Feb 23, 2022
What kind is needed? Can it be a Ryobi? Why/why not?
The question is what are you going to be soldering? Are you worried about rails and "large scale" soldering? Decoders (and what scale)? Micro LEDs? The finer the job, the finer the tip and temperature control that you will need.
I have used a "pistol" style Weller for years, on larger projects. A small pencil with a couple of different tips for fine/small work.
I recently bought the Ryobi P3100 and have been well pleased with it for the work you describe. It has a temperature controller, but be advised that it doesn't have a thermocoupler (which would cost more), so you can't set a temperature with exact precision. I like that it can easily be turned on an off without changing the temperature setting and a colored LED gives an indication as to the tip's temperature status. Because it's so easy to turn on and off, the tips last a long time. In fact, I'm still on my first and am well past the time I'd have needed a new tip with my old Radio Shack pencil iron.
Be advised that you don't need the battery for this unit. You need only an extension cord (grounded or ungrounded) with a flat face like seen below. A cord does not come with the product.
You may wish to look into the Weller WLC100 too. A number of forum members have these and are very satisfied with them. As you shop, look at the cost of tips and the options you have with them. The Ryobi offers only two types -- a conical tip and one that looks like a flathead screwdriver.
I've been really happy with these ...
... inexpensive irons. They are cheap enough I have one for decoder installs, another for general electrical wiring and a third for soldering hand-laid turnouts. Like them as good as or better than a $50 name brand iron I have.
More on them here....
At home I work with a Weller WESD51 soldering station with the PES51 tip holder and two types of tips, a normal-sized one and a fine one. I'm pretty satisfied with it. It cost me about $200.
At work, I have a very nice Pace soldering station with multiple tip sizes and types (including some for desoldering surface mount ICs). The station itself is over $400 and the tips are pricey, but worth every penny when working on very small stuff.
With any soldering iron or station, the important thing is to maintain your soldering tips. Regular tip cleaning and tinning and most especially operating temperatures in the 600-700 F range.
The best is to stay around 600-650 F because the hotter the tip temperature, the easier it oxidizes and becomes harder to use. Excessive heat also shortens the life span of the tips. I found a few people at work running at 800 F - that messes up the tips and risks destroying the circuit board (lifted pads or traces, degraded board material, etc.) and melting wire insulation. I read them the riot act and the temperature settings have been turned down.
Seriously good tips on tips Mike. Thank you. I'm thinking that keeping the temperature at just below midpoint on my Ryobi station is the reason my tip has lasted such a long time and being able to easily turn it off with the push of a button.
My station has a replaceable sponge, but I wonder if one of the tip cleaners below would be a good bet? They're made of low abrasive brass shavings and it's said that tips last even longer without the heat loss that comes from wiping the tip on a damp sponge. I have no idea. What do you use at work? These are about $9 or so.
Yes there has been some very good information shared. I believe that the brass shavings in the bowl would be real good for cleaning. Can you share were to find it?
All I have are three of the cheap pencils and one that's about 20" long with an oak handle and a 1" square tip shaped to a point. No electricity to that one.
The sponge is to wipe off excess solder and prepare for another soldering operation (between components, say).
I also have one of those tip cleaners with the brass shavings. They're good for extending tip life but only because they scrape off just the tiny layer of oxide that forms on the tip when in use. It's not abrasive enough to do more, and thus cannot damage the tip. It's a good idea to use that once in a while but it doesn't do the job of the sponge.
Another good "tip" (pun intended), is tip tinner:
Use that after going through the tip cleaner, to keep a thin layer of solder on the tip. But it is not solder! Use the usual soldering wire to do the work.
Great advice and what I do. I've tried the brass shavings but since the following picture was taken have gone back to .....
..... mainly the sponge that has worked for me for 50+ years. I wipe the tip on the sponge after almost every solder joint unless there are repeatable ones that are done basically as one operation. Once that isn't giving me a clean tip I use the tip cleaner that Mike showed. It only takes a second to use and follow it with re-tinning the tip as Mike suggested.
If one is struggling soldering I'll bet over 90 percent of the time it is because they aren't keeping their tip cleaned and tinned. You need that to quickly heat the solder joint so that the solder will flow and then get off the joint. If the iron is hot and it is taking a long time to heat the solder joint I'll bet about anything that your tip is oxidized (black or turning black).
Another problem is soldering with the tip at too low of a temperature. You think you are saving components from too much heat but are doing the opposite as you stay on the joint too long and the heat goes also to the nearby components. The goal is to heat the joint only to the point that the solder flows at the joint and transfer as little heat as possible to the nearby components. Keep the iron hot enough that you are on the joint for a very short period of time. Adjust the tip size to what you are soldering.
Don't worry too much about trying to save a tip for ever. I can get 10 tips for $8 for the irons I'm using now and they will for sure last the rest of my life.
PACE equipment is excellent, and made in the USA. Their ADS200 soldering systems are digitally temperature controlled, with 120 watts on tap to keep the iron at the desired temperature in a variety of applications, with a wide variety of tip sizes and shapes. They offer an optional iron holder that automatically reduces the tip temperature while the iron is sitting in the holder, to further improve tip life/condition.
I spent the first ~half of my engineering career at a site where we were not allowed to solder, a task reserved for the (very talented) technicians. Let's just say the soldering skills I had acquired in school (and earlier) wasted away. When I transferred to a different division, where we were allowed to solder our own prototype work, I politely deferred to the technicians, knowing their capability greatly exceeded my decayed skills (with greatly reduced component/joint sizes!) Several technicians appreciated my deferral, having had to clean up and/or replace tips, etc. after a few ham-fisted engineers screwed them up. However, there were many of my fellow engineers who were very skilled at soldering and caring for the equipment.
My brother and I tinkered with stereo equipment when we were teens and made all kinds of crazy speaker selector and input boxes from our record players and radios to our reel-to-reel tape recorders. All we had for a soldering tool was our Dad's mega-million watt Craftsman gun which burned and melted as much as it soldered, especially in our unskilled hands. Good times.
That's funny @Rip Track ! Made my evening.
Smells like hot dogs!
Either that or she has asbestos fingers.
There's something on her finger.
I bet her handwriting sucks after that!
Yeah, my dad had a soldering gun like that, which had been dropped and the housing epoxied back together more than a few times... but it kept on working. He and his dad were Ham radio operators back in the day, and built/modified most of their equipment. I learned how to solder with that beast when I was about 10 years old or so. That thing must have been the size (and weight) of a Ruger Redhawk! Powerful, like a nuke on an ant hill. It did do a good job soldering speaker wires though.
To this day, I can still hear the growling hum, followed by the smell of melting/burning flux, when I pulled the trigger. I prefer the roar (through a good pair of hearing protectors,) followed by the smell of burnt powder, when I pull the Redhawk's trigger...