Wait, so why are soldering iron holders, helping hands, and solder dispensers not bundled together? I work all over the room/house/town and don't want to have to rummage about, looking for helping hands then solder then a place to put my hot, kinda crappy iron... And the soldering station was born.
Step 1: Hunting and Gathering
I also wanted some mobility and storage--the station I designed has a hinge and latch. My meager electronics gear can then be tucked away and I can high tail it to the next pair of bare wires, wherever they may be.
rod (for solder spool)
two small bolts and matching nuts
two coat hangers
two alligator clips
hot glue gun
I made a very rough model of the station's base out of paper and duct tape. It would have been cool to have something shaped like this (trapezoids when viewed from the side and triangular from above) but the angles were too much for my woodworking abilities. I settled on a face angled at 45 degrees with a flat back and sides.
Step 2: Thou art sad; get thee a box
The first picture shows one of two sides of the box. The panel's about 5" tall, 9" long with a 45 degree angle cut as shown. I chose this inclination because it was easy to work with provided a fairly comfortable angle at which to replace the soldering iron. I guess a shallower angle would have been more natural to me but that would have decreased the box's storage capacity...unacceptable!
I used a table saw to cut the pieces. The station's width is about 6". Things are carefully balanced in the second and third images--nothing's been glued yet. Every panel (except the bottom) will be modified in some way so they need to be left disconnected and alone.
Step 3: Adding power cord and switch
A warning: playing with electricity from your outlet is dangerous...I was mildly electrocuted here and, though it went great lengths to wake me up at 3 AM, it should be avoided.
I wanted electricity from the wall to go directly to the station via an indoor-type extension cord. The cord would pass into the station and it's plug would lie flush with the wooden face. The soldering iron is plugged in here. The switch's position determines whether the extension cord is hot or not (and thus when the soldering iron is on).
The switch I used is supposed to light up when the circuit's live...this worked sporadically at first and then ceased to function. I don't know why. The light's a nice function as it lets you know immediately that your soldering iron is heating up even though the tip still looks cold. I'm fine without the light since my iron has a little ring of indicator LEDs that come on when it's plugged in.
Step 4: Making the solder spool
Solder is pulled out from the left "eye" when needed; there's a solder spool hidden behind the front, angled face. The spool simply has a rod through it and is attached to two small scraps of wood. The rod fits tightly in the holes in the wood so the spool can be changed when necessary. Simple enough...
Step 5: Iron holder
The soldering tip needs to be supported within the box to keep the rest of the iron in place. It also prevents the rather warm tip from touching things it shouldn't when resting inside the box. A little metal ring (scavenged from a printer where it kept internal cords organized) was embedded tightly in a small piece of wood. I "friction-fit" the ring as the hot tip would just melt any hot glue adhesive I used (and I couldn't find my superglue at the time). A support block was cut and the ring block and supporting piece of wood were attached together. Experiment to find the correct placement of this assembly within the box. Just put the iron (er, make sure it's turned off) in the hole on the face. Mark where the ring block should go so the tip lies within the ring and glue 'er in place.
Step 6: Make it a full-fledged box
The latch was a bit more complex than the hinge and should be done first. The two parts (I'll go with "male" and "female" here) can't both be on the lid or the mechanism just won't work...I guess that's obvious Mount a scrap piece of wood to the side of the box such that the wood is flush with the lid. A slot the same size as this scrap needs to be cut out of the lid. As you can see from the pictures, I cut my slot a little to long...but this actually worked in my favor (to be explained later, no worries). Glue the female part to top of the scrap wood and then attach the male piece to the lid.
My hinge came with screws but I tossed 'em and hot glued the sucker in place. The lid had to be slightly trimmed to help it open more easily.
Step 7: Helping Jaws
They're alligator clips...alligators definitely have no "helping hands." Anyhow! The plan for constructing the helping mandibles (which are essentially tools used to hold things while you solder) is as follows:
(1) Attach alligator clips to coat hanger wires
(2) Attach the other end of the wire to a small bolt
(3) Embed nuts that match the bolts into the box (the helping hands can then be removed and put in the box itself).
Washers were attached just cause that seemed like the thing to do...it cleaned up the look of the holes too.
Step 8: Mistakes, fixes, and things for version 2.0
I guess the internal layout could have been thought through more carefully...the tip of the iron is a little to close to the switch's wiring. If one's not really paying attention, the tip could be put through the face and potentially hit the wires (melting insulation, messing up the iron's tip, possible electrocution...not good). I put a guardrail in place; it's just a bent piece of coathanger. It deflects the tip away from the wires in cases of bad aim.
Update! PKM suggested I make a wire coil to further protect the box's internals. I had seen this implemented in jaime9999's iron holder but for whatever reason never thought to implement it here. Great idea!
The "right eye" washer began sliding off after the first use of the station since the melting point of hot glue was easily exceeded by the soldering iron. That fix was easy enough, I had found my superglue by that point and used it to reattach the washer.
Remember how I cut that latch slot too long? Turns out it was just what I needed. When packing this station up you can open the top, put the plug end of the extension cord inside and then close the lid, allowing the middle section of the cord to protrude through that slot (I stuff the remainder of the cord into the box at this point). It's actually the only way to store that cord and far better than wrapping it around the station, in my mind.
(1) Think of how to incorporate a sponge, maybe on the lid. I think we could do better than just slapping a wet sponge onto the table.
(2) Add wire and wick (desoldering braid) dispensers.
(3) Functional light switch...
Step 9: Pack up, we're done here
That's pretty much it, the amount of storage space works for me though it's very cramped.
Oh, and I realized this looked quite similar to the Instructables robot; it was pure coincidence how the eye sizes worked out. I gave him a temporary duct tape visage but might make it permanent with some paint (and a yellow body).