Hammers and screwdrivers aren’t enough. If you want to build electronics, fix up an instrument, or restore some retro hardware, then you’re gonna need a soldering iron. Here are some of our favorites.
Update, 10/5/21: Checked content for accuracy.
Before Buying a Soldering Iron
A soldering iron is a handheld tool that heats up to skin-searing temperatures and creates secure connections between pieces of metal. It’s not the most complicated tool on earth, but it’s a lot more complicated than a hammer.
So don’t buy the first soldering iron that comes your way, even if it’s sold at a discount or packaged with a bunch of (potentially low-quality) accessories. Instead, look at the key features of soldering irons and think of how these features line up with your needs (and your budget).
- Wattage: Wattage doesn’t dictate temperature; it simply indicates how quickly your soldering iron heats up. This is important because your soldering iron cools down every time you solder a joint, but it’s not the most important thing about an iron. All of the soldering irons in this article are at least 40 watts, which is more than enough to maintain a stable temperature (unless you’re dangerously fast).
- Soldering stations: Soldering stations allow you to regulate your iron’s temperature. They also give you a safe place to put your hot iron, your sponge, and some other accessories. You can survive without a soldering station, but we suggest buying one anyway. They make soldering an easier, safer experience.
- Replaceable tips: Soldering tips wear down and oxidize over time. All of the soldering irons listed in this article have replaceable tips, but only a few of them are packaged with additional tips.
- Temperature control: While temperature controls aren’t necessary for most soldering jobs, they’re nice to have around. They’re useful for lead-free soldering jobs (which require high temperatures) or heat-sensitive jobs (which require low temperatures).
- The investment: Soldering irons are long-term investments. They can last for a few decades if they’re taken care of properly. So if you think you’ll want expensive features like temperature controls in the future, then it might be smarter to buy an expensive soldering iron right now. Of course, take into account other stuff that you might need to buy, like soldering wire, capacitors, and other electronic fodder.
Now that you know what you’re looking for in a soldering iron, it’s time to get right into it. Here are the best soldering irons for beginners, hobbyists, and professionals.
Best Overall: X-Tronic 3020 60-Watt Soldering Station
The X-Tronic 3020 is a fairly priced, fully-featured soldering station that’s perfect for any skill level. It sports an ergonomic form factor, temperature controls, and holders for your soldering iron, wire, sponge, and tip cleaner. It also has a handy 10-minute sleep mode (which cools down the iron if it’s in its stand for 10 minutes), and it works at 60 watts for consistent, fast performance.
Keep in mind that this is a big soldering station. It might not be the most convenient product for someone who’s working in a small space, or for someone who only needs to use a soldering iron a few times a year.
Best Budget: Weller WLC100 40-Watt Soldering Station
If you’re looking for a perfect balance between price and quality, then consider buying the Weller WLC100 soldering station. It’s a 40-watt soldering kit with adjustable wattage, a sponge holder, and a soldering iron holder.
Sadly, this iron doesn’t feature temperature controls, but that’s only a problem for temperature-sensitive components. And while 40 watts might not seem like a lot, it’s more than enough to maintain stable temperatures. (That said, pros who work quickly might be interested in the 80-watt version of this iron.)
Best without a Power Station: Vastar 60-Watt Soldering Kit
Again, we suggest using a soldering iron with a soldering station. But if you’re set on saving as much money as possible, you can get away with using the Vastar soldering kit. It’s a pretty comprehensive kit that comes with a 60-watt temperature-adjustable soldering iron, a desoldering pump, five soldering tips, wire, a pair of tweezers, and a mountable soldering stand, all in an inexpensive package.
Best Premium Pick: Weller WE1010NA 70-Watt Soldering Station
If you’re looking for a high-quality, versatile, and stylish soldering iron, then we suggest buying the Weller WE101NA soldering station. It’s a small and attractive 70-watt soldering station with straightforward temperature controls (including a temperature lock), a standby mode, and three customizable presets. And of course, it comes with a soldering iron and sponge holder.
Best Cordless Option: Weller P2KC Butane Soldering Iron
Butane soldering irons are portable, and they’re usually used to fix up cars or install copper plumbing. If you need an iron you can take on the go, then we suggest using the Weller P2KC butane soldering iron. It comes in a great little kit with a sponge and a stand, it’s super easy to refill, and its interchangeable tips are easy to maintain and replace.
By the way, we wouldn’t suggest using a butane soldering iron for desktop electronics work. They’re made specifically for fieldwork, and they can be difficult to use (when compared to electric soldering irons).