A soldering iron is a tool commonly used in electronic and electrical applications. It is used in the process of soldering to melt solder to make connections between electronic components in circuits and wires alike.
It is also used for wood burning, jewelry, joining of metal pieces among the most common of applications.
You might be on the lookout for a soldering iron, and are wondering if you need to fork out a lot of money and buy an expensive one.
So, do you need an expensive soldering iron? Buying an expensive soldering iron all depends on your needs and the applications you will be using the soldering iron for. If you rarely use the soldering iron, then there is no sense in buying an expensive one. However, if you use a soldering iron everyday, or use it for complex soldering applications, then buying a more expensive soldering iron is a better option.
A note should be made that just because a soldering iron is expensive, does not mean that it is good. There are soldering irons available that are in the moderate price range, which might be a better option for you than the more expensive ones.
Applications where soldering irons are used
Soldering irons are used for many different applications. You might be more familiar with a soldering iron being used in electronic and electrical applications, but it has other uses too.
The basic use of a soldering iron is to fuse two pieces of metal together using solder.
Welding is also a well known process of joining metal pieces, however, the difference between soldering and welding, is that soldering is used for low temperature applications.
Knowing some of the different applications where the soldering iron is used, will give you a better indication if you need an expensive soldering iron or not.
Electrical and Electronics
This is the most common application a soldering iron is used for.
It is used to create connections between components on a printed circuit board as well as connecting two separate electrical wires. It creates a permanent connection that allows electricity to flow.
Below are some of sub-applications in the electrical and electronics industry:
- Research and Development
- Electronic Production (assembly of Printed Circuit Boards)
- Do It Yourself applications
- Electronic Repair (Mobile Phones, Computers etc)
A soldering iron is used for roofing application to fuse metal for flashing. They are also used to joining separate components of copper in roofs.
Stained glass and Mosaics
You might not associate a soldering iron for this kind of application, but it is commonly used for creating stained glass windows and mosaic sculptures.
Solder is used to fill cavities, smooth rough surfaces and secure joints.
The soldering iron can also be used for installation and repair of electronics in the Automotive industry.
The process of soldering is used to join metal pieces in the Jewelry industry.
The solder used for Jewelry differs from other applications as it is made of silver. So, different soldering tips and temperatures are used for these applications.
Copper plumbing pipes are used in plumbing. While most of the time they are joined using a torch, there are cases where a soldering iron is needed to join these copper tubes in hard to get places.
Buying an expensive soldering iron depends on your needs —
As you have seen from the examples above, the soldering iron can be used in many different applications other than electrical and electronics which we are more familiar with.
So, the question of whether you need an expensive soldering iron really depends on the applications it will be used for, as well as your needs.
Below I will list reasons where you would possibly need to buy an expensive soldering iron.
After that I will list reasons why it is probably best to choose a less expensive option when buying a soldering iron.
Reasons why you would need an expensive soldering iron
The decision to buy an expensive soldering iron really depends on what application it is used for, as well as your needs and wants.
Reason #1 why you would need an expensive soldering iron: Solder Regularly
You might own an electronic company, or work for an electronics company where Electronic products are put together daily.
Electronics companies have a department (Electronics Production) dedicated to the assembly of electronic products.
In this department a soldering iron is used regularly to solder components onto Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) as well as make connections between electrical wires.
Soldering components daily is a cumbersome process, and requires the best soldering irons. This makes the process of soldering much easier and smoother.
I myself have worked in an Electronics Production department where I had to solder a lot of PCBs daily. I have used soldering irons that were on the cheaper side and trust me, it makes the job much harder.
Electricians also use the soldering iron frequently to connect wirings in different applications.
So, if you solder regularly, it is advisable to get a decent soldering iron that is higher in price range.
Reason #2 why you would need an expensive soldering iron: Make the process of soldering easier
Soldering can get quite frustrating at times. While it’s not a hard skill to master, it can be annoying for someone just starting out, as well as someone who has been doing it for years.
I know a good carpenter never blames his tools, but having good tools can help make the process easier. If the soldering iron you are using does not help make the process smoother, trust me you will lose your patience.
Now, I am not saying that an expensive soldering iron is going to solve all your problems and instantly make you a master of soldering, but it will definitely aid you and make the soldering process that much smoother.
Reason #3 why you would need an expensive soldering iron: Interchangeable soldering tips
A Surface Mounted Device (SMD) are components that are much smaller than you standard through hole components.
There are many different techniques to soldering SMDs to a printed circuit board. One of the most common ways is known as Hot-Air Soldering. This uses a heat-gun (which looks like a hair dryer) capable of blowing hot air at temperatures up to 500 degree celsius.
Another method is to use a soldering iron. However, soldering these small devices with a normal sized soldering tip is a nightmare.
Cheaper soldering irons do not have the ability to change their tips to suit the applications. The more expensive soldering irons will allow you to change the tip to be able to solder Surface Mounted Devices.
On the other hand, Roofing and Plumbing applications will require larger soldering tips to join metals with greater surface areas.
Expensive soldering irons have a range of soldering iron tips and the ability to change them.
Reason #4 why you would need an expensive soldering iron: Range of temperatures
If you are lucky, a cheaper soldering iron will have up to 3 different temperatures to work with.
But, you might require a range of temperatures to be able to melt a range of Solder. Below are three commonly used solders with different metal compositions and their melting temperatures.
- Lead (300 degrees celsius)
- Tin-Silver (220 degrees celsius)
- Indium (150 degrees celsius)
A cheaper soldering iron will not be able to provide you with so many different temperatures to melt the solder applicable for the job at hand.
If you are using the soldering iron for applications such as Roofing, Plumbing or Jewelry, where different types of solder compositions are used, the right temperature will need to be supplied to melt that particular solder.
Reason #5 why you would need an expensive soldering iron: Low power idle
The first reason I mentioned why you need an expensive soldering iron is because of how often you solder. Reason number 5 is a compliment to it.
If you use the soldering iron for long periods of time you are no doubt going to use a lot of electricity which will be expensive in itself.
Expensive soldering irons have the ability to lower their power consumption when not being used, which is known as Low Power Idle.
This will tremendously lower the amount of electricity used.
Reason #6 why you would need an expensive soldering iron: Quick heat up
The last reason why you might opt for an expensive soldering iron, is because of their ability to heat up quickly.
The higher range of soldering irons can heat up as quickly as 5-10 seconds.
I use a cheaper soldering iron which takes quite a long time to heat up, which can be a waste of time.
When you would need a less expensive soldering iron
Now you know the reasons that you might consider getting yourself an expensive soldering iron, here are some reasons where getting a cheap soldering iron is totally fine.
DIY – If you are using the soldering iron for Do It Yourself (DIY) purposes at home, a cheaper soldering iron will be just fine.
Also, if you do not use the soldering iron on a regular basis, there is no real need for an expensive soldering iron as you do not need all the bells and whistles.
If electronics is one of your hobbies, you can still get away with using a less expensive soldering iron. Electronics is one of my hobbies, and while I used a soldering moderately, I got away with using a soldering iron on the less expensive side.
Temperature – If you do not need a range of temperatures, there is no need to fork out a lot of cash for an expensive soldering iron. A cheap one will do just fine.
Soldering tip – The purpose you are using the soldering iron for might not require different types of soldering iron.
What’s the price difference between a cheap and expensive soldering iron
Prices for soldering irons will vary depending on what company is selling them, as well as where you live.
But, there is a general price range for cheaper soldering irons compared to the more expensive ones.
The cheaper soldering irons price range is around $16 – $100.
Expensive soldering irons range in price from $119 – $430.
Advantages of choosing an expensive soldering iron
As you know by now, having an expensive soldering iron depends on the application it is being used for. But, it does have its advantages compared to cheaper soldering irons.
Below are some of the advantages:
- Tips last longer
- Interchangeable Tips
- Better heat distribution at the tip (consistent temperature all over)
- Range of Temperature control
- Makes the process of soldering easier
- Fast heat up time
- Low power idle
If you opt to choose an expensive soldering iron here’s what to look for
If you choose to spend a bit more money and get yourself an expensive soldering iron, here is what to look for when you are buying one.
Wattage – All soldering irons come with a wattage rating. You should pick one that has a wattage rating higher than 30 watts. Lower wattage ratings take longer time to heat up.
Temperature control – Make sure it has a range of temperatures. As we saw earlier, different solder compositions have different melting points, so having a range of temperatures allows us to use the soldering iron for different jobs.
Tip compatibility – Check to ensure the soldering iron has good tip compatibility. What I mean by this is, that the soldering iron should be compatible with a variety of tips which are suited for different applications. Also, make sure the tips associated with your soldering iron are not overly priced.
Holding stand – The last thing you want to do is place the soldering iron on your workbench and burn the whole place down. The soldering should come with a holding stand to place the soldering iron when not in use.
So, when it comes to choosing an expensive soldering iron or a cheaper one, it all depends on how often you are going to use it, as well as the complexity of the work you will be undertaking with it
If you are using it on an irregular basis, for odd jobs and repairs around your home a cheap soldering iron will be just fine.
But, if you use it consistently for jobs that are tedious, require a range of temperatures, need good heat distribution, etc, it is advisable to get yourself a soldering iron that is priced a bit more.