Tips on Buying Soldering Irons

by Joe Murray

    Soldering tools can be used for a wide variety of tasks from construction to electronics to making jewelry and even woodworking. Any soldering tool can be dangerous in untrained hands. Make sure you learn the proper operating procedures before using one. A soldering iron or gun can be used to create a permanent connection between two copper or lead pipes or to affix an integrated circuit to a printed circuit board. The same soldering tool cannot be used for both these jobs, however. The first assessment you must make when deciding on which soldering tool to select is deciding on the task it is intended to perform.

    Building and Construction

    Although the welding torch is most often used to connect two or more objects together at a construction site, soldering can also come into play, especially when quick fixes or on-the-fly mending needs to be done. The type of soldering tool used in these cases is usually a gas-operated gun or gas cylinder which produces very high temperatures at the tip or "bit" and uses acid core solder designed to connect large metal pieces such as copper piping or sheet metal slabs. You can generally find these soldering tools at most major hardware stores along with the acid core solder required to work with them.

    Soldering Pens

    Working with electronic circuit boards (PCBs) demands a good deal more precision than joining a couple of pieces of sheet metal. Soldering tools used in this type of work come in three categories: the pen, the gun and the work station, each having increased degrees of temperature control. The soldering pen or iron is the most basic of the three, having a fixed temperature level designated by its wattage. Soldering pens are usually about 15 to 40 watts, reach temperatures of 700 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, often come with a fixed non-replaceable bit and are relatively inexpensive. They can be used for PCB work; those with 30-to-40 watts can also solder heavier components and connect 16- to 18-gauge wires used with household appliances.

    Soldering Guns

    Multiple use soldering tools can come in the shape of a gun. These tools use a larger iron wrapped copper bit that creates heat by literally using a controlled short circuit of 110VAC. Most of these soldering guns have a dual or three way wattage control with a low of 40 watts for PCB work and up to 300 or 400 watts for heavier electric and hobbyist applications. Guns can reach temperatures of well over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, have easily replaceable tips and selling for three to four times the cost of the pen variety of soldering tool.

    The Work Station

    Related in some respects to the soldering pen, the work station consists of a variable power supply with an attached thin pencil-shaped soldering tool. Work stations often come with several different detachable soldering tools as well as a variety of different bits intended for very specific tasks. Work stations are designed for precision work with PCBs, jewelry, home appliances and even woodwork. They can use the acid core solder used in construction, although they are rarely called upon to do so, as well as the resin core solder used in all electronic components. Work stations can vary the tip temperature from 10 to over a thousand degrees Fahrenheit. They commonly cost fifty to one hundred times that of the soldering pen units.

    About the Author

    Joe Murray San Francisco, CA, US Joe Murray began writing professionally in 1980. As a technical writer, he authored numerous white papers, journals and articles for publications and websites for Hewlett Packard and Intel. Since retiring, Murray has written several home-exchange travel articles for KnowYourTrade.com and CHECtravel, among other outlets. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Santa Clara University. Murray has made more than 50 vacation home exchanges worldwide.

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