Sunday, March 17, 2013


     Soldering irons: you can't solder without one.  Some people can't solder with one, either, but that's another story.
     Shown above, most of my stable.

     Left to right:
     A nice butane-heated portable; this one's a Wahl but you can find the same thing marked for other brands.  Puts out plenty of heat and works well, though a really high wind can be a problem.
     Antex fine-point iron, one of the very best tiny irons out there.
     Hakko dual-heat. 30/60W 20/130W (!).  This is an excellent general-purpose iron for electronics work, though they warn you to not hold the high-heat button down too long, lest you melt the grip!
     A pair of small Wellers, inexpensive general-purpose soldering irons and my go-to model for years.  The solid-copper tips do get eaten up over time but you can file 'em down until they get too short for even that.  If you can only buy one iron and you want to purchase locally, this may be your only option  That's fine -- they work well.
     Next, a big Hakko, 60W or more.  The "handle" unscrews and can be threaded over the tip for storage and transport, very handy.
     Even bigger and my general-purpose iron for tube-type radios, an American Beauty 75W.  This is an industry standard, one of the best irons made.  Tips are solid copper.
     Speaking of copper, here's the soldering copper again.
     Last, an absolute warhorse, a 225W American Beauty.  The guy who was selling it had several and said they all heated up.  I'm not in a huge hurry to try, but this will solder chassis together, if needed.

     Not shown, soldering guns.  I own two and use them in disassembly; I  find them too awkward for serious building.  Plus the tips are small, which means they cool down when you solder.

     Also not shown, torches.  I have a couple of small butane torches, which will do a lot of small work.  I'd own a MAPP-gas torch, but I have access to one at work. (MAPP gas these days isn't the real thing but it's still hotter than propane.)

    You'll note that most of these irons -- I think all -- have copper tips.  There's a reason for that.  While a well-known bench iron has used plated iron for years and tout its durability,* if the plating gets damaged -- say, by using the iron tip to undo some solder-soaked knot on a terminal in a 60+-year-old radio -- it's just about impossible to restore.  Copper, you just file down.

     Also left out, a selection of little sponges in metal trays.  A damp sponge is an excellent way to keep an iron tip clean during use.  The "potscrubber" tip cleaners are okay but a bit aggressive.  I've also got a little block of sal ammoniac for the tough cases, and rosin paste flux for difficult-to-solder items; both very handy.

    You don't need a jillion soldering irons -- but it's nice to be able to select the right size for the job.
* The main reason for the iron tips is their clever Curie-point temperature control.  You can select tips by temperature!  This has to be weighed against the need to treat them nicely, so it depends on your application


  1. I had a really nice Ungar station, and when I needed some more tips for it, I found they weren't available any longer.
    Seems Weller bought Ungar some time back, and promptly discontinued supporting them.
    So, I shopped around, and bought a really good Weller station, and plenty of tips for it.

    1. Weller is a nice brand. These days most soldering stations offer interchangeable tips. If you own a Weller station you may use tips from ATTEN, or vice versa.

  2. For most things, the high-end Weller WTCPN stations (and their more recent replacement, which uses the same tips) are the gold standard. (As opposed to the gold-premium Ungars, which offered actual gold-plated tips in addition to the usual tinned ones. You paid more but they lasted so much longer, they were a bargain on a dollar-per-heating-hour basis.) When I was in high school, one of my friends -- or his father -- came up with a good hack to extend the life of Weller's Curie-effect tips: he had a friendly jeweler heavily tin the working end with silver solder, the genuine high-melting-point stuff. I'm not sure what effect that might have had on the Curie point of the tip but it seemed to work fine.

    Weller/Cooper Group has been quietly dominating the field for some time.

  3. That's a neat trick, tinning the tip with high temeperature silver solder. (Your MAPP torch will do that job, BTW. The solder can be had from jewelry and gunsmithing suppliers online.) The silver shouldn't affect the Curie point of the tip's core, but heating it up to apply the silver might.

  4. Unless you go WAY beyond the Curie Point it shouldn't matter.

    Otherwise the tips would only work once!

  5. Yep, I wasn't sure how hot they were heated to tin with silver solder. Anyway, they worked.

  6. The high temp silver melts at about 1100-1300F.

  7. I'm a big fan of the Hakko 936 station. I've only been soldering seriously/professionally for a couple years, but it's been great for a pretty wide range of work. Large speaker connections, LED video panels with mid-sized surface mount connections, etc.

  8. Hakko makes very nice irons; for my money, they're one of the premier outfits in that line these days.

  9. Hakko even makes some very affordable "consumer" soldering stations now. QST runs ads for them, and did a review of one of them some months back.

    One little place I worked at back in my "startup days" used Hakko stations. I'd never heard of them, but quickly found them to be very well made, and excellent stations.

  10. I'd never use anything any more but a temp controlled Weller, Hakko, Hexacon or Metcal iron with interchangeable tips. They are common at auctions and I have a lifetime of Weller WTCPT tips and my wife works at a plant where they use them too.