Butane soldering irons are becoming more and more common, offering a versatile option to conventional and cordless electric soldering irons.
This article aims to help you make an informed decision to choose the best tool to suit your needs.
Butane Soldering Iron
Modern butane soldering irons are wonderful because they are cordless and offer a degree of temperature control. Besides, depending on the model, you can remove the tip and use them as a micro torch to do a number of jobs that are impossible to do using an electric soldering iron.
Since they are cordless, you don’t have to worry about not getting tangled in the power cord, and you can use them anywhere because they don’t need grid power to operate.
As the name suggests, these soldering irons are powered by butane gas, a popular gas used in many applications such as portable stoves, plumbing torches, and others.
The tool has a refillable tank located inside the handle.
You don’t need a lighter to turn them on; they have ignition systems to create a flame that heats up a catalyzer that heats the tip. To use it like torches, they bring a nozzle that is fitted instead of the soldering tip. The flame leaves the nozzle instead of heating the tip.
Another interesting feature is that the gas flow and flame size are adjustable, which makes it even more versatile.
Electric Soldering Iron
Electric soldering irons are the most commonly used in different industries. They are much simpler than their butane-powered counterparts. When talking about them, the first image that comes to people’s minds is a corded tool; however, there are cordless soldering irons.
I will make a short description of both models, so then I can show you a comparison between the three models.
Corded/Conventional Soldering Iron
Corded soldering irons use electricity to generate heat. They usually work with grid current; however, there are some low-power models that work with 12V DC. Electricity flows through a resistor inside the handle, also called the heating element, that transfers temperature to the tip. The handle works as an insulator so that you can handle the tool safely.
These soldering irons don’t have a power switch; they start heating as soon as you plug them in and don’t usually allow any temperature regulation. The maximum temperature they can reach is defined by their wattage, which depends on the size of their resistor.
Cordless Soldering Iron
Cordless soldering irons are powered by rechargeable batteries that generate a current that flows to a heating element that turns the electric energy into heat, just as their corded counterparts.
Besides being portable, they can be powered on and off easily, and some models feature temperature control. They are great standalone tools, and the absence of a power cord makes them pretty comfortable.
Comparison: Butane vs Electric
Let’s take a deeper look at these tools’ characteristics.
Both butane and battery-powered soldering irons are extremely portable and allow working outdoors or far from a power outlet without problems. Of course, corded soldering irons are easy to transport but don’t allow working on the go.
Comparing butane and battery-powered soldering irons, the latter are slightly heavier due to the weight of the batteries. Another thing to consider is that butane soldering irons that are charged using butane cans that you can get in any hardware store are capable of working for hours with one bottle.
On the other hand, battery-powered soldering irons’ autonomy relies on how many spare battery packs you have or how far from a power outlet you are.
Note: It’s also important to note that the availability of butane refills can vary by location, making it potentially challenging to use butane soldering irons in countries where butane gas cans are not readily available.
In this department, the butane soldering irons are the clear winners. They can reach higher temperatures than their electrical counterparts and usually come with exchangeable tips.
As if that weren’t enough, you can remove the tip and switch it by a nozzle to turn it into a mini torch. It sounds like a James Bond gadget designed by Q.
When used with the tip on, they work like a regular soldering iron; their tip heats up, allowing them to melt solder for electric and electronic applications and other tasks like, for example, woodworking. When the tip is off, you can do some plumbing, roofing, and other tasks, making this tool super versatile.
The second place in terms of versatility is for the cordless-electric soldering irons with temperature control, which allow working in different applications with one tool, unlike electrical ones that have a fixed temperature, which limits the jobs you can do using the same tool.
All butane soldering irons have a lever or a dial, depending on the model, that regulates the gas flow and controls the flame. This method is not as accurate as digital temperature control, but it’s very practical.
Some units have a scale, and the user’s manual has a chart indicating the estimated temperature of each position. Besides, when using them as torches, you can also regulate the intensity and heat of the flame.
Not all cordless-electric soldering irons have this feature, but many models do. The basic models only have buttons or dials that allow choosing between “high” and “low”, and others have three or four set temperatures. The most advanced models bring digital temperature control, which is accurate and very practical.
Some corded soldering irons also offer precise digital temperature control, but they are quite delicate for professional or everyday use.
Heating time depends on the model, characteristics, and construction of the soldering iron. Butane soldering irons are among the fastest, with models that take only 20 seconds to heat up. Pluggable soldering irons’ heating time depends on their wattage and their quality; the fastest ones take 25 seconds to heat up, and high-wattage models can take up to 90 seconds to reach their operating temperature.
Battery-powered soldering irons’ heat-up times depend on their batteries and wattage. Some top-notch models feature a button that activates a function called “rapid-start” that allows them to heat up in less than 10 seconds, sacrificing some battery life. The average heating time of a battery-powered soldering iron is 50 seconds, and the slowest models can take about 80 seconds to reach their maximum temperature.
To make a fair comparison, you should compare heating times for the same goal temperature. The fastest times I mentioned earlier are for reaching temperatures of 350 to 400 °C (662 to 752 °F).
Power (Wattage) and Thermal Efficiency
Below, you will find a list of the power and temperatures each type of soldering iron can reach.
|Type (Power Source)||Wattages||Temperature|
|Butane||25 to 125 Watts||232 to 500 °C (450 to 932 °F)|
|Grid Current||25 to 100 Watts||232 to 500°C (450 to 932 °F)|
|Batteries||15 to 75 Watts||100 to 450 °C (212 to 842 °F)|
For example, if you leave a 60W electric soldering iron powered for enough time, you can reach the same temperature as a 100W model. This is because the wattage is a power unit, and the maximum heat is also determined by the heating element and tip’s quality and characteristics.
Wattage is more associated with heating and temperature recovery times and thermal stability. When using a low-powered battery soldering iron with 15 Watts, the sole contact with solder will lower the tip’s temperature, while a 30W model will tend to have a constant temperature during the soldering process.
In this matter, butane and pluggable electric soldering irons are more stable and have better thermal efficiency than most battery-powered ones.
Corded electric soldering irons require almost no maintenance compared to their cordless counterparts. You don’t need to worry about anything other than cleaning their tip regularly, as you would with any other soldering iron.
Cordless electric soldering irons additionally require battery maintenance, checking the battery charge, and frequent charging.
Butane soldering irons are a little more complex because they have mechanical and electromechanical parts to take care of, like the ignition mechanism, the filling port, and other parts that need attention.
First, let’s compare the upfront costs of the three different types of soldering irons.
- Corded Electric Soldering Irons: These are the more affordable types of soldering irons, with prices that range from $25 for entry-level models to $90 for a professional unit.
- Battery-powered Soldering Irons: You can get decent products from $35 to high-end models with advanced features like digital temperature regulation, powerful battery packs, and multiple tips for about $200.
- Butane Soldering Irons: These products cost about $30 to $150, depending on their brand kits and features. Most models come with multiple tips useful for desoldering, joining wires, and other uses besides welding electronic components.
Another thing to consider is the operational cost of each type of soldering iron.
Corded soldering irons are the least expensive to operate. They are powered by grid current and don’t use as much power as an average laptop computer. Making a rough estimate, considering an average price of electricity of $20 per KW/h, operating a 60-watt soldering iron costs $1,2 per hour.
Butane soldering irons can work at their maximum power for about one or two hours. Considering that they can store about 30 ml of butane, and one 150 ml bottle costs $15, you would spend about $3 every two hours of continuous use at full power.
When using them as torches, their gas consumption increases significantly. Of course, this doesn’t include traveling to the hardware store to purchase the cans or shipping costs, but it gives you a reasonable estimate of these tools’ operational costs.
Battery-powered soldering irons can work for an hour at full power with a single charge and take approximately two hours to recharge. The charger doesn’t need much electricity, but you should consider that a replacement battery pack can cost as much as the tool for medium-priced models and about 40% of the price of a high-end unit.
All three models are safe when used carefully and following the manufacturer’s instructions and general soldering safety guidelines. However, battery-powered models are slightly safer since they don’t operate using high-voltage and don’t require handling a flammable gas like butane.
Overall, there are no serious safety concerns for any of the three; they are all tested and follow strict regulations so that any responsible adult can use them without significant risks.
Electric or Butane: Which is Better?
- Butane Soldering Irons: Ideal for fieldwork or remote locations due to their cordless nature and multi-functionality, such as plumbing or outdoor repair jobs.
- Corded Electric Soldering Irons: Best for extended use in professional soldering workstations where temperature precision and stable power supply are crucial.
- Battery-Powered Soldering Irons: Suitable for quick, small jobs where portability is essential but high temperature or long usage time is not required, like simple wire repairs.
Considering all the above and my own experience, butane soldering irons are versatile tools that are practical and ideal for a wide range of tasks. They are an excellent option for hobbies and home use, even when they are slightly more expensive to run than their electric counterparts.
If I had to choose one of the three, I would go for the butane soldering iron.
For professional use in the field of electronics, I stick with a corded electrical high-quality 35W soldering iron, and it’s not that the butane-powered alternative is worse, but for extended use, I don’t find it practical. Imagine refilling the tool at least once a week, compared with just plugging it into the power grid.
Finally, I don’t find battery-powered soldering irons attractive, even the most advanced models, because, for the price you would pay for one of these, you can buy a decent soldering station, and if you need portability, butane soldering irons are lighter, more reliable, and practical. In this article, you have all the info and facts to make an informed decision and find the best choice to suit your needs.
David Castillo is an automotive industry expert specializing in vehicle electronics and stand-alone fuel management systems. He has over 20 years of experience and owns a car repair garage and tuning shop.
David still runs his shop but is now more focused on pre-purchase car inspections and writing for FinePowerTools.
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