# What kind of wattage for soldering small electronics?

I am just starting out in Electronics and I am looking for a Soldering Iron. (Obviously it would make no sense since I'm starting to get a SUPER expensive iron.)

What kind of wattage should I be looking for? 30-40 watts?

I've seen the name Weller thrown around a lot. Are they a good reliable brand? edit: Also side question, when looking for multimeters I see a lot of "ranges" like 29 range, 39 range etc. How do I know exactly which one to get?

I saw something like this one,

but I don't know if that's "good". I don't figure I need a HUGELY expensive kit just to do small electronics/robotics.

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Please post the meter ranges question separately. Let this question be about soldering irons. –  Warren Young Apr 17 '11 at 23:12
I got that iron from SparkFun about 2 months ago, and it's been wonderful for me thus far. The temperature control makes soldering much more reliable than my old non-adjustable finger-burn iron. Plus, for 40 dollars, even if you don't like it after using it for a but, it was only 40 dollars! –  William Apr 18 '11 at 14:59
You do realize that the iron you linked to is no longer available? –  stevenvh May 30 '12 at 10:33

A 30-40 watt fixed-temperature iron will be on the hot side for electronics work. It will melt solder very quickly and make it really easy to heat up large component leads quickly, such as those on connectors. However, it also risks exceeding the heat limits on more delicate components. If you have good technique so that you can make a joint quickly, you avoid the risk and get the benefit, but by the same token, I don't know that I would recommend an iron that hot to a newbie.

If you only want a simple pencil iron and are going to be using it primarily for relatively delicate parts — ICs, small-signal transistors, film capacitors... — you may want to start with something more in the 15 to 25 W range. Again, the hotter it is, the faster it is to make the joint, but also the quicker it can damage something.

There's a tradeoff, where the iron is too cool to heat the component lead and solder quickly so you also burn the board because it simply takes too long to make the joint. Some may argue that 15 W is below this limit, others may say it's just above the limit. I haven't used an iron that cool in so long that I couldn't really say.

The high road is to avoid all this and get a good temperature-controlled iron. With such a tool, you can trust that when you set the iron to 300°C to solder a component whose datasheet says it should be soldered at no more than 300°C for 5 seconds, that it won't die if you complete the joint in less than 5 seconds. With a fixed-temperature iron, you not only probably won't know the idle temp of the iron, you won't know how far its temp dips when loaded or how long it takes to recover. With a cheap adjustable iron, it probably won't be properly calibrated to give the rated temp at the tip with every combination of tip type, and you also get the "loading and recovery" problem.

I know you say you don't want a "super expensive" iron, but the one you pointed to is downright cheap, relatively speaking. It may be that it's a poor clone of the famous Hakko 936, and its bad value is signalled by being in that no-mans land between a basic pencil iron and the low-end of good temp-controlled irons. (I'd put that low end border at around $90 US, by the way.) It may also be that it's an outstanding value. I couldn't say, having not used it. Its price does make me wary, however, as does the fact that it's cloning a well-known design. Some clones are nearly as good as the original, a rare few are better, but most are worse. If you buy it, I'd say you'd want to be prepared to replace it. Actually, for someone in that position, I'd say start with a$9 pencil iron and then later step up to a good temperature-controlled iron and skip over the no-mans land of cheapies you're looking at now.

As for "Weller" as a brand, they have a good reputation, but I've never used one, having never found one with the combination of features and price that made me happy. I've only ever used one name-brand iron, and it's way outside your price range. Everything else I've used successfully has been no-name house brand stuff. The point is that while quality matters, brand names aren't the best way to find it in this particular market. I suppose that's due to the fact that soldering irons are fundamentally not that complicated, and they're used worldwide, including in the same cheap Chinese factories we all love/hate. The poor Chinese laborer needs good irons, too, so they make their way out to the rest of us.

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+1 for the general idea. Now about the cheap pencil iron part: It is as good as it is bad. In case of problems, a beginner won't be able to tell if he's just bad at soldering or if it's the iron which is the problem. So my advice would be: Get a soldering iron which is a bit better than the cheapest you can find. Instead use the cheapest one which has a composite tip (that is the tip which isn't just made out of copper). That may solve some problems with wetting the tip and may make the soldering introduction a bit more gentle. –  AndrejaKo Apr 18 '11 at 0:16
About the power: I myself solved the problem by getting a relatively cheap 25 W soldering iron and then getting a very cheap (~ $10) 20 W to 80 W soldering gun. Just as Warren said, such iron won't overheat components quickly, but it won't work with thick cables either (but you probably won't need to work with them at first anyway), so you could consider a gun if you ever have a need to work with anything bulky before you get a real soldering iron. – AndrejaKo Apr 18 '11 at 0:24 add comment Get a soldering iron with a thermostat. This is much more important than the wattage. Without a good temperature control, you run the risk of putting too much heat into the PCB and damaging it (or the chips). It's easy enough to do that with temp control, but without it you're really at a disadvantage. Once you have a good temperature control, then something in the 20 to 50 watt range is good. If for some reason you can't get good temp control then stick with an iron that is less than 25 watts. The soldering iron I use at my office is the Weller WESD51, and costs US$129 from Digikey. This thing will last 10-15 years. While that might sound expensive, it is well worth the money when you think of all the frustration it saves. It could even save you real money since you have less risk of damaging PCB's. Besides, $129 isn't a lot of money in the grand scheme of an electronics hobby that could easily cost 10x of that per year. - Problem is the temp controlled ones are kinda expensive <_< – Mercfh Apr 17 '11 at 23:10 @Sauron I added some stuff to my answer regarding the iron I use. – user3624 Apr 17 '11 at 23:23 Ah thanks, I guess i'll be breadboarding stuff for awhile before I decide to officially invest in one anyways. – Mercfh Apr 17 '11 at 23:53 @Sauron: I tend to breadboard a lot anyway, as I like to take stuff apart and put it together differently. Maybe it's just the LEGO builder in me! FWIW, I've always gotten along with my RS firestarter (30W, I believe, but maybe it's 25W). – Mark Apr 18 '11 at 19:17 Heh. Oddly enough the price of that iron went up to$173 now –  Earlz Dec 8 '11 at 20:28