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Whether you’re brand-new to soldering or you’ve been doing it a while, you might be wondering the differences between a soldering gun and a soldering iron. Which one is the best choice for you? The simple answer is both!
The major difference between them is that guns are better for heavy-duty jobs and irons are better for small jobs. However, each has advantages and disadvantages that are worth consideration.
|Instant heating and cooling
|Slow to heat. Once hot, it stays hot.
|Consume more energy
|Great for hard-to-reach spaces
Work on larger, commercial projects
|Only good for small projectsSafe for many delicate projects
|Potential to shock
|Lower wattage, less prone to shock
|Tip needs frequent replacement
|Less frequent replacement of tips
|Can be clumsy to work with
|Easy to work with
To truly be successful with your soldering projects, you should consider those differences and choose the most logical option for your particular project. If you’re on the fence about which one to buy or use, read on to learn the key differences between soldering guns and irons and their specific applications.
Soldering Guns: How They Work and What They Do
First, let’s discuss soldering guns and how they are used.
How Does a Soldering Gun Work?
Soldering guns resemble handguns in their design and operation.
- Handheld. They can be easily held in one hand and have a trigger switch that you pull with your index finger. The tip of the gun is a loop of copper wire that heats up quickly when the trigger is pulled.
- Drill-like body. The body of a soldering gun is much like that of a handheld drill. There is a transformer inside the body of the gun that is activated when the trigger is pulled. This allows the electrical power of the gun to convert to heat in the tip of the tool.
- High heat. When the tip of the gun heats up, you can melt your solder and bond your metals together.
Soldering guns operate with extremely high heat, which is not ideal for delicate electronic circuit boards. They are much better suited for industrial use.
Advantages of a Soldering Gun
These are high-powered devices that are designed for large projects that require a lot of heat with minimal interruption of workflow. You can use them to solder the following items, among others:
- Heavy-duty electrical circuits
- Cable lugs
- Heavy connectors
- Brass elements
- Sheet metal
- Stained glass assembly
They are a great option for anything that is larger than your standard circuit board. They are also great for anything that requires higher than their low-powered cousins, the soldering irons.
A soldering gun can range anywhere from 100 watts to 240 watts, which makes it an excellent choice for all of the larger projects mentioned in the section above. The higher the power, typically the hotter the gun can get, which is a huge benefit for those large projects.
Instant Heating and Cooling
These tools heat up and cool down instantly when the trigger is depressed or released. This is a great benefit that eliminates the need for sitting around, waiting for it to heat up. It’s also fantastic when you’re soldering outside in the colder weather because that can affect irons, but not necessarily guns.
A soldering gun is awesome when it comes to the workflow of your project. You can turn them on and leave them on because of the rapid heating and cooling. If you only need the high-heat intermittently, you don’t have to constantly turn them off and on and subsequently wait for them to reheat.
Because the gun can be operated with one hand, it is often more convenient for work in odd spaces or for getting into spots that are hard to reach. They come in different sizes, so a smaller one would work really well in these instances. Note: this doesn’t mean it’s great for small jobs, just odd spaces where you can only get one hand.
Guns heat and cool rapidly, which is a really great benefit for your electric bill. They are extremely efficient in their transfer of electrical energy into heat. They don’t need a ton of energy to get hot, and they save energy by cooling off when not in use.
Disadvantages of a Soldering Gun
Although soldering guns have a ton of benefits, as discussed, there are also some drawbacks to consider before you choose a tool for your next project. Here are some of the disadvantages of using a soldering gun instead of an iron.
Soldering guns are significantly heavier than irons. They are designed for heavier projects and therefore have much heavier components built in. They are fine for the intermittent work for which they are often used but can get extremely heavy over a long period of time.
Potential for Electric Shock
Although most soldering guns come with safety warnings and instructions, it should still be noted that the tip is dangerous. Not only can you burn yourself by touching the tip of the gun, but you can also get a little electrical shock from it. It is made of copper wire, which is an excellent conductor of electricity.
In addition to the potential for electric shock, the tip of a soldering gun also needs to be replaced considerably more than that of an iron. The copper tends to degrade quickly during big soldering jobs, so it will need to be replaced several times as your work progresses. We recommend keeping several tips on hand at all times to avoid the need to stop a project for several days to get more tips.
Because soldering guns are larger than irons, they can be a little bit clumsy to work with. They tend to be harder to manipulate as a result. Remember, they can accommodate odd spaces, but not necessarily small spaces.
How does a soldering iron differ from a soldering gun? They are both used for similar reasons, but the size of the job makes a big difference. Let’s take a look.
How Does a Soldering Iron Work?
Soldering irons are typically designed like a pencil or a wand.
- Handheld. The grip on a soldering iron is heat resistant, with a rubber coating for comfort while working. They can easily be held in one hand but might need a second hand to steady the first.
- Lower heat for more delicate work. They generally have a much lower wattage than soldering guns and are perfect for smaller projects.
- One temperature. They do not have a switch or a trigger like a soldering gun, so once you plug them in and turn them on, they will begin to heat. Once fully heated, they will stay that way until you turn them off.
Advantages of a Soldering Iron
Some of the ideal projects for a soldering iron are as follows:
- Circuit boards
- Electrical wires
- Automotive wiring
- Small home projects
Since they are so much smaller and require lower wattage than soldering guns, they can be used for a large variety of projects. They also have temperatures that are low enough to be safe for delicate electronics.
Variety of Options
Soldering irons are much more common than soldering guns and come in a variety of sizes to fit various needs. Most of them also have several different tips that can be used for all kinds of projects. The more variety you have available, the better off you are.
They are much lighter than soldering guns, making them easier to work with, especially over long periods of time. If you have a project that is going to take several hours and can be completed with an iron or a gun, your best bet is to choose the iron. The fatigue will be minimal as compared to the gun.
Irons take a lot longer to heat up than guns, but once they are hot, they will stay that way longer than guns. In most cases, you can turn them on and leave them for the duration of your project. This allows for an uninterrupted workflow and more efficient job completion.
Disadvantages of a Soldering Iron
Soldering irons are not perfect by any stretch. There are a few things to consider in terms of disadvantages, as well.
Small Projects Only
These tools are only good for small projects such as those listed above. They will not stand up to larger projects that soldering guns are designed for. They are incapable of producing the heat necessary for most large or industrial projects.
Soldering irons heat very slowly and therefore consume more energy. Once heated, it is advisable to leave them on for the duration of your job, so you don’t have to wait for them to heat up again. They are not nearly as energy efficient as soldering guns.
How is a Soldering Station Different?
If you’re still not convinced that a soldering iron or gun is the right choice for your job, there is a third option to consider. A soldering station is a device that can be used for many of the same small projects that iron can handle. However, with a soldering station, you can connect a few different soldering tools and have them all heated at once.
Benefits of a Soldering Station
Having multiple tools already heated and at your fingertips will help your job move much more quickly. You can easily transition from one tool to the next without the need to stop and wait for it to heat up. This is also easier than changing out the tips on a single soldering iron.
You can monitor the temperature of the various tools on your station easily, which is a nice contrast to a soldering gun, which does not have this capability.
The station can be set to a certain temperature, and all of the tools will heat to that specification. Furthermore, they will stay at that temperature until you change them or turn off the station.
Things to Look for in a Soldering Gun or Iron
Now that you know the basic differences between soldering guns and irons, you might be ready to select a tool to work with. In a nutshell, choose an iron for delicate jobs and a gun for industrial jobs. The differences between the two should be obvious by this point.
Outside of delicate vs. industrial, how do you know which tool to choose? What steps should you take to choose the right one for you? For this process, you need to know the basic features and what you’re looking for.
The wattage is one of the most important factors to consider when selecting the proper tool. Most soldering irons range in wattage from 20-60W. In general, the higher the wattage, the better the iron. Anything up to 60W is safe for circuit boards and other electronics
Soldering guns range in wattage from 100-240W. These are much higher power and not suitable for small electronics. For industrial jobs, the same rule applies: the higher the wattage, the better.
The ability to control the temperature of your soldering tool is invaluable. If you are doing several different functions on the same job, you might need a soldering station with multiple tools and temperatures. If you’re using only one tool, it’s important to know the temperature before purchasing.
Since many guns and irons only have one temperature, you should do the research prior to purchasing the tool. If you’re going to use a station, you have more flexibility.
With soldering irons, you won’t need to replace the tips as frequently as with guns. However, it’s important to know the process of replacing them, where you can purchase them, and what is available. The last thing you want is to purchase a tool and find out later that the replacement tips are impossible to find.
Pro tip: it’s really smart to go ahead and purchase some additional tips when you buy the tool itself. This will save you some time and frustration during your soldering job. Nobody wants to stop what they’re doing to go buy more tips or have to order them online and wait two days.
Types of Tips – Size and Shape
Learning the types of tips that are available for the tool you want to purchase is also important. Some industrial jobs will be easier to complete with larger, fatter tips. Small electronics jobs will usually require really small tips.
You should also check to see how many (if any) different tips come with the tool you are considering. If you find two options that are similar in price and wattage, the bonus of having additional tips might be the better deal.
As with any purchase of electronics or power tools, you might want to consider one that has a warranty. Many tool manufacturers offer warranties with their tools to ensure that their customers can get issues resolved if they arise. Whether you’re buying online or in-store, be sure to ask about warranty options.
Pro tip: not all warranties are created equal. Be sure to read the fine print to see what exactly is covered in the warranty.
Many consumers are loyal to specific brands or companies, and for good reason. If you’ve always purchased tools from a specific manufacturer and had great experiences, there’s no reason to discontinue that practice. Soldering guns and irons are the same way.
If you’ve never purchased one before, we recommend jumping on a forum or reading some other blog posts about specific brands. You might also want to look up the different brands on Amazon, Reddit, or other places to read reviews from real users who have tried the products. Last but not least, you can check out some YouTube channels that do reviews on such products and see what others are saying.
Last but not least, you want to consider the price of the tools you want to purchase. As with most commercial goods, the more expensive price tag generally translates to a better product. If you’re planning to do a lot of soldering, you should consider splurging for the better equipment.
Soldering irons and guns have a huge price range and can be dependent upon many factors such as:
- Number of additional tips
- Brand name
- Country in which they were manufactured
All of these elements can affect the price of your tools. Be sure to compare them based on the features listed above, so you know you’re getting the most bang for your buck. We always recommend “comparing apples to apples” because it is the best way to know if one tool is better than another.
Soldering guns and irons are both really great tools to work with when you have a soldering job to complete. However, there are key differences to consider in the process of choosing the right tool. The basic deciding factor is whether your job is light electronics or heavy industrial-grade soldering.
Hopefully, you are now much more confident in making the decision not only between a gun and an iron but also which specific product to choose within each of those categories. There is no right or wrong answer because every job is different.