Weller Red

Hands-On Review: Affordable Soldering Irons from Weller

Electronics Geek Culture Reviews

Weller Red

I’ve been asked to teach a “Build Your Own Robot” camp next summer (2014), and one of my intentions is to give the kids some hands-on practice with soldering. I’ve used lots of different soldering irons over the years… from very high-end units to the cheapest (and most dangerous) fire hazard capable of melting solder. I’m not willing to hand these kids something that I wouldn’t use myself, but I’m also not going to be able to put $200+ soldering units in front of them. I need something I can rely on, something that can heat up fast, not slip out of their hands, and actually do the job at hand.

I’m not going to name names, but there’s a cut-rate soldering pencil out there that seems to be the go-to device for camps and such, and I have one somewhere. It works, but not great. It gunks up fast, the tip isn’t as sharp as I’d like, and its plastic handle can get a little loose with just a little perspiration from your palm. But it’s around $9.99, so one can argue that you get what you pay for, right?

LEDs

Well, I’d much prefer to pay a little more for something that I can trust in the hands of my campers. And for that, I’m going to be going with the new Weller 25W Standard Duty. I requested one from Weller, and at $16.99, It’s not going to kill my camp budget. I took it for a good long spin, soldering up (first) a couple of SuperCap Racers from Makershed.com and (second) an Arduino clone kit. Here are my thoughts:

1. Great grip — it’s got a rubberized grip that is ribbed… no matter which way I rotated it, I never had it shift in my hand like a simple plastic handle can do. I also like how the large triangular head protected my fingers from slipping closer to the business end.

2. LEDs — Yes! Actual LEDs (25 lumens/sq ft) that focus the light on where you’re working. I tend to solder in a well-lit area, but I turned off the lights in my workspace and was quite impressed with the 2″ diameter circle of light that appeared over the target. The LEDs also let you now the thing is plugged in — a nice visual reminder that’s missing from other irons.

3. Warranty — Okay, this may not matter to you for a $17 soldering iron, but the camp folks are already talking about multiple camps per summer… over many years. If I’m going to invest in a bunch of these, I want them to last. We’re talking kids using them… a 7-year warranty is awesome.

4. Easy to replace the tip — I’ve never really had any issues with this on any iron, but a quick test of releasing the tip and then tightening it back down… easy.

5. Cord shifting and base — With a lot of irons, a curvy cord can cause the iron to shift or twist or rotate… the cord here did have some curves in it, and I do wish it were a bit longer than 5′, but when I stuck the hot-end into the included metal base, it held it snug and prevented the iron from rotating. Not a big deal, maybe, but I really don’t want hot irons shifting on the tables and burning arms and hands or falling into laps. (I’ll be plugging the irons in so the cables go over the front of table, pulling the iron away from the students should they get loose.)

SuperCap Kit

But the real test of the 25W Weller was using it. The tip was sufficient to put a good bead exactly where I wanted it… putting a little solder on the tip was fine, and it held and got an even spread over the surface of the tip. I had no real method for determining the temperature, but it took about 70 seconds after plugging it in for me to see it start melting my solder during the cold-start melt test. Not bad at all.

I used the Weller to place solder in standard sized holes on a small circuit board. These weren’t boards that had components being soldered far apart… as you can see from the photos, the SuperCap racer has some closely placed components, and I was able to do all the soldering without any errors. The kids will have a bit more room to work with the projects they will be doing, so the tip size will be just fine for them.

Almost Done

It took me a few years to get to the point where I wanted to really spend some money on a high-end soldering system. But what’s funny is that I still reach for the inexpensive soldering irons for the quick and simple projects, especially when I’m doing the soldering in the garage and don’t want to unplug and carry my more expensive unit. The Weller 25W won’t be tossed into a box somewhere and forgotten — it’s proven to me that it can do the job and I just like the way it doesn’t roll around in my hand. The LEDs are a nice touch, too.

All in all, I’m sold… my camp budget will include one Weller 25W for every two campers. Weller does offer 15W, 40W, and 80W irons as well, so be sure to check out their website to see the recommended jobs for these units.

If you’re interested in getting yourself one (or more) of the little SuperCap Racers, be sure to visit MakerShed.com. If you’re comfortable soldering, it takes about 10 minutes to assemble and requires 4x AAA batteries. Video and text instructions for assembly can be found here. The thing charges in about 20 seconds (a small switch lets you turn on and off the charging) and when you put it on a flat surface, it takes off! Kids will love them.

SuperCap

Would you like a Weller Red soldering iron? Weller is giving one away to one lucky commenter (USA residents only, sorry international readers). Just reply with a comment and answer this question: What’s your least favorite part of soldering? Submit your answer by Sunday, May 12, 2013, 11:59pm PDT. I’ll pick one random winner from all valid responses and the winner will be contacted via email.

Note: I’d like to thank Ariel for getting me the 25W unit to test and for providing a giveaway unit.

 

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekDad and GeekMom on Patreon!

16 thoughts on “Hands-On Review: Affordable Soldering Irons from Weller

  1. Least favorite part of soldering? Screwing up. I’ve not done a lot of soldering, only one or two projects (I remember putting an internal light into the original gameboy advance), and I’ve only used a super cheapo soldering iron. Took forever to heat up, the tip wasn’t fine enough, and it left so much solder clinging to the tip that it was a mess to clean up, never mind making hard to get a good joint. The thing was barely better than a woodburning tool. Even if I don’t win one from weller, I think I’ll buy one. The price is right to have one around. Maybe it will encourage me to try my hand at a few more projects.

  2. Least favorite part of soldering is trying to fix solder bridges and making it worse! Dohh!

  3. Least favorite part of soldering is the cord-twist. No matter how many times I try to straighten out the cord on my cheap iron, by the end of a session it has reverted to a coiled mess (I must be rotating it in my hand). On several occasions it has twisted off its stand, almost burning me or items on the work table.

  4. My least favorite part is finishing a job, finding the circuit doesn’t work, and then having to hunt around for which joint is cold.

  5. My least favorite part is setup; trying to hold wires and components in place before soldering. Things always seems to move on me. Plus, no matter how many times I double-check, I manage to route something incorrectly or forget to slide a cover or heat-shrink on and end up having to take things apart.

  6. My least favorite part of soldering nowadays is my terrible eyesight. Those LEDs would sure help see what I think I’m soldering.

  7. My least favorite part of soldering is loosing or running out of my favorite flux pen. It makes the simplest jobs so complicated.

  8. My least favorite part of soldering is replacing small auto insert parts when I was a assembly line bench tech. I burned my finger tips at least once a night. Parts so small they had to be soldered under a microscope.

  9. My least favorite part of soldering is holding the iron, the solder, and the wires/components with only two hands. That and tips that don’t get as hot as the shaft of the iron.

  10. I get annoyed when I lift a pad trying to unsolder something. Too much heat on nasty old beads. I just learned this after replacing 21 of 28 LEDs on a rusty third brake light array: don’t try unsoldering solder that sat in rusty water for years. Just snip off the solder bead with flush cut pliers! You now have a thin layer of shiny-clean solder that will melt for you! I didn’t care about the leads because they RUSTED in the water. (Bad seal on the light case. )

  11. I was going to be cute and complain about desoldering after discovering that I’d put a component in the wrong place, but my real pain-in-the-neck is surface-mount devices.

    I’ve partially solved the cord torque problem by eliminating the cord on one of my soldering irons. A few years ago I picked up a butane-powered soldering iron at the Dayton Hamvention. The nominal use case is soldering while atop an antenna tower, but I find it just fine for workbench use, too. (It also doubles as a pencil torch and as a hot air mini-blower for heatshrink.)

  12. My least favorite part of soldering is the smell of burned hair. Given my current relative lack of hair, I’m not sure how I did that when I was a kid! And there was that time I picked up the soldering iron by the tip rather than the handle.

  13. Least favorite part of soldering is the actual soldering. I enjoy it, but my fine motor skills are a little lacking at times, plus a bit of a shaky hand. Makes it difficult with some of the small components i’ve had to solder, especially with a heavier iron that’s not balanced right. Had one at a Laser Tag/Game room I used to work at, and my soldering skills were always lacking (but I made it work).

  14. I’ve done a moderate amount of soldering over the years, the majority of it was easily 15+ years ago with a pager job I had at the time. The worst part I hated about soldering was when I would just be a regular klutz & give myself mild burns here & there. Other than that, the soldering I’ve done recently, has been pleasant and best of all pain free.

  15. I always get the most frustrated with cold solder joints. I had the biggest issue with this while using cheap solder that just wouldn’t grab the metal. I’m currently trying to figure out what kind of a Weller iron I want to get. I’ve been using a Radio Shack one for ages, and just can’t take it anymore. Thank you for the great review!

  16. Least favorite part is that every time I start and am right in the middle of the great wire, solder, gun balancing act my wife wants me to do something else. EVERY TIME! I tried once to fix one of my kids toys while she was gone and she called me.

Comments are closed.