BEST SOLDERING IRONS | NOVEMBER 2017
Soldering irons are extremely useful tools, whether you’re building circuit boards for electronic devices or designing and crafting rings and necklaces. They’re not just for hobbyists and professionals, however: a soldering iron can be an excellent tool for making small repairs to household electronics, like headphones, which can keep you from having to replace a broken device. We looked at a wide range of soldering irons to determine which ones provided the best overall performance, control and ease of use for general users, as well as which models worked best for specific applications, like electronics repair and jewelry-making. Read more about our methodology.
Soldering Irons BUYING GUIDE
Heat Source and Wattage
The first decision to make when purchasing a soldering iron is its heat source, which generally means electric or butane. Electric-powered soldering irons are the norm, since they provide reliable performance and easy-to-adjust temperatures. Butane irons get hotter faster, and also provide added portability, but can get too hot for some applications. Increasingly, you can find battery-powered irons that offer similar power levels and performance as wired irons without getting too hot for delicate electronics work.
Temperature control is another important factor in choosing a soldering iron. You’ll want the ability to easily adjust the temperature higher and lower for various applications, either electronically or by adjusting the flow of gas for butane irons. This will provide you with more control and versatility to take on a variety of projects, since you won’t have to worry about damaging components due to overheating, or being unable to increase the heat for high-temperature projects.
While most soldering irons feature changeable tips, it’s a good idea to look at what kind of tips a specific iron includes. If you’re planning to work with very fine materials, for example, a wide, flat tip may make that more difficult, while a user soldering stained glass may find that tip ideal. You should also consider how easy it is to switch between those tips, and how affordable and available new tips are for a specific iron.
Finally, it’s important to consider overall comfort while purchasing a soldering iron. If you’re planning to work on projects for a longer period of time, it’s worth finding a soldering iron that offers an ergonomic design that won’t cause too much fatigue. It may also be beneficial to find a soldering iron that incorporates a stand somewhere in its design, which will allow you to set the iron down and take breaks to keep your hands from cramping.
Soldering iron prices can range from under $10 to several hundred dollars for a full soldering station. The vast majority of soldering irons for consumer use fall in the $10 to $50-dollar range, with a few that cost between $50 and $100. You can find a dependable, pencil-style soldering iron for $15 to $20, but at this range you may not have much control over the temperature or the ability to easily change tips. Lower-priced corded soldering irons should perform well (if sometimes slightly too hot or cool), but you may find that battery-powered models under $20 are not worth considering.
At the higher end of the price range, soldering irons should have easily-adjustable temperatures and interchangeable tips. Some are even available in kits that include several tips and a roll of solder, which provide an inexpensive way to get started.
Butane soldering irons tend to be more expensive. You should expect to spend between $40 and $100 on a butane-fueled model, which generally doesn’t include fuel. Since you will need to provide this yourself, it does increase the cost to get started with butane-based soldering.
FULL product reviews
We research hundreds of products in order to bring you a final, unbiased list of the very best. We also use a proprietary algorithm to score each product in terms of quality, value, and brand reputation. These subscores are then weighted to calculate our overall scores. Read more about how we calculate our scores.
Hakko’s FX601-02 soldering iron is a great choice for most applications, with an easy-to-use temperature adjustment knob that gives users a great deal of control and versatility. The FX601-02 also heats up very quickly, and It’s both lightweight and comfortable to work with for extended periods of time thanks to an ergonomic design. The included chisel tip is ideal for applications like stained glass and larger soldering projects, but the iron can accommodate other styles.
Why We Recommend It
- Heats up quickly and reliably. Users focus on the quick, even heating of the Hakko FX601-02 in many reviews. It reaches temperature quickly and remains there without dipping or spiking, which is perfect for delicate operations.
- Temperatures are easy to adjust. Reviewers also appreciate how easy it is to adjust the temperature on the FX601-02. The dial on the side of the device is easy to read and set, allowing for minute adjustments even while soldering.
- Ergonomic design prevents fatigue during long soldering sessions. The lightweight design is another major benefit. Several reviews note that they were able to hold the FX601-02 for hours without cramping or pain.
- Temperatures are in Celsius only. A few reviews also mention that the temperatures on the dial are in degrees Celsius only, which can make temperature adjustments a slower process for users used to Fahrenheit.
- Does not include precision tip. One disappointment with this soldering iron is its lack of an included precision tip. While switching to a new tip is relatively easy, some users believe a soldering iron in this price range should include a variety of tips.
The Weller PC2 Butane Soldering Iron is a sleek, effective, and high-quality butane model, perfect for users who need an iron that can quickly reach and sustain high temperatures. It’s beautifully and compactly designed, with a simple-to-use and reliable ignition button, a generous fuel reservoir, and safety cap that lets you securely transport the iron without fear of it accidentally turning on or leaking fuel.
Why We Recommend It
- Heats up incredibly quickly. Many users praise how quickly the PC2 heats up, with several reviews reporting that it reaches a high enough temperature to melt solder in 20 to 30 seconds.
- Long-lasting butane reservoir. Users also like the butane reservoir on the PC2, both in terms of its capacity and ease of use. The fuel lasts a long time and can be refilled through the bottom of the iron, similar to refueling a butane lighter.
- Easy to ignite. Several users mention the ignition mechanism as a major benefit to the PC2. The soldering iron reliably ignites and begins heating up on the first try, which saves a ton of time and effort.
- Gas adjustment valve is somewhat inconveniently placed. Some users find that the gas adjustment valve on the PC2 is somewhat inconveniently placed. It requires two hands to adjust, which means you need to stop soldering to modify the temperature.
- Default tip is too large for delicate work. The PC2 includes a finer tip than the Hakko FX601-02, but many users find it too large for delicate work. Luckily, a wide range of finer tips are available for the iron.
The XOOL Electric Soldering Iron is a great pick if you’re looking for an affordable and dependable soldering iron with some of the added features you might find on a more expensive model. It heats up quickly and allows you to adjust the temperature based on what kind of materials you’re working with. The included precision tip is also a great feature, since you can work on finer materials without worrying about getting solder everywhere.
Why We Recommend It
- Heats up quickly. Users particularly like the ceramic heating element on the XOOL soldering iron. It heats up very quickly and maintains a steady and reliable heat level.
- Precision tip makes it easy to solder in tight spots. The precision tip is another excellent feature. Users appreciate the ability to solder in tight spots thanks to this design.
- Heat adjustment is simple and straightforward. Reviewers also love the heat adjustment feature, which allows for adjustments between 200 to 450 degrees Celsius.
- Replacement tips are not as easy to find. Some users also note that replacement tips for the XOOL soldering iron can be difficult to find, which can be a major issue if the included tip breaks, or if you’re looking to use it for an application that needs a wider tip.
- Doesn’t get hot enough for some applications. Despite the ability to adjust the iron’s temperature, some users find that the XOOL soldering iron doesn’t get hot enough for certain applications.
The Weller SP25NKUS soldering iron offers several useful features, including a trio of LCD lights that can help illuminate details as you work. It also includes several different tips, which provides a lot of flexibility (especially for an inexpensive soldering iron). It also works with a lot of existing Weller soldering iron tips, so if you’ve used one of the company’s products before, you can use some of the same parts in an updated iron.
Why We Recommend It
- Quick and reliable heat. Reviewers say the SP25NKUS heats up to full temperature very quickly, with very little loss of heat. They particularly like that it’s a 25-watt iron, which doesn’t overheat electronic components.
- LEDs help illuminate details. Users also appreciate the three integrated LEDs, which can help when working with smaller or enclosed pieces like circuit boards.
- Works with existing Weller tips. Users also appreciate the fact that tips from other Weller soldering irons work with the SP25NKUS as well, which can provide some added versatility and value.
- Lightweight and ergonomic design. Reviewers like the comfortable and lightweight design of this soldering iron, especially when it comes to working on longer projects and for extended time periods.
- No temperature control. Several reviewers also expressed disappointment that the SP25NKUS doesn’t offer any temperature control, which can cause the iron to get too hot for some uses.
- LED lights can interfere when working on reflective surfaces. While most users like the LED lights, a few reviews mention that they interfere with projects that involve reflective materials. They’re also not separately controlled, so you can’t operate the iron without them.
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Best Soldering Iron for Beginners
If you’re just getting started with soldering, you’ll probably want a relatively straightforward, pencil-style soldering iron. Generally, a lower-wattage iron is your best bet when you’re first learning the mechanics and techniques of soldering, since you’re less likely to damage any delicate components with a low wattage. It’s also a good idea to look for a model with a very precise tip, since this will help with overall accuracy.
If you’re learning how to solder, Delcast’s 30-Watt Precision Tip Soldering Iron is a great tool for learning and practicing techniques and methods. Beginners will particularly like the fine tip, which provides a high level of accuracy for DIY projects like soldering circuit boards and LED lights. The lower wattage is another feature that works well for novice users, since there’s a much lower chance of accidentally overheating and damaging components.
Why We Recommend It
- Lower wattage prevents overheating. Users generally appreciate that this iron doesn’t get too hot, which makes it perfect for lower-temperature applications like circuit boards and DIY projects.
- Precision tip is ideal for learning and practicing techniques. The fine tip of the Delcast iron is also extremely beginner-friendly, allowing for precise solder placement even on small projects.
- Included solder lets you get started quickly. Reviewers also like that this iron ships with a small amount of rosin-core solder. This allows you to start working on projects and applying solder very quickly.
- Strong smell and smoke on first use. One recurring complaint is the strong smell and smoke that this soldering iron produces when it’s first used. While this only seems to be an issue on the first use, it’s still a concern for many users.
- Slow to heat up. Several users also note that the Delcast is relatively slow to heat up, so you may have to wait several minutes before you can melt solder.
Best Soldering Iron for Electronics
Users working primarily with electronic components need a soldering iron that gets hot, but not too hot: generally, an electronics soldering iron should fall in the 40- to 60-watt range. Lower wattages may have problems reliably heating up to the temperatures required for electronics work, while high-wattage irons can damage or destroy delicate components. A precision tip is also helpful for electronics, since you can more accurately apply solder to wires or circuit boards.
Users primarily working with electronics will get a lot of use from Electriduct’s 50-watt soldering iron, which provides ideal levels of both heat and power to solder but not damage electronic components. It’s a very simple, straightforward soldering iron, but it does feature a precision tip and ceramic heating element that work together to provide consistent performance at a very affordable price point.
Why We Recommend It
- Excellent power level and temperature range for electronic components. Because it uses a 50W heating element, this iron is particularly well-suited to electronics work. It melts solder much more reliably than a 30- or 40-watt iron, with a lower risk of damaging elements than a 60-watt iron.
- Ceramic heating element provides consistency. Users also really like the consistent heat the Electriduct soldering iron—specifically its ceramic heating element—provides.
- Pointed tip works well with smaller elements. Several reviewers single out the pointed tip as a great benefit of the Electriduct iron. It allows for precision soldering of smaller elements, including thin wires.
- Stiff cord can be a hindrance. Some users find this iron’s cord to be very cumbersome and stiff, which interrupts soldering and limits the iron’s overall usefulness.
- Alternate tips are not available. One shortcoming of this soldering iron is that the manufacturer does not make alternate tips. Users who want the ability to cover a larger surface area may find the inability to use a larger tip frustrating.
Best Cordless Soldering Iron
Cordless soldering irons have come a long way in the past few years, and they’re now reliable and long-lasting enough to consider as a replacement for a wired version. A cordless soldering iron should be able to provide enough heat for most electronics soldering work, but will drain batteries relatively quickly. This means that users may want to invest in rechargeable batteries, or use a cordless model solely to augment a wired model while they’re away from their workspace.
The Hakko FX-901/P is a high-performing battery-powered soldering iron that’s great for hobbyists and DIY users looking for a portable iron for lower-temperature use. You can solder for several hours using four AA batteries, and it offers a precision tip for detailed work. This soldering iron also works with rechargeable batteries, so you won’t need to spend too much on batteries to get a lot of use out of it.
Why We Recommend It
- Extended soldering time on a single charge. The Hakko FX-901/P works for about two hours on four fresh batteries, which users say provides plenty of time and power to complete projects, particularly if you use Ni-MH batteries.
- Extremely fine tip for precision work. This iron has a very small, precise tip that’s great for detail work. It can get into very small spaces and precisely apply solder and make repairs.
- Perfect for DIY and small wires. Users working on DIY kits and circuit boards find this soldering iron particularly useful, thanks to the combination of a precision tip and lower temperature range.
- Can be very slow to heat up. Many users mention the slow heating time as a negative. This is largely to be expected with a battery-powered soldering iron, but users who are used to a butane or corded iron may find this frustrating.
- Restricted to lower-temperature applications. Several users express frustration with the low heat level of the Hakko FX-901/P, since this prevents it from being used with silver solder or joints that have been re-soldered several times.
Best Soldering Iron for Jewelry Making
Making jewelry requires much higher temperatures than electronics work, so jewelers will generally want a butane-powered soldering iron. In addition to being cordless and portable, butane-fueled soldering irons quickly heat up to the higher temperatures needed for jewelry work. Their tanks need to be refilled somewhat frequently, so it’s important to look for an iron that makes this process simple and straightforward while also providing a long period of use between refills.
The Weller PSI100K Super-Pro Self-Igniting Cordless Butane Soldering Iron Kit is a great addition to a jeweler’s toolkit, providing fast and reliable high-temperature heating and a number of useful soldering accessories. It features a butane reservoir that can provide several hours of constant, high-temperature operation, although the self-ignitor can be somewhat unreliable. The PSI100K also benefits from working with other Weller soldering tips.
Why We Recommend It
- Gets hot enough to solder high-gauge wire. Because it runs on butane, the PSI100K gets incredibly hot. Users report that they can easily solder high-gauge wire and silver solder.
- Butane reservoir provides several hours of runtime. Reviewers praise the butane reservoir, which is both long-lasting and easy to refill. Some users say they can get nearly three hours of high-temperature soldering from a single tankful.
- Includes a wide variety of tips and accessories. This kit provides a number of useful accessories. In addition to several varieties of soldering tips, it also includes a sponge and stand.
- Self-ignitor can take a few tries. Many reviews single out the self-ignitor as the biggest shortcoming of the PSI100K. It tends to take several tries to ignite, which can be incredibly frustrating.