Wednesday, July 18, 2012


One of these days, I'll do a big soldering-iron round-up, everything from the big American Beauty 100 and 75W irons though the nice Hakko and Weller midsize irons down to the tiniest.

One of the very smallest irons in my toolbox, I haven't found since I moved: Wahl used to make a corded, variable-temperature miniature iron that I count among the finest ever built. I purchased a similar Far Eastern iron some years ago at the Dayton Hamvention, only to discover it doesn't get hot enough to actually solder with.

I needed a replacement miniature iron. The Radio Society of Great Britain talks up Antex brand irons in their Handbook and they do look good; I've found RSGB to be an impartial reviewer, and when I realized the Antex G/3U 18W miniature iron (that may be an older model number but you can still buy 'em over here) listed on Amazon and elsewhere, I decided to find out for myself.I used it to build a Vectronics audio filter kit.* It worked very well. I was concerned that the tips slid on a little too loosely; but it gets plenty hot, plenty fast, and the tip stays in place. Like the Wahl, tips go over the heating element rather than inside. It's claimed to enable better heat transfer; it certainly makes for less iron in the way of the work.

The one shown here has a chisel tip, about 1/16" wide. The kit was through-hole ICs, with 0.10" being the closest spacing and there was no need for anything smaller.

The grip stays cool and the assembly is a good size and balance. It does require a heavy stand, as it weighs so little that if it's not securely held, the cord can drag it around! The Hako stand shown here is not a good choice -- the kind that surrounds the iron with a coiled spring-looking holder would be best. But that's my only complaint. G/3U is a good iron for small work. They're listing for just over $28, last I checked.
* Which shipped with the wrong value resistors for one of the critical frequency-determining positions, 2X for three filter sections. Off by a factor of 10. Oops! But the right resistors are a dime apiece, and that gets fancy 2% metal-film types, so it's not a big deal.


  1. That is a nice looking tool. All Weller's here including my standard issue Western Electric from back in the day.

  2. I'm "All Weller, All The Time" here, too.
    I'll look into that little one. Might come in handy for doing SMD stuff.

  3. I bought a cheap no- (well, unpronounceable-)name "temperature controlled" iron a few years ago but its idea of temperature control is for me to turn the knob down when the tip starts oxidizing. Plus the cord between the base and the handle is stiffer than my PC's power cord. I think I need to hold my nose and pay for a decent brand. I'm thinking a Hakko would do. I've used them before and liked them.

    At work we use Metcal units, mainly for all the surface mount accessories. They're expensive as heck but they hold up well to industrial use. I'm ambivalent about an iron that will shut itself off before I tell it to. (It has an inactivity timer.) But a quick click on the power switch and that tip is hot NOW. I think it can tell you're still using it by sensing how much current it's using to maintian tip temperature, because I've never had it shut off except when it was on the stand.

  4. At the laser mine, we've switched from soldering sponges to a kind of brass "Brillo pad" for tip cleaning. No need for water, no science project growth, and it doesn't cool the tip significantly. I'll report vendors when I have access to my work stuff. One of my secondary jobs is ordering screwdrivers, glue, and soldering tools.

  5. I switched from wet sponge to copper Brillo pad in the mid 1980s. I think I lead that revolution.

    Now you can buy them through Jameco or Digikey.

  6. My local electronics emporium also has them. One came with one of the "back up" soldering stations I bought some time back, and I was amazed at how well it works.

  7. I have a love/hate relationship with the "potscrubber" tip cleaners. They appear to destroy the high-end Weller plated-iron tips we use at work, by chewing up the plating and exposing untinnable iron. (Those are the Curie-effect temperature controlled types, mostly). Okay with solid copper.

    I mostly use a fine file, sal ammoniac or a damp sponge on solid-copper tips, depending on how bad they are.

  8. Speaking of tools, just came across and thought you might need something for the tool box like the spudger set.