Best Beginner Soldering Iron
Choosing the best beginner soldering iron depends on your budget and how serious your interest in soldering and electronics is.
Our top three picks for the best beginner soldering iron are:
- WLC100 Weller soldering iron
- X-Tronic Model #3020 soldering iron
- Lonove Soldering Iron Kit – 60 watts
WLC100 Weller soldering iron
X-Tronic Model #3020 soldering iron
X-Tronic Model #3020 soldering iron
These three soldering irons are perfectly acceptable for hobby and DIY projects or for less demanding professional use.
Each of these three soldering irons costs less than $ 50.
WLC100 Weller soldering iron
Hakko FX-888D soldering iron
Of course, these two soldering irons are more expensive, but they have more key features, top quality, and a wide range of applications.
These days so many people starting out electronics projects that require some soldering but they don’t have the basic equipment and tools.
It will be much easier for beginners to learn how to solder when they have a proper soldering tool.
For your beginner soldering project, besides soldering iron, you will need solder wire, wire cutters, wire strippers, anti-static tweezers, cleaning flux, and desoldering wick.
Since soldering produces fumes it is recommended to solder in a well-ventilated area or use a benchtop smoke absorber.
Use safety glasses to protect your eyes.
Don’t solder any electric circuit that is connected to power, even if it is connected to a low-power source such as a battery. Disconnect it from the power source before you start soldering.
A beginner who wishes to learn how to solder should invest in a proper soldering iron. You do not need to buy one of the expensive fancy soldering irons or professional soldering stations. But on other hand, don’t buy the cheapest soldering iron available on market.
Cheap soldering pencil costs between $10 and $15. They are usually bulky and uncomfortable to hold for extended use.
If you save some money by buying the cheapest soldering iron available, you will end up paying many times over. You will spend more money on replacing cheap soldering iron with a proper one. In addition, you will spend more time since you should redo your sloppy soldering work – first you have to desolder the sloppy soldering joint you made with a cheap soldering pencil and then redo the same solder joint with a proper soldering iron.
If your budget doesn’t allow you to buy any better soldering iron than a basic soldering pencil, then purchase one with an iron stand (also known as an iron holder) or purchase an iron stand separately.
Soldering iron gets very hot – up to 840 degrees Fahrenheit (450 degrees Celsius).
The hot soldering iron should be stored in the soldering iron stand whenever is not in use. Leaving hot iron loose on work workbench is asking for a trouble.
Two Main Mistakes
Too many times I have seen beginners making mistakes when choosing to buy their first soldering iron. They choose a cheap soldering iron or just a simple soldering pencil.
Those cheap soldering pencils (that you just plug directly into the AC outlet) are good only for soldering wires. However, if you try to solder fine electronic through-hole or surface-mount components then they make a lot of damage and trouble.
I have seen more soldering projects ruined by using a cheap soldering pencil than by any other cause.
Simply no one can make a good soldering joint using cheap soldering iron regardless of his experience and level of soldering skills.
Sometimes beginners buy high-wattage unregulated soldering pencil for soldering electronic components because they assume that it is automatically better if soldering iron has more power. Yes, it is better when soldering iron has more watts but only on temperature-controlled iron.
Higher wattage on temperature-controlled soldering iron does not mean a higher temperature of soldering iron since the operator can control and set the desired temperature of the soldering iron. It means that soldering iron has more power available to heat larger solder joints. High-wattage soldering iron recovers faster after heat loss.
On the other hand, high-wattage soldering pencil without any regulation of temperature may generate too much heat to solder joints which may result in damaging temperature-sensitive electronic components. It can also burn traces and pads on a printed circuit board (PCB).
Choosing the best beginner soldering iron
I may sound like a salesperson who wishes to squeeze as much money as possible from customers.
However, my advice to beginners in soldering is to buy proper soldering iron for their soldering jobs, and then they will start on the right foot to learn the soldering technique.
Soldering tools are not expensive and it is not hard to learn how to use them. It is easy to find where to buy soldering tools. Many online or physical stores offer a wide variety of soldering tools. Don’t start your project if you do not have at least basic soldering tools.
On the other hand, don’t over-spend on soldering iron unless you have serious plans and an interest in electronics. Some soldering irons are expensive and you as a beginner in soldering may not need all of the fancy features those irons come with. You will usually make good solder joints with modest temperature controlled soldering iron.
It is not easy to choose the best soldering iron even though there are a wide variety of soldering irons on the market.
Salespersons in the stores don’t know all characteristics of every single model of soldering iron in their store.
Before you buy soldering iron you need to check its features and characteristics, and figure out which are more important than the others.
The following factors are the most important when considering to purchase beginner soldering iron:
When you make a shortlist of soldering irons then you can compare them and see the pros cons of each one.
Best Soldering Iron for Electronics Hobbyist
The main types of soldering tools are:
The four main models of soldering irons are:
Soldering iron consists of three main parts:
It is easy to take apart soldering iron.
When the soldering iron is cold and not plugged in an electrical outlet, unscrew the iron nut with your fingers.
The heating element heats the iron tip. Heating systems of the soldering iron can be:
The majority of soldering irons use resistive-based heating.
A resistance-based heating system controls temperature by turning heater power on and off via a sensor or thermocouple. The iron tip core is made of copper and plated with nickel, chrome, or another metal to reduce corrosion.
Professional induction heating devices require more complex electronics technology and have a higher price. The heating process is performed by using an electromagnetic wave through an induction coil. In induction heating, the pieces to be heated must be composed of ferromagnetic material.
The iron’s handle is made of good insulators to provide thermally and electrically insulation.
The best soldering iron for electronics hobbyist is one that comes with temperature controlled station, a stand with a cleaning sponge, and a few different spare iron tips. The price of a good soldering iron with adjustable temperature on the market in the USA is less than $50.
Digital soldering irons come with a built-in display that shows the current temperature of soldering iron.
A soldering sponge is used for cleaning iron tips.
Before you start soldering you should pour a little bit of water on the sponge- the sponge should be moist. Moist sponge removes leftovers of used molten solder, flux residues, and other contamination from the iron tip.
There will be minor heat dissipation during this operation, but soldering iron will recover very fast.
Most of the current soldering irons come with interchangeable tips. It is helpful to have a few spare iron tips, which are different in style and size, for a variety of soldering projects.
You may use a small conical tip for miniature work on the circuit boards when soldering surface mount components or small temperature-sensitive through-hole electronic components.
When you work on larger solder joints such as connections on terminals, bigger connectors, or when you soldering two thick wires together, then you should replace as mall iron tip with a large chisel iron tip.
You should use only those iron tips which are suggested by their manufacturer for the particular model of soldering iron.
Testing beginner soldering iron
If you are a beginner in soldering, it is a good idea to test your new soldering iron before you start any complex soldering project. It is recommended to practice the soldering technique with your new soldering iron on prototype circuit boards.
There are many options to start practicing the soldering technique.
As a starting point try to solder some simple electronic components such as resistors and ceramic capacitors.
While you are learning how to solder you will also become familiar and comfortable with your new soldering iron.
The best way to start learning to solder is by using tin/lead solder wire (60% tin, 40% lead). Soldering with lead-free solder is more difficult than soldering with tin/lead solder. In addition, lead-free solder requires a higher temperature than tin/lead solder.
Sini Saja is a passionate Electrical Engineer with over 40 years of experience in the electronics industry and in 3 countries. He holds B. Sc. in Engineering and is a member (P. Eng) of the Association of Professional Engineers of Canada.
Sini Saja wrote several articles on Instructables.com and EzineArticles.com. He earned a silver medal for over 1 million views on Instructables. See profile here.
Updated: July 14, 2021