Soldering Iron Differences

A soldering iron and wire.

When it comes to home improvement, DIY projects, or even crafting with your kids, a soldering iron can come in handy. But what are these used for? Soldering irons utilize a material called (appropriately) solder, which is a slim piece of metal that, once under heat, melts and bonds items together once it cools. Solder usually comes in a tube wrapped in a spool, and is typically used to conjoin wires or transistor leads. In order to solder items together, you must use a special tool, called (you guessed it!) a soldering iron.

While these tools are easy to use, there are different types best suited for different projects and purposes. First, it’s important to understand that there are different attributes to consider when it comes to deciding which type of soldering iron is best for your needs. Those attributes include wattage, temperature control, and tip size and shape.

Take a look at three different types of irons explained below, where we delve into their purposes and how they relate to the attributes listed above.

Soldering Pencils

This is probably the simplest type of soldering iron, and it’s certainly the cheapest, ranging in price from $10-$30. These pencils are smaller and slimmer compared to other irons, and they have a fine point with an iron tip. This makes them good for more delicate and detailed soldering work. One important thing to keep in mind with this particular tool is that most variations of these pencils do not offer much temperature control at the tip, making it difficult to complete fine soldering jobs. When too much heat is applied to the soldering material, it can result in the components beginning to peel or becoming damaged. This type of iron is a great choice for projects that deal with small electronics requiring joints to be connected, or other simple DIY projects.

Common Soldering Iron

A soldering iron.

A common soldering iron is more versatile than a soldering pencil. This is a handheld tool made up of a copper bit that is pointed at one end and riveted to a steel rod, fitted to a wooden or plastic handle. The heating element on this type of iron can vary between a gas flame, blow torch or blowlamp, coke fire, or electrical element, depending on the model you use.

These types of irons use a process called “tinning” to prime wires to be melded together amidst projects. This involves coating the wires or connectors with solder so that they may easily be melted together in the next step.

A common soldering iron is available in a range of sizes. The upside of a larger iron is that it will retain heat longer than a smaller one, but it will also be more expensive so before you purchase consider how long you will be using the iron for various projects. One great perk of this type of iron is that the copper end of it, called a soldering bit, comes in a myriad of shapes and sizes, interchangeable in accordance with the project you are completing. This makes the tool more versatile overall and helps you to solder with ease.

Electric Soldering Iron

An electric soldering gun.

For a different but highly convenient variation of these irons, the electric choice is a great one. These are suitable for repetitive work or to be used in a workshop that frequently solders. While at one time these irons had a permanent bit and did not offer much versatility, newer versions have changed that, allowing for replaceable bits of various shapes and sizes that can be used at different voltage levels. This type of iron will maintain a temperature of approximately 630 degrees Fahrenheit—so it really brings the heat!

A variation of this iron is called a soldering gun, which has a pistol grip and resembles an electric drilling machine. This gun is controlled by the user pressing a trigger, which releases a steady flow of solder through a hollow copper bit at the tip. This is a very easy tool to control, making it ideal for fine and precise soldering.

Safety Tips

Now that you’ve learned about the different types of soldering irons out there, it’s important to remember the motto of "safety first" when using these tools. Goggles or glasses should always be worn when operating soldering irons. Never solder an energized live circuit, and never place a hot soldering iron on your work surface as it is a fire hazard. Finally, never use the iron with flammable objects within reach, and always unplug the iron immediately after use.