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Best soldering iron for electronics

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mick H19/07/2021 09:12:47
761 forum posts
28 photos

I need a soldering iron to work on some simple electronic circuits but I am astonished at the numbers of models available. Some seem ridiculously expensive and some seem ridiculously cheap. I don't do much electronics work and ideally would like an adaptable iron for other small scale work. Your recommendations please.

Mick

Jon Lawes19/07/2021 09:36:04
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636 forum posts

I've always liked Antex soldering irons, they are good tips for fiddly work, but they are adaptable enough for other tasks. I've never really mucked around with thermostatic irons other than at work (where they tend to get whacked onto 330 for leaded solder and then left alone), at home I've always just used a non-adjustable item. I believe you would probably be fine with a CS18 or XS25, but of course this is just my opinion.

Howi19/07/2021 09:57:27
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316 forum posts
19 photos

you have opened a real can of worms, having played around electronics for more years than I want to remember, my advice would be a cheap Chinese temp controlled iron. I recently bought one from Amazon, just be aware prices can vary wildly for the same item, even on Amazon. A lot are the same item with different name, go for the cheapest.

mine cost about £25 ( I could have paid £60+ for the same solder station and that was on Amazon)

If you are happy to wait a week for delivery then Banggood, Aliexpress etc are worth looking at, I have used Banggood for both cheap and expensive items, recent purchases are Digital scope, 3D printer, plus some very cheap electronic bits. If they have the item in the UK warehouse, delivery is a couple of days tops, recent Chinese warehouse purchase took about 6 days.

Even though I do a lot of electronics, I would not consider paying silly prices, As for teperature accuracy, I have found mine to underestimate slightly but was easily adjusted. My normal temperature would be 380-390 going up to 420 if the extra heat needed (they will go higher) for certain tasks i.e tinning enamelled copper wire.

Some will probably point you to Antex and other premium makes, my advice is ignore that advice. The Chinese stuff is far better bang for buck, Yes! I have had Antex and Weller and would still go for the cheap Chinese.

What you now do with the advice is up to you, the choice is enormous and bewildering if you are not sure exactly what you want.

Once you are into electronics and once you have had time to use the cheap end, you may want to go further with SMD components and go for an all singing all dancing solder station with hot air /desoldering options for a lot more money but at this stage a cheap temp controlled iron will do you for the next few years.

IanT19/07/2021 10:10:25
1882 forum posts
182 photos

I use a very old Weller iron for my 'simple' soldering projects - and I can still get spares for it too, including the temperature controlled tips which work very well.

However with the increasing use of surface mounted devices, I purchased a hot-air soldering station about two years ago - that also has a more traditional iron included. It cost about £30 back then and I'm very pleased with it. I'd recommend one, as it will cover all of your electronic soldering needs. SMD then becomes quite possible (with a good solder paste) and that is very useful for many newer components which are often only available as SMD these days....

As a side benefit, I also use the hot-air gun (which is temp controlled) on heat shrink and to melt shellac for wax chucks and other temporary mandrel fixings. I find shellac very useful & convenient and now generally prefer it to using superglue - mostly because the heat gun makes the melting very controllable....

Regards,

 

IanT

Heating a Shellac Chuck

Edited By IanT on 19/07/2021 10:19:10

Robin19/07/2021 10:24:46
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479 forum posts

I do a lot of soldering. Eventually, I got fed up with Chinese 852's. It's nice to have the hot air nozzle but the irons were very hit and miss on temperature and once a pad boils off the board it is nigh on impossible to put it back.

I eventually returned to the fold and got me the reasonably priced Weller WE1010 and have never looked back.

It features a timer so it is immune to being left on accidentally overnight.

Oven Man19/07/2021 10:37:45
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152 forum posts
22 photos

Antex for me every time. Spares still available for a 50 year old iron, you won't get that with a Chinese one. I bought a temperature controlled iron from Lidl, it seemed to work OK but first time it tripped the house RCD it went in the bin. On opening it up there was hardly anything in the box and the electronics were extremely fragile. The device switching the current to the heater was the size of a small signal transistor, it did not inspire any confidence at all. Weller Irons are also worth considering, my instant heat soldering gun of that make is 55 years old, still going strong, and spare tips are still available.

Peter

Vic19/07/2021 10:59:12
2895 forum posts
8 photos

Another Antex user. I have a couple of the small ones for little electronics jobs. A guy I used to work with though liked those huge red pistol types. I couldn’t get on with it but he liked the instant hear feature.

Jim Smith 819/07/2021 11:05:21
29 forum posts
8 photos

Go for temperature controlled sensed at the bit with a wattage of 30-50 Watts. The issue with any choice is what shape bits can I get with it? For occasional use a selection of 2 or 3 is probably all you need, but they do wear when used a lot.

The next important factor is direct mains or low voltage e.g 24 volt. Most soldering irons are made in China and you don't want to trust your life on a direct mains iron made in China, go for low voltage. It will come with a mains voltage converter and is much safer to you and the electronics you are soldering.

Weller are still making well made irons and selling parts but are expensive (USA manufactured). Only look at electronic temperature control, not the old fashioned 'Magnastat'. These days people tend to talk about a 'soldering station' where the iron runs at low voltage and the transformer is part of the stand. Get a stand because hanging an iron and forgetting where you hung it can give you a burn!

One soldering iron can't do everything. One day you may solder an electronic board and the next day you are solding a car wire in some wind. For car work I use a 100-150 watt simple basic earthed mains iron (Weller) with a large bit.

My current workstation is an Aoyue 968 but I modified their smoke extraction pump to use as a solder sucker. You will need a manual piston type solder sucker for most basic soldering on circuit boards. If you try to work on a modern board with components you can hardly see (SMD) you are in a different re-work ball game.

JA19/07/2021 11:10:22
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1217 forum posts
73 photos

An Antex user, bought about 25 years ago. Good and simple.

I still have my 25W Solon (I think that is the name) solder iron that is now over 60 years old. I see it now and again when searching the workshop for items playing hide and seek.

JA

SillyOldDuffer19/07/2021 11:33:21
Moderator
7482 forum posts
1657 photos

Another Antex fan-boy. I have 3 - big, medium tip, and small tips to suit the job. Medium gets most use because I avoid SMD and rarely do valve work now. Also have a 200W Weller solder gun, which is good whenever massive heat is needed - rarely - SO239 connectors come to mind.

Worth paying extra for the Antex silicon rubber lead versions. In addition to being heat proof, the leads are more flexible and make the iron easier to manipulate.

I had a solder station and didn't get on with it because the iron came with unsuitable tip shapes and I couldn't find any spares; I suspect they were non-standard.

Dave

Speedy Builder519/07/2021 11:35:09
2392 forum posts
184 photos

Small ANTEX - problem is that the cable has little flexibility when cold. The original iron had a nice Flexi cable, but the one I bought 5 or 6 years ago is rubbish.

Smike19/07/2021 11:42:46
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6 forum posts

Hi, I use Metcal soldering irons now. Have used Weller, Antex in the past which are good.

But like the feel of the Metcals the best - nice flexible cable, good tips.

Been in electronics for 45yrs ....

BUT !! Really expensive so probably best to get less costly......

Jim Smith 819/07/2021 11:44:37
29 forum posts
8 photos

I have a couple of small direct mains powered Antexes with yellow handles where the bit holding clips have gone bad and the hot push on bits can fall off. Smaller older irons can struggle with reduced lead aluminium based solders and I now find 25 Watts marginal? The biggest advantage of low voltage irons is they heat up really fast and when temperature controlled electronically, they will hold a more stable bit temperature.

Nicholas Farr19/07/2021 11:51:56
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2962 forum posts
1335 photos

Hi, I bought this one from Maplin's during their closing down sale for £51.99, can't remember the original price, but it was substantially more and I got a few different tips at a lower price at the same time. It claims to be a 60W with ESD protection, which makes it suitable for anti-static work and it has a totally controllable temperature range from 150-450 C (which can be viewed in degrees F if so wished) I've only just used it this morning to do a little delicate soldering using the fine tip which is shown. It has done a fair bit of work in the three years that I have had it and I've found it much better than fixed temperature irons for small electronic components.

img_20210719_111734.jpg

Regards Nick.

Bill Davies 219/07/2021 12:06:08
242 forum posts
11 photos

Another long-term Antex user. As a school technician I replaced the awful cheap irons with Antex, with silicon leads. These are more flexible in colder weather, and resistant to being burned by pupils.

I agree that you need different powers for different job, I expect a temp controlled iron allows for different jobs, but I've never used one.

Bill

David Ambrose19/07/2021 12:18:32
7 forum posts
1 photos

During lockdown I treated myself to a Hakko FX888D. It’s a variable temperature iron, 70W, a joy to use, spares and bits are readily available, and it warms up very quickly.

Anthony Knights19/07/2021 13:33:53
555 forum posts
233 photos

I have had a variety of soldering irons over the years. These are the ones I've ended up with.

irons.jpg

Back row left to right- Weller 60 watt temp controlled, 25 watt Antex, dead cheap 30 watt Chinese thing I bought when I was on a job and the iron I was using failed ( faulty element ).

Front row 12volt 15 watt which plugs into a car lighter socket.and finally, two catalytic irons which use lighter fuel gas. Very handy if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere with no access to a mains supply.

Jim Smith 819/07/2021 13:42:19
29 forum posts
8 photos

I use my temperature controlled iron with reserved bits for repair welding (most) broken plastics. I got some large gauge copper wire which fitted my 'solder gun' which is pretty useless for most things due to its limited duty cycle. But with customised wire (bits) you can smooth and weld plastic. I fastened a scalpel blade to one wire bit which I use as a hot knife on plastic. I just bought some stainless staples off Ebay and made a copper adapter to hold them and plug in to the soldering gun.

Edited By Jim Smith 8 on 19/07/2021 13:42:52

John Haine19/07/2021 13:58:17
4106 forum posts
241 photos

Every electronics lab I have worked in used Weller, and they seem to be very reliable. You need a temp controlled iron with quite a high wattage, which makes it pretty versatile for a lot of other jobs. I think the bog standard Wellers are 60 watt and they have a good stand with built-in transformer. I have seen quite a few on eBay.

A cellulose cleaning sponge is very useful, keep it wet and use it often. Again the weller has a place for it on the stand. Weller have a clever system that controls the temperature by the curie point of a magnetic insert on the tip. Nevertheless if the iron is left on for too long the tinning on the tip can oxidise and it's really hard to remove it, so keep the tip clean and switch off when not in use. At the last place I worked they had more modern Wellers that switched on when removed from the stand and heated almost instantly - much better. Probably too small for general use though.

Alas I don't have a Weller, I have a temp controlled one from Maplin that's a few years old and of course tips are not available. Though it is quite high wattage the temperature control is not great and it eats tips. Fortunately it takes Weller tips though doesn't use the same temp control method. So another lesson there is to make sure that you get one where the supply of tips is reliable - another advantage of Weller.

John Haine19/07/2021 13:58:20
4106 forum posts
241 photos

Every electronics lab I have worked in used Weller, and they seem to be very reliable. You need a temp controlled iron with quite a high wattage, which makes it pretty versatile for a lot of other jobs. I think the bog standard Wellers are 60 watt and they have a good stand with built-in transformer. I have seen quite a few on eBay.

A cellulose cleaning sponge is very useful, keep it wet and use it often. Again the weller has a place for it on the stand. Weller have a clever system that controls the temperature by the curie point of a magnetic insert on the tip. Nevertheless if the iron is left on for too long the tinning on the tip can oxidise and it's really hard to remove it, so keep the tip clean and switch off when not in use. At the last place I worked they had more modern Wellers that switched on when removed from the stand and heated almost instantly - much better. Probably too small for general use though.

Alas I don't have a Weller, I have a temp controlled one from Maplin that's a few years old and of course tips are not available. Though it is quite high wattage the temperature control is not great and it eats tips. Fortunately it takes Weller tips though doesn't use the same temp control method. So another lesson there is to make sure that you get one where the supply of tips is reliable - another advantage of Weller.

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