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Best For Your Buck Product
Best bang for the buck
Weller Soldering Station
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Best of the best
Hakko Soldering Station
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How We Decided
  • 16 Models Considered
  • 68 Hours Spent
  • 8 Experts Interviewed
  • 142 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Shopping Guide For Best Soldering Irons

    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.

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    Richard
    EXPERT CONSULTANT

    Richard is a seasoned small business owner in the hardware industry. He also owns a pool maintenance business and serves as an advisor on groundskeeping committees for a number of prominent organizations. He’s a regionally renowned safe cracker/locksmith expert, and in his spare time, he renovates and repairs vaults, safes, appliances, and a number of other products.


    Richard  |  Hardware Store Owner, Do-It-Yourself Guru
    Soldering irons heated by open fire have been around for over 4,000 years and were used by the Trojans.

    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.

    Soldering Iron Power & Control

    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.

    If you only solder occasionally and aren't in a rush, a cheap, low-power solution might be fine. But if you're doing a lot of work — particularly on circuit boards designed to dissipate heat rapidly — you'll need the power and control of a high-end soldering station.

    Here’s a look at what you can expect from irons with different wattage rates:

    • The cheapest soldering irons are typically rated between 10 and 35 watts and have a fixed output. In other words, there’s no temperature control; the iron is either on or off.
    • The next step up is a powerful-yet-basic soldering iron of up to 60 watts. That’s more than enough power for most general soldering tasks. But just like the cheaper products, there is no temperature control.
    • Some entry-level soldering stations of 5 to 60 watts offer variable power with two or more presets. You get more control with these models, but to achieve the best results, meticulous care is still required.
    • The best soldering stations range between 5 to 60 watts and include digital thermostatic control across the whole temperature range. You can preset these higher-grade instruments and use them with complete precision.
    • For those with heavy-duty plumbing or industrial needs, soldering irons rated at 100 watts or more are available.

    The first electric soldering iron was introduced in 1894 by the American Electrical Heater Company of Detroit, Michigan.

    Soldering Iron Tips

    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:

    • Except in rare cases, the tip itself does not contain a heat element; it simply transfers heat from the iron to the solder. Therefore, short tips transfer heat faster. If your soldering iron has no control, you might want a longer tip just to slow the transfer down.
    • Most tips are made of copper because it transfers heat well. But because copper wears quickly, most tips also sport a thin, durable coating of chrome, nickel, or iron.
    • Tip size and shape are often a matter of personal choice. However, a tip that's slightly smaller than the area to be soldered produces the most efficient results.
    • Low-wattage soldering irons may not have sufficient power to thoroughly heat large or long tips. If the solder doesn't melt properly, the connection could fail.
    • Copper or brass wire can be used to make custom tips, but we don’t recommend using this type unless you have considerable soldering experience.

    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.

    Soldering Iron Features & Costs

    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.

    Under $10

    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.

    While soldering irons aren't inherently dangerous, the tip on some models can reach 900°F. As such, users should take extra care if there are children around.

    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.

    EXPERT TIP

    The main difference between a soldering iron and a soldering station is control. Most irons have no way to adjust temperature. Even basic soldering stations come with temperature presets.


    Richard  | Hardware Store Owner, Do-It-Yourself Guru

    $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.

    A soldering station provides a better holder than an iron by itself. Stations are much more comfortable to work with if you're doing a lot of soldering.

    Soldering Iron Conclusions

    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.

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