For someone looking for a high quality soldering station at a reasonable price the Hakko 936 is hard to beat. I’ve had mine for a few years and use it mostly for electronics and instrument cable work. I think I paid around $80 new for it, and the price included a separate cast metal pencil rest with an integral sponge tip wiping pad.
The power supply is a transformer type, controlled by a rheostat mounted on the front panel graduated in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. The only other control is the on-off switch mounted on the right side. There is a red LED pilot lamp on the front which illuminates only when regulated power is actually being applied to the pencil. The pencil’s cable plugs in to a 5-conductor receptacle and locks in via a threaded collar. The extra wires going to the tip are for a thermocouple near the tip for precise and stable temperature regulation.
The pencil itself is very lightweight and is attached to a lightweight, flexible silicone rubber-insulated cable.
The tip heats up very rapidly upon turning the unit on and setting the temperature on the dial. The user is informed when the desired temp has been reached when the LED goes out. During a soldering session, the LED will be observed turning on and off as the selected temperature is being accurately maintained.
There is nothing fancy about it such as a digital temp readout; just a solid, no nonsense, precise and stable soldering tool. Before acquiring this unit, I thought of soldering as something of a chore. With the Hakko I can do precise, quality soldering with minimal effort. The manufacturer has recently discontinued the 936 but they still seem to be widely available on eBay.
[The Hakko 936 has been replaced by the newer FX-888, but can still be found new and used online.-- OH]