Best general purpose soldering iron and solder?

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Willis K. Smith:
There is no good all around soldering iron without spending big bucks.

I use three.

I have a modified iron with a needle point tip for the real small jobs. A 40 watt one for the general jobs. And a 300 watt one for the big ones.

All you have to do is lift a land from a circuit board to appreciate using the right iron for the job.

Pete Allen:
Actually, there is no great difference in mechanical strength between a proper joint made with lead free (usually SnAG solder in one proportion or another) solder and 40/60; 50/50; or 60/40 SnPb solder. The yield strength of a properly soldered lap joint in tension varies by less than 20 percent with any common solder.

Ideally, the mechanical strength of a joint should not depend on solder at all. That is why I was taught all wires should wrap its terminal at least once before solder was applied.

For repairs, all excess solder should be removed, the leads to a defective part should be removed, the leads from the replacement part should either wrap around the terminal, or if possible go through the terminal and then back around the standing terminal before soldering. After repairs, the joint itself should be identical to the original factory joint.

A properly installed PL-259 will have at least 1/8th inch of joint at the pin tip, and require a great deal of force to pull the center conductor out of the pin. The shield of RG8 size coax is secured either by a secure mechanical connection between the jacket and the threaded portion of the coax; and smaller coax by the shield folded back over the adapter and soldered before assembly.

It's worth remembering that once the shield braid is folded over the adapter "nose" and the adapter tightened there is little chance of the coax coming out of the PL-259. Even a little solder on the folded shield greatly increases the amount of force it would take to pull the coax out. But with or without solder, the braid usually fails before the adapter releases the captured portion of the shield.

And yes, a high powered heat gun will heat the shell enough so a smaller iron can be used. In fact, a paint stripper size heat gun will provide enough heat for soldering.

For more, and more definitive information let me suggest "Solders and Soldering" by Howard H. Manko. This is pretty much the "bible" of the industry, and if it's not in there you will probably have to try it and see.

73  Pete Allen  AC5E

James H. Cason:
I have three soldering devices: a Craftsman 150/400 watt Professional gun, for the heavy stuff like PL-259s; a Weller 100 watt gun (that is 46 years old - purchased in 1961) for medium sized jobs; a Solomon SL-10 soldering station, for circuit and fine soldering.  I have found that the key to good soldering is CLEANLINESS.  First, I always keep the soldering iron tip clean and well tinned, then I use a stainless steel brush and circuit grade isopropyl alcohol (not regular rubbing alcohol) for cleaning the joint before soldering.  I use a little rosin soldering paste from Radio Shack on the joints because all solder does not contain enough flux.  This is stuff is cheap and it really works; then, when you are done, just wipe the soldered joint off with an alcohol rag.  I use all brands of solder, from the older lead types to the newer non-lead types.  All seem to work equally well, but I confess to liking the older ones best - just habit I guess.  It goes without saying that good soldering technique is necessary too.  There are a number of good soldering lessons on the web.  Just Google up "soldering" and you will find them.  Good Luck!

Steve Jackson:
It looks like others have already chimed in with some very good advice.

You probably want to have several tools, none of which are necessarily expensive unless you buy them at full retail ... and even then, cared for properly they will be purchased just once, so, the value is still a good one.

No matter what you get, remember that a cleaned and tinned tip transfers heat the best.  Most of the success I have had teaching people to solder properly stems from the ability to have them master this concept.

Here are my recommendations for somebody whose tasks list looks like yours.  These recommendations are quite specific and this isn't done on caprice.  Rather, it's information based on literally thousands of dollars of try-and-buy experimentation from somebody who does this sort of thing daily, for work and pleasure, and has been doing it since age 11.  Some of the items listed are idealized for cost effectiveness and others are simply the best I've found at any price.

Armed with this gear, you will be able to tackle 90% of anything that comes your way, from surface-mount kit building, to conventional construction and repair of PCB and point-to-point wiring, to assembling connectors, to homebrewing PCB-cube RF enclosures:

** For construction projects and soldering the center conductor of connectors, my frugal recommendation is the time-proven Curie-effect irons such as the Weller WTCPN.  Used, in top condition, these can be had for around $75 and new tips are around $4.  You'll want at least a PTC7 tip, and others as you learn what you need.  New, the WTCPT is around $130.

** For soldering the barrel of a PL259, and other similar thermal-mass-sensitive work you can try the Weller WELSP80L, which sells new for around $35.  Others may advise you to go up to the 120W version, but I won't.

** Want the solder off?  Use the Edsyn Soldapullt DS-017.  There are cost-effective manual desoldering tools, and then, there's this one.  They are NOT all the same.  Accept no substitutes.

** For flux, once you use a Kester 2331-ZX pen, you won't go back.  Best ever.

** To prep an oxidized tip, use a tin of Edsyn LT-1 or the exact same thing sold under a number of other brands.

** For solder, Kester 0.031" #24-7150-8800 62/36/2 '245 type' No-Clean 50-Core is the #1 favorite out of the nine (yes, nine, I counted) different solders I use in my shop.  A 1 lb. roll will set you back nearly $60 but will last for the rest of your life.

** Finally:  cleaning.... a Hakko 599 tip cleaner may be the most important and least-expensive item on this list.


Nelson Derks:
A5CE Wrote: "A properly installed PL-259 will have at least 1/8th inch of joint at the pin tip, and require a great deal of force to pull the center conductor out of the pin. The shield of RG8 size coax is secured either by a secure mechanical connection between the jacket and the threaded portion of the coax; and smaller coax by the shield folded back over the adapter and soldered before assembly."

Agreed.

However... A few years back I worked in an office tower that had a cosmetic exterior comprised of vertical aluminum strips anodized in a gold tone. Intended effect was a tower of gold, and, yeah, it was designed for a well-known TeeVeeVangelist.

From the inside looking out the trim strips gave the impression of a jail cell (not that I'd know about such things) but they did illustrate the concept of thermal expansion and contraction. On a cold winter morning the vertical gap between sections was on the order of 3/4" or more. On a cool summer morning it was closer to 1/2" or less. On a smokin' hot August afternoon some of the gaps could be measured with a spark plug gap tool. They were that close.

If a ~20' strip of aluminum can display that much thermal expansion, consider a 100' run of RG-213 that may see a temperature delta of 100 degrees or better over the course of a year. Even during a typical day with a 20 to 30 degree temperature spread the line shrinks a bit at night then stretches out during the day. The braid should have plenty of 'gimme' to accommodate this, but the center conductor?
 

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