Most people these days spend a lot of time in front of a computer, with a mobile phone in their hand or watching their children playing video games. However, how often do you stop and think about all the components these electronic gadgets contain? These devices function thanks to the myriad of circuits hidden away inside, many of which are made possible thanks to soldering irons.
Soldering irons are precision tools that are used in computing, electronics and even aeronautics. They are used to bond two materials together, making a soldered joint. In this article we explain everything you need to know about these versatile devices, so that you can find the one that best suits your needs.
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection: The Best Soldering Irons
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Soldering Irons
- 4.1 What is a soldering iron?
- 4.2 What is soft soldering?
- 4.3 What is soft soldering used for?
- 4.4 What type of joint is made with a soldering iron?
- 4.5 What do I need to start soldering?
- 4.6 What types of metal alloys are used for soldering?
- 4.7 What is the correct amount of solder I should use to make a clean joint?
- 5 Buyer's Guide
- 6 Summary
- Soldering irons use heat to melt the solder which is used to fuse two objects or materials together. To avoid damage to the materials that are being joined, a protective paste can be used.
- Soldering irons can be prone to overheating. The tip and the heat induction cylinder can end up melting and the element can become burned out from oxidization. To avoid any issues, always choose a model with ceramic induction and an iron-plated copper tip.
- It is a good idea to choose a soldering iron that has some type of temperature sensor to regulate the heat. This will allow you to save energy while using the tool, avoid overheating, and also allow you to work with any type of material suitable for soldering.
Our Selection: The Best Soldering Irons
If you are a DIY fan, or you like repairing your electrical appliances yourself, you should seriously consider purchasing a new soldering iron. To give you an overview of the range of different models currently available on the market, we have prepared this list of the best soldering irons in four categories.
Shopping Guide: Everything You Should Know About Soldering Irons
What is a soldering iron?
What is soft soldering?
What is soft soldering used for?
Soft soldering is regularly used in the production of computers and electronic devices. It is especially useful for making circuits and motherboards. It is widely used in the manufacturing of electronic components such as circuit boards, transistors, and in metalwork and jewelry making.
What type of joint is made with a soldering iron?
Generally speaking, the resistance of soldered joints to shear force at room temperature depends the following:
- The distance between the materials joined together.
- The temperature at which the soldering was performed.
- The amount of time the solder was heated.
- The composition of the materials joined together.
What do I need to start soldering?
To start soldering you will need the following items:
- Soldering iron: The first thing you need is the correct tool. Soldering irons correctly distribute the amount of heat needed to melt the solder, in order to create a joint between two metal objects.
- Flux solder paste: Flux plays an essential part in the soldering process. Its primary function is to isolate the material from contact with the air. It dissolves and eliminates oxides that can be formed when metal is heated. It helps the solder to bond to the metal surface, by keeping it fluid and preventing it from forming into beads, which will happen on any oxidized surface
- Solder alloy: The solder used will be made of a certain type of metal alloy. The type of solder alloy used will determine the melting point, the fluidity and therefore the strength of the bond that is made between the two objects being joined together.
What types of metal alloys are used for soldering?
The type of metal alloy to be used for soldering, will depend on the working temperature, and the types of metal it is bonding together. The interaction between the solder and the materials must not result in the strength of the joint being diminished. Theses days solder can be bought in the form of bars, pastes or spools of wire.
In the following table, we present the most common types of metal solder alloys and their uses:
|Solder alloy||Common uses|
|Lead Solder||The most widely-used type of alloy, for general use.|
|Aluminium Solder||With added antimony, which improves the bonding strength of the solder.|
|Silver Solder||For jewelry making and silversmithing.|
|Zinc Solder||For soldering aluminium.|
|Bismuth Solder||Widely used in electronics.|
|Lead-Silver Solder||For soft welding of steel, cast iron or copper.|
|Cadmium-Silver Solder||For joining copper and aluminum.|
|Cadmium-Zinc||For soldering aluminium.|
|Zinc-Aluminium||For soldering aluminium, very resistant to corrosion.|
What is the correct amount of solder I should use to make a clean joint?
It is highly recommend that you measure out the exact length of the joint you are going to make, to avoid excess drips of solder being left on the material. Another way this can be avoided is to use a cleaning paste or flux, which together with the heat of the solder will help it to adhere to the bonding surface.
Now that you have all the information you need to know about soldering irons, it is time to make your purchase. However, due to the wide-range of different models currently available on the market, choosing the one that is best for you can be a little tricky. In the section we list the most important factors to keep in mind, so that you can find the soldering iron that best suits your needs:
There are two main types of soldering irons available on the market. These are precision tip soldering irons (which are shaped like a large pencil), and soldering guns (which have a small pistol-shaped design). Precision tip soldering is for working on circuit boards, in electronics and information technology. Soldering guns are more powerful, which means they heat up immediately, but they are less precise.
Another way to classify soldering irons is by how they are powered. Most commonly they are simply connected to a power outlet, but there are others that are powered by batteries or using gas. Although gas provides better autonomy, this type of system requires more maintenance and is more dangerous, as the gas could potentially explode.
The speed at which a soldering iron will heat up can let you know a lot about its capacity and power rating. Most commonly they will take anywhere between 30 seconds, up to 3 minutes to fully heat up. Soldering guns usually contain transformers that allow them to heat up much faster. The faster a soldering iron heats up, the more expensive it will cost.
The heating time of a soldering iron will be more or less important depending on how you plan to use it. If you want to use it daily, you should look for a model that heats up as quickly as possible. However, if you only plan to use it occasionally, for DIY tasks or repairing electronic appliances, you can opt for a cheaper model that will heat up more slowly.
It is important to look for a soldering iron that is light and very easy to use. It must be comfortable and allow you to work quickly. Ideally it should feel like holding a pencil or pen. The handle should have an ergonomic design, as well as being heat resistant.
Make sure the handle has a non-slip grip, as dropping a hot soldering iron can be very dangerous. Sweating while soldering is very common, due to the heat of the element which can make your hands sweaty and slippery.
There are many soldering irons that are sold as kits that include lots of different accessories. They usually contain most of the necessary items you need to start working, and allow for greater versatility of use. It is a great bonus is the kit is packed in a box that keeps everything organized and can be easily stored away after use.
Soldering irons are usually sold with an included stand and a set of various interchangeable tips. It is a very good idea to have at least one desoldering iron, which will allow you to eliminate existed soldered joints. Precision pliers are essential for working with electronics, especially when cutting solder wire.
The tip is the most important and the most delicate part of a soldering iron. It is made of copper plated with iron and is treated with antioxidant and protective agents, to prevent corrosion resulting from continuous contact with the lead alloy that is used as the flux material in the solder.
As the tip is so important to the performance of a soldering iron, it should always be kept functional and clean. Even if these days tips usually have some kind of protective system, you should not forget to clean them after each use. Most soldering irons come with a variety of interchangeable tips for different soldering tasks.
Soldering irons are ideal for DIY projects and professional jobs. They are used in the manufacture of electronics, circuits, transistors and motherboards, and are the ideal tool for people who like to repair their home appliances themselves, and for computer professionals.
Finding the best soldering iron for you is not a simple task, but information is key so remember to follow the advice in this guide. These versatile tools are so easy to carry, they will allow you to do maintenance jobs at work or at home. Whatever the situation, having a quality soldering iron that operates smoothly is essential.
If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, please leave us a comment and be sure to share with your friends and family, so they can also find out about these amazing tools!
(Source of featured image: Monika Wisniewska: 19357098/ 123rf.com)