Help me choose a soldering iron

Hi All,

Looking to add an HF soldering iron like what we have in the E-lab to my home workshop. Can someone familiar point me toward what specs I should be looking for? I have several old irons that basically plug into the wall, take forever to heat, don’t do a good job… etc. need to upgrade!

Is $80-100 a valid budget, or are the ones we have in the lab significantly higher? Seen them all over on Amazon, from 40-400, so if anyone has any insight I’d love to hear it!

Hakko rocks!

They warm up fast, have very durable tips, and you can program the temp for different solder mixes.

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I have the Hakko fx888 and love it.

100% recommend!

(Can usually find them new for around $100)


So, there’s kinda 3 major types of good 'irons.

#1 The Hakko FX888 type, with a ceramic heating element, and and “old style” soldering iron tip that’s just literally a metal sleeve for the element. These are the cheapest on the upfront cost and the consumables front, with the only problem of temperature overshoot and undershoot. If it’s your first iron you won’t notice. If you’re used to the Metcal’s in elab you’ll probably whine about it a bit but it won’t really affect what you’re doing unless you’re working with really large things or really small things.

#2 The Hakko FX-951 type. It’s a cartridge style, still technically a similar heating element, but the assembly is designed so the temperature measurement and heating has a much smaller K value in the PID loop which means it has less overshoot and undershoot with the trade off of the carts are more expensive than just simple “tips” and they are more prone to failure (IMO). Also a great choice, kinda a middle of the road option. These exist in the elab, you can check them out.

#3 The Metcal or RF type irons. These are pricey, but worth it if you’re using them day in and day out. If you make money off your soldering this is what you should buy IMO. They work off the magic of magentics and are “perfect” with no overshoot or undershoot, maximum power output right up until it hits the temp and then just what it needs to stay the perfect temp for soldering. The only two downsides are cost (new like $1k, used on ebay a couple hundred) and the fact that the soldering tip is fixed temperature. You have a tip for 351C, if you want 420C then you’d need a different tip. On the other types of irons you can turn a knob or fiddle with some buttons to set it how you like.

I personally own a FX-888 (non-D model because I like my analog turn knob instead of up arrow up arrow up arrow etc). I’m planning on purchasing a Metcal MX500 at some point, but for the last 15? years the FX-888 has served me well and I’ve put 1000s of hours on it with work, contracting, and play.


I bought my Hakko 888D a long time ago, and I absolutely love it. Tips are available most anywhere in a wide array of styles, it’s got enough power to work on large boards that heat soak (looking at you PS5…) and while I’m sure there are irons with more precise temperature control, I’ve never noticed an issue with it.

10/10 it’s been a great investment for me. Works on everything from Pontiacs to iPhones lol.


Hakko irons are very nice. I prefer the cartridge style because I get the fast response/heat times without paying the ‘metcal tax’. I did have a cheaper cartridge iron that was finicky (aoyue), but I haven’t had an issue with the Hakko or JBC irons I’ve used. Treated properly a tip should last more than a year so I’ve never been worried about the additional cost of the cartridges.

On a desktop iron, I would look for a stand that can put it in sleep mode automatically. It’s saved me from leaving an iron on a few times, and since the iron can reheat so quickly (150-350 in 3s) I’ve never been slowed down by it.

If that’s all too pricey, the Pinecil is cartridge based and is <$100. It runs off USB-C and is all integrated in the handle.


Just make sure you don’t buy a look-alike.

There are many (literally) Chinese copies of Hakko and some are OK, but most are junk. It’s hard to predict because some brands (like Aoyue) do good, faithful copies of some models, and flat out dangerous lookalikes of others.

Get a Hakko, Weller industrial (baby blue, not red) JBC or used Metcal. Some US industrial brands of yore are so outdated that they should be avoided. I think the old Weller TCP series are on the edge, but probably good enough (and cheap used) for a first purchase. That, and factory tips and parts are available, unlike most of the newer stuff.


Looks like the Hakko is the clear winner here!

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