Best Soldering Iron, Electronics, Beginner, 2021, Budget
A soldering iron is a tool used in the soldering process for generating heat. Soldering irons come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Which is the best soldering iron for you will depend largely on the intended application and types of soldering projects.
Rather than simply setting an arbitrary price limit for soldering iron, it's a good idea to first take a look around at some of the different types of soldering iron and their capabilities.
Updated: April 08, 2021
Choosing a soldering iron is a personal choice. You will want to look at your needs and ask yourself what you're going to be using the soldering iron for and how often.
In this guide, we will focus on electrical soldering irons used in the electronics for soldering electronics components on the circuit board. We will not evaluate butane soldering irons, stained glass soldering irons nor irons used for soldering jewelry.
Best Soldering Iron for Electronics
The best soldering iron for electronics is a temperature-controlled soldering iron.
Temperature-controlled soldering irons typically heat up and recover faster. They come with a decent soldering stand and a sponge.
These soldering irons are smaller and therefore easier to hold for a prolonged time since the temperature control and other electrical functions are done in the base unit.
Using temperature controlled soldering iron you will be able to solder a wide range of electronic components including surface-mount devices. On the temperature controlled soldering iron, you can precisely adjust the desired temperature on the iron tip. This type of soldering irons comes with a base unit that provides low voltage for the soldering iron. The setting of temperature is done by rotary knob or with “+” and “-” push buttons located on the base unit.
Many electronic components are temperature sensitive, especially tiny integrated circuits. The highest temperature that an electronic component can withstand without damage is listed in the component's datasheet.
If you use a cheap soldering iron you can damage the electronic component or burn traces on the circuit board. Sometimes the damage caused by overheating the electronic component is not immediately visible.
We recommend WE1010 Weller or FX-888 Hakko as the best soldering iron for electronics.
Best Beginner Soldering Iron
Too many times I have seen beginners and hobbyists making mistakes when choosing a soldering iron.
They purchase a basic soldering pencil which is the cheapest type of soldering iron.
This soldering pencil typically costs less than $15 and doesn’t have an on-off switch, stand to rest iron, sponge, auto-shutoff, temperature control, etc.
It comes only with a cord which you plug directly into the wall outlet. This soldering pencil may be good only for soldering wires and some basic soldering projects.
It is recommended to always keep soldering iron in a holder. Iron holder is sold separately product - so if your iron doesn't have a holder you should buy one before you start with your soldering project.
What is the best beginner soldering iron depends on the soldering project and soldering skills. Of course, beginners don’t need a fancy soldering station since they don’t have the level of soldering skills which is required for complex soldering projects. Once they improve soldering skills they can consider buying better soldering iron.
If you just need to solder something occasionally for your hobby and want it done well, a basic inexpensive soldering iron with simple variable temperature control is a perfect choice. Choose ones which wattage varies from 20 -50 Watt.
A cordless soldering iron is another kind of iron that is good for a hobbyist.
For beginners we recommend:
The price of each of these three temperature controlled soldering irons is around $50.
Best soldering iron kit
Soldering iron is the most important tool for soldering. But it is not the only tool required for soldering.
In addition to soldering iron, hobbyists and beginners will need other products such as pliers, cutters, tweezers, wire strippers and a desoldering pump.
A hobbyist may also need some soldering accessories such as a smoke absorber.
Finally, they will need soldering wire, solder wick and solder flux.
There are a lot of soldering iron kits on the market in the USA that include basic soldering tools and accessories in addition to soldering iron.
Soldering iron kits have a very affordable price. Most of these soldering iron kits cost under 50 dollars.
However, the quality of soldering iron and other tools included in the soldering iron kit is not great.
A soldering iron kit may be a perfect solution for hobbyists since it includes all basic soldering tools and hobbyists don’t solder very often.
For beginners in soldering who wish to learn the soldering technique and later to improve soldering skills, it may not be a good idea to buy a soldering iron kit. The soldering iron included in the kit is a basic soldering pencil without any control of temperature.
Instead, it will be better for beginners to buy one of the decent inexpensive soldering iron with variable temperature control and learn proper soldering techniques from the start. The price of the decent temperature-controlled soldering irons (Lonove, X-Tronic, Vastar) is around $50.
Best soldering iron
An electrical soldering iron is composed of a heater block and an insulated handle. Iron’s handle is made from thick plastic and usually has an additional foam layer that reduces heat transfer from the iron into your hand. Heating is often achieved electrically, by passing a current, supplied through an electrical cord or a battery, through a heating element.
The heater block is a source of heat. A simple heater block consists basically of the heater element and the tip (also known as a bit). The iron tip transfers heat from the heater element to the soldering joint. The resulting tip temperature depends on the capacity of the heater and the mass of the iron tip.
The figure below shows the soldering iron disassembled into its functional elements: tip, nut that holds the tip, and the handle with a heating element.
Selecting the best soldering iron isn’t too difficult. There are several things to consider before you choose the best soldering iron for your soldering project.
The primary factors to consider when choosing a soldering iron are:
Wattage is the most important characteristic of a soldering iron. Soldering iron with higher wattage, of course, has more heat available.
It is very important to understand that higher wattage does not necessarily mean a hotter soldering iron. Soldering irons with higher wattage just have more power available. In other words, the wattage of soldering iron is the amount of energy available to heat the joint.
Therefore, a soldering iron with low wattage may not keep its temperature on a big joint because it can lose heat faster than it can re-heat itself. On the other hand, a soldering iron with high wattage is capable to apply so much energy into the joint that the joint cannot dissipate it quickly enough.
Most soldering irons used for soldering work on circuit boards have a power rating of 20-60 watts.
The benefit of using the temperature controlled soldering iron over a standard iron is that you can precisely set the temperature of the tip. For example, tip temperature on Weller soldering iron WESD51 is adjustable in the range of 350 ºF to 850 ºF (177 ºC to 454 ºC), temperature accuracy is +/-10 °F (+/- 6° C).
The display on soldering iron shows a “Read” mode by default, which displays the current temperature of the iron’s tip. To switch into the “Set” mode, turn the temperature control knob slightly and the display will show the current “Set” temperature. In other words, while adjusting the temperature, the display shows your target temperature and then automatically switches to show the current iron’s tip temperature.
Size and shape of the iron tip
Another factor to consider when selecting your soldering iron is the availability of replacement tips, including those in different sizes.
The function of the soldering tip is to efficiently convey heat from the heating element to the joint.
Most modern soldering irons have changeable tips that will allow you to swap tips depending on the project you are doing. Selecting the proper tip for any soldering application is very important because the iron tip should be properly matched to the intended project. The right iron tip is the one that is the right size and shape for the job that you are doing. Choose the one that will melt just enough solder to do the job right.
The tips usually have a copper core, since copper conducts heat well. The copper tip is coated first with nickel and then with iron to preserve its life. The iron layer protects the copper from molten tin in the solder, which would dissolve the copper if it touched it directly.
The amount of heat that an iron tip can hold is dependent largely upon its total mass. The efficient delivery of heat through the tip is dependent upon its length and diameter.
Fast transfer of heat through an iron tip from the heating element to the joint is vitally important. A small iron tip will take too long to transfer enough heat to the joint. A large iron tip can create problems regarding the accessibility to the intended soldering area and even damage the circuit board or components by delivering too much heat.
A blunt short chisel style iron tip is the most efficient iron tip - the width of the chisel should be equal to or slightly greater than the width of the material that is being soldered.
Conical iron tips are used for fine, precise soldering projects. Longer iron tips are used in the case when the area in which the soldering is going to take place is not completely accessible. Longer iron tips and conical iron tips are less efficient than chisel iron tips.
Each manufacturer recommends a line of iron tips for particular soldering iron (for example Weller soldering irons WE1010, WESD51 and WES51 use ET series of soldering tips).
It is important to recognize that you can use ONLY those iron tips which are recommended by the manufacturer for the particular soldering iron. You cannot use any other iron tips even if they physically fit in your soldering iron.
Analog or digital soldering iron
The difference between analog and digital soldering iron is in temperature settings.
Analog soldering irons use a dial that you turn manually to the desired temperature. So, you can adjust the temperature on the tip of the soldering iron but you don’t have any feedback information about temperature.
Digital soldering irons come with microprocessor control and a digital readout. Digital readout is a digital display that shows the current temperature of iron’s tip during operation or set-up. Simply adjust the desired temperature and check the temperature at the digital display. If the temperature doesn’t exactly match, you can do fine calibration to correct the temperature value. This is a far more convenient way to set and check the desired temperature of soldering iron in real-time. The digital display on the Weller solder iron can display temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius degrees - the factory default is ºF.
Digital soldering irons are usually more expensive than analog ($30-$40 for Weller) but this investment will pay off during time. We strongly advise purchasing digital soldering iron.
Soldering of some electronics components to circuit boards requires lower temperatures than others. If you solder them with a standard soldering pencil, you have a good chance of destroying them. And you might not know that you damaged the component until you power your device and test your circuit.
Soldering iron price
Price is always a factor, no matter what your budget is.
No exception when you are choosing to buy the best soldering iron. Everyone has a price limit, so any irons that fall far above your price limit will be ruled out.
In the United States, price of the simple soldering pencils is in the range of $ 10-30.
The price of a decent temperature controlled soldering station is in the range of $ 50-150.
The price of the complete soldering systems and rework stations is in the wide range of $300 - 2500.
Safety feature powers down soldering iron after some time of inactivity. It is peace of mind that your soldering iron has this feature.
One of my soldering irons automatically powers down after 15 minutes of inactivity another one after 99 minutes. This particular setting is adjustable on most of the best soldering irons so you can customize it for your needs.
In other words, you can increase this time if you do a little bit of soldering with a long period of time between two soldering jobs. For example, on the one of best Weller soldering iron WE1010, this time is adjustable between 0-99 minutes.
The heating time of soldering iron is the time that soldering iron takes to heat up to its correct temperature.
The main problem with most soldering irons is that you need to wait for them to heat up from the cold stage to the ready-for-soldering stage, not only when you start using them, but also in between jobs if you leave them alone for a long period of time.
Fortunately, most of today’s good soldering irons have a short heating time, less than 30 seconds.
Digital soldering stations have displays built into the base station which show the actual temperature on the iron tip in real-time so you can see the heating progress of soldering iron.
Brands of soldering irons
The list of the most popular brands of soldering irons in the United States starts with Weller, Hakko and Pace.