Soldering irons are used by professionals and DIY enthusiasts alike to join two metal objects together. This is done by using a type of metal known as solder that features a lower melting point than the components that are being joined. The soldering iron melts the solder allowing you to join the two pieces together.
If you’re thinking of buying a professional soldering iron for your business or workshop and are unsure which type you should go for, keep reading this comprehensive guide to find out.
What is a soldering iron used for?
A soldering iron can be an invaluable tool to have in your workshop as it can come in handy for a wide range of uses. They are usually lightweight and easy to hold, making them ideal for undertaking precision work.
Some have extra features such as LCD screens and the ability to switch between different temperatures, so they can be customised to suit your requirements. Their uses include:
- Joining wires in a circuit board
- Tin the edges of metal sheets, fill up holes and fuse metal panels when doing auto body repair
- Fixing jewellery pieces together
- Fusing galvanised metal for flashing
- Making stained glass windows and mosaic sculptures
What are the different types of soldering equipment?
There are many different types of soldering irons on the market that are each suited for a different purpose. So if you’re looking for the best soldering iron for circuit boards, for example, you wouldn’t want to choose an iron that’s better suited to automotive work.
A standard soldering iron is a simple tool that preheats to a fixed temperature and is ideal for performing fairly routine maintenance or assembly tasks. Heater soldering irons are considered to be the most universal (and cheapest) type, making them ideal for beginners.
More advanced soldering irons will have an array of more comprehensive features, making them suitable for use in a range of more delicate and refined soldering jobs. These could include hot air and vacuum capabilities, an increased range of tip temperature options, and electrostatic discharge safe (ESD safe) modes.
Soldering stations can usually heat up to a precise temperature in the range of 200-480°C and are ideal in electrical engineering applications. Hot air soldering irons use a temperature in the range of 100-500°C and require more skill than a heater soldering iron because of their weight and precision.
What accessories do I need for my soldering iron?
Regardless of how you plan on using your soldering iron you will need to consider some universal accessories that allow you to complete jobs much more efficiently. For example:
- Tips for soldering irons give you the flexibility to use your iron for a variety of different jobs.
- Hot air nozzles focus hot air on the components.
- Tip cleaning stands make cleaning different nozzle tips a very quick and easy process.
- IC-popper lifting devices make picking up hot components much easier.
- Solder fume extractors improve your workplace safety and comfort.
- Absorber filters remove harmful fumes to stop them from being inhaled.
- Lamps with a magnifying glass increase visibility by zooming in on work and adding light.
What are the different types of soldering iron tips?
These are the hot element at the end of the soldering iron, responsible for transferring thermal energy to the soldered workpiece. Here is a rundown of the most popular shapes:
This is cut off at an angle so that the available surface area is actually larger than the diameter of the tip itself. It’s ideal for drag-soldering and joining small-gauge wires together.
With a broad and flattened shape, this tip shape delivers more heat and deposits solder more evenly across larger surface areas. It’s ideal for joining wires together as well as desoldering applications.
Knife or blade tip
Both of these tips feature flattened tips with a knife blade having a sharper edge down one side, and a blade tip having a thinner and more spreading surface. They are best suited for depositing material into narrow gaps and desoldering.
Shaped almost like a pencil, this tip is rounded with a very pointy end. This enables the tip to deliver concentrated heat across much smaller and more precise areas. It’s best suited for intricate and delicate electronic work.
How do I clean and maintain my soldering tools?
Taking care of your soldering equipment can help to prolong their lifespan and keep them working for a very long period of time. Just like any other tool the best way to do this is by regularly cleaning your iron and its accessories.
Simply take a cloth and wipe off any build-up of debris from previous sessions, making sure to examine the tips for any residual bits of solder and carbon.
If you want a deeper clean, you can always use a solder iron cleaning sponge. This is usually sold in a kit that comes with a tray and either a sponge material of flux and powdered solder, or a spiral ball of dry metal wool to help keep your equipment in tip-top condition.