Friday, 17 March 2017

Portasol P-1 Professional/Antex Gascat 60 Butane Soldering Iron Review

Key Info
- Powered by Butane lighter gas.
- Power adjustable between 10 and 60 watts.
- Tip temperature up to 400C.
- Ready to use within one minute.
- Various attachments including soldering tips, hot air blower, flame and hot knife.
- Up to an hour of continuous use on one fill of gas.
- Flint ignition.
- Compact, portable size.

The Portasol P-1 Professional or Antex Gascat 60 (same product, 2 different names!) is a compact butane-powered heat tool. It is primarily designed for use as a soldering iron, but also performs other heat-related tasks using its different attachments which can be purchased separately or had as part of a kit.

Butane vs Electric
Butane soldering irons have several advantages over there more common electric counterparts, however, they are not free from flaws and an electric iron may be more appropriate in some circumstances.

One major advantage of butane soldering irons is their portability. With a gas iron you have no wires to worry about, and so you can use them anywhere. They're excellent for automotive use where your operating in tight spaces with no electricity supply. Another advantage is their power and the speed at which they heat up. This little iron is ready to use in less than a minute and can put out a maximum of 60 watts of power, which is comparable to a fairly large electric iron (common average-sized electric irons are usually around 25W), and very impressive considering its very compact design. The power is also variable between 10 and 60 watts, a feature not normally available on cheaper electric irons, and the tip can reach 400C (solder melts at around 200).

Butane irons do have a few disadvantages though. They're more expensive to run than electric irons, require filling with quality gas, so if you're using a soldering iron a lot, it may end up costing a fair bit in gas. Also, though I personally haven't experienced any problems, they're probably less reliable than electric irons. There's a fair few small, sensitive components inside, and a speck of dust in just the wrong place could mean a leaking or malfunctioning iron. One other possible disadvantage is that gas irons emit a very hot exhaust, which can damage sensitive electrical components if accidentally directed at them. Having said all this, you get used to keeping the exhaust port facing upwards (most tips are designed so that the exhaust would naturally face upwards anyway), and personally I prefer the compact, wireless power of a butane iron and haven't had any problems using one.

Usage and attachments
Using a gas iron requires a tiny bit more effort than an electric. First you need to fill the iron with good quality refined butane. On the Portasol Professional, this is achieved by inverting the iron, placing the nozzle of a butane lighter refill can (no adaptor required) on the fill valve and pressing down firmly. It takes around 10 seconds to fill, and you'll know when it's full because butane will spray out around the nozzle. There is a viewing window to see the gas level, but it's pretty hard to see to be honest! With gas irons, it is very important to use good quality butane. Poor quality butane contains impurities which clog up the tiny valves and jets in the device, and is a common cause of failure of these irons.

So, now you're full up with butane, all you need to do is turn the power setting dial on the rear of the iron to a moderate level, turn on the gas by sliding the coloured switch forwards and ignite the iron by striking sparks from the flintwheel on the cap into the iron's exhaust port (this iron has flint ignition, not piezo, which personally I prefer as it's more reliable. Standard lighter flints are used to refill). When lit, a blue flame will briefly be visible at the exhaust port, before disappearing and being replaced by an orange glow from the catalyst inside the tip (with the exception of the flame attachment, these irons use a flameless combustion process enabled by a catalyst in the tip). Once lit, set your desired power level and leave the iron for a minute or so to warm up. If you need to extinguish the iron, slide the coloured switch back again to switch off the gas. To re-light, providing the tip is still hot, just turn the gas back on again and the catalytic reaction will resume, without the need to use the flintwheel ignitor.

The Portasol Professional isn't just a soldering iron though. In addition to various other soldering/plastic welding tips, available separately, or as part of a kit (item no P-1K), are a mini blow torch-like flame tip, which reaches 1300C and is excellent for soldering pipes, bending steel wire etc, a hot air blower tip (450C), which is fantastic for shrinking heat-shrink tubing, and a hot knife tip (400C), which is ideal for cutting synthetic rope and webbing. This makes the Portasol P-1 a very versatile tool, considerably more useful than an electric iron.

The Portasol Professional is a good quality product. Portasol were the first to market a catalytic butane soldering iron (the "Technic" model) and they have a good reputation for reliability. They also offer a 1 year warranty.

The Portasol Professional is constructed almost entirely from plastic, however, Portasol assures us that these are "butane compatible nylons and acetyls" and it is true that the iron has a nice quality feel to it, despite the plastic construction. One area that I see as a potential weak-spot in the design is the plastic threading on the body of the iron where the tips attach. Over time, or through careless use, I feel this could become damaged and render the iron useless. However, it would appear that the threaded piece is attached simply by means of three small screws and so could be replaced if Portasol would supply the part. Also, providing care is taken when threading and unthreading attachments, this should never be a problem, and if you use the iron enough that the threads wear out through normal use, then perhaps you should consider Portasol's larger, flagship tool, the "Superpro 125", which has metal threading and a replaceable plastic collet.

The Portasol P-1 Professional is a great little butane soldering iron. It is incredibly versatile with its range of attachments and cable-free operation, and is very powerful considering its compact, portable size. If you're looking for one soldering iron that'll do it all, or looking for something that you can take anywhere with you, then this Portasol iron would make an excellent choice. You can buy it here on Amazon