The QCX Mini: A truly Miniature QRP CW Transceiver

Backpack SDR: A modular QRP SDR Transceiver

Cheap Soldering Iron: Which one?

This article was originally published in January 2017. It has been updated.

In this entry we’ll talk about my search for a cheap soldering iron. I’ve been burning myself with cheap soldering irons since I was about 10 years old and I taught myself various bad ways to solder. I’ve dabbled in electronics here and there since then, always curious but not really knowing what I was doing. I’d like to think I’ve progressed, but that’s debatable!

When I got back into ham radio, I started out using a Weller SP23, which is a 25 watt pencil iron. I even bought some new tips for it and checked out some YouTube videos for help in learning how to properly tin the tip and take care of it. I found This Video to be particularly informative.

The Problem

This was all great until I accidentally left the Weller SP23 plugged in way too long, and it got too hot and the tip oxidized, and so I decided to change the tip. The tip is a screw-in type, and so I had to turn it to remove it. Lefty Loosey. It wouldn’t budge. I finally grabbed pliers and turned and turned. The threads were totally destroyed. Time for a new soldering iron!

The Cheap Soldering Iron Blues

We use Amazon Prime in our household and it saves us a lot of money and time, so I went to Amazon to look around. (As a side note, you can get an Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial by clicking here.)

A new SP23 seemed likely, but I wanted to explore other options too. My first idea was to look into an actual soldering station rather than just a cheap soldering iron. I found several similar to this Stahl variable temperature soldering station, and in retrospect, I wish I’d gone that direction. But, I am as cheap as I am crazy, and so I kept looking.

What did I find on the other end of the spectrum? I found cheap soldering irons all over the place. Generally under $10 or so, like This One.
The problem with your average cheap soldering iron is that the tip is either screw-in (like the aforementioned Weller SP23) or else it screws in, and then has a set screw like the one shown to the right. I’d already dealt with the problems associated with a screw-in tip, and I wanted to go at least one step above such a design.

All soldering stations (as the Stahl shown above) use tips that don’t screw in. Instead they are held on by a nut that screws to the heating element, and so when you have to change the tip, you just take the nut off, remove the tip, put on a new tip, and replace the nut. This is leaps and bounds ahead of a threaded tip design. So I decided to look for a cheap soldering iron that had this sort of tip design.

Finding a Happy Medium

For me, a happy medium was found in a soldering iron with an adjustable temperature and type of tip mentioned previously. I chose an AGPtEK 60W adjustable iron. It comes with multiple tips (including the itty bitty tip used for the small electronics I’m working on) and is a good price. Plus, it has the right kind of tip! After using it for a few hours, the only beef I have is that the adjustment knob can be bumped easily, and then it suddenly gets way too hot. I use one temperature only, and so a bit of tape will solve that. The tips are of high quality and it does what it’s supposed to do. I highly recommend one.

Two More Things

A helping Hand… I don’t know how I ever survived without one of these little guys! The magnifying glass alone makes it worthwhile, and being able to have something hold your work is pretty amazing. They are cheap and will save you so much time even for basic soldering tasks. Couple it with some solder braid for desoldering and some small solder and your kit is complete!

Second, if you don’t have any soldering equipment, check out this All-In-One deal from Plusivo. It’s everything you need and the price is barely more than a soldering iron by itself. I recently bought a slightly lesser version of this kit and it works great! When the little bit of solder it comes with runs out, grab a roll of Kester solder and have enough to last a nice long time.

I hope this article was helpful for you. If you have suggestions for soldering equipment that works well for you, please let us know in the comments below!


    • Michael Black on November 14, 2020 at 8:02 AM
    • Reply

    Apply some sort of anti-seize compound when you screw in a tip. As I recall, there was something specifically for soldering irons. But someone once suggested heatsink compound, which some have around anyway. I tried it, it works.

    What do you mean “the tip oxidized”? Did it start to wear out? Tips do that, which is why better tios are plated. Those take forever to wear out.

    Any new tip , even plated, need “tinning”, a good covering of solder. It ensuures that the solder flows easily, instead of blobbing up. You need to do thus at tge beginning, but then it is a constant thing, though nit as fussy.

    • phil A. moorey on November 15, 2020 at 11:54 AM
    • Reply

    An added source of tools. Ask your dentist for used stainless probes. They are great for opening through holes on circuit boards or even securing surface mount parts. You will find lots of uses.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.