius and repeated this procedure. done! Ironing at 450 degrees Celsius gave better results, less time stressing the components and less risk of damaging the PCB.
RISC-V CPU on a soldering iron?
Pinecil V1 introduced a 32-bit RV32IMAC RISC-V “Bumblebee Core” CPU running at 108 MHz. This CPU was the brain working with IronOS (the soldering iron’s operating system) to coordinate temperature, voltage and motion sensor readings. All these are required to use a soldering iron. The Pinecil V2 gets a spec bump to the 32-bit RV32IMAFC RISC-V “SiFive E24 core” running at 144 MHz.
An optional breakout board plugs into the USB C port to provide power and provides GPIO pins that can be used to test, debug and create projects using the Iron as a controller. RISC-V CPUs are really useless for most users. Turn on the iron to heat it up and start soldering. Its inclusion is just an example of what can be done with an alternative architecture, an architecture steadily gaining ground in open source projects.
Flash from IronOS to Pinecil V2
Ever thought you needed to update your soldering iron’s firmware? Well, you can. Our Pinecil V2 came with IronOS version 2.18. I visited the Pine64 wiki to find out the latest version (2.19 at the time of writing) and how to update Pinecil.
The Pine64 Updater app for Windows and Mac is the tool for that. Just download the app, run it, select Pinecil and turn on the iron while holding the – button. But when I tried this, nothing happened. Was our Pinecil V2 broken? Did we do something wrong? Luckily I have V1, so I followed the same steps. The updater detected the iron and updated the V1 to the latest firmware. V2 is currently stuck at v2.18 or there is a bug in the updater. Time will tell.
Powering the Pinecil V2
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The Pinecil V2, like its predecessor, operates on voltages between 12 and 24 volts. The higher the voltage, the faster the iron will heat up. The DC5525 barrel jack gives us the flexibility to solder in the field. DC power supplies with 5525 jacks are common, which means they are not far from viable power supplies.
If you’re really “in the field” without access to an outlet, you can power the Pinecil V2 from a USB C power bank, as long as it can generate the required voltage. You can also use LiPo batteries in 3/4 or 5S configurations. You can also use 18-20V lithium-ion tool batteries in the pinch.
The Pinecil V2 can reach 450 degrees Celsius and at that temperature the iron draws 66 watts (20 volts at 3.3 amps). This is the maximum that a USB-C power supply can provide. Pinecil V2 differs from V1 in its power range. On the V1 I was able to get 17-65 watts. The V2 takes this further with a range of 18-88 watts. A decent power supply is required to reach the 88W target (24V at 3.66 amps), and soldering at this level of power is not the norm.
Pinecil V2 Soldering Tips
All manufacturers have their preferred soldering iron tip and the Pinecil V2 comes with a suitably conical short tip. It’s not the most accurate chip, but you can solder through-hole components and the Raspberry Pi’s GPIOs.
The Pinecil V2’s tip is compatible with the V1’s tip and, by extension, also compatible with Waveshare’s TS100 soldering iron. Pine64 offers a variety of replacement chips and the Waveshare TS100 chip can also be found on Aliexpress.
Since we own each of the soldering irons mentioned above, we have a variety of soldering iron tips. The ones we use most often are chisel tips and bevels. Both provide enough thermal mass to contact the component and her PCB, but the chisel gives a little more precision. When buying a soldering iron, it’s a good idea to pick up a few different types and try them out before settling on just one.
Conclusion: Who is the Pinecil V2 for?
If you have Pinecil V1, there’s not much reason to upgrade to V2. Extra power (88W) is nice, but how often do you really need it? On the other hand, if you’re looking for a soldering iron, the Pinecil V2 is the ideal starter iron. You got a low-cost iron with high-end features.
You don’t need a dedicated spot on your workbench, but you get the benefits of a temperature-controlled iron. You can buy a cheap soldering iron for around $15-20, so you can get more functionality by adding a little extra.