What are you to do when you are working on something, be it repairing a circuit for an electrical device, if you’re creating a new piece of jewelry, or some other craft, and you need to bond two or more pieces of metal to one another? You break out the soldering iron of course!
For those who don’t know what a soldering iron is or what they are used for, you’re in the right place. In this extensive guide, we are going to provide you with so much information about these useful tools, you’ll be an expert on them!
Well, maybe not an expert, but you’ll have enough information that you can go out and purchase your very own soldering iron, be it for crafting, electrical repairs, and more.
A soldering iron is made up of a metal tip that heats up and there is an insulated handle that you use to control the device. The tip is usually heated by an electrical current that is supplied either because it was plugged into an electrical socket or from battery cables. The electricity runs through a heating element that then heats the tip of the iron.
You can find cordless irons that are heated by using some kind of fuel (typically butane). The fuel is stored in a small tank and it uses a catalytic heater to heat the tip, rather than a flame, although there are butane soldering irons that can double as a torch as well.
These tools are commonly used for installation, repairs, and assembling electronics. People who make jewelry, stained glass, and pieces of art with metal may use a soldering iron for their work as well. You can also use the iron for burning designs into wood (pyrography) or “welding” pieces of plastic together.
Before we learn how to use a soldering iron, we should first discuss what solder is. It’s basically a thin tube that is made up a variety of metal alloys. However, you can find solder available in different forms like pellets, bars, and paste too.
For most jobs, you can use soldering wire that is made from 60% tin and 40% lead that will melt somewhere between 180 to 190 degrees. There are lead-free solder and solder made from different metals like silver, copper, and even gold.
We want to mention that it is important that you choose the right kind of solder for your project. To do this, you need to take into consideration the metal that is being soldered, the use of flux (flux is a substance that will remove oxidation and help clean the surfaces of the material being soldered), and the size of the soldering project.
If you are soldering electronics, you are going to want a rosin-core or a rosin-flux solder. Acid flux is going to be for plumbing. Once you have the appropriate solder for your project, it’s time to start soldering!
Many people who are using the soldering iron for the first time are hesitant because they don’t want to cause any damage to the equipment. However, you should be more concerned about hurting yourself because these tools can get very hot.
It is important that you use safety glasses, wear clothing that isn’t too loose, and keep your hair out of your face. We also recommend that you always wear protective gloves, partially because most solder contains lead, but also so you don’t burn your fingertips!
Before you go in and start soldering, you first need to make sure that the tip is clean. When the tip has been exposed to air, it is going to oxidize and it will insulate against heat.
You’re going to want the heat to be conducted through the tip so that you can complete your job effectively and efficiently. If your tip is dirty, the whole soldering process is going to take much longer and you could even damage your iron.
To clean the tip, you’ll want to have a wet sponge on hand. Once your tip is hot, wipe it on the sponge to remove the old solder. Do this until the tip has become nice and shiny (or as close as it will get).
Next, you are going to do something called “tinning.” This is going to protect the tip of your iron and conduct the heat better when it comes in contact with the new solder. When the tip of the iron is nice and hot, carefully coat the tip with fresh solder.
You know you’ve done correctly when it is shiny. Once you’ve tinned the tip, you can begin soldering. You are going to have to re-tin the tip after you’ve soldered a few joints, so make sure that your sponge is still wet. If you keep up on this, your soldering iron will last a long time.
When you are soldering, you are going to want to check the recommended for the solder. Adjust the soldering iron to this temperature. In most instances, you’re going to have the temperature set somewhere between180 to 190 degrees, but like we said, double check with the recommended temperature on the pack of solder.
Now that you’re all primed and ready, you’re going to want to start soldering! To do this, put the solder on the joint and then touch it with the iron. Then pull the solder away and then keep the iron there for a second or two.
This is going to let the solder melt into a pool of melted liquid that is going to collect in a nice pool. This is going to give you a good joint. When this happens you can then remove your iron. This is only going to take a few seconds, so you don’t have to worry about timing anything.
After you remove the iron, you are going to want to leave the fresh solder alone so that it will harden. It isn’t going to take very long, but even the slightest movement or even blowing on it will cause the bond to weaken and ruin your joint.
You can tell when you have a bad solder when it looks like it’s oxidized, dull, and even grainy. You’ll notice that a good solder will be smooth, uniform, and the sides will be concaved.
When you’ve finished your soldering project, you are going to want to make sure you clean it well. The most common reason why you don’t get a good solder is because the tip has not been properly cleaned or maintained.
To do this, you will want to repeat the steps you followed in step 2. When you want to store it, you can use an alloy cleaner that will apply like a polish to the tip. This is going to preserve the iron tip and keep it from collecting dust or oxidizing.
Remember how we said you can do wood burnings with a soldering iron? This process is really simple, especially because you don’t have to worry about melting metal and forming a good joint. In fact, all you have to do is sketch your design on a piece of wood, let the soldering iron heat up and then trace over your design.
We do recommend that you only do this with an iron that uses 35 to 50 watts of power, as it takes more power to get a good burn. Also, use a pencil tip for lines that are more precise.
Now that you’re (hopefully) excited to start soldering things, let’s talk about the different types of irons available:
A soldering pencil is a small handheld soldering iron that is about the size and weight of your regular writing pencil. These tools can be sued to create a soldered joint. These tools can reach up to 750 degrees and they feature a handle that is heat resistant.
These tools will often have an indicator light to let you know that the unit is turned on, and it will have a 1/8-inch nickel plated tip that you can replace. With most irons, you can replace the original tip with something else that will work for your particular project.
For example, if you are working in a small area, a soldering iron fine tip is going to be much more useful than a chisel tip.
A soldering station is going to be smaller than a traditional corded soldering iron so that it is going to be more comfortable for you to work for longer periods of time. Many of these stations will have a responsive current control system in place as well as a variable temperature knob.
These stations feature ceramic heating elements that can reach up to 70 watts of power, they’ll have easy to read displays, and even soldering iron holder where you can rest the iron when you aren’t using it. Many people like these because they feel a solder iron stand is much safer than your standard stand-alone iron.
Soldering tweezers are designed to be used with small surface-mount components that have two terminals like resistors, diodes, and capacitors. The tweezers can be used on their own, or they can be connected to a soldering station.
The tweezers will have two tips that will heat up that are mounted on an arm that you can squeeze together. The main purpose of these is to melt solder in the right spot.
A soldering gun is a device that looks like a pistol and you control it by squeezing a trigger. These tools will work much like a regular soldering iron, as it will join metal. However, these tools will have a voltage range between 100 to 200 volts and it will give you much more flexibility while working. These tools tend to heat up much quicker than an iron.
When you’re looking at soldering irons, you’ll notice they can be powered one of two ways, electrically or with butane.
With an electric iron, you are going to be very limited by where you can go and what you can work on. Since these irons require electricity to work, you are going to be tethered to an outlet, either directly or via an extension cord.
Also, an electric iron is going to take longer to heat up. With a butane soldering iron, it going to be portable, has an wide range of heat, they’re easy to refuel, and they heat up very quickly. Depending on what your intention is, a butane iron may be your best option.
There is another type of soldering iron available, and that is called a cold heat soldering iron. Is a cordless battery powered soldering iron that seemingly breaks all the rules of soldering that we know.
It melts solder, yes, but it does it at a lower temperature, causing the solder to harden as it cools, all the while the there is no cool-down period for the tip. Once you remove the tip of the iron from the solder, it is cool to the touch.
Soldering irons can range dramatically in price. Some devices are as cheap as $5 (stressing on “cheap”) while others can cost up to $150 or more. What do you do if you don’t have the time to purchase soldering iron but you need to fix a circuit in a pinch? You can make your own soldering iron with only two items: a lighter and some copper wire!
To make this DIY iron, you will want to cut a bit of copper wire and bend it in half. Then make two more bends in the wire near the original bend so that it looks like the letter Z. Now you are going to tape the wire to a lighter so the edge is over the flame. You’re going to be heating the wire up for a few seconds, causing the copper to melt very easily.
Now we want to point out that this isn’t really soldering, but it will work until you can give you a little bit of time until you can solder it correctly.
Maybe you don’t want to mess with DIY soldering irons and you’d rather purchase a legitimate iron. There are several brands on the market that are known for making quality soldering irons.
The Weller company has been around since 1940 and they’ve been a trusted name in the soldering business for a long time now. Customers trust Weller soldering irons for home-based projects, as well as industrial needs.
The Weller company doesn’t just specialize in soldering items, but they also specialize in rework stations, filtration systems, heat guns, dispensing solutions like shot meters, syringes, and needles. Also, if you ever need an electric screw driver, Weller has you covered!
The Hakko company was established in 1952, and it was known as Hakko Metal Industries. At the time, they focused on producing and selling solder and forged tools. The company developed a copper melting furnace that was compact, cost effective, and was capable of high-volume production for soldering irons.
Throughout the years the company grew to become a force to be reckoned with in the soldering world.
The majority of the Hakko products are solder related, but they do offer other items like portable sealers, shrink packaging kits, static level meters, static eliminators, and smoke absorbers. Hakko products are available all over the world, although their headquarters is based in Tokyo.
Wall Lenk is an American company that was formed way back in the mid-1800s when good ole’ Abe Lincoln was president. Over the years, the company grew and quickly became one of America’s leading manufacturer and supplier of soldering tools. The company is based in Kinston, North Carolina.
Products in the Wall Lenk line up include soldering irons (naturally), but also stencil cutting tools, wood burning pens, transfer tools, a drill guide kit, branding tools, lab burners, as well as cordless torches, butane, and even equipment that can be used in the kitchen like crème brule torches, cooking platforms, ramekins, etc.
American Beauty isn’t just the title of a classic American movie, it is also a company that specializes in soldering gear. The American Beauty company got their name in 1893 during the World’s Fair in Chicago. It is said that a member of the press declared the company’s soldering gun to be an “American Beauty,” and the rest was history.
From then on, the company has been known for creating quality soldering equipment such as soldering irons, pots, stations, and even resistance soldering systems. The American Beauty soldering tips were the first to be lead-free, and every tool they create is lead-free and RoHS complaint.
When you think of Radio Shack, you probably wouldn’t think that they have soldering irons. They are known for things like toys, televisions, stereo systems and other gadgets like that.
They do have items that will let you repair electrical items, which is why they offer cool grip soldering irons at a really low price point. Be that as it may, unfortunately the Radio Shack company is slowly going out of business, and many brick and mortar stores are closing down.
It doesn’t matter if you are working on an arts and crafts project, if you’re trying to repair a circuit board, or you are working on your vehicle; a good quality soldering iron is crucial. There’s a variety of irons out there, but they all do one thing—create a bond between two pieces of metal.
When you are looking at soldering irons, you want to have an idea what you’re going to be using it for. If you are going to be repair circuit boards, you’re going to want to use something like a soldering pencil or tweezers, rather than a heavy duty soldering iron.
For hobbyists and the occasional soldering job, you can get away with basic irons that use 25 watts, at the minimum.
However, if you want a little more power, you may want to consider a soldering station that will let you control the temperature, have interchangeable tips, and use at least 50 watts of power. These professional types of irons are going to get the job much quicker and more efficiently than the other types of irons.
When you don’t have access to electricity or you don’t want to be bothered with cords but you want high powered tools, you may want to consider a butane soldering iron.
These irons can reach extremely high temperatures, and some can even double as a torch. Unfortunately, with the butane iron, you have to be extra careful because they are more difficult to control than electric irons.
If you are a crafty person and you have a soldering iron, you can use it to make things like jewelry, art installations, and stained glass pieces, but you can also use it to do wood burning art (pyrography) as well. There are so many things that you can do with these tools, we wouldn’t be surprise that you may wonder why you hadn’t gotten one sooner.
Now, if you are struggling with what kind of soldering iron would be good for your needs, we have a buying guide that can help you make a decision. Not only do we tell you what to look for in a quality iron, but we also have five mini-reviews of products that are pretty great. Leave us a comment below and let us know what is the first project you’d use your soldering iron on!