Best soldering iron reviews 2018
Hakko FX-888D Digital Soldering Station with Chisel Tip PackBest high-end soldering station
Powerful and user-friendly soldering station ideal for professionals and DIYers.
Hakko FX-888D Review
The Hakko FX-888D is the best soldering station you could come across if you’re searching a reliable tool able to weld, engrave or repair components and household items.
The soldering iron has a generous temperature range from 120 to 899°F, and the station is easy to operate from digital controls. A convenient iron holder with tip cleaning sponge and the five extra tips add further value and allow utilizing the iron for multiple purposes.
Ideal to use in a home or professional workshop, this soldering iron boasts an excellent thermal recovery thanks to the T18 series tips.
At the same time, the tip temperature drop is also reduced during continuous use, maximizing energetic efficiency. Compact, lightweight, and practical, the Hakko FX-888D is no doubt the best soldering iron in its class.
X-Tronic 3020-XTS Soldering Iron StationPowerful and convenient
Ergonomic soldering iron comes with a traditional pointed tip and is ideal for multiple applications.
X-Tronic 3020-XTS Review
The X-Tronic 3020-XTS is a convenient yet highly performing soldering station that includes all needed to get started right out of the box. Perfect for your work or home workshop, the station comes with a powerful 60-watt soldering iron, a solder roll holder, stainless steel iron holder, and tip cleaners.
A temperature ranging from 392 to 896°F makes the iron suitable for a wide range of applications, while the station is easy to operate thanks to its intuitive controls.
The perforated tip ensures a quick heat dissipation and cool down to prevent accidental burns and reduce hazards, while the Magic Temp technology provides temperature stability of + or – 3.6°F. Sleek, sturdy, and easy to use, the X-Tronic 3020-XTS brings the best value for the money.
Hakko FX888D-23BY Digital Soldering StationPerforming but expensive
An exceptional digital soldering station and iron holder perfect to use for profession or hobby.
A tad more powerful than our best-value pick but also costlier, the Hakko FX888D-23BY is ideal for hobbyists and professionals looking for a reliable soldering iron.
This product is, in fact, the same with our best-in-class and the only difference between the models is the absence of the additional soldering tips in this package. Instead, this soldering iron comes with a single pointed tip suitable for most applications.
Like our best-in-class, this soldering iron is easy to handle while the station is reliable and easy to operate. No doubt, a great alternative to our best-value if you look for outstanding performance and don’t mind paying slightly more.
Weller WLC100 40-Watt Soldering StationAffordable analog station
Adjustable power and universal tip make this versatile soldering station ideal for hobbyists.
Weller WLC100 Review
If you’re after an affordable product ideal for hobby use, the Weller WLC100 could be the one you were looking for.
Boasting an adjustable power from 5 to 40 watts and heating up to 900°F, this soldering station is ideal for occasional use and suitable for a wide range of projects. Use it for your DIY jewelry or to learn how to weld circuits.
The soldering iron is lightweight yet sturdy and easy to handle thanks to the comfortable cushioned grip. A replaceable heating element ensures quick troubleshooting and prolongs the unit’s lifespan while the iron-plated tip provides consistent performance.
Tested to meet independent safety standards and reliable in its use, the Weller WLC100 is no doubt the best cheap soldering iron to invest in.
2. Soldering iron vs. soldering station
Typically used for welding circuits but useful for many other DIY purposes, a soldering iron is a valuable tool to have in your workshop. Like most tools on the market, these come in a variety of styles.
The most popular for amateur and light-duty professional use are the soldering irons and the soldering stations.
- Soldering irons: Also called soldering pencils are simple instruments that consist of the iron itself which contains all controls in the wand. They are powered by electricity and simply plug into a wall outlet. Their main advantage is the size, compact enough to fit in a small carrying case.
- Soldering stations: Consist of a station with controls for temperature and power, a soldering iron attached to it via a fixed or detachable cable, and an iron stand that holds the hot instrument when not in use. Soldering stations are more cumbersome than the pencil model and less portable, but they are more powerful. The stations have either analog or digital controls, and some of the higher end units also come with an LCD screen that displays the temperature.
Which should you choose?
Soldering stations are much more versatile than the standalone irons, but this doesn’t mean they are the best for you.
A soldering station takes up bench space and is too cumbersome to carry around. If you’re looking for a soldering tool to bring in your kit, a pencil type could be your best bet. The pencil is typically sufficient for pipe soldering or occasional welding, lightweight and easy to use.
If you’re looking for more versatility, perhaps for adjustable controls and a higher wattage to use in your workshop, a soldering station could be ideal for your bench. This type of soldering iron is also more comfortable to use thanks to the holder designed to accommodate a hot tool.
A soldering station is more indicated for conventional welding of jewelry or circuits, repairing electronic devices, wood engraving, and arts & crafts applications.
3. Other types of soldering irons
Besides the two categories above, there are two different types of soldering irons, typically used in industrial environments.
- Repair systems: Are elaborate soldering stations ideal to use for high-volume and heavy-duty demands in manufacturing facilities or industries. They usually consist of an array of soldering tools including a traditional wand iron, soldering tweezers, heat guns, and de-soldering guns connected at a central power and control station.
- Soldering guns: Ideal for either industrial or home use, the soldering guns come as an alternative to the models above, but they typically generate too much heat for precision welding of electrical circuits or jewelry. They are, however, perfect for general home use, such as welding plastic pipes. Soldering guns are either corded or cordless.
4. Soldering iron wattage
Regardless of the model you need, the main feature to check before buying is the wattage. This figure determines the maximum heat your iron can reach, which will ultimately determine how suitable the instrument is for a certain application.
How does wattage determine heat?
In a soldering iron, the amount of power produced (or wattage) translates into the amount of heat delivered to the tip. A 5-watt iron, for example, will provide 5 watts of heat to the tip and the heating element will stop incrementing the temperature when this threshold is reached.
When the hot tip touches the solder and subsequently the workpiece, heat is transmitted to these objects. Thus it dissipates. This causes the tip’s temperature to drop. If wattage is too low, the temperature may fall to the point where it can’t melt the solder anymore, becoming ineffective.
At this stage, you’ll have to stop and wait for the tip to reheat. That’s why owning a more powerful soldering iron pays off in terms of efficiency.
How many watts do you need?
More watts typically mean more expensive soldering irons. Then, some applications simply require a lower wattage. Here are the wattage requirements for the most common uses:
- 15-30 watts: For welding circuits. A higher heat would melt the solder too fast and could also damage the delicate components.
- 35-40 watts: For welding thick wires and heavier electronic components.
- 50-70 watts: Ideal for welding jewelry and for other arts & crafts applications.
Most soldering stations allow you to adjust the power as needed, some models within a small range while the best soldering irons have higher ranges, typically from 5 to 60 watts. Soldering pencils usually come with a preset wattage and are less versatile in this regard.
5. Best soldering iron tips
Besides type and wattage, the soldering iron tips also determine how suitable a tool is for a specific project. Tips come in many shapes and styles, but the most common are:
- Chisel tip: Characterized by a thin and broad end designed to deliver heat evenly to the workpiece. This type of tip is ideal for welding wires and electronic components, but you can also use it for de-soldering.
- Conical tip: Is long and pointed. This tip is typically used for precision electronic work, such as repairing mobile devices, but also for general soldering or engraving. The pointed tip delivers heat to a restricted area, that’s why it can even be used for welding or repairing jewelry.
- Hoof tip: Has a large, flat surface that can hold more solder and is usually used for welding small-gauge wires.
Apart from these three common types, there are also many specialized tips developed for specific commercial or industrial applications.
Do you need more than one tip?
Soldering isn’t a ‘one-type-fits-all’ type of activity, and each application may require a specific tip. Luckily, most irons allow the operator to change the tips, and some even come with multiple options as part of a kit.
However, remember that most machines only accept tips manufactured by their brand and it is rare to find a soldering iron compatible with tips produced by other manufacturers.
6. What other features to look for?
A series of additional features can boost the soldering iron’s versatility and improve your experience. Here’s what to look for.
- Accessories can often make or break the deal when coming to soldering irons or stations. Some units come with wand stands, a roll of solder and solder holder, multiple tips, and cleaning accessories.
- Regarding the cleaning accessories, you’ll need a wire sponge for scrubbing the hard solder off the tip and a soft sponge to remove any melted solder residues.
- The wand or pencil soldering iron must be ergonomic and well balanced. Otherwise, it can cause fatigue.
- Also, check the grip. Make sure the wand comes with a soft grip, preferably with anti-skid properties, to prevent accidental slipping.
- Temperature management is as important as the wattage. A dial that allows you to set a max temperature regardless of the wattage used and with a wide temperature range boost up versatility.
- The best soldering iron comes with special tips with holes designed to provide efficient heat dissipation. This ensures a quick cool off of the tip when the iron is off.
- You should also make sure the soldering iron you want comes with safety features. Ideally, the apparatus should turn itself off in case of voltage fluctuations or if dropped.