What Soldering Iron, Solder, and Soldering Tools Should I Buy?

In this post I will show you what soldering iron, solder, and soldering related tools I use. And I will explain why I recommend these products how it makes soldering and building quadcopters easier.

Don’t forget to check out our “how to solder for beginners” tutorial.

Table of Content

Soldering Iron

Where to Buy?

Links
TS-100 This is what I use, and recommend! Compact and portable, powered by DC 12V-24V. See review. http://bit.ly/TS100-solder-iron
TS-80 Also compact and portable, but slightly better ergonomics than the TS100. However it can only be powered via USB-C. See review. http://bit.ly/2EoSvjE
YiHua 908+ Cheapest basic soldering iron for the bench. http://bit.ly/2hw3EQV
Weller WLC100 Another basic desktop iron, slightly better quality. http://amzn.to/2vzEIlH
Hakko FX888 This would be my go-to iron for the bench if budget allows. http://amzn.to/2xI8R1J

What Makes a Good Soldering Iron?

You want to get a soldering iron that has

  • adjustable temperature control
  • maximum temperature of 400°C or higher
  • minimum power of 40W, preferably >60W

Adjustable temperature control allows you to better handle works of different nature. Larger wires and soldering pads require more heat, while finer soldering requires lower temperature to avoid overheat.

The wattage (power) of a soldering iron is an indication of how much heat it’s capable of putting out. Higher wattage irons are usually better at “heavy duty” soldering, as it can heat up metal faster without too much temperature drop.

Soldering Iron Tips

Soldering iron can be fitted with tips of different shape and size. Pointy tips generally are better for precise soldering. Larger and wider tips are better at dealing with bigger joints as heat can be transferred to the joint more efficiently.

I personally only use two tips for building and repairing mini quad stuff, a cone tip and a bevel tip.

I use bevel tip most of the times, because the large surface area really helps heat transfer faster. It’s especially helpful when working with large volume of copper, like PDB, ESC, XT60 etc. The sharp edge also works well with small soldering pads on flight controllers.

If you need to do any extremely fine soldering, like replacing micro surface mount components, the cone tip is great for that.

The TS-100 already comes with a cone tip, so you just need to buy the bevel tip (TS-BC2): http://bit.ly/2GY0vZi

Solder

Solder Recommendations

Using the right solder makes soldering so much enjoyable! Get some thin ones (e.g. 0.6mm diameter) because it helps with fine soldering.

There are different types of solder that are formed of different alloys and elements, designed for different purposes. For electronics hobbyist in general, we recommend rosin core 63/37.

If you can’t get your hands on 63/37, 60/40 (60% tin and 40% lead) is also very good.

First choices: (63/37):

Second choices (60/40):

Why use 63/37 solder?

When solder is heated up and melted completely, it will take some time for it to return to solid when we remove the Iron. We call this period the plastic phase.

You can create bad solder connections if you accidentally move the wires or parts during the plastic phase. Speaking from experience, this can happen often because we normally hold the wires by fingers during soldering.

63/37 solder has the shortest plastic phase compared to 60/40 and lead-free, which means it becomes solid very quickly after the iron is removed, that’s why 63/37 is better than 60/40. It will also help improve soldering quality especially if your soldering skills aren’t perfect. If you are experienced in soldering, 60/40 and 63/37 might not make as much a difference.

There really isn’t any downside to 63/37 compared to 60/40, except it’s a tiny bit more expensive, but the price difference is so small it’s negligible.

Differences between “Rosin Core”, “Clean” and “No Clean”

I recommend getting “rosin core” over “clean core” for our application, it’s just easier to work with overall. Especially for large gauge wires which aren’t tin plated, the flux will help with the oxidation tremendously.

Rosin core has more flux than clean core inside the solder, and it is better for applications where oxidation happens badly.

The downside with rosin core is that it might leave you some “dirty” brown residue around the the solder joints due to the large amount of flux. But you can still manually clean and remove the residue by alcohol.

On the other hand, clean core will give you a much cleaner finish.

However the residue is not conductive, and doesn’t affect your solder joint performance, so there is nothing to worry about and you can just leave it there.

No Clean is similar to Rosin Core, and it basically means it should be safe to leave the residue on the solder joint.

Solder Wire Diameter

Solder wire comes in different diameters, thinner solder wire is preferable because it allows for more accurate control of solder flow. I personally like 0.032″ (0.81mm), and 1mm is also pretty good.

Avoid Unknown Vendors

It’s important to get the solder from brand names manufacturers, I learned my lesson the hard way: how the quality of solder impacts quadcopter building.

Avoid buying cheap solder from eBay or Banggood, these are often low quality stuff. Brands I personally have had good experience with are Kester and MG Chemical. Many from Asia also recommend Asahi which I have no experience with.

Quality solder might seem to be expensive, but a roll of these would literally last years and hundreds of builds :) It’s good long term investment!

Solder Paste / Flux

Where to buy

Flux is an acid or rosin based compound engaged in the soldering process. It helps clean the solder joint as they spread out around the solder joint when heated up.

When metal is heated up, oxidation will build up on the surface and it will prevent heat transferred to the solder joint, you might find solder refuse to flow and stick to the joint and just ball up.

Flux can help remove and prevent oxidation and makes the solder joint accept solder easier than it would be without flux.

Drop some flux on metal surface before soldering can make it much easier to work with. Don’t worry if you apply too much, you can clean the residue off easily with alcohol.

If you have a dull and grey soldering joint, that’s usually caused by flux completely burnt out. You can fix that easily by adding a bit more flux to the joint before heating it up again.

Soldering Third Hand

A soldering third hand (helping hand) holds the component steadily for you. It normally features multiple small alligator clips and a magnifying glass. These clips can hold PCB and wires together to free up your hands for other tasks.

Pro Tip: Get some blue tack as well, it’s useful for holding small stuff like wires and tiny components.

Solder Remover

There are times you want to remove solder, when you apply too much solder, or you want to apply fresh solder to the joint. De-solder wick, or solder sucker will come in handy.

De-solder Wick acts like a sponge that absorbs molten solder, while solder sucker uses a small air vacuum to suck up solder out of a heated joint. If you don’t know what to get, I suggest getting the solder wick, as I’ve always found it more effective.

Or getting this Solder-Wick and Solder-Sucker Bundle on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2sta6QV

Tip cleaner

Where to Buy?

Your solder iron tip will look dirty just a few minutes in. Dull and black stuff builds up around the tip and should give it a quick clean using a tip cleaner. Cleaning your soldering iron tip removes impurity and residue and ensures the best possible performance. A cleaned iron tip should look shiny.

A cheap and common cleaner is “heat resistant sponge” that is designed for soldering (make it slightly wet with water before using). There is also “brass coil tip cleaner” which lasts longer than sponge.

Alcohol and Cotton Swabs

Great for cleaning and removing residue from burnt flux.

Solder Smoke Extractor

To avoid breathing in fumes from melted solder, get an activated exhaust extractor, or even a simple fan to blow the smoke away will suffice.

Where to Buy?

Or if you like DIY like me, you can build a solder fume extractor quite cheaply and easily :)

Reverse Tweezers

Don’t want to burn your fingers when soldering wires? I use a pair of reverse tweezers for that. It’s really the best for holding small wires, they squeeze and hold on to the wire when you let go, it’s effortless.

Where to buy: https://amzn.to/2SE4R9r

4 thoughts on “What Soldering Iron, Solder, and Soldering Tools Should I Buy?

  1. E J vd Bogaard

    With a cone tip, the solder tends to crawl up (away from the tip’s tip, that’s a good feature for very small smd components ?

    Reply

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