If you’re looking for the best soldering iron for jewelry making, it’s important to look for a few key attributes: temperature ranges, temperature control, and interchangeable tips. It’s also imperative that the soldering tips are easy to find when it’s time to replace them. But most of all? Look for dependability.
Although I’m not in the business of selling irons, I’ve put together this buyer’s guide so that you know what to look for when buying a soldering iron. Below are my personal recommendations, along with other Tiffany method artists’ top picks.
Want the stats fast and dirty? Here’s a handy comparison table with my top 3 recommended soldering irons for jewelry-making:
Digital Soldering Station
|- Wattage: 70W|
- Voltage: 120V (also available in 230V, if you can find it)
- Temp range: 200°F - 850°F
- Temp control: Built-in rheostat
- Weight: 2 oz. in-hand
- Warranty: One year
- Tips: Weller ET series
100-Watt Soldering Iron
|- Wattage: 100W|
- Voltage: 120V
- Temp range: 600°F - 800°F
- Temp control: Tip-specific (use with 600°F, 700°F or 800°F tips)
- Weight: 8 oz. in-hand
- Warranty: One year
- Tips: Weller CT6 series
Adjustable Temperature-Controlled Soldering Iron
|- Wattage: 67W|
- Voltage: 120V
- Temp range: 464°F - 1004°F
- Temp control: Temp-adjustment dial in handle
- Weight: 4 oz. in-hand
- Warranty: 90 days
- Tips: Hakko T19 series
When I first started making jewelry with lead-free soft solder, I used the cheap kind of soldering iron you can get for like $5 at the local hardware store. I managed to scrape by with that sucker for a few months before I sold enough finished pieces of jewelry to buy a Weller soldering station. I’ve gotta tell you, that was a real game-changer.
Since then, I’ve tried quite a few different types of soldering irons, and they’re really all over the map. Here’s the deal: you can totally cheap out like I did at first and get by. But you’ve gotta be super lucky.
First off, soldering irons that can obtain a higher temperature faster are going to make a huge difference and simultaneously take a lot of frustration out of your learning curve. Many people think their brand-new soldering iron is defective – but really, it probably wasn’t designed to use a jewelry-grade solder (which melts at a higher temperature).
Most cheap soldering irons are designed for plumbing or small electronic work, and therefore are rated to be used with lead solder, which has a much lower melting point.
*At this point, I must stress how absolutely vital it is that you only use lead-free solder for jewelry. Not only is it bad for your health, it’s also illegal to use in jewelry in the US. And for good reason. Lead poisoning causes long-term, irreparable neurological damage (plus it makes your teeth fall out). I don’t recommend it.
High wattages mean high temperature, which gets you the best results faster. And dependable temperature control can be the difference between a perfect decorative pewter ball and you screaming in frustration as you simultaneously pull your hair out. Save yourself.
Target temperatures for lead-free, jewelry-grade metal alloy solders start at 450 degrees fahrenheit (ahem, Silvergleem is the best: it’s made with 96% tin/4% silver. Strong and simply lovely).
“Do I Really Need a 100-Watt Iron?”
Many will tell you that a 100W iron is the only way to fly. But you can easily get away with less, no problem. As long as it’s a quality model, has the right tip and maintains constant temperature.
That’s why it’s better to start out with a well-known brand that comes with dependable reviews – you can always go back and try a cheapo one later (though seriously…why?!).
I’m here to shed some light on the best soldering irons, according to the actual artists and jewelry makers who rely on them.
It will all come down to personal preference and what works for you, but these irons are all very solid choices, – so read on!
Weller WE1010NA Digital Soldering Station
Weller has been a staple for me, and I know many other jewelers who swear by Weller’s WE1010NA. It’s at a pretty affordable price, and it’s pretty much the industry standard. It’s got a big temperature range, which is good because it works for both regular lower temperature solder and lead-free solder. If you want to replace the tips yourself, they’re easy to find, and they’re easy to use.
This was the first high-quality pen-style soldering iron I ever used for making jewelry with the Tiffany method. It came with a pencil tip, but once I changed it to a chisel, I was absolutely in love.
This iron helps the solder flow like buttah. The rheostat temp control is intuitive and easy to keep an eye on.
Temperature accuracy and stability are standout with this model. If the temperature starts fluctuating (which can happen if your wiring is newer – go figure), just let your iron rest a few seconds until it gets back up to temp.
The pen tip means you’re much less likely to want to crowd the hot end with enthusiastic fingers, and working sessions can go longer because it’s so darn lightweight.
Only thing I didn’t like about this model was the soldering iron stand. Get one that’s more stable (try the Noah Premium Soldering Iron Holder with Brass Coil Tip Cleaner).
Weller W100PG 100-Watt Soldering Iron
If you’ve had previous experience using a soldering iron for stained glass, then the Weller 100W may be an ideal pick for you. It’s pretty affordable, gets hot very quickly, maintains its temperature like nobody’s business, and it’s easy to use.
I must admit, the 100W Wellers are clunkier to use simply because they’re larger. However, because of this you’ll rarely have to worry about temperature dips or your solder not flowing.
And, if you’re going to work on stained glass, the Weller W100PG is fantastic for working larger areas. This makes it a dual-duty iron that works well on big projects and jewelry pursuits (both of which utilize the Tiffany technique).
When it comes to jewelry-making, you’ll definitely want to buy a smaller tip (I prefer the smaller chisel tip).
Why Everyone Loves Weller Soldering Irons
Wellers are the number one choice of stained glass artists, which makes it a great iron for anyone using the Tiffany technique to make jewelry.
Always be sure to use a proper flux and clean the tip before every use. It’ll make all the difference.
Hakko FX5\601-02 Adjustable Temperature-Controlled Soldering Iron
The 67-watt Hakko FX5\601-02 Adjustable Temperature-Controlled Soldering Iron is another fan favorite (and yes, I have one of these too).
First off, it’s got a good temperature range, which means you can do fancier tricks like making solder balls and stamping patterns. Plus it boasts a ceramic heating element and highly accurate temperature control dial so you can easily adjust the temperature to whatever you need.
The lower wattage also makes the Hakko FX5 more energy efficient (and a better choice if you’re looking to take your soldering on the road – #vanlife).
I really like this iron, but I wish I could watch the temp fluctuating on-screen like I can with my pen-style Weller. If you have more reliable wiring (houses built before the 80s generally have more copper content in the wiring, which is good), this may not be an issue for you.
The pen style is lightweight and stays out of your way when doing finer detailed work, too. With all the bells and whistles (and ceramic technology!), the Hakko FX601-02 is fairly priced and a great value compared to others in its class.
Last thing: counterfeit Hakkos are rampant. Make sure you purchase directly from Hakko’s store if you’re buying through Amazon (link below). I’ve heard some horror stories about people who thought they were getting a genuine Hakko at a price that was almost too good to be true…and then it turns out, it was.
Hakko will not honor the warranty on fakes, so be sure it’s the model from Amazon’s “Hakko Store!”
The Best Soldering Tips for the Tiffany Technique
You can get any number of different solder tips, but in my opinion, there’s really only one you absolutely need – and that’s the lowly chisel tip.
A chisel tip has more conductive surface area than a lot of the other tips, and it can be rotated to take advantage of the narrow or wide edges, depending on what your jewelry work calls for.
Plus, the chisel tip is probably the easiest for learning the decorative dot technique (aka “solder balls”).
Second, I recommend a pencil tip with as much conductive surface area as possible (there are several types of pencil soldering iron tips available – they are produced for the soldering of electrical components).
You can see a more matte-finished part on most solder tip ends – this is the conductive part. Generally, the larger the conductive area, the easier it will be for soldering jewelry (this is not so for electrical soldering, so bear that in mind).
Pencil tips excel when it comes to adding jump rings to your jewelry designs. They keep the heat right where you want it – without worry of messing up surrounding areas that may have fancier stamping or other embellishing techniques.
|Soldering Iron||Tip Series||Shop|
|Weller WE1010NA Digital Soldering Station||Weller ET||Check Price on Amazon|
|Weller W100PG 100-Watt Soldering Iron||Weller CT6||Check Price on Amazon|
|Hakko FX5\601-02 Adjustable|
Temperature-Controlled Soldering Iron
|Hakko T19||Check Price on Amazon|
A Note on Quality
Beware of those unrecognizably named cheapo models on Amazon. It may look like they have great reviews, but if you dig a little further (PRO TIP: sort by most recent, if you can), you’ll see some very unhappy customers.
This is because when a product first becomes available on Amazon, many unscrupulous sellers will offer free gift cards to those who leave good reviews. This is very much against the rules…but sellers do it anyway. That’s why it’s always best to sort the reviews on any product according to the most recent.
Another thing to look for? Reviews from people who are actually using those soldering irons for jewelry making (not soldering electrical components).
Don’t Bother with Extra Accessories
It may be tempting to opt for a soldering kit that comes with all the extra soldering tools. But those extras are probably more suited to electronics soldering and just end up collecting dust on your work table.
Most kits come with the following: solder wire with a rosin core – which you shouldn’t use for jewelry anyway, anti-static tweezers (these are for electronic components), a solder sucker (aka “desoldering pump”), and crappy soldering iron stand.
Rosin-core solder is meant to be used in applications where you can’t clean off the flux residue, like electronics soldering. Rosin is made from evergreen tree sap, and it acts as a mild (not-very-acidic) flux.
Rosin-core solder usually boasts a proprietary alloy, and may contain any number of metals (some of which may irritate skin); therefore it shouldn’t be used for jewelry making. Stick with the good stuff that only has tin and silver in it (Silvergleem solder).
The solder sucker can be useful, but the ones that come with the irons are generally pretty, well… sucky. And not in a good way.
And finally, that crappy free-standing soldering iron stand that comes with most no-name brands of irons is more of a liability than a helpful soldering tool. It’ll generally have just one screw holding the spiral holder in place and start spinning round in fun yet dangerous ways after just a few minutes of use.
Just say no to the cheapo stands and buy yourself a good one if the iron isn’t already attached. Look for a soldering iron holder with at least two solid connection points to the base (so it doesn’t take your iron for a tilt ‘o whirl every time you put it down).
Some holders also have a spot to keep a wet sponge and/or a brass scouring pad to clean corrosion off tips hands-free. These kinds are pretty cool and generally a good investment.
I hope this has been helpful! I know buying your first iron can feel like a big investment, but it really is best to opt for trusted models that are renowned for their quality (and have a decent warranty). It will definitely save you money in the end.
If you have any questions, please feel free to drop a comment below. And as always, thanks so much for stopping by!