There are three main things to consider when selecting a soldering iron:
1) Wattage (Power)
a) Selecting the soldering iron wattage is more a function of heat reserve (power) than of temperature attained. A higher wattage soldering iron is better able to maintain a constant temperature, as it has more power to apply to the tip during use. How much power reserve is required for your soldering application depends primarily on the composition and mass of the parts being heated and the size of the solder joint.
Example: If you are soldering two large (heavy) Aluminum components over a large joint area, a high-powered soldering iron will probably work best. Aluminum dissipates heat quickly, so it is difficult to get both large parts heated to the soldering temperature at the same time. If your only process is soldering a thin Copper wire to a small Copper tab, you don’t need a lot of reserve power to heat both parts to the soldering temperature. Remember that both parts reaching the soldering temperature is what creates the bond between the solder and parts. If only one is heated to the soldering temperature, the bond to the cooler part may be inconsistent.
2) Tip selection (many now come with a variety of interchangeable tips for different joint geometries)
a) It is also based on the mass of parts and joint area. Choose a tip that will heat the entire joint area on both parts simultaneously.
3) Simple On/Off Soldering Iron or a Soldering Station that includes temperature readouts and controls, solder iron stand, solder tip cleaning block or wool, etc.
a) A simple Plug in On / Unplug Off Soldering Iron can be purchased for $10 to $20. Soldering Stations with temperature controls and readouts and all the gear to efficiently complete a wide variety of solder joints on various metals can cost over $250. What you need depends on your current project and your future plans.
Once you select the right iron, use our solder selection tool to find the right solder for your project.