Soldering is one of, if not the most important maker skill and using the best soldering iron is the smart way to produce your best work. There is no facet of technology that the heat of a soldering iron has not touched. The best GPUs, CPUs and even 3D printers have components soldered to printed circuit boards (PCBs). Whether you are seasoned pro, or new to soldering, you need the right iron for the task at hand, be it robotics, data science projects or arcade cabinets. But what is the best soldering iron?
Just like an artist has their favorite brush, pencil etc, makers have their favorite type of soldering iron. Some prefer a full station with precise temperature control, hot-air rework and a built-in stand, some prefer a smart soldering iron, others just want a cheap soldering iron that gets the job done. There are also times when a soldering gun is required for large joints. We’ve tested more than a dozen different soldering irons, measuring both their ease-of-use and the time it takes for them to get to an acceptable working temperature. Below, we’ve listed the best soldering irons, along with a guide to help you choose the right kind of your needs.
If you’ve never soldered before, we recommend getting started by soldering the pins onto a simple microcontroller. See our article on how to solder pins to the Raspberry Pi Pico, a $4 board. If you can find some old circuit boards then you have a ready supply of practice boards and a great way to harvest spare parts using a soldering iron and hot air rework station. Just remember to use a little flux to ease the process.
The Best Soldering Irons
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$26 isn’t a lot of money in the world of best soldering irons. It can buy you a cheap kit, loaded with accessories to sweeten the deal. Or it can buy you what is probably the most useful soldering iron a maker could have. We loved the Pinceil v2 so much we gave it an Innovation Award.
Pinecil V2, is a refinement of V1, and brings a fully temperature controlled soldering station into the palm of your hand. No really! Don’t let its size fool you. This is a capable iron that can be used for delicate soldering tasks, or for larger jobs such as speaker cables and other connections with a large thermal mass. Just change the tip (it is compatible with TS-100, TS-101 tips) and you can solder connections both small and large.
Pinecil V2 is quick to heat up. Using the included conical tip and connected to a 20V USB-C power source, Pinecil went from 35 degrees Celsius to 350 degrees Celsius in 20 seconds. This is great for those of us that need to solder something quickly.
The “smart” aspect of Pinecil v2 is the OS. Yes we have an OS on a soldering iron, and with it we can tweak the iron to our needs. Setting a custom temperature profile for specific tasks is just a few clicks away. Customizing the UI for left or right handed users, setting sleep times to keep the iron hot while waiting for the user, then reacting to movement and ramping the iron to your preferred working temperature.
The downside of Pinecil v2 is that it doesn’t come with a stand. The overall shape of the iron means that it does not roll around your bench. If you need a stand, they can be purchased for just a few more dollars.
Given the size of Pinecil v2 it is the ideal soldering iron for younger or inexperienced makers. It feels more like a pencil than a soldering iron and the quick heat up and cooldown times mean there is less chance of injury. That said, always supervise learners when using any new tool.
Hakko are the Rolls-Royce of the best soldering irons. Its color-scheme may look a little Fisher-Price, but this soldering iron is a professional piece of kit. The Hakko FX-888D is a soldering station that offers excellent thermal performance, with a soldering iron that can reach 480 degrees Celsius. Tips can be easily sourced and changed, enabling precision or heavy duty soldering.
The soldering station control unit has only two buttons but from there we can change the temperature and create presets for quickly moving from one type of job to another. The soldering iron has a great feel, with a non-slip coating and a flexible silicone cord to reduce accidental melting.
We soldered up a Velleman kit (PIC experiment board K8048) and the Hakko worked rather well. The default 350 degrees Celsius felt a little too low for the rather thick PCB so we upped the temperature to 400 and the lead solder flowed perfectly.
This is a pro level soldering station and with that it commands a pro level price. If you are going to solder a lot, or for professional use then this should be on your wish list.
The TS101 continues the greatness of its progenitor, the TS100 but provides a greater choice of power supply options. The iron is precise, quick to heat and easy to use. Compatibility with TS100 soldering tips is a great feature, and opens up a world of choice.
In our review we loved how the TS101 felt in the hand, the button placement is perfect and the tip compatibility with the plethora of Pinecil and TS100 tips means that it caters to every user. Younger or inexperienced makers will find the TS101 slightly larger than say Pinecil v2, but the button placement and balance make this an ideal alternative for makers learning to solder.
The $50 price tag is double that of Pinecil V2 and there isn’t much difference between them. They both support the same power options and soldering iron tips. What does separate them is comfort. If we were soldering all-day long, then the TS101 would be our choice.
A cheap soldering iron kit is how many of us start our soldering journey. It is how I started way back in the 1980s. Sometimes a cheap kit will put us off, other times it offers a low cost point of entry for a new skill. The Tabinger solder iron kit is low cost, under $20 and comes with plenty of extras. This is normally a warning on the quality, in this case the iron is rather good despite our first impression.
In the kit we get lead free solder, spare tips and a folding stand (which works but isn’t the nicest). Sure all of these aren’t the best quality, but if we are starting out they will do a good job until we move onwards.
The iron is light in the hand and features a dial to set your temperature. Tips can be easily changed, and the kit comes with a selection of precision and chunky tips. Changing a tip involves unscrewing the collar and sliding the cold tip off, reversing the process to secure your choice in place.
Tabinger’s soldering iron melts solder well; just increase the temperature on the dial to be a little over your ideal choice. We normally solder at 350 degrees Celsius, but the solder was a little tacky with this iron, so we went to 400 and all was well. We did notice that the tip became “scorched” rather quickly. In our experience cheaper soldering irons can burn out quite quickly, so bear that in mind. Replacements can be easily sourced from Amazon or Aliexpress.
The Tabinger 60W Soldering Iron is a decent iron to get you started. The low cost makes it ideal for dipping your toe into soldering.
The best soldering station with a hot air rework is a dream purchase for most makers. You can buy brand names for hundreds of dollars, but the Yihua 995D+ offers brand name performance for a fraction of the price.
We’ll start with the soldering iron: a rather generic iron which uses the collar system to retain a tip over a heating element. In this case being generic is a good thing. Replacement tips can be easily sourced (even Haako tips will work). The iron feels good in the hand and the silicone cable never gets in the way thanks to its own weight keeping it fixed to the bench.
The hot air gun also feels good in the hand and has a similar cable. Controlling the iron and hot air is a little tricky at first, requiring the correct controls to be selected (on the left are the hot air controls, on the right the soldering iron) before using the central knob to set the temperature and air flow.
The tall, thin design keeps your bench space clear – the included soldering iron stand takes a little more space but that’s ok. The included stand is solidly built, doesn’t slip around the bench and has the choice of brass or sponge to clean the tip. The Yihua 995D+ is an excellent soldering station for beginners and pros alike. It gets the job done, looks good and keeps more cash in your pocket.
Weller is a known brand in the world of soldering irons. They produce good quality irons and this 140W soldering gun represents another quality product.
Soldering guns come in many forms, some feed solder to the tip, others, like this require us to manually feed the solder with a spare hand. The Weller 140W soldering gun is a beast, and lays down a surprising amount of heat in six seconds. From ambient to 480 degrees Celsius in six seconds, you can solder heavy, big joints. If you need to solder some speaker cables, large power connections on a robot or vehicle, then this gun will make the job so much easier.
Slightly pressing the trigger unleashes 140W of power to the tip of the iron. Talking of tips, it comes with a selection for precise and blunt tips for different soldering scenarios. This isn’t a general purpose soldering iron, but when you need raw power, for a large surface area, then this will do the job just fine.
Fnirsi’s HS-01 smart soldering iron is a challenger for Pinecil’s crown. It shares the same price-point, around $30 and it uses USB C power. But the HS-01 is a much better travel companion.
First of all is the cap. Instead of a stand we get a cap which firmly covers the hot tip of the soldering iron. Sure the cap will get hot if you put it on right after soldering, but the iron cools down quick, and heats up even quicker! The screw collet, designed to hold the tip in place, means that we do not need a screwdriver to replace tips, just wait for the iron to cool and you can swap the tip for a compatible replacement. TS100 / TS101 / Pinecil tip compatibility would be the ideal, but a set of Hs-01 compatible tips is around $15.
Soldering with the HS-01 is a joy. The included tip is a good all-rounder and for our review it performed great on solder joints big and small. For $30, if the Pinecil V2 is out of stock, or you need a soldering iron for your traveling maker kit, buy this instead!
Read: Fnirsi HS-01 Review
Picking The Best Soldering Iron For You
Finding the best soldering iron for you is important. You need to be comfortable with the soldering iron in order to concentrate on the task at hand. But which type of soldering iron is for you?
- Basic Soldering irons: If you are just trying your hand with soldering then perhaps an advanced soldering setup is not for you, yet. A simple soldering iron heats up to a set temperature, giving you the confidence to start soldering without having to tweak the settings.
- Smart Soldering Irons: If space is at a premium, but you need a temperature controlled soldering station, then smart soldering irons are for you. Typically powered using USB C or DC power supplies, these irons provide precise temperature control without dominating the bench.
- Soldering Station: If you need a soldering iron with precise temperature control, along with the best thermal balance, then a soldering station is for you. Stations have an external control unit which contains the power circuitry necessary to deliver precise thermal output. The soldering iron is typically housed in a separate stand giving the user flexibility on the bench.
- Hot Air Soldering Station: These stations offer a temperature controlled soldering iron, along with a hot air gun that is used for surface mount soldering, reflowing circuits and desoldering components from boards.
- Soldering Gun: A soldering gun is a brute force tool, used for larger solder joints. If you are soldering heavy duty cables, speakers or terminals, then a soldering gun has the power you need. For finer, detailed work they are clumsy and awkward, so you will still probably want a soldering iron to go with your gun.
Other Soldering Irons We Tested
How did this iron not make the list? It looks great, feels great and it has a spring loaded tip ejection system. What let it down was the price, $95 is a lot for an iron. It can put down heat, but you need to change the included precision tip for something more general purpose in order to get it into a board. We love the iron’s user interface and it works really well, but so does Pinecil V2, which retails for a third of the price.
Weller WLSK3023G Soldering Station
Coming from the Weller pedigree we had high hopes for this soldering station. Alas it wasn’t meant to be. The LED light ring is annoying, the iron felt imprecise, and the hot tip of the iron pointing out from the stand felt counter-intuitive. It isn’t a bad iron, but compared to others, it just wasn’t worth the $70 asking price.
YIHUA 938BD+ Soldering Station
It was a tough call between the 938BD+ and the 995D+. The 938BD+ has a wider footprint, but the user interface felt a little less cumbersome. The call was tough, and if the 938BD+ is offered at a reduced price to the 995D+, then jump on it.
Preciva 8786D Hot Air Gun Rework Station
It may look a little dated, but this is a solid, low-cost soldering station. So why didn’t it make the list? The hot air rework gun felt weak, we had to ramp the temperature to the max in order to melt the solder on a heavy joint. The soldering iron felt fine, much like the Yihua stations (Preciva and Yihua are one and the same) but it lacked a silicone cord, instead using PVC. PVC cords are fine, but they are prone to creeping along your bench, getting in the way.
New Acalox Soldering Gun
This gun was the antithesis of the Weller. It took a while to heat up and required solder to be fed via a ratchet system, through the gun. It felt cheap, and the easily removable plastic cover exposed mains voltage connections. If you need a soldering gun, spend the extra money and get the Weller. This cheaper version is not safe for general use.
How We Test The Best Soldering Irons
Each soldering iron was tested with a Velleman PCB kit, chosen for its mixture of small through-hole components and large soldering joints (mechanical joints to anchor components to the board). We used the same solder, lead based 60 / 40 with tin and rosin flux core across all tests, to ensure that our results were consistent.
From Cold to Hot: Getting to A Working Temperature
For each soldering iron / station / gun we tested how long it would take to get to a working temperature from cold. What is a working temperature? Well that is a personal choice. Some prefer to solder at 350 degrees Celsius, others much higher. Rather than set a temperature target, we chose to pick the moment where solder instantly melts on the tip of the iron. In the case of the hot air rework stations we chose the moment that a heavy solder joint would fully melt. All times are measured in seconds, and a lower time is better.
|Name||Type||Time (Seconds)||Hot Air Time (Seconds)|
|Tabiger 60W||Basic Iron||42|
|Antex XS25||Basic Iron||116|
|YIHUA 995D+||Hot Air Soldering Station||24||92|
|Preciva 8786D||Hot Air Soldering Station||43||92|
|YIHUA 938BD+||Hot Air Soldering Station||33||112|
|Pinecil v2||Smart Soldering Iron||10|
|Miniware TS100||Smart Soldering Iron||15|
|Miniware TS80P||Smart Soldering Iron||15|
|Weller 9400PKS 120V||Soldering Gun||6|
|New Acalox Soldering Gun||Soldering Gun||26|
|Hakko FX888D||Soldering Station||25|
|Weller WLSK3023G||Soldering Station||76||Row 11 – Cell 3|
Basic Soldering Iron Times
These basic irons are there for “plug and play” soldering and the Tabiger 60W iron gets to a solder melting temperature much quicker (42 seconds) than the venerable Antex XS25 (116 seconds). The Tabiger has basic temperature control, and almost three times the power of the Antex iron. That said, Antex is a respected brand and offers superb performance.
Hot Air Rework Station Times
These stations all feature a soldering iron and a hot air gun. The irons all heated up fast with the Yihua 995D taking first place in 24 seconds. The Yihua 938BD+ claimed second place at 33 seconds. For hot air, the 938BD+ was way slower than the others, 112 seconds versus a joint 92 seconds for the 995D and Preciva 8786D.
Smart Soldering Iron Times
Smart soldering irons are the F1 cars of the soldering world. They get hot, fast! Pinecil v2 took first place with a time of 10 seconds, joint second were Miniware’s TS100 and TS80P. Any of these smart soldering irons would be a great addition to a maker’s toolbox. But for under $30, Pinecil v2 is hard to resist.
Soldering Gun Times
If you absolutely have to solder large solder joints, then a soldering gun is for you. These things get hot, and have the thermal mass to dump solder onto the target. Weller’s soldering gun is impressive. It heats up within six seconds, and can sustain large solder joints for a considerable amount of time. The Acalox soldering gun is slow to heat up (26 seconds) and it feels rather cheaply made. Avoid it and pay the extra for Weller.
Soldering Station Times
Weller may have won the soldering gun round, but it loses out to Hakko’s FX888D. Heating up in 25 seconds, versus Weller’s 76 seconds, the Hakko FX888D is a sublime soldering experience, but we expect that given its price. If you are going to be soldering professionally it is always best to have the right tool for the job (as Star Trek’s Scotty can attest.)
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