A soldering iron can be very useful for a variety of home and DIY purposes including fixing broken circuit boards and electronics, making jewelry, arts and craft projects, science projects and much more. However, not all of us know what a soldering iron is, how it functions, or what brands to look for when making a purchase decision. That’s why we’ve put together this buying guide to answer some common yet essential soldering iron questions amongst hobbyists and professionals alike.
What Is a Soldering Iron?
A soldering iron is primarily a tool featuring a metal tip that can get extremely hot. It can go up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, though a good iron allows the user to adjust the temperature. An electrical current that goes through the resistive element produces the heat, which is then transferred to things like PCBs’ pads, transistor leads, and wires Once dedicated to repairing television and video game consoles, soldering iron are now a common sight in DIYers’ toolkits. They are even being used to carry out repairs, production work, and limited installations on assembly lines (electronic ones). Because soldering irons remain hot for a reasonable period, they don’t need to be switched on or off in intervals, which enables smoother workflow.
How Is a Soldering Iron Different from A Soldering Gun?
Soldering guns offer more power voltage (100-140 watts) than soldering irons. Also, they enable the user to work in confined spaces (their tip is shaped like a copper wire’s loop, which for greater flexibility), which is far more challenging to achieve with soldering irons. Moreover, they’re useful for both metal projects and massive connections requiring lighter touches. They are typically used for larger tasks like electrical connections and heavier wire and other professional work. In contrast, soldering irons are lighter than soldering guns, which makes them a better choice for projects that require soldering over long periods. Additionally, they offer flexibility as there’s a wide range to select from; DIYers can invest in larger irons for heavy duty jobs while small irons work well for lighter electronic installation/assembly projects. And unlike soldering guns, soldering irons don’t need to be switched off or on repeatedly, as they stay hot longer.
Here’s a breakdown of each:
- For heavier workpieces
- Offer more voltage than soldering irons
- Don’t have a lot of varieties
- Quicker to heat up
- Lower-power projects
- Contain less voltage than soldering guns
- Have a lot of varieties and types
- Slower to heat up
Varieties of Soldering Irons
Vendors manufacturer a variety of soldering irons to tackle varying handheld jobs. Some come in a design that enables users to work in small openings, while others focus on designing irons that emit intense heat to deliver quick melting points. Below we’ve listed a few of the most common types of soldering irons that electronic professionals often stock.
- Temperature controlled soldering irons: A thermostat is placed inside the iron to provide some temperature control. The function enables the right temperature to be maintained, which allows for better soldering. A higher wattage can be utilized for scenarios where the heat is drawn from bits without too high a temperature for soldering.
- Basic Soldering Irons (Air Cooled): The most basic soldering iron model doesn’t include temperature control apart from the air’s cooling impact and any task the iron may be used for. Basic models of soldering irons are designed by manufacturers to function at uncontrolled temperatures that are usually determined by thermal equilibrium.
- Soldering iron stations: These consist of temperature, control circuitry, a soldering head with a tip temperature sensor, and an electrical supply. The station stores enable the user to store the iron when it’s not being used.
What to Look for Soldering Irons: Important Factors to Consider
While soldering irons aren’t a regular buy for beginner do-it-yourself enthusiasts, they can quickly become an integral part of their toolkit as soon as they help accomplish a few key tasks. However, several factors should be accounted for before buying a soldering iron. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of the purchase factors that apply to both DIY hobbyists and electronics professionals.
Interchangeable tips: The ideal soldering iron features an easily replaceable tip. The tip, which is also known as a bit (in the world of soldering irons), comes in several shapes and sizes to offer flexibility to the buyer. The most common shapes include fine conical, chisel, tapered, and pyramid. Consumers should identify which type of projects they plan to work on before deciding what tip to buy.
Wattage rating: A rating of 20 to 50 watts is desirable. However, the wattage doesn’t contribute to how hot your iron will become. Instead, it determines how quickly it can heat up and how quickly it can come back to the standard operating temperature after a solder joint is complete. A soldering iron with higher wattage is capable of holding a stable temperature for an extended period while the user solders a connection. Also, it can re-heat itself quickly in between.
Ground Power Plug: A ground power plug of three-prong is recommended, but it isn’t a necessity. The grounding helps secure the iron against static discharges that hold the ability to render sensitive electronic parts useless when they’re soldered.
Temperature Control: The best soldering irons will have a feature that allows for temperature control. The function varies from thermocouple that combines with station circuitry to enable users to adjust the temperature of the tip, to controlling variable power control’s temperature range. Advanced models also include a thermostat that switches on and off automatically, depending on the quantity of power needed for specific tasks.
Brands: Several popular electronic brands, like Weller, create soldering irons, so merely choosing a branded model instead of an unbranded soldering iron is a great way to ensure product durability and high-quality. Potential buyers should look into brands that hold a good track record for manufacturing top-notch soldering irons. Branded soldering irons rarely overheat, offer firm handling, and are extremely easy to grip and use.
Best Soldering Irons to Buy
We researched online marketplaces to find the best soldering irons to buy in 2018. The following finds should help you get started.
The Weller WLC100 comes with a lightweight pencil iron and a foam grip (cushioned) that features a heating element that can be replaced. There's also an on-and-off switch with indicator light to tell the user whether the power is off or on, and an ST3 iron-plated screwdriver tip that's 1/8-inch long. Additionally, the WLC100 has a variable power control that lets users adjust power levels by just turning of the knob featured on the base unit; power levels are between 5 to 4 watts. What makes it stand out? The station includes an integrated iron stand to keep the space organized as well as a sponge cleaning pad that holds the iron's tip ready to use around the clock.
The soldering iron in this kit functions at a modifiable temperature of 200 to 450 degree Celsius and also includes a plug and play LED indicator. It also featured inner-heated ceramic technology that enables the soldering iron to heat up quickly. Moreover, six quantities of double-sided support tools along with 2 portions of anti-static tweezers assist users in meeting the welding requirements of cutting, scraping, and pressing. Apart from all that, users get five pieces of extra soldering tips (General 900M). What makes it stand out? The steel-pipe make and advanced heat-insulation material secure the iron from being melted because of overheating. Also, the soldering tip features ventilation holes that enable dissipation of heat.
3. X-Tronic Model #3020-XTS-ST Digital Display 75 Watt Soldering Iron Station with 5 Extra Soldering Tips
This product comes with an LED display and has a 10-minute sleep function; it goes to sleep if the user has stopped using the iron for a continuous 10-minute interval. There are a 75-watt soldering iron station and a 60-watt soldering iron (15 watts for soldering iron motherboard, 60 watts for the iron) with a controller that offers a temperature control range of 200 degrees Celsius to 480 degrees Celsius. As for as the specs go the X-Tronic Model #3020-XTS-ST includes a toggle switch for changing temperature display, a self-test function with intelligence to detect overload, and five extra styles of soldering tips. What makes it stand out? Comes with 5 Styles of soldering tips, a solder roll holder, a cleaning flux, a brass sponge tip cleaner, and a stainless iron holder. Also, its self-test function offers fun intelligence on overloads and short circuits.
4. SOAIY 6-in-1 60W Soldering Iron Gun with Carry Case and Cleaning Sponge Stand, SOAIY Adjustable Temperature Welding Soldering Iron
This kit includes a soldering iron, soldering sucker, stand to consist of Cleaning sponge, and five soldering tips. The 60 watts soldering iron features Upgraded ceramic heater chip and takes just a couple of minutes to heat up. The thermostat range – 200 degrees Celsius and 450 degrees Celsius – is adjustable. Also, the iron has an anti-slip handle and heat dissipation holes (3 holes reside on the tips) for safe and environmental friendly soldering. What makes it stand out? It takes only 2 minutes to heat up, and the handle quality ensures reduced slippage and maximum convenience. Also, when the solder wire is placed near the joint during high temperature, the solder flows freely after melting.
5. ANBES Soldering Iron Kit Electronics, 60W Adjustable Temperature Welding Tool, 5pcs Soldering Tips
This is a superior soldering iron that heats up fast and offers an adjustable temperature of 200 degrees Celsius to 450 degrees Celsius. It also has five multiple tips replacement, dual spring iron holder, and a screw thread of impact resistant design so that the iron head can't be quickly dropped. Also, the iron kit includes tin wire tube, tweezers, stand, wire stripper cutter, and more to allow for efficient soldering. What makes it stand out? The high-pressure tube (the desoldering pump) is made of aluminum, which enables one-handed use and is best for eliminating solder from PCB via solder hole joints. Essentials to Buy for Your Soldering Iron Your soldering iron would last much longer if you keep it in tip-top shape. Incredibly, the following products allow you to do just that.
This is a replacement cleaning wire sponge for solder tips. The sponge is hard enough to wipe out corrosion tips and debris from tips of the solder and soft enough at the same time to prevent damage. Additionally, they don’t require water, don’t pose risks of premature wear, and have no contamination threat compared to traditional tip tinners.
This flux paste works well to facilitate soldering. By cleaning and preventing metal oxidation, it enables the solder to create long-lasting electrical bonds. Also, it plays the role of a wetting agent, enhancing the solder’s flow as well as the soldering processes’ overall efficiency.
8. Tabiger Solder Wick &Desoldering Pump, Solder Sucker &Desoldering Wick, 2pcs Solder Braid (2.5mm Width, 1.5m Length)- Desoldering Vacuum Pump Solder Remover
Comes with two pieces of solder braid, one piece of desoldering vacuum, and two quantities of solder wicks. The solder sucker is ideal for significant amounts, while the wick can be applied in hard to reach areas. The desoldering wick, spanning 1.5 meters in length and 2.5 mm in width, contains weave with rosin and cooper that is geometrically precise. Once the user heats the solder and the desoldering wick, the braid can be used to absorb molten solder and achieve a clean surface quickly.
Soldering irons can be useful for all types of purposes including home repair, electronics and lots of fun DIY projects. Consider what your needs are, and you can easily pick a solid option to meet your needs. Always remember to follow the safety guidelines provided by the manufacturer as well!