The right tools make all the difference.
If you’ve ever tried doing delicate electronic work with a cheap soldering iron, you know what a disaster it can be.
Cheap Harbor Freight-level tools might get you by for a while with some types of projects. Not the case with soldering.
With Weller and Hakko tools, you’ll be spending more, but a range of equipment means they have a quality tool for every budget.
Which brand should you buy? Read on for my comparisons and recommendations.
Soldering Iron or Soldering Station?
Before I start the comparisons, I’ll go over the different types of soldering tools.
Soldering Iron: A versatile, lightweight tool that you hold in your hand like a pen. Suitable for a variety of jobs involving small and medium
Soldering Station: Includes a soldering iron (also known as a soldering pencil), a stand with tip cleaner, and a control box. The control box houses electronics which reduce the size and weight of the soldering iron. Soldering systems allow for fine temperature adjustments to prevent damage to sensitive components. Digital soldering stations include a display with a temperature readout, while analog stations use a dial.
If you have a budget of around $100 or more, I highly recommend a soldering station over a soldering iron.
A number of more specialized tools also exist:
Soldering Gun: For large, heavy
Hot Tweezers: Used for small chip components. Able to grab very small components while soldering or desoldering them.
Hot Air Rework Station: For circuit board work. Includes a heat gun for use with Surface Mount Devices (SMD’s). When used with solder paste, multiple chips or those with many pins can be soldered at once.
Soldering System: A station that multiple tools can be connected to, such as a soldering iron plus hot tweezers.
What to Look for in a Soldering Iron
Don’t worry, I’ll get into the Weller versus Hakko comparison soon. I’d just like to lead up with some more info on how to pick the right tool.
Here’s what separates cheap, low
Stand and Tip Cleaner
I put stands in a list of must-haves when comparing soldering irons.
Leaving a soldering iron resting on a bench or table makes it much more likely you’ll burn yourself or the surface you’re using.
A stand gives you a safe holder for the iron while it’s heating up, when you need to free up your hands, or when you’re done and it’s cooling down.
Most stands include a way to easily clean the tip of the soldering iron – something you should do after each connection you solder. A sponge, brass coils, or both are fitted to the stand so they won’t move around.
Fast Heating Element
There are two benefits of a powerful soldering iron with a fast heating element.
The first is that it will get up to temperature quickly. You won’t need to wait long before you can get started.
Next is how well it handles temperature drops. Each time you solder a connection, the tip temperature will drop. The same goes for cleaning the tip. A quality soldering iron will get back up to the proper temperature quickly so you can move on to the next connection.
Fine Temperature Control
Avoid soldering irons with no temperature control.
They’ll either run too hot or too cool for most uses, which is likely to damage what you’re working on.
High temps can discolor materials at best, and burn or melt components at worst. Low temps aren’t safe either – solder will take far too long to melt, and long exposure to heat can damage electronics and other materials.
At a minimum, choose an iron with an adjustment dial with temperature marks.
Dials can be a little tricky to use, though. Let’s say you experiment and find a temperature that works for your particular solder and equipment. The dial gets moved at some point. It’s tough to get the dial to the exact position it was in to repeat that perfect temperature.
Digital soldering stations improve on this. They allow you to set the temperature to a specific number. Many will remember the last setting used. Some will even allow you to set multiple presets to save your preferred temps.
Again – avoid soldering irons with no temperature adjustment. If your iron will see frequent use, it’s worthwhile to go with a digital model for finer temperature adjustments.
Visual Temperature Readout
Standalone soldering irons lack a way to show you the current temperature. This may leave you trying to melt solder with nothing happening.
Digital soldering stations have a display that shows the current temperature. This eliminates guesswork and lets you know exactly when the tip is up to temperature.
Quality, Replaceable Tips
This is an often-overlooked aspect of soldering tools.
Most cheap, generic soldering irons ship with low
Generic tips can have a number of flaws.
- Heat transfer isn’t as good, so higher temperatures are needed
- They don’t retain their shape and surface well, so they need to be replaced more often
- Properly fitting replacement tips may not be available if you buy a generic soldering iron
Quality tips will come pre-tinned (smooth and with a thin layer of solder applied). This allows the solder to melt more quickly and easily.
Hakko and Weller irons include high-quality, pre-tinned tips. Replacements are readily available for purchase with a variety of tip shapes.
Grounded Power Plug
Basic soldering irons will have 2 prong, ungrounded plugs. Better quality ones will have 3 prong, grounded plugs.
There are a couple of good reasons to choose a model with a 3-prong power connection.
First is safety. If there’s a power surge or fault, the extra current will travel to the ground rather than through the tool. This can help avoid the potential of electrocution.
The next benefit matters when working with electronics. A soldering iron with a grounded tip will be less likely to transfer static discharge to the electronics you’re working on.
All of Hakko’s soldering irons have grounded connections.
Most Wellers irons are grounded, but not all. A couple of their standalone irons and lower-end stations only have 2-prong plugs. Skip the Weller SP40NUS, SP80NUS, WLC100, and WLC200 if a grounded iron is important to you.
Adding a 3-prong plug to a soldering iron will help reduce the likelihood of Electrostatic Discharge (ESD).
That on its own will not completely eliminate the possibility.
If you’re working with electronic components, You’ll want to choose a soldering iron that’s ESD Safe.
This means going with a soldering station such as the Hakko FX888D or Weller WE1010 rather than a standalone soldering iron.
An ESD Safe iron grounds the tip itself and not just the heating element. This ensures that static electricity does not transfer between your iron and the components it touches.
Going cheap actually hurts, in this case.
Heating elements on the cheapest models aren’t well insulated from the handle.
This results in a handle that gets warmer and warmer, to the point where you may need to take a break for the handle to cool before you can finish your job.
Hakko and Weller both insulate their handles well enough that this is not an issue.
Hakko FX888D vs Weller WE1010
I’ll start off by comparing two full-featured, great performing, yet reasonably priced soldering stations.
The Japanese-made Hakko FX888D (a.k.a. FX888D-23BY) is a digital station that replaced the analog FX888.
The Weller WE1010 (a.k.a. WE1010NA) is also digital and is a follow-up to the analog WES51.
Both the Hakko and Weller are rated at 70W.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though.
Here are some more detailed specs on the temperature ratings:
|Time to 350°C
|120 – 899°F
|50 – 480°C
|200 – 850°F
|93 – 454°C
You’ll notice the temperature range of the Hakko is wider. In practice, most won’t use the Weller near the low or high ends of its range, let alone the expanded high and low temps of the Hakko.
What does matter is the heat-up time. The Hakko gets up to temperature about 30% faster.
In testing, the Hakko experiences less of a temperature drop after soldering or cleaning the tip, as well as having a faster recovery time.
The Weller’s performance is respectable, but the Hakko does even better.
For a very in-depth comparison, check the review video below:
These are digital soldering stations. So, they both have a control unit with LCD display and digital buttons rather than analog knobs.
The Hakko FX888D has a smaller footprint so it takes up less room in your work area.
The LCD display is basic, using a single readout to display either settings as they’re changed or the current temperature.
The power switch is on the side, which some might consider less convenient than a front switch placement.
The biggest negative to this station is the settings buttons. There are only two, which makes things more complicated than they need to be when you’re first learning it.
There’s only an “up” button and not down, so you need to cycle through the whole temperature range to get back down to a lower number.
The various settings are changed using button presses or holds, but it’s not very intuitive at first. You’ll need your instruction manual until it becomes second nature.
The blue/yellow color scheme does make it look a bit like a toy, but it’s weighted well enough to stay put.
The Weller WE1010 has a larger footprint than the Hakko, but still is fairly compact.
The LCD is larger and more detailed than the Hakko. It has room to display both the current temperature and the set temperature. It updates immediately if the temperature drops, while the Hakko has a bit of a delay before it begins to update.
The buttons are better, with a front power switch, up/down, and a settings button. Cycling through temperatures is quicker with both up and down buttons available.
The black/light blue colors are a bit more professional than the Hakko, though pure black would stand out less. It’s plenty heavy, so it doesn’t slide around.
Since they’re soldering stations and not just standalone irons, both the Hakko and Weller come with a stand to hold the iron.
Hakko’s stand is simply better.
It has a solid and secure holder for the iron which won’t tip over if it gets bumped.
It includes two ways to clean the tip: brass wire for dry cleaning, and a sponge for wet cleaning.
The top of the stand comes off easily. This allows you to clean excess solder out from the cleaning stations.
The Weller stand isn’t bad, but it’s not much of an improvement over designs used for the last few decades.
It has a spring holder, which does cool off quickly, but wobbles more than the Hakko’s.
It includes a simple rectangular sponge for cleaning the tip.
The stand has storage for extra tips which is a nice addition. Weighting off the stand is good, so it’s secure.
Overall, the Hakko’s stand is more solid, with better tip cleaning options.
There’s not much of a difference with included accessories, other than the Hakko including both a cleaning sponge and brass wire as mentioned earlier.
As with most good soldering irons, you’ll also get one included tip with either station.
The FX888D comes with a T18-B .05 conical tip.
The WE1010 includes one ETA .062 screwdriver tip.
Everyone has their own preferences for types of tips. These are both pretty good general-purpose tips. If you’d prefer a specific size or shape, I highly recommend sticking with name-brand Hakko or Weller tips to match your soldering station.
So, the equipment you’re getting in the box is similar between these two models.
Which gives you more for your money?
The Hakko costs about 10% less on average.
Add in the better performance and higher quality stand, and the Hakko offers more value. The Weller has a better display and button controls, but that’s the only area I feel it comes up ahead.
Overall Winner: Hakko FX888D-23BY
Other Soldering Stations
The FX-951-66 station (replacement for the FX950) is a step up from the FX888, and better suited to professional shops.
The thermal capacity of the 951 is improved. It uses cartridges, with the heating element extending into the tip. This reduces temperature drop and brings the iron up to temp quicker.
It adds sleep mode for 0-29 minutes when the iron is placed in the holder. This reduces power when in the holder, but quickly brings the iron up to temp when removed. Auto shutoff turns the iron off completely if it hasn’t been used for 30 minutes.
The FX951 has additional controls on the front panel to make decreasing the temp easier than on the 888.
Are you a professional or advanced user looking to use more tools than just a soldering iron, such as a desoldering tool or SMD tweezers?
The FM203 has two ports so it can handle soldering, desoldering, and rework all in one station. The FM203 model is sold without any bundled tools, while the FM204 includes a soldering iron and desoldering tool.
Thermal performance is very good. One important note: if you switch back and forth between the two connected tools, only one will run at full operating temperature at a time. The other is put into sleep mode, determined by which tool is in its holder. This saves power, but does result in a brief wait for while the tool is brought up to temp from standby.
The FX-100 is Hakko’s best performing station. It uses induction heating for even faster heat up times than the FX951 and FM203.
The display is a step above everything else Hakko has to offer. Multiple profiles can be added to quickly change temperature settings for different tips or solder types.
This is the best single-port soldering station you can buy. That is – unless you get into multi-thousand-dollar industrial stations.
This soldering station replaced the WD1002/WD1 models. It’s available as a station only (WT1) or with an 80W soldering pencil (model WP80). It’s suitable for professional use or an advanced hobbyist.
The closest comparable model is the Hakko FX951. Performance is considerably better than that of the Weller WE1010 and Hakko FX888. Unlike the WE1010 it does not lack a fuse. This provides additional protection as seen with all the Hakko stations.
One advantage over the Hakko FX951 is that the LCD is large, detailed, and easy to read.
Performance is excellent with either the WT1013N or the Hakko FX951. Check prices – you may find that the Hakko is 15-20% cheaper. Whether the improved display is worth the price difference is your call.
The WX2021 is a professional dual
The biggest advantage the Weller station has is the way the dual ports work versus the Hakko. Both ports can be provided power at once, so if you frequently switch between soldering and desoldering there’s no waiting to come up to temp.
Additionally, the display is much more detailed and shows temps for both connected tools at the same time.
The Best Soldering Iron Parts & Accessories
Preparing your work area will improve both safety and your results.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite accessories:
Rosin Core Solder
Solder is available in lead or lead-free form, with or without rosin core.
Lead solder with rosin core is the best to work with. Lead gives it a lower melting temperature than lead-free solder.
The rosin core helps the metal flow and avoids oxidation, which can degrade solder joints over time.
It’s available in various diameters; thin solder wire for electronics work, wider for large wiring and stained glass.
With a soldering iron in one hand, it can be tough to hold two parts in just the right spot to create a soldering joint.
A “helping hand” tool acts like extra sets of hands for your workbench.
Bar-type helping hands are very inexpensive and are much better than nothing. They’re a bit clumsy to adjust and don’t have a large range of movement, however.
For something better, flexible-arm helping hands are excellent.
They can be moved into any position, but are strong enough to hold up just about anything you’d want to solder. Most include rubberized tips for the metal alligator clips, preventing damage to components.
The best ones have a large, heavy steel base so they won’t tip over. The QuadHands line is my go-to.
Desoldering Wicks & Tools
When you need to remove solder from a component, you have a couple of options.
You can either use a piece of desoldering wick or a specialized tool.
Desoldering wick, also known as desoldering braid, is easy to use and inexpensive. MG Chemicals and Chemtronics make good stuff.
Desoldering tools come in a couple of different types.
The cheap ones, known as solder suckers, are a simple pump which vacuums up solder once you’ve melted it with your iron. They’ve available for less than ten bucks.
If you’re going to be doing a ton of desoldering, a dedicated tool may be worth your while. These are soldering irons plus desoldering tools built into one.
They’re easier to maneuver than a separate soldering iron plus a wick or solder sucker. A large chamber collects the solder and is easily emptied. Hakko’s FR-301 (which replaced the FR-300) isn’t cheap, but it’s fantastic.
A heat-resistant mat is a good way to protect your work surface. Most are made of silicon and are anti-static to protect electronics.
Most include sectioned-off areas to hold tools, screws, pins, and other small parts.
I prefer Kaisi mats. They’re safe up to 932° F. They have a magnetic parts area with numbered dividers to help organize small parts.
Keeping your soldering tip clean is very important. A clean tip effectively transfers heat and reduces wear.
If you purchase a soldering station, its stand will have its own tip cleaner. If you buy a standalone soldering iron, I recommend the Hakko wire-type tip cleaner. It’s inexpensive, quick & easy to use, and lasts a long time.
Whether you go with Weller, Hakko, or another brand you may find yourself wanting smaller or larger tips. Plus, all tips eventually wear out.
Stick with name brand tips as they’ll perform better and last longer.
I don’t want to think about what a splash of solder would do to my eye, so I always wear safety glasses.
You don’t need anything fancy, so you don’t need to spend a lot of money for protection.
I like Pyramex’s Fortress Safety glasses. They’re cheap, light, and have rubberized pads for long-term comfort.
Solder fumes are toxic. Long term exposure can lead to asthma and other respiratory problems.
Do whatever you can to provide good ventilation for your work area. If you have no choice but to work in an enclosed area, a fume extractor can pull away the fumes and absorb them.
You can either build your own with a strong fan and a carbon
While I’ve not personally used one, the Hakko FA400-04 smoke absorber looks like a good choice in a bench
Best Soldering Iron For…
Working with circuit boards usually means making a lot of small solder joints. You’ll be alternating between picking up components and attaching them repeatedly. I find a stand is very helpful to have, so I recommend a soldering station over a simple soldering pencil.
By going with a soldering station, you’ll also have a range of temperature adjustments.
Small electronic components such as capacitors, resistors, and LED’s can be sensitive to heat. You’ll want to set the temp of the soldering iron as low as you can while still allowing the solder to melt quickly.
My soldering station pick for PCB work is the Hakko FX888D. This is an excellent choice capable of professional results and will last for years.
If you simply can’t spend that much but still want to learn how to solder, the Aoyue 469 is a pretty good entry-level station at a very low price.
There are a few things to look for in a stained glass soldering iron.
Comfort: The handle should not heat up. It should provide a comfortable grip since you’ll be holding it for long periods of time.
Temperature Adjustment: Matching the temperature of the iron to your solder will ensure it melts easily.
Ability to Maintain Heat: Temperature drops can create cold joints. These joints will appear dull or rough, and not only will be less aesthetically pleasing but won’t be as strong.
A quality, powerful iron will address all of the above needs.
The Hakko FX601 is fairly inexpensive, yet performs very well whether you choose lead, brass, or zinc came.
If you’re ok with spending a bit more for a stand, digital temperature readout, and tip cleaner, the Hakko FX888D is an even better choice for stained glass work.
Electric guitar components, amps, and pedals can all be repaired with the help of a soldering iron. Wires, jacks, pots, transistors, and capacitors can all fail with time.
A good soldering iron allows you to make your own repairs, plus you can replace pickups and build your own pedals and cables.
First and foremost, you should look for a soldering iron with a temperature adjustment.
Guitar internals use small gauge wire. Guitar, amp, and pedal components shouldn’t be exposed to temps that are too high. Being able to set a lower temperature on your iron is important.
First off, for many jewelry uses, a soldering torch will be better.
A soldering iron is a good choice for soldering onto copper tape – for instance, on the surround of a glass pendant. With most other jewelry making uses, I’d go with a torch.
Soldering torches melt various types of metal – not just solder – without direct contact. This is ideal for closing jump rings, creating bezels, making ball end headpins, and more. Torches can also be used for firing precious metal clay (PMC).
What I recommend is a Dremel VersaTip torch. It can be used as an open flame gas torch, but also includes direct-contact soldering tips. It’ll give you the versatility needed for any type of jewelry work.
Stippling is an engraving technique that adds small dots or marks to a surface.
In the case of soldering irons, stippling is most often used for plastic/polymer grips on firearms.
I recommend hitting up YouTube to get familiar with the process if you’re new to it.
Results come down to the technique, pattern, and tip that’s used.
If you plan to both stipple and solder with one tool, the tip shapes available will be limited. Soldering iron tips are usually pointed, flat, or chisel shaped.
If you instead go with a woodburning kit, you’ll have access to a much larger variety of tip shapes. Some tips are patterned to help with uniformity.
Another benefit of a woodburning iron is the shorter barrel compared to a soldering iron. This lets you hold the handle closer to the gun grip and allows for better control.
OTDefense makes a great firearm stippling kit with some tips that are well suited. It’s a little pricey, though.
The Weller WSB25WB kit performs well at a much lower cost. The selection of tips isn’t as good for stippling, but a variety of tips can always be purchased later.
Most 12V wiring is of small enough gauge that you should work with a soldering iron rather than a soldering gun.
Next, decide if you want corded or cordless. If you’ll mainly be doing work at a bench, such as assembling wiring harnesses, a Hakko FX888D makes a great choice.
If you’ll be doing work inside the engine bay or under the vehicle’s dash, consider cordless. You’ll probably have an easier time getting to hard-to-reach areas being attached to a cord. In this case, I’d go with a butane soldering torch such as the Weller P2KC.
If you’re interested in building FPV racing or freestyle drones, soldering is a skill you’ll need to pick up. Building your own quadcopter can be a fun and rewarding process with the right tools.
Some components you’ll commonly solder with drones are wires, power distribution boards (PDB’s), electronic speed controllers (ESC’s), flight controllers (FC’s), and receivers (RX’s).
Since many of these parts involve small, sensitive components on a circuit board, a soldering iron’s temperature control is important. You absolutely shouldn’t choose an iron with no temperature adjustment.
If your budget allows for it, a Hakko FX888D at around $100 is a fantastic choice.
If you’re just getting started with soldering and need a less expensive tool that still offers the necessary temperature control, the Hakko FX600 will do the trick.
RC Cars & Aircraft
A quality soldering iron turned my R/C soldering work from a chore into a fun part of building and maintaining cars. I frequently wired up battery packs, motors, and ESC’s.
A soldering station is
If you’re building your first R/C car, airplane, or helicopter from a kit and have no soldering experience, you can get by with a cheap station like the Aoyue 469.
If you have multiple cars/
The Hakko FX888D is my go-to. It gets up to temperature very quickly and holds its temp well. It makes solder joints quick and effortless.
Arduino kits are amazingly cheap. Chances are, you don’t want to spend $100 on a soldering iron to connect up a few wires, sensors, or lights on your inexpensive Arduino board.
If you will be doing extensive work, see the comparisons higher up on this page.
For some basic soldering, you don’t need to spend quite so much. You shouldn’t go with a generic $5-10 iron, though. By doing so you’ll end up with poor temperature controls and a handle that gets too hot to use for long.
The Hakko FX600 is my pick for a fairly inexpensive iron. It has a temperature control dial and the performance is very good.
If you need to find something on an even lower budget, the Aoyue 469 is decent for occasional use.
Hakko and Weller are two of the best soldering iron manufacturers.
Around $100 or less, Hakko is the way to go. Their soldering irons and stations are simply better quality in this price range.
Once you get into the $200+ price range, either brand is a great choice. Read through my comparisons above to help choose which one is best for you.