Decent soldering iron

Hi All,

I have attempted a few projects which require soldering and each time it's a horrendous struggle... so... naturally I am going to blame my tools... :D

I have a cheap no name soldering iron which feels cheap and certainly doesn't do what I see other peoples irons do (I've been watching YouTube videos!).

I wanted to start with a new iron, some finer solder (I'm convinced mines too thick to get into the small spots) and some flux (which I've not used till now). Can someone point me at what I need? I want to spent up to £100 on the iron itself, plus whatever the price for the other bits.

Theory is, if I can't blame the tools then I have no excuses and will have to get practising.

Most of the soldering I have attempted to do and plan to do is very small.

I've done some searching, both on here and on Google and I can't find anything that is up to date and is as explicit as "this is a good one in your price range". I've seen recommends for Hakko, but they seem expensive and/or hard to get in the UK.

Cheers, LongTom

I bought a $20 Xytronix soldering iron and a $6 stand. The iron is adjustable but has no temperature display. I had to glue a big weight to the bottom of the stand to make it stable. And the soldering iron cord is stiff as a cable which is really annoying. I think I'm going to cut it off and replace it.

I just wanted something that worked reasonably well as I wasn't planning on doing a lot of soldering. And I think it does work well enough. I bought three different size tips and have soldered some tiny stuff with this iron.

It's probably like a lot of things where someone with good technique can do well with lousy tools and someone with bad technique will make a mess with the most expensive tools.

That said, if you can afford it get something nice. I'm already thinking an upgrade will be money well spent.

Might even be a nice Arduino project - convert an el cheapo iron in a state of the art soldering station

  • pot meter for temp control
  • thermistor temperature readout
  • LCD for temperature feedback (setting + actual)
  • auto switch of timer - after x minutes not soldering (acceleration sensor?)
  • usage counter (HH:MM:SS) + total
  • preset temperatures
  • ...

me:

  • pot meter for temp control

or up- down switches with dynamic speed

robtillaart: Might even be a nice Arduino project - convert an el cheapo iron in a state of the art soldering station

I'd start with one of the replacement low-voltage soldering iron handles meant to go on a Hakko station or similar. That way, you'd have the temp sensor integrated properly, plus you would have a quick heat-up time.

That said - @LongTom - if you want a decent soldering station, you're going to have to spend some money on one - the aforementioned Hakko brand is a well-known and liked brand; if you do some research, you can also find knockoffs of the brand at various quality points (do your research). I myself have both a Hakko station meant for SMT rework (very small and specialized tips/cartridges needed) - as well as an Aoyue regular sized station. Both work great; I got them both used via a local electronics surplus dealer - each for under $100.00 USD.

Something to keep in mind is the fact that when you buy such a station - make sure you purchase rapidly - as funds allow - a good assortment of tips and any other spare consumables (heating cartridges and/or anything of that nature). What many of these manufacturers like to do is occasionally - every 5-10 years - phase out the old model and parts, in an effort to force you (well, actually companies - they don't really care about the hobbyist market; too small) to "upgrade" - much like Microsoft Windows. So you have to pay for everything all over again. For a hobbyist, this can be a real pain - so if you like the station, and want to keep it for more than 10 years, plan out for that long.

Finally - your tools that you have right now might be just fine; I have and old el-cheapo 35 watt soldering iron that I got in school 20+ years ago. The tip has never been replaced; the whole thing is ugly as sin and takes forever to heat up. But I can solder as well with it as I can my other tools - I wouldn't try SMT rework with it, but for basic PTH soldering, it's a workhorse. Really, it needs a new tip - but overall, it's a great if cheap tool.

I've got a Chinese clone of an 898D rework station. Had it a few years now, no complaints at all. I bought it from a UK based supplier so no issues with import duty, taxes, etc.

cr0sh: that nature). What many of these manufacturers like to do is occasionally - every 5-10 years - phase out the old model and parts, in an effort to force you (well, actually companies - they don't really care about the hobbyist market; too small) to "upgrade" - much like Microsoft Windows. So you have to pay for everything all over again. For a hobbyist, this can be a real pain - so if you like the station, and want to keep it for more than 10 years, plan out for that long.

Ditto.

I have two decent temp control irons lying on the shelf. Unusable as i cannot get tips any more.

My 30 year old weller is still going strong, i recently bought new tips to cope with lead free solder.

I would suggest as a hobbyist you stick to lead solder as well, its easier to work with reliably.

Lead-tin solder, or lead-free? Lead-tin solder is easier to work with, and usually you can get by with the rosin flux inside of it.

Lead-free really requires a temperature controlled decent iron, and you -must- use extra flux. It is much more difficult to get it right, and harder to tell when you do.

Yup - I use Weller's from the distant past (the teal blue ones), and they still work beautifully.

I use generic "no clean gel flux" in a syringe, and normal leaded rosin-core solder (it flows so much better than the lead-free crap). I solder DFN, TSSOP, TQFP, etc no problem like that (though reflow is definitely less work for SMD)

I have my old Weller, teal blue as you say, that uses the fixed 600, 700, or 800F tips for leaded soldering. I have an Aoyue (sp?) adjustable for lead-free.

Although my Weller is in kind of rough shape, so I recently bought an adjustable Weller to replace it.

http://www.amazon.com/RadioShack®-Line-Soldering-Iron-Included/dp/B00BTKDTPI/ref=sr_1_3?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1437701239&sr=1-3&keywords=radio+shack+proline

works good for me, I also got the RadioShack proline helping hands....

the best tip I can over is WAIT for the soldering iron to heat up... I had a hard time soldering for the longest time, before I figured it out it take time (5min) for the tip to get hot... so.. just wait.

A low voltage solder station is ESD safe. A mains powered iron probably not. So keep it away from ESD sensitive parts. A non temp controlled "poker" should not be used for circuit boards. I don't understand why people advise the use of flux/paste. Leo..

Hi,

www.thermaltronics.com/tmt-9000s.php

I have two at work and one at home, quick heatup, the latest model has a low power magnet in the cradle to lower power requirements. 15seconds to temp from stone cold, quicker if idling in cradle. Hot swap tips, temp set by type of tip. They also have a mean desolder unit that fits the other socket of this power pack, uses compressed air instead of a whezzing old vacuum pump.

Have had them 3 years now, use 3 or 4 tips a year in workshop, unless used by apprentice. They are not chisels or crowbars.

Tom.... :)

Wawa: A low voltage solder station is ESD safe. A mains powered iron probably not.

Relative humidity between 60 and 80% makes this less of an issue.

Wawa:
I don’t understand why people advise the use of flux/paste.
Leo…

For SMD parts, flux makes life much easier - you need it for drag soldering. You tack the part down on one pin, put flux along the pads, a little solder on the iron, and touch it to the pins or drag it over them, and there’s a puff of smoke, and like magic, it’s soldered. Doing it without flux is nasty, because you have to get every pin individually, and touch the solder to iron very close to that pin to get some of the flux from the (rosin core of the) solder onto it so it would solder. SOIC, TQFP, SSOP are all easy with this technique. Flux is also essential in soldering those obnoxious nolead packages, like DFN (like those TEOS color sensors all use) and the 5050 PLCC variants used for LEDs (like WS2812, as well as the simple ones).

I never use it for through-hole (I’d consider it for difficult rework though)

Make sure you can easily get replacement tips for the iron. I've got an inexpensive 15w radio shack iron with the fine tip for small soldering. These tips wear out fairly quickly, but I can just go to the local radio shack when I need another one (not cheap, but convenient).

  • 1 for Weller. It will last a lifetime. I aquired mine second hand about 30 years ago and it is still going strong.

Russell

zoomkat: ...but I can just go to the local radio shack...

Assuming you have one "nearby" - here in Phoenix, AZ - according to the RS website - there are now only 3 stores near my house; the closest is 6 miles away - the other two are 10 miles away.

It wasn't that long ago when I could find one only a mile or two away - they were everywhere.

That said - I stopped shopping at Radio Shack a long time ago. The real straw was finding surplus electronics to be a much cheaper and more interesting solution. Ebay and cheaper Chinese suppliers made it clear that RS as a source for components was a dead end. The last time I went to a Radio Shack was when they had their "word-of-mouth" super sale on components (found out about it via Reddit) - that was a couple of years back.

Honestly, though, they started going downhill for me when they started selling cell phones, and getting away from their long-time core markets. Some would say they started losing people when they started to sell computers - but I don't think that's true, at least at the beginning. When they started to sell re-badged (that is, not in-house developed) PC-compatibles (that would probably be the post Tandy 5000 era) - well, that might have tolled the first bell...

The dumb thing is that they had a brief chance recently to turn things around - all they had to do was aggressively market themselves as the place for Makers and STEM education - and ditch the cell phone sales. I remember when they used to offer computer use and programming classes (for their machines of course) - they could have brought that back, but updated for the Maker crowd (teach Arduino, RasPi, etc). They could have held courses on how to use 3D printers (and perhaps sold kits or machines too). Teach soldering skills, repair skills, hacking skills. Perhaps partner up with SparkFun and Adafruit (and others) to sell their products.

I know that I and others have said in the past that "there isn't a market here for such - what market that does exist is small and niche" - but maybe that isn't completely true. Maybe the want and need is really out there, but it just hasn't been properly marketed? For all anyone knows, there's a lot of people want to pursue STEM-based hobbies or similar, but just don't know how to start, or where. Radio Shack could have been the go-to place for many of these people, had they attempted it.

But they didn't. I'm not saying they shouldn't have closed stores, etc - that was probably the right business decision. But they seem to be stuck in a rut on what to sell and who to market to. There's a very real chance that they are leaving a potential market untapped - a market that quite probably is growing year-by-year - and those people in it are simply either languishing - or more likely finding other suppliers and sources.

Then again - all of that is idle speculation. Maybe such a market doesn't exist here in America domestically - and the majority of people just want to sit at home and veg to television and internet "pr0n"...

Radio shack was mostly built on DIY electronic repair and electronic parts. Now most electronics are generally not reparable at the DIY level or not worth the cost and effort. The cell phone business was just a stop gap effort in their loss of the core business. I can get electronic parts much cheaper shipped from China, but if i want the part today, RS is an alternative (if they have it in stock). Buying online from the US parts suppliers is going to probably cost $6-10 shipping and handling tacked on to anything purchased, big or small.

Hi.

I still use my old JBC 30S, 25w for last 20 years or more, a various size and shapes of tips. A lot of tips used over the years. Small, light, and reliable. Recently I got a 24v aoyue solder station ( Chinese one ), but every time I could use the JBC, it's my fist choice for small electronics.