Introduction: How to Pick the Best Soldering Iron

About: Interests in electronics, gadgets, and soldering. Other interests: bicycle, travel, beaches.

A soldering iron is a hand tool used in soldering. There are many soldering irons available on the market. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Which soldering iron to choose for yourself depends on the soldering projects you are planning to do, as well as how often you are planning on using it. This Instructable will cover choosing a soldering iron that will be used for projects in electronics for soldering and de-soldering work on the circuit boards.

The four main factors to consider when choosing a soldering iron are:
1) wattage
2) type of the soldering iron
3)temperature control
4) tip size and shape

The wattage of the soldering iron is one of the most important factors in a soldering iron. Most of the soldering irons used in the electronics are in the range of 20 – 60 Watts. Soldering iron with a wattage of 50W is very common these days and it will provide sufficient heat for most of the soldering projects on the circuit boards. Soldering irons with higher wattage (40W -60W) are better. It does not mean that soldering irons with higher wattage apply more heat to the solder joint- it means that soldering irons with higher wattage have more power available. Since most soldering stations come with a knob on the power station for setting the iron’s temperature, it is possible to regulate the amount of the heat on iron tip. On the other hand, soldering iron with low wattage (20W - 30W) can lose heat faster than it can re-heat itself - this results in bad solder joints.

Types of soldering irons
Generally, there are 4 different types of soldering irons:
-Soldering pencil
-Soldering station
-Soldering systems (rework /repair stations)
-Soldering guns

Step 1:

Soldering pencils

Soldering pencils are a very simple (and very cheap) soldering tool that can be used only for simple do-it-yourself projects. The price of the soldering pencils is in the range of $10-30. I do not recommend soldering pencils for fine soldering projects since they do not provide any control of the temperature on the iron tip. Too much heat applied during soldering can damage components and peel off tracks on the circuit board.

Step 2:

Soldering stations

A soldering station consists of a soldering pencil attached to a power station. The power station has controls for setting the desired temperature on the tip of the soldering iron. Some of the soldering stations come with electronic temperature control - that means you can very precisely set and maintain the temperature of the iron. The power station automatically keeps the iron tip at an appropriate temperature. The price of the soldering stations is in the range of $ 40-150. A soldering station can cover most of the soldering projects including soldering of through-hole components, and very fine surface-mount components as small as 0603 and 0805. Weller is the most popular brand for soldering stations followed by Hakko. On the other hand, the Aoyue soldering station is a good combination of quality and price.

The most popular models of soldering stations are the WE1010NA Weller soldering iron, FX-888 Hakko soldering iron, and Aoyue 937.

WE1010NA Weller soldering iron is the latest model of soldering iron from Weller. It is an improved version of the WESD51 Weller iron.

Step 3:

Rework/repair systems

Rework/repair systems are complex soldering systems that are mostly used in industry or in high-volume manufacturing facilities. Soldering systems usually consist of several hand pieces including soldering iron, hot-air gun, de-soldering gun, thermo-tweezers, etc. The price of the soldering systems is in the wide range of $250 - $2500. The Pace is the most popular brand for these soldering systems. Popular models of rework/repair systems are Pace MBT-250, Pace MBT-350, and Aoyue 2702.

Step 4:

Soldering guns

The main part of a soldering gun is a transformer that converts 110 V AC to a lower voltage. A secondary winding of transformer has only one turn. This way the secondary of the transformer produces very low voltage and several hundred amperes of current since the primary of the transformer is connected to 110 V AC and the secondary winding of the transformer has only one turn. This high current is routed through the copper tip of a soldering gun and as result, the tip of the soldering gun is quickly heated by the high current flowing through it.
Soldering guns can be quickly and easily turned on and off and they have a very short warm-up time. However, I do not recommend soldering guns for fine work on circuit boards since they can generate too much heat and can therefore damage the circuit board or components on them. The price of soldering guns is in the range of $20-70.