My first soldering iron was the kind that our camp counselor, Dave Hrynkiw, recommends we never use. You know the kind, it comes in a $10 kit and barely works. The reality is, a lot of people find one on these irons in the bottom of their toolbox and start their soldering careers with it. Big mistake.
I ended up with a few burnt boards, traces that lifted, and an overall sour taste for soldering. It’s a shame that I was so frustrated, because soldering really isn’t difficult. You just need the proper tools.
Fast forward about a year later. I picked up a nice mid-priced Weller iron. Unfortunately I can’t remember the model, but it had selectable heat and it worked great. I remember ordering a MiniPOV kit from ladyada. I was able to solder it together fairly easily. In fact, I was successful in making lots of kits, even a couple of CNC controller boards, which I still use today. Now that I look back on it, it wasn’t my improved technique so much as having a decent iron.
About a year ago, I was hanging out at adafruit in NYC and asked Limor about her soldering iron recommendations. Her immediate answer was “Buy a Metcal.” I searched eBay and found a used one for about $120. It came with two tips and a nice heavy stand. I turned it on, and in about five seconds it was up to full heat. I pulled out some scrap parts and did a little test-soldering. Limor was right, this iron was amazing!
The pen has a really nice feel, it’s lightweight, and the handle never seems to get hot. The solder melted perfectly, and everything went together so easily. I’ve been happily soldering with it ever since.
Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting everyone go out and drop $120 on a soldering iron, it just isn’t necessary. However, do take Dave’s advice and don’t bother with a super-cheap one. Spend $25 and save yourself a lot of misery.
What kind of soldering iron do you use? Let us know in the comments, it will serve as a useful resource for everyone. Thanks!