The Soldering Solution

I’ve had 5 soldering irons in my life. Two of those I wouldn’t recommend to anybody…

The first

I don’t remember when or where I got my first soldering iron, but it was a 25 watts, not temperature controlled and it looked a lot like this:

A 25w iron works just fine if you’re soldering wires together, but it takes a while to heat up, and the tip was terrible.

The second

The second was a 40w “soldering gun”, something like this:

It heated up a lot faster, but it’s still not temperature controlled, so if you keep holding the button down, it gets really really hot, which melts your cable coating unless it’s made from silicone or teflon. I cringe when I think about using this thing on electronics. I left this one behind when I moved to America, and apparently my sister actually used it fairly recently. Fortunately, she was just joining cables.

The third

Once I got to America, this was the first soldering iron I got. It is a billion times better than the previous ones, because it’s temperature controlled. I used this soldering iron for quite a long time, but it’s pretty slow, and the tips that come with it aren’t great. Also, I don’t think it’s actually ESD safe, and the temperature control isn’t even graded in C/F.

The fourth

When I needed a hot-air station, I ended up buying this thing:

The soldering iron that comes with it is digitally controlled and heats up faster than the velleman, and it comes with better tips. The handle is also thinner and easier to hold. This particular unit doesn’t seem to be available anymore, but there are lots of similar ones, and I think they are pretty good for the money.

The fifth

I expect this to be the last soldering iron I ever buy. It’s not cheap, but it has a wide selection of tips, heats up fast, it’s ESD safe and has a great standby feature. In addition, the tips integrate the heating element, so if anything ever goes wrong, you just replace the tip and it’s like a whole new iron.

The ones I almost bought

There is a bunch of TS100-like soldering irons. These are simple open-source digital soldering irons which are small lightweight and relatively cheap. I don’t know how good they are obviously, but some people like them a lot.

FX888 is one of the most recommended soldering irons out there. Only reason I didn’t buy it is because I was mesmerized by the T15 tips used by the FX951.

This is a fairly cheap iron that takes hakko T12 tips. Since the tips does most of the work, you would basically get a quality iron at a cheaper price. There are a couple of different soldering stations like this, and I don’t have any specific information about which ones are good and which ones are not, but the idea of a cheap soldering station that can be used with quality soldering tips with integrated heaters seems like pretty much the best of both worlds to me.

I lucked out and acquired a Hakko 936 when my company moved in 2010.
It had 10 years on it THEN, and it works like a champ to this day.
Your first looks like the typical Radio Shack special from back in the day. Still have in a box in the garage for burning stuff :slight_smile:

I have an FX888D from Hakko and it’s the centerpiece of the workstation. Purchased from Adafruit a few years ago as part of my Mid-life crisis package. Fast heat-up time, very reliable.

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Looks like T15 and T12 tips are actually the same thing, one is just made specifically for the american market, probably to charge more for it…
So that last iron I linked in the top post should take the same tips as my $250 dollar soldering iron, and there seems like there are much cheaper versions available that takes the same tips, here’s one for $20:

That’s a “why not?” kind of price. But I would recommend getting some genuine hakko tips. I got some cheap ones for my iron, and they just aren’t quite as good.

Btw, this is my favorite T15/T12 tip:

I use it for most of my soldering.

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