Soldering Iron Recomendation / Pros and Cons

I’m in the market for a new iron after a move and I thought I might treat myself to a nicer one than I normally would buy, aka ~$50. With that in mind. I have a few already that I would spring for. Hakko, Weller, and Metcal/OKI come to mind. I really like the direct heat, fixed temperature tips that Metcal uses, but I’ve only had some limited experience working with it. I’m more used to using the “traditional” style (ceramic core) with temperature control.

I think I’d mostly work on SMD and some through-hole and I target 0603 for home boards. I’m also debating getting a hot air station since I tend to stick to SMD nowadays.

My main questions are, what would you recommend for around the $100-200 mark. Bonus points if it has a hot air station / extensible to include a hot air station.

Also since I’m here and asking. What are the pros and cons of direct heat tips vs ceramic core tips. Should I be aiming to get one over the other? In addition, what models do have the automatic temperature reduction when they are idle?

Thanks!

There’s a thread I started on the consulting side of the forum in a very similar vein! A lot of recommendations for higher end MetCals and similar. I took a bit less risk and went with the Thermaltronics TMT-2000S line. Apparently the company was started by former metcal employees?

The unit I got is at the top end of the price range you listed and that’s before any tips, each of which is about $10-15 but seem to be widely available. I just bought the device yesterday and it should be arriving tomorrow, so I can give more insights early next week.

Huuuuuummmmmm. Interesting! It looks nice and very, very similar to the MetCals.

The tips are basically MetCal ones from what I can see and the price is the same too. I’d love to hear your thoughts! I don’t mind a bit more on the price, it was just a rough idea anyways. Especially if it gets me something that’s going to last longer.

Out of curiosity, what’s the reasoning behind MetCals? Is it the power delivery of the direct heat that’s nice? outside of general build quality?

the almost instant heat to the tip and the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curie_temperature sensing. as well as good build quality and available schematics for repair work. this makes them popular on ebay since they tend to come off assembly lines/aerospace type places with relatively low use.

also depending on your position/ethics the patents have expired so there are a lot of clone and clone tips available now.

Look forward to hearing Chris’s thoughts! I have the TMT-9000S as well which is super-close to Metcal (we interchange tips/irons even). The TMT-9000S + Metcal MX500P use the higher-frequency 13.56 MHz for the iron (also Hakko FX100).

I also got the GT120 which is Metcal’s adjustable iron - it uses the lower frequency option which I think is like the TMT2000S. I’m not as impressed with the GT120 - however it could also be because it uses a 2-piece tip so the heat isn’t right at the tip. Curious what the performance of a fixed-tip low-frequency unit is (Metcal or Thermatronics).

JBC gives the best of both worlds. Check them out. I have top-of-the-line Metcals and a JBC on the bench. The JBC is much better. At home I have a Hakko FX-951, which I’d say is also more than good enough for most jobs.

One of my buddies switched to JBC and he said similar things. What do you like better about the JBC ? I use mx5000 as a daily driver

The short answer is: it just works better.

One specific example is that I do a lot of very fine RF work, and for me the Metcals seem to be infuriatingly sluggish on rework jobs for small RF PCBs.

In addition, I like the added control I have with the JBC for setting the temperature and profile. Sometimes I want a conservative profile, sometimes I want an aggressive profile.

thanks!, i’ll have to give it a try then, the JPL folks seem to like it too. the temp/profile preset in the metcal i’ve always liked and just keep multiple tip/wands with the smaller handle/large/tweezers setup. they were great for places like hackerspace/defcon/l1 hardware hacking villages since we could preset it

i used to use edsyn since they’re factory is a few miles away from us and they’re super nice people but the metcals were definitely a step up.

So you are talking about the CD-B I take it? I could look for a used one for sure, since the new price is definitely out of my range.

I have home the Weller WD1 + WSP80. I highly recommend it. To my enemies. It works ok, but has a pretty high latency and it seems that those 80W advertised are not enough. Now it collects dust.

I also have the chinese TS100. Way better. It seems that the tip with the embedded heating element is much better.

For the occasionally use is more than enough for me. I would look for a replacement only I would need to be productive…

Go for the best you cannot afford straight off. I made the mistake of compromising and ended up buying more than once. Soldering stations with integrated hot air will be compromised in both areas. It really is worthwhile saving up and buying once.

Weller is a good compromise and is the Iron I use all the time. I also have a Hakko FX951 which is quite versatile, loads of genuine and grey market tips out there with fast heat up time. Beware there are lots of fake Hakko 951s out there. A Hakko FX888D is a more traditional iron but I would not use it for smd work. Inexpensive but clunky

I have a metcal MX 500 which has a LOT of punch but the tips are expensive and not easy to get in the UK. Your mileage may vary. This is a quality station, but probably over the top.

Cheap hot air is just not nice. Yes they work but I would not use them on anything expensive. I mean the sort when the heater and fan is in the wand. Clunky to use and difficult to be precise with. The Quick 861DW is a very nice station which is not stupid money. Cheaper versions are on ebay but are they any good?

I went for Weller just because it had a wide range of tips and the wand was very light and easy to use with a very flexible cord. I would love JBC but too expensive. So a compromise. I have direct heat irons which in theory are better. I would shop around and see if you can get a known brand setup and a good supply of tips and is genuinely ESD safe.

Buying a soldering iron/station is a surprisingly personal thing. Reading specs does not always equate to whether you find an iron good to use. If possible try before you buy. As an example I have an ERSA RDS80 soldering station that is supposed to be good but sits in a box unused as the wand cable is as stiff as a garden hose. It looked great on paper, brought online but is unusable.

Good luck and take your time.

I agree that this is the best value hot air station. For almost anything you will do, it is good enough. I work on extremely small components sometimes, so very good control of temperature and flow are required. 861DW is fine for what I do.

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I really want to check out the JBC to see how they compare. I love the MX500 for RF and stuff like that - I can even desolder SMA connectors from pretty solid ground planes for example. So if the JBC runs better…

At the risk of getting laughed out of the room…

I use an ancient Weller Ungar 921ZX for which I managed to score some fine tips at the last minute before they became unobtainium. It has a slider to adjust the temperature. The numbers may or may not mean anything in real life, I just know which positions work for me for which use-cases. I have no idea what “profiles” and soldering irons have to do with one-another :-). So far I have not found that the soldering iron is my limiting factor in working on 0.5mm pitch SMDs or 0402’s.

I do miss not having a tip that turns off as soon as I put it into the holder and comes back up instantaneously, but that’s pretty standard these days as far as I can tell. A tweezer “tip” also looks very interesting. If someone gifted me a $400+ soldering station I’m sure I’d love it. But if I’m turning a couple $100 bills around my fingers… not sure that’s where I would spend those.

To stay on soldering irons for a minute, I have a propane-powered soldering iron. It can turn any SMD part into a puff of smoke within seconds :-), but it comes in really handy if you want to tin some 10ga stranded copper wire or solder to a thick solid copper bus bar. The above Weller need not apply, dunno how the $400+ irons fare (and whether you’d want to use them on such often messy stuff). I also just ordered a PineCil, which I hope to use when I’m out in the field trying to repair something. My point here is that it’s worth considering whether an extra $200 are best spent on the fanciest soldering station or on multiple tools…

I also use a sub-$100 WEP 858D hot air station. It allows me to do work that no iron allows me to do. Would a >$200 hot air station do better: I sure hope so, but I don’t know how often it would have made a difference. I believe that my skills at putting down the right amount of paste, or being able to tell in which state the solder is are bigger limiting factors for me than the tool…

So overall, I would say that if I were to go shopping for soldering tools with a $400-$500 budget I’d come back with multiple reasonably-priced tools as opposed to a $4xx soldering station… With the caveat that if I were to do soldering for hours daily I would have to consider a higher budget and buy top products!

NB: I do appreciate the high-end discussion here, it lets me know what I’m missing :laughing: :laughing:

Well, it’s awesome to see all of these different comments around the different types of irons and hot air that you all use. I certainly agree with the idea of getting the best I can afford. I don’t solder a ton, so I don’t need the best, but I’d certainly like something nice.

I also agree that the tools are very personal and what works for some won’t work for others!

I think the tough thing through all of this is you won’t know if you like it until it’s on your bench and probably un-returnable. This may point towards getting a used item that holds its value on eBay. I know if I don’t like my iron (now arriving Monday, I found out), mine will likely end up on eBay. Too bad there aren’t show-rooms for soldering equipment!

What JBC model do you have anyway? I’m curious to try the difference in person…

I am a fan of Pace irons. I have a couple TD100 series units. I had them at my last job as well. Pace also has a 200 series. Both are around $200.

I’ve found grip to tip length to be one of the most important things for me. I’m using a JBC T210 handpiece and the distance from fingertip to soldering tip is under an inch. It’s like that stock photo with the “technician” in the purple shirt holding the heater barrel of the soldering iron, but it’s still the handle. Extra fine control of the tip with such a short grip. Since the heating element is right at the tip, it doesn’t need a lot of power to do the job, and it’s comfortable to use like that.