Last updated: 07/02/2020

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Most people these days spend a lot of time in front of a computer, with a mobile phone in their hand or watching their children playing video games. However, how often do you stop and think about all the components these electronic gadgets contain? These devices function thanks to the myriad of circuits hidden away inside, many of which are made possible thanks to soldering irons.

Soldering irons are precision tools that are used in computing, electronics and even aeronautics. They are used to bond two materials together, making a soldered joint. In this article we explain everything you need to know about these versatile devices, so that you can find the one that best suits your needs.

Key Facts

  • Soldering irons use heat to melt the solder which is used to fuse two objects or materials together. To avoid damage to the materials that are being joined, a protective paste can be used.
  • Soldering irons can be prone to overheating. The tip and the heat induction cylinder can end up melting and the element can become burned out from oxidization. To avoid any issues, always choose a model with ceramic induction and an iron-plated copper tip.
  • It is a good idea to choose a soldering iron that has some type of temperature sensor to regulate the heat. This will allow you to save energy while using the tool, avoid overheating, and also allow you to work with any type of material suitable for soldering.

Our Selection: The Best Soldering Irons on the US Market

If you are a DIY fan, or you like repairing your electrical appliances yourself, you should seriously consider purchasing a new soldering iron. To give you an overview of the range of different models currently available on the market, we have prepared this list of the four best soldering irons in four categories.

Best Soldering Iron on a Budget

This is the best soldering iron for the electronics hobbyist, tinkerer, or DIY repairs enthusiast. The five interchangeable soldering iron tips come pre-tinned which makes them last longer. This 60W soldering iron has 9 quick temperature settings, and heats up quickly from 0°F to 896°F in just 30 seconds. The LCD displays accurate temperature readings, and there’s no need to find the right dial setting for each soldering job.

Best Soldering Iron Kit

This 14-in-1 soldering iron kit comes with a soldering iron, desoldering pump, 5 soldering tips, solder wire tube, soldering iron stand, tweezers, wire stripper cutter and a carry bag. The desoldering pump (solder sucker) is a high pressure vacuum tube with an aluminum frame body, which allows easy one-handed use. Includes a 30 day free return and replacement policy and a 2-year product warranty.

Best Soldering Iron Station

The reliable X-Tronic Soldering Station heats up fast and offers a safe and sturdy stand, an ergonomic grip, and a digital temperature display. It delivers a powerful 60 watt output and a temperature range of 392°F to 932°F, making it suitable for any type of solder. It is ESD Safe, has auto shut off, a blue LED readout on the control panel, and a 55 inch power cord.

Best Value-for-Money Soldering Iron

This is the best soldering iron if you are looking for great value for money. The quality, lightweight pencil-shaped iron with a cushioned foam grip provides extended comfort. It has an iron plated tip for long life and consistent performance, a built in soldering holder, and a cleaning sponge to remove unwanted residue. Features a variable power control that lets you adjust the power level from 5 to 40 watts.

Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Soldering Irons

These days we are surrounded by electronic gadgets that utilize some kind of circuitry. If you like repairing appliances yourself, there are very few tools that are as useful as a soldering iron. To help you learn everything you need to know to find the best soldering iron to suit your needs, in this section we answer the most commonly asked questions about these precision tools.

Soldering Iron-1

Soldering irons get very hot, so always use them carefully.
(Source: Ilya Andriyanov: 30193410/ 123rf.com)

What is a soldering iron?

Soldering irons are usually shaped like a large pencil, with a tip that is heated to temperatures ranging between 400°F and 850°F. They are used to melt solder and join two materials together. This type of bonding technique is called soldering.

What is soft soldering?

Soft soldering is performed by soldering irons using solder. Hard soldering is done at much higher temperatures, using a blowtorch. Welding uses a gas torch and burns a mixture of oxygen and oxyacetylene, which is performed at even higher temperatures, creating a stronger bond.

What is soft soldering used for?

Soft soldering has a wide-range of different applications. It is used for simple tasks like making toys, and even in the manufacturing of aircraft engines and space vehicles. Soft soldering is used for making small and precise joints, that would be impossible or impractical using a fusion welding process.

Soft soldering is regularly used in the production of computers and electronic devices. It is especially useful for making circuits and motherboards. It is widely used in the manufacturing of electronic components such as circuit boards, transistors, and in metalwork and jewelry making.

Dan FarmerAmerican Scientist

“I can write a program that lets you break the copy protection on a music file. But I can’t write a program that solders new connections onto a chip for you”.

What type of joint is made with a soldering iron?

The type of joint made by a soldering iron will depend on the type of solder alloy used to bond the two materials together. There are many different types of solder alloys, and they are suited for different applications. Soldering is suitable for bonding most types of metals, but can be difficult to use when joining aluminium. If you are soldering zinc or galvanized iron, you must not use a solder that contains antimony, or the joint will be brittle.

Generally speaking, the resistance of soldered joints to shear force at room temperature depends the following:

  • The distance between the materials joined together.
  • The temperature at which the soldering was performed.
  • The amount of time the solder was heated.
  • The composition of the materials joined together.

What do I need to start soldering?

To begin soft soldering with a soldering iron, you will need to use an input material known as solder. The most common type of alloys found in solders contain tin, as it is a soft metal that melts below 850° and offers little resistance to desoldering.

To start soldering you will need the following items:

  • Soldering iron: The first thing you need is the correct tool. Soldering irons correctly distribute the amount of heat needed to melt the solder, in order to create a joint between two metal objects.
  • Flux solder paste: Flux plays an essential part in the soldering process. Its primary function is to isolate the material from contact with the air. It dissolves and eliminates oxides that can be formed when metal is heated. It helps the solder to bond to the metal surface, by keeping it fluid and preventing it from forming into beads, which will happen on any oxidized surface
  • Solder alloy: The solder used will be made of a certain type of metal alloy. The type of solder alloy used will determine the melting point, the fluidity and therefore the strength of the bond that is made between the two objects being joined together.

What types of metal alloys are used for soldering?

As we explained in the previous section, the solder added into the bonding process can be made from a wide-range of different metal alloys. The metal alloy must be relatively soft to make it easy to melt, and also have enough fluidity to be evenly distributed throughout the joint area to create a solid bonding base. The joint must be able to resist corrosion, according to the conditions in which it will be exposed.

The type of metal alloy to be used for soldering, will depend on the working temperature, and the types of metal it is bonding together. The interaction between the solder and the materials must not result in the strength of the joint being diminished. Theses days solder can be bought in the form of bars, pastes or spools of wire.

In the following table, we present the most common types of metal solder alloys and their uses:

Solder alloy Common uses
Lead Solder The most widely-used type of alloy, for general use.
Aluminium Solder With added antimony, which improves the bonding strength of the solder.
Silver Solder For jewelry making and silversmithing.
Zinc Solder For soldering aluminium.
Bismuth Solder Widely used in electronics.
Lead-Silver Solder For soft welding of steel, cast iron or copper.
 Cadmium-Silver Solder For joining copper and aluminum.
 Cadmium-Zinc For soldering aluminium.
Zinc-Aluminium For soldering aluminium, very resistant to corrosion.
soldadordeestaño-2-Mariusz-Szczygiel-17458226-768x512

Soldering irons are for tasks that require a lot of precision.
(Source: Mariusz Szczygieł: 17458226/ 123rf.com)

What is the correct amount of solder I should use to make a clean joint?

In order to work out how much solder to use to avoid dripping while soldering, you need to measure the material you are joining with the solder itself. If for example you are soldering a pipe, the amount of solder you should use should be equal to the circumference of the pipe. The amount of solder wrapped around the pipe is the exact amount needed to be heated with the soldering iron.

It is highly recommend that you measure out the exact length of the joint you are going to make, to avoid excess drips of solder being left on the material. Another way this can be avoided is to use a cleaning paste or flux, which together with the heat of the solder will help it to adhere to the bonding surface.

Buyer’s Guide

Now that you have all the information you need to know about soldering irons, it is time to make your purchase. However, due to the wide-range of different models currently available on the market, choosing the one that is best for you can be a little tricky. In the section we list the most important factors to keep in mind, so that you can find the soldering iron that best suits your needs:

Type

There are two main types of soldering irons available on the market. These are precision tip soldering irons (which are shaped like a large pencil), and soldering guns (which have a small pistol-shaped design). Precision tip soldering is for working on circuit boards, in electronics and information technology. Soldering guns are more powerful, which means they heat up immediately, but they are less precise.

Another way to classify soldering irons is by how they are powered. Most commonly they are simply connected to a power outlet, but there are others that are powered by batteries or using gas. Although gas provides better autonomy, this type of system requires more maintenance and is more dangerous, as the gas could potentially explode.

Heating

The speed at which a soldering iron will heat up can let you know a lot about its capacity and power rating. Most commonly they will take anywhere between 30 seconds, up to 3 minutes to fully heat up. Soldering guns usually contain transformers that allow them to heat up much faster. The faster a soldering iron heats up, the more expensive it will cost.

The heating time of a soldering iron will be more or less important depending on how you plan to use it. If you want to use it daily, you should look for a model that heats up as quickly as possible. However, if you only plan to use it occasionally, for DIY tasks or repairing electronic appliances, you can opt for a cheaper model that will heat up more slowly.

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Did you know that there is evidence that soldering was used as early as 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia?

Handle

It is important to look for a soldering iron that is light and very easy to use. It must be comfortable and allow you to work quickly. Ideally it should feel like holding a pencil or pen. The handle should have an ergonomic design, as well as being heat resistant.

Make sure the handle has a non-slip grip, as dropping a hot soldering iron can be very dangerous. Sweating while soldering is very common, due to the heat of the element which can make your hands sweaty and slippery.

Accessories

There are many soldering irons that are sold as kits that include lots of different accessories. They usually contain most of the necessary items you need to start working, and allow for greater versatility of use. It is a great bonus is the kit is packed in a box that keeps everything organized and can be easily stored away after use.

Soldering irons are usually sold with an included stand and a set of various interchangeable tips. It is a very good idea to have at least one desoldering iron, which will allow you to eliminate existed soldered joints. Precision pliers are essential for working with electronics, especially when cutting solder wire.

Tip

The tip is the most important and the most delicate part of a soldering iron. It is made of copper plated with iron and is treated with antioxidant and protective agents, to prevent corrosion resulting from continuous contact with the lead alloy that is used as the flux material in the solder.

As the tip is so important to the performance of a soldering iron, it should always be kept functional and clean. Even if these days tips usually have some kind of protective system, you should not forget to clean them after each use. Most soldering irons come with a variety of interchangeable tips for different soldering tasks.

Summary

Soldering irons are ideal for DIY projects and professional jobs. They are used in the manufacture of electronics, circuits, transistors and motherboards, and are the ideal tool for people who like to repair their home appliances themselves, and for computer professionals.

Finding the best soldering iron for you is not a simple task, but information is key so remember to follow the advice in this guide. These versatile tools are so easy to carry, they will allow you to do maintenance jobs at work or at home. Whatever the situation, having a quality soldering iron that operates smoothly is essential.

If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, please leave us a comment and be sure to share with your friends and family, so they can also find out about these amazing tools!

(Source of featured image: Monika Wisniewska: 19357098/ 123rf.com)

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