A soldering iron is a hand tool for performing soldering jobs. It provides heat that melts solder to enable it to flow into the joint between two parts. It is composed of an insulated handle and heated metal tip. The iron generates an electric current through battery cables or an electrical cord. The current then passes through a resistive heating element. Cordless soldering irons are heated by a process of gas combustion in a small tank, using a catalytic heater instead of a flame. (In the past, soldering irons relied on a copper element that was heated by a flame.)
Soldering irons are commonly used in installation, repair, and electronics assembly. Other soldering methods are used in high-volume production. Soldering irons may also be used in pyrography, a process of burning designs into wood, and in plastic welding.
There are three types of soldering tools. Understanding each type will help you purchase the best one to fit your needs:
- Soldering irons – Regular soldering irons come in either high or low wattage versions. They also come with adjustable temperature settings that can deliver desired amounts of heat, depending on the specific soldering job. Soldering irons are typically used for small soldering jobs. In the U.S., the irons are designed to run at 110 volts of electricity, though there are 12 or 24-volt versions available, too. Cheaper soldering irons do not have temperature settings. Some soldering irons are powered by butane gas, instead of electricity.
- Soldering guns – These guns look a lot like hand drills, with a tip that is made of looped wire. They cool down relatively quickly after use. The tip is made of tin and is activated by engaging the trigger. The tips need to be replaced frequently. Soldering guns are effective for repairs that need continuous heat application, such as automotive repairs.
- Soldering torches – Torches use propylene or acetylene gas for power. Soldering torches provide higher amounts of heat and are convenient for jobs that require melting precious metals such as gold, silver, and copper. They deliver very high temperatures, making them ideal for jewelry and other metal working. Because of their high temperatures, torches must be used in flame-resistant areas. Operators must wear protective gear.
The type of soldering tool you purchase depends on the kind of work you will be performing. Each tool is suited for specific jobs and can be an invaluable tool to have on hand.