I have seen lot's of advice given to people on soldering electronic components, some of it good, some not so good. I have seen people use all sorts of rubbish and claim it does the job, $2 soldering irons and other crazy stuff. Yeah you can melt solder with it, and you can probably get a few acceptable connections sometimes. But if you want to do it the right way, consistently, without fighting the iron, and get proffesional results, read on.
If the instructions given in this article are followed carefully, even someone new to soldering should be quite competent with a few minutes practice, it's really not difficult at all. If you dont want to take the time to read all the details, I have put the main points in bold at the end of each section.
Step 1: Soldering iron
Of course the first thing you need is a soldering iron. You don't need to get anything too fancy to get good results, but if you are going to use a soldering iron more than a couple of times it is worthwhile getting something half decent. There are lots of so called cheap 'temperature controlled' soldering irons on the market these days. Most of these are not really temperature controlled at all, they have a knob you turn which reduces the heat of the iron, but a real temp. controlled iron will set you back a couple hundred bucks for a decent one. There's nothing wrong with some of these irons, but do you really need an 'adjustable' iron?
My advice would be to spend your money on a good fixed temp. iron, it will probably cost you at least as much, even a bit more than one of the cheap adjustable temp. irons. You can always build a temp. control unit for your iron later if you want. You don't need adjustable temp. to do fine work though, if you put a smaller tip in an iron it doesn't transfer as much heat, and most people will only want to go to a fine tip if they are working with surface mount components, and even then some wont go to a fine tip.
The iron I like is the one in the photo, it's a 'Goot' made in Japan, has a ceramic heating element and will go from cold to ready to solder in under 30 seconds. This one is actually 46W and most people will want something around 30 to 40W for general work. But I love the control this iron has, I can solder the most delicate IC and go straight to heavy gauge lugs with the same set-up.
I think some people use underpowered irons with very fine tips, thinking this will be delicate, but end up holding the iron on the part for half a minute to get it to solder, and still get a weak joint. You should only have to hold the iron on something like an IC pin for about 2 or 3 seconds.
If you switch to a fine tip because you want to neaten up your PCB work, for example you're getting solder bridges between pads or IC pins, you will probably find it doesn't help very much. Instead you might find yourself having to hold the iron on longer because it wont heat up enough, and the solder wont flow properly. The tip probably isn't your problem, and you might find switching to thinner solder will help more. Using thinner solder makes it much easier to control how much solder you feed into the joint, if you are using around 1mm diameter solder, try switching to about 0.5mm diameter, but keep the normal size tip.
To sum up: Get a decent soldering iron with the right size tip.