On Soldering Irons

I hang out a bit over at Head-Fi, a headphone/audio forum, particularly in the do-it-yourself (DIY) area. There, a constant stream of people keep asking about soldering irons – which one should I buy, what tips should I use, how hot should it be, and so on. They seem to think that a high-end soldering iron will make them better solderers, but nothing could be further from the truth. All the fancy features in the world won’t make up for inexperience or poor technique, and once you get a little experience and develop good soldering technique, even the crappiest soldering iron is perfectly adequate.

Everything I’ve soldered over the past decade or so – which runs the gamut from vacuum-tube sockets down to tiny surface-mount stuff – has been done with the same soldering iron, a 30W pencil iron from Radio Shack. Temperature control? Nope. Interchangeable tips? Nope. It’s the most basic soldering iron you can get – plug it in, and it eventually gets hot; unplug it, and it cools. The one tip available for it is a kind of broad point, but it doesn’t matter. This is what the tip on mine looks like:

…and keep in mind, I’ve been doing surface-mount stuff with this, and I’m not really all that good at soldering! If I can solder stuff with 0.5mm and smaller lead spacing with an iron that looks like this, I fully expect that most reasonably competent people, with a little practice, should have no trouble soldering just about anything with pretty much any soldering iron ever made – you certainly shouldn’t need a $200 soldering iron for basic through-hole components!

Incidentally, if you’ve got a fuglier soldering iron than mine, post or send a photo! You won’t win anything but the world’s grudging respect, but, still…

Published in: Geekiness, General | on February 23rd, 2009| Comments Off on On Soldering Irons

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