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Soldering Irons

Hey everyone, I've been flying RC for around 5 years. I do plenty of soldering, not only for myself but also for my friends in college (I'm an engineering student). I have been using a soldering iron we had laying around the house for these several years. That iron has worked, but the tip is not in good shape, in fact it's quite loose and wiggles back and forth when I solder. It also takes about two minutes to heat up. I am looking to get a new soldering iron that is of higher quality, as well as a small assorment of tips (at least a standard size tip and a fine tip). I don't want to fuss around with a soldering station, if I really want one eventually I'll just build my own. My budget is around $20-30 USD. Any suggestions? Thanks!


Hostage Taker of Quads
If you want to up your soldering game, hands down I recommend getting a thermally controlled soldering iron. Not power controlled -- the temperature will drift wildly as you're flowing the solder into the joints, making your job harder.

Getting a well designed temperature controlled iron with a decent wattage means the iron can be set much closer to the solder's melting point, and still effectively flow the solder because the power is cranked up while you need it, and cranked back when you don't. This reduces the risk of overheating the workpiece while keeping the working time down . . . and it also increases the life of the tip since it isn't baking away at full power any time it's on.

There are plenty of good options for thermally controlled irons, but on the inexpensive side, I recommend this one:


Cheap, well made clone of an old, well designed Hakko iron. Takes cheap and easy to find Hakko tips (buy a set, they do wear out). While the interface (a dial to set the temp and a light to tell you when the iron is struggling to heat up) is simple, it's all you really need for an iron.

Alternitively you can go with this version of the same clone:


Either are good irons, but I expect Circuit Specialists did a better job putting theirs together.
I would try 60/40 rosin core solder.
if you can find a radio shack nearby i think it costs about 6$ and works great, do not buy it if you are concerned about lead (for health reasons, pets,kids etc..)
hope I could help


Master Tinkerer
$20-$30 is way too low for any decent iron. You can find one, but you'll have to remember to read the reviews, as I see too many of these irons not actually having true temperature control, or just having terrible thermal capacity.

I use the Hakko FX-888D. It sells for $99, which I understand is above your budget, but only after buying it did I understand why it's 101% worth it. First of all, you can swap the tips for any of 10 or so compatibles. The chisel it ships with is really good for almost everything, and most people will never buy a secondary shape. The power of this iron is good enough for everything i've tried, even massive 10awg cabling on super-dense PCBs with giant ground planes.

The iron controller (they are separate) has a digital display, and a really well-tuned power correction. That means that if you set it to 450 C to do some high-power work, the iron tip stays at 450 exactly, no matter what you touch it to. As Dan mentioned, this is the 1st must-have in any iron. Perhaps followed by swapable tips or a high thermal mass.
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I have been using 60/40 rosin, absolutely love it, and I'd never touch any solder without lead, it just doesn't work well (used it once). Was just wondering if there was a better brand or anything.

As far as spending more on the iron, I really can't. I'm a college student that has to pay for food, car, RC supplies, housing, etc... on savings and possibly a part time job. I've gotten by just fine (doing some pretty nice soldering jobs I might add) with my terrible iron. I think the iron that Crafty Dan suggested will be a huge upgrade for me, and keep me satisfied for at least 5 more years. Thank you for the suggestion though!


Fly Angry
This is what I use and its perfect for fine work yet still has plenty of umph for heavy gauge power cables and connectors. 60/40 rosin core is a must.. its pretty much industry standard for REAL electronics manufacturing. None of the crap that never melts on Chinese knock off electronics and cut rate equipment.electronics. Its not a Weller industrial level iron but made well enough for personal use.



Obsession, not hobby
FWIW: Investing in a good soldering iron "station" will pay for itself in the long run. Temp control will help with being able to solder large gauge battery wire and connectors yet still work with tiny pads, like on a small flight controller, without lifting the pad or measling or delaminating the board. Look for "rapid temperature recovery" and read as many reviews as you can.
I've been really happy with this iron in my field repair kit:

I got it from a Home Depot for like $20 when I needed to make a quick repair once. It's powered by a 9v 2a power supply, so I made an adapter to run it off a 2S battery. It works great! Heats up in like 30 seconds, and draws a little under 1.5a, so it should run a long time off a decent sized battery. It is cheaply made, and doesn't handle high gauge wire great, but I've found it to be invaluable. It has a replaceable tip, bit I can't find anywhere that stocks them.
Ended up going with the Circuit Specialists one that Craftydan suggested. Picking it up from the campus mailbox today, and I'll let you all know how it turned out. Thanks again Craftydan and everyone else that replied!


Staff member
Another option might be to look for DIY stations. I just got a "Maiskolben" (which is I a word play between the German "Lötkolben" (soldering iron) and "Maiskolben" (corn on the cob) I think). It was featured in Germans Make magazine and is open source. It uses active Weller tips (fast heating, temperature measurement in the tip, etc.) that can easily be changed and have a really good reputation too.

It can also be powered with a 3S LiPo which (besides the open source concept) is one of the main reasons I got it in addition to my other semi-professional station. Note how it shows each LiPo cell in this video:

The only problem is if you get a kit, you won't be able to build it, because you don't have the tool to do so ;).


Active member
I know I TRIED to make do with a cheap soldering iron from Harbor Freight. I was able to use it exactly twice before it stopped working. I got lucky and Fry's Electronics had a sale on the Hakko FX-888D ($70, instead of $100) and I've had success ever since. I won't say it's the end all be all soldering solution, but it works pretty darned good for soldering XT-60 connectors and bullet connectors on ESCs!!!


Illegal Squid Fighting?
Balu, would you be willing to include a link for those of us (me) who are too lazy to look it up? Thanks! also makes the thread more definitive.