Soldering Iron: A Beginner’s Guide to History, Types, and Uses

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  August 23, 2022
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A soldering iron is a hand tool used in soldering. It supplies heat to melt solder so that it can flow into the joint between two workpieces. It’s composed of a heated metal tip and an insulated handle.

Heating is often achieved electrically, by passing an electric current (supplied through an electrical cord or battery cables) through a resistive heating element.

What is a soldering iron

Getting to Know Your Soldering Iron: A Comprehensive Guide

A soldering iron is a tool used to join two or more metal components together by heating them to a temperature that allows the solder to flow and attach the pieces. It is a basic tool that is essential for anyone learning how to work with electronics or electrical components. Soldering involves the use of a small piece of metal, called a solder, which is melted and applied to the joint to create a strong bond.

The Soldering Process

The soldering process involves a number of steps that must be carefully followed in order to achieve a good result. Some of the key steps include:

  • Cleaning the materials: It is important to clean the materials being soldered to remove any dirt, grease, or other contaminants that could interfere with the soldering process.
  • Heating the tip: The tip of the soldering iron must be heated to the correct temperature before it can be used. This depends on the type of material being soldered and the type of solder being used.
  • Applying the solder: The solder should be applied to the joint carefully and evenly, making sure to avoid applying too much or too little.
  • Cooling and cleaning: After the solder has been applied, it is important to allow it to cool and then clean up any excess solder that may be left behind.

Proper Maintenance and Safety

To ensure that your soldering iron continues to function effectively and safely, it is important to follow some basic maintenance and safety guidelines. Some of the key things to keep in mind include:

  • Always check the soldering iron before use to make sure that it is in good working order.
  • Use the correct power supply for your soldering iron.
  • Always handle the soldering iron carefully, as the tip can get very hot.
  • Make sure to use the correct type of solder for the materials being soldered.
  • Always work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling any fumes that may be produced during the soldering process.
  • Never leave a soldering iron plugged in and unattended.
  • Always edit the soldering iron after use and store it in a safe place.

The Incredible Range of Uses for Soldering Irons

Soldering irons are incredibly versatile tools that can be used for a wide range of everyday and advanced applications. Some of the primary uses for soldering irons include:

  • Creating electrical connections: Soldering is a primary method for creating electrical connections between wires and other components.
  • Repairing electronics: Soldering can be used to repair a wide range of electronic devices, from smartphones to computers.
  • Creating jewelry: Soldering can be used to create delicate and intricate pieces of jewelry.
  • Working with metal: Soldering can be used to join pieces of metal together, making it a valuable tool for metalworkers.
  • Plumbing: Soldering can be used to join pipes and fittings together in plumbing applications.

Knowing how to use a soldering iron effectively is an important skill for anyone interested in working with electronics or electrical components. With a little practice and the right tools and supplies, anyone can learn to solder like a pro.

The Fascinating History of Soldering Irons

In 1921, German inventor Ernst Sachs developed the first electrically powered soldering iron. He claimed to invent the device, which consisted of a shaped support that held an enclosed heating element. The heating element was released shortly thereafter, and the device was primarily used by tinsmiths and coppersmiths.

Lightweight Electric Soldering Irons Developed

In the 1930s, lightweight electric soldering irons were developed with appropriately sized heating elements and tips enclosed in a protective head attached to a handle. Electric current flows through the heating element, heating it up to the required temperature for soldering work.

How Does a Soldering Iron Actually Work?

A soldering iron is a tool that is primarily used for making a bond between two metal workpieces. It consists of a thin, small, pointed tip that is heated to high temperatures to melt solder, a metal rod that forms the body of the tool, and an enclosed heater that supplies the required heat to the tip. The heater is electronically controlled to maintain a constant temperature, and the tip is supported and held in place by a stand or block.

How Does it Create Heat?

The heating element inside the soldering iron is responsible for generating the heat required to melt the solder. The element is made of a high thermal capacity material, such as copper, and is heated by passing an electrical current through it. As the element heats up, it transfers the heat to the tip of the soldering iron, allowing it to melt the solder.

How Does it Work?

When the soldering iron is heated, the tip becomes soft and can melt the solder. The solder is a low-melting-point metal alloy that is used to join two metal workpieces. The solder is melted by the heat of the soldering iron and forms a joint between the two workpieces. The joint is strong and durable, and the solder provides a useful way to bond metal workpieces together.

How is it Different from Other Tools?

Soldering irons are similar to other tools that are used for heating and melting metals, such as welding torches and brazing torches. However, soldering irons are designed to work at lower temperatures than these other tools, making them ideal for use in home and auto repair, as well as for making jewelry and other small projects. Soldering irons are also much less expensive than other tools, and the tips are removable, making them easy to replace when they become worn or damaged.

The Versatile Uses of a Soldering Iron

One of the primary uses of a soldering iron is to connect electrical components. This process involves melting a metal alloy, known as solder, with the tip of the soldering iron and applying it to the wires or components that need to be connected. This creates a solid connection that allows electricity to flow through the circuit.

Creating Custom Designs

Soldering irons are also popular among artists and DIY enthusiasts for creating custom designs. By utilizing different techniques and multiple types of solder, it’s possible to create unique and intricate designs on small chains, pieces of wire, or even cover an entire piece of metal. The possibilities are endless, and the only limit is your imagination.

Repairing Electrical Connections

Another important use of a soldering iron is to repair electrical connections. When wires or cables become damaged, it’s often necessary to replace them. However, with a little practice and the right tools, it’s possible to repair these connections using a soldering iron. This is a helpful and cost-effective method that can save time and money.

Lowering the Risk of Electrical Accidents

Using a soldering iron correctly can help to lower the risk of electrical accidents. By ensuring that the tip of the soldering iron is hot enough to melt the solder, you can create a uniform and shiny appearance that indicates a solid connection. This will give you peace of mind that your electrical connections are safe and secure.

Choosing the Right Soldering Iron Type for Your Needs

If you’re looking for precision and control, a temperature-controlled soldering iron is the way to go. These types of soldering irons allow you to adjust the temperature of the tip, which is essential for working with delicate components that require a specific temperature range. Some temperature-controlled soldering irons even come with digital displays that show you the exact temperature of the tip in real-time.

Cordless Soldering Irons

If you’re tired of being tethered to a power outlet, a cordless soldering iron is a great choice. These types of soldering irons are battery-powered and can be used anywhere without the need for a power source. They’re also lightweight and portable, making them a great option for on-the-go projects.

Soldering Stations

If you’re a professional or need to do a lot of soldering, a soldering station is a great investment. These types of soldering irons come with a base unit that controls the temperature of the tip and often includes additional features like a soldering iron stand and cleaning sponge. They’re also more expensive than other types of soldering irons, but the added features and precision make them worth the investment.

Soldering Iron Tips: How to Choose, Use, and Maintain Them

When it comes to soldering iron tips, the shape is crucial. The tip shape determines the type of work you can do, the precision you can achieve, and the potential damage you can cause. Here are some tips on choosing the right tip shape:

  • For small and precise work, choose a pointed tip. This type of tip allows you to work on small areas and create sharp points and edges.
  • For larger work and spreading the heat, choose a wide or bevel tip. This type of tip allows you to spread the heat over a larger area, making it easier to work on larger components and circuits.
  • For connectors and pins, choose a blade or loaded tip. This type of tip allows you to apply force and scrape away excess solder.
  • For precision work, choose a rounded or bevel tip. This type of tip allows you to flow the solder more precisely and prevent damage to the components.

Using the Tip Correctly

Once you’ve chosen the right tip shape, it’s essential to use it correctly. Here are some tips on using the tip correctly:

  • Make sure the tip is clean and free of excess solder before using it. This will prevent damage to the components and ensure proper flow.
  • Choose the correct temperature for the type of work you’re doing. Certain types of components require a lower temperature to prevent damage.
  • Use the tip to create points and spread the heat evenly across the circuit. This will ensure that the solder flows correctly and the components are properly connected.
  • Be gentle when using the tip, especially when working on small components. Applying too much force can damage the components and result in a faulty circuit.

Maintaining the Tip

Proper maintenance of the soldering iron tip is crucial for its longevity and performance. Here are some tips on maintaining the tip:

  • Clean the tip after each use. Use a fresh piece of cloth to gently remove any excess solder or debris.
  • Polish the tip regularly to remove any oxidation or buildup. This will ensure that the tip remains clean and free of excess solder.
  • Store the soldering iron in a dry and cool place to prevent damage to the tip.
  • Test the tip regularly to ensure that it’s heating correctly and evenly. A faulty tip can result in poor performance and longer work times.

Stands: The Safest Place for Your Soldering Iron

When working with a soldering iron, it’s essential to have a stand to hold the tool when not in use. A stand is a structurally sound accessory that allows you to place your hot soldering iron in an immediate and safe place, preventing worrying burns or damageable objects. Here’s why you need a stand:

  • Keeps the hot tip of the soldering iron away from flammable objects.
  • Prevents excess heat from damaging the iron or other tools.
  • Allows the operator to lay the iron down without worrying about burns or damage.
  • Helps to clean the tip of the iron by using a cellulose sponge, removing excess flux and pot.

Types of Stands

There are various types of stands available in the market, and each one has its own set of features and advantages. Here are some of the most popular types of stands:

  • Coil stands: These stands have a coil that fits around the soldering iron’s barrel, keeping it in place.
  • Micro stands: These stands are smaller in size and are perfect for soldering microelectronics.
  • Station stands: These stands come with a station that includes a cleaning sponge and a flux pot.
  • Knife stands: These stands have a knife-like structure that allows you to hold the iron in place.
  • Enameled wire stands: These stands are designed to hold enameled wire while brazing or welding.

How to Use a Stand

Using a stand is easy, and it’s essential to use it correctly to ensure the safest soldering experience. Here’s how to use a stand:

  • Place the stand on a flat surface away from flammable objects.
  • Insert the soldering iron into the stand, making sure that the tip is facing upwards.
  • Keep the stand in a place where it’s easily accessible.
  • When not using the iron, place it in the stand to prevent damage or burns.

Additional Tips

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when using a stand:

  • Always use a stand when working with a soldering iron.
  • Make sure that the stand is made of steel or another resistive material that can withstand high temperatures.
  • Keep the stand at least an inch away from the soldering iron’s tip to prevent damage.
  • Clean the tip of the iron using a cellulose sponge or a cleaning station regularly.
  • Use exact temperature control when soldering or desoldering to prevent damage to the iron.
  • Explore wikis, books, and media on the topic to learn more about soldering iron stands and other accessories.

Choosing the Best Soldering Iron: What You Need to Know

When searching for a soldering iron, it’s important to consider the wattage and temperature control. Depending on the jobs you’ll be doing, you may need a higher or lower wattage iron. A higher wattage iron will heat up faster and maintain a consistent temperature, making it ideal for larger jobs. On the other hand, a lower wattage iron may be better for smaller, more delicate jobs. Additionally, temperature control is a key feature to look for. A soldering iron with adjustable temperature control will allow you to work with a wider variety of materials and ensure consistent results.

Look for Compatibility and Consistency

When choosing a soldering iron, it’s important to ensure that it’s compatible with the solder you’ll be using. Some irons are only compatible with certain types of solder, so be sure to check before making a purchase. Additionally, consistency is key. A good soldering iron should be repeatable and consistent, ensuring that you get the same results every time you use it. This is especially important for jobs that require a high level of precision.

Don’t Fall for Substandard, Cheap Brands

While it may be tempting to go for a cheaper soldering iron, it’s important to remember that you get what you pay for. Substandard, cheap brands may save you money in the short term, but they often fail quickly and can bog you down with constant repairs or replacements. Instead, consider investing in a higher-quality brand that will last longer and provide consistent results.

Check for Additional Features

When choosing a soldering iron, it’s important to check for additional features that may be useful for your specific application. Some irons come with built-in stands, making it easier to work with. Others may have a variety of tip sizes and types included, providing you with more options. Additionally, some irons may have a hot-swappable tip feature, allowing you to quickly switch out tips depending on the job you’re working on.

Cleaning Your Soldering Iron: Tips and Tricks

Cleaning your soldering iron is an easy task that can be achieved by following these simple steps:

  • Turn off your soldering iron and let it cool down.
  • Use a woolen or cellulose sponge to wipe the tip of your soldering iron. Dampen the sponge with water or a cleaning solution to remove excess solder and flux coating.
  • If the deposits are stubborn, use sandpaper or a wire brush to scrub the tip of your soldering iron gently. Be careful not to rub too hard as this can damage the tip.
  • For more stubborn deposits, apply a small amount of flux to the tip of your soldering iron and heat it up until it becomes molten. This helps to remove excess solder and other particulate depositions.
  • Use a damp sponge to wipe the tip of your soldering iron again to ensure that all the deposits are removed.
  • Finally, use a dry sponge or a wire ball to wipe the tip of your soldering iron to remove any excess moisture.


So there you have it- everything you need to know about soldering irons and how to use them. 

Don’t be afraid to try it yourself now that you know all the ins and outs. So go ahead and get cracking!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.