We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Today’s market offers a bewildering range of soldering irons and soldering stations. That's great news if you're looking to buy one, because you have plenty of choice.
What's not so easy is getting the specs you need at the right price. Will a cheaper soldering iron provide the flexibility you need? Does paying a bit more guarantee that you’ll get the best soldering iron?
That’s why we’re here: to help you discover the answers to these questions.
You can trust our independent test results and recommendations because, rather than accepting “free” manufacturer samples, we buy our test items off store shelves just like you do.
The five soldering irons in our matrix, above, meet our stringent criteria for excellence. Each provides its own unique solution in terms of power, control, durability, and value. All you must do is decide which product would best satisfy your demands.
To provide our readers with a detailed analysis of the soldering iron space, we’ve put together the following product report.
Ultra-cheap soldering irons with fixed wattage output are often thought of as the ideal tool for beginners. But in truth, more control and skill is needed to handle a fixed-output soldering iron than a model with variable power.
Perhaps you want a soldering iron that will allow you to remove or add electronic components. Perhaps you want to a tool that will help you solder jewelry or other small items. In any case, you want the solder to flow freely, which requires a certain amount of heat.
Soldering irons are often rated by wattage rather than degrees. This can be confusing at first, but whichever way you look at it, power plays a crucial role in your soldering success.
Here’s a look at what you can expect from irons with different wattage rates:
The first electric soldering iron was introduced in 1894 by the American Electrical Heater Company of Detroit, Michigan.
Almost all soldering irons have replaceable tips. Two reasons exist for this. First, they eventually wear out and need to be changed. Second — and far more important — is the fact that you may want to change size and shape to suit the job you’re doing.
Throughout the course of our research, we found more than a hundred different kinds of tips available in the soldering iron space. It's not practical to examine each one in detail here. However, we offer these general “pointers” to help you choose the right tips:
Too little power and the heat will be absorbed by the solder, components wires, and surrounding material. Conversely, if the wattage is too high, any of these elements could get burnt.
You could spend less than $10 on a soldering iron, but is a tool that cheap worth the cash? We looked at typical feature sets across a number of price brackets to determine just what you can expect for your money.
You can get a very basic soldering iron for under $10. Simply plug the unit in, wait for it to heat up (a minute or two), and solder. This is cheap, no-frills soldering.
You probably won't get a stand or cleaning sponge in this price range, and you'll only get a single tip (though it should be changeable).
Build quality can vary, but a soldering iron in this price range is a popular choice for a DIY electronic kit or as a cheap addition to a toolbox.
Between $25 and $60
For between $25 and $60, you can get a soldering kit that’s quite comprehensive. These kits are often based around a cheap soldering iron (as described above), but the better ones have basic temperature control, too. They’re very popular, though performance can vary.
Kits in this price range might include a stand, desoldering pump, extra tips, cleaning sponge, solder, and a useful case to keep it all in. If you're buying a soldering iron for the first time, a kit in this price range could be a very cost-effective solution.
Between $40 and $70
We acknowledge that there’s a bit of overlap between prices here, but if you're looking for a good basic soldering station that includes a stand, cleaning pad, and variable temperature control, we advise you to search within the $40 to $70 price range.
You can find a lot of reliable, easy-to-use kids from respected brands in this bracket. Some owners we consulted say they would have liked a tool with even more control, but for the money, a quality soldering kit in this range is hard to beat.
What is the difference between a soldering iron and a soldering station? The main difference is control. Most irons, by themselves, have no way to adjust temperature. (The few that do are very rudimentary.) But even the most basic of soldering stations comes with numerous temperature presets. And high-end models often have digitally controlled thermostats that provide absolute precision.
$80 and Up
The best soldering irons in this price range include digital thermostatic control and the power to make the most of it. It's not so much about reaching high temperatures, it's about maintaining a set temperature without fluctuation.
Though prices start around $80, it's not unusual to pay $130 or more for the best in soldering irons. The elements of these kits will vary, but multiple tips and a cleaning sponge are a given. You should also expect to see some or all of these additional elements: stand for solder rolls, switchable temperature readout (°C or °F), low-temperature alarm, a sleep function to prolong tip life, ESD (electrostatic discharge) protection.
If you solder regularly, this is the kind of tool you should invest in — especially if you anticipate working with a variety of items.
After we completed our research, the BestReviews team was divided about which soldering iron is actually the top product. Problem is, what's perfect for the occasional user isn't the same as what's perfect for the regular hobbyist or professional.
This is actually great news if you're buying a soldering iron now. Need a budget soldering iron? There are several to choose from. Looking for a high-end multi-purpose soldering station? Again, you have plenty of choice.You'll want to spend a little more to get the best models, but even those on a limited budget can find great deals.