Are you confused if a soldering iron or a soldering gun is the better tool for your project? While both are designed to melt solder, their differences are more than skin-deep.
In this comparison guide, I’ll explain the key differences between the tools, pros and cons, to help you find out which is better for your specific needs.
Let’s heat things up…
Key Features of Soldering Irons and Guns
Let’s take a quick look at the main characteristics of both tools.
Soldering irons are the most popular devices used for soldering and are extremely simple.
You just have to plug them into a power outlet and wait for a short time until they heat up. The tip is heated by a resistance, also called the “heating element”.
These tools are often called pencil-style solders because of their shape and how they are held.
The most common models come from 25 to 80 Watts, which is great for working with components and solders that don’t require much heat.
Generally, they offer no control over heat, and the only way to turn them off is to unplug them, although some expensive and rare models offer some sort of temperature control. This makes them pretty uncomfortable to use when working for extended periods since the only way to prevent overheating is to unplug them.
Their shape and low power make them practical and ideal for high-precision jobs where high temperatures may damage the components.
The main characteristic of soldering guns is their pistol-like shape with a trigger that enables the user to turn heat on and off easily.
They are more powerful than soldering irons, with powers that go from 60W in some small models to almost 300W.
Soldering guns have a transformer that lowers the power grid voltage before it passes through the resistance that generates the heat, which makes them bulkier and heavier than soldering irons. Some models have lights for illuminating the working area, and sometimes, they feature a rudimentary temperature control.
The tips of soldering guns are also different than the ones used by soldering irons, so that’s another factor to consider when comparing both tools.
Difference Between Soldering Iron vs. Soldering Gun
Now, let’s see a head-to-head comparison between both tools.
Design and Ergonomics
Both tools have a different approach in terms of design; soldering irons are designed to be held as a pen, while soldering guns are more similar to other power tools, like glue guns or impact wrenches.
Some people find soldering guns easier to use as they are more familiar with other power tools, but most people would find the soldering iron easy to maneuver.
Ultimately, it’s just a question of practice and adapting to each device.
Ease of Use
If you are wondering which one is easier to use, the fair answer would be that it depends on the task and your preferences. Soldering irons can’t be simpler; they start heating as soon as you plug them in.
However, this simplicity sometimes makes them impractical since you don’t have any control over the temperature, and if you are working for extended periods, you will need to have a stand at hand to keep the hot tip away from your workbench and other components.
Leaving them plugged in can be catastrophic if forgotten.
Switching the trigger on and off provides some degree of temperature control and allows you to stop soldering at any time and resume the job without unplugging them. This also makes them safer because you don’t have to worry about forgetting to unplug them, although it’s not recommended to leave them plugged when not in use.
It is important to highlight that soldering guns are heavier than soldering irons, which may be a downside when working for extended periods.
Both devices have relatively fast heat-up times, but soldering guns often have faster heat-up and cooling rates than soldering irons.
Soldering guns are more powerful than soldering irons, which makes them perfect for jobs such as joining thick wires but not so practical for high-precision soldering.
As mentioned above, soldering guns’ power makes them less precise than soldering irons with the correct wattage. It would be unfair to say that all soldering irons are suitable for high-precision jobs since units more powerful than 30-45 Watts can damage the electronic components being soldered, the PCB, and the parts nearby.
Besides, the tip of soldering guns is not suitable for working with delicate pieces.
Both tools are portable and easy to carry; even when soldering guns are heavier and bulkier than soldering irons, they are pretty compact, not bigger than an average power drill.
Soldering Iron vs. Soldering Station
If you are looking for a tool offering the same or more precision as a soldering iron, with the possibility to fine-tune the temperature and a power switch, and portability is not an issue, then you should check our article about soldering stations.
They offer temperature control, and there are different soldering stations to suit everyone’s needs and budgets.
When it comes to cost, soldering irons are generally more affordable, with basic models costing as low as $10.
Soldering guns, on the other hand, typically start at a higher price point.
Choosing the Right Soldering Tool
Choosing between a soldering iron and a soldering gun depends on the job and components you will be dealing with. I’ve made a list of the tasks best suited for each tool.
Soldering irons are a common tool among electronic professionals and enthusiasts because they are practical and versatile. Low-wattage models are great for high-precision jobs, and high-wattage models, from 60 Watts up, overlap a little with soldering guns.
So, let’s look deeper at what soldering irons are best suited for.
- High-Precision Soldering: Soldering irons are ideal for working with delicate circuits and sensitive components like SMDs and integrated circuits. Their thin tip allows excellent control, and their relatively low working temperature prevents damaging the components.
- Electronic Repairs: Soldering irons are better than soldering guns to repair small, delicate electronic devices. They are better at focusing heat on the workpieces without transferring heat to nearby components, which could be damaged by heat exposure.
- Joining Thin/Medium Wires: Soldering irons produce enough heat to join thin and medium wires quickly and safely. Besides, they are perfect for attaching wires to electronic connectors, where precision is key to prevent the connector from melting.
Because soldering guns are more powerful, they are great for heavy-duty tasks. Besides, the trigger is a plus for jobs where you need to turn the heat off and back on in a short time.
- Joining Thick Wires: Soldering guns are excellent for joining thick wires, where you not only need enough temperature for heating the wires, but you may need to use a solder with a high melting point. They are efficient for electric jobs and are a must-have tool for electricians.
- Heavy-Duty Soldering and Desoldering Old Joints: Electric motors, alternators, and other heavy-duty electric components use solder much harder than the one used for other applications. Working with these components and solder requires more power and heat than electronic applications.
Even the most powerful soldering irons (80 Watts or 100 Watts) are sometimes not enough to handle these tasks.
The same goes when you need to remove old, hardened joints. A standard soldering iron won’t do the job; that’s when the soldering gun comes in handy.
- Repairing Heavy-Duty Machinery and Electric Circuitry: Soldering guns are ideal for repairing heavy-duty machinery and soldering big connectors and terminals like the ones used in large fuse boxes and electrical control panels used in households and industrial facilities.
As a rule of thumb, soldering irons are better for working on electronics and delicate jobs, and soldering guns are tougher and more convenient for jobs demanding a lot of heat, like joining thick wires or fixing heavy-duty electric motors.
Generalizing, soldering irons with 80W and more and soldering guns are best suited for electrical jobs, and soldering irons with less than 80W are better for electronics. However, generalization is not always good, but it serves as an example and to clarify things.
When I started to get interested in electronics many years ago, my dad had a pretty powerful soldering gun, which I used for my first projects. It wasn’t ideal, but it helped me to take my first steps, and I think my dad felt safe about a pre-teenager using it because, thanks to the trigger mechanism, it was impossible to set the house on fire.
As my skills grew and after ruining a few components due to overheating, I got my first proper soldering iron. I didn’t set the house on fire, but I left some burns on my workbench, which are still at my parent’s home, as a reminder of my first attempts to build some complex stuff.
When I started my auto repair garage, I used a medium-wattage soldering iron, which was decent for both electric and electronic jobs, and because I learned how to use it properly, I never burnt something other than solder. Because of my line of work, I never felt the need to have a soldering gun at my shop.
I told you about my personal experience to stand a point; not everything is black and white. When used with care, you can do some electronic jobs with a soldering gun; it’s not ideal, but it will work.
In terms of safety, it’s great to have a way to power off the device without unplugging it, but once again, if you use a soldering iron carefully and take the necessary precautions, you will be fine. For more information, I strongly recommend you read my soldering safety guide.
In conclusion, a soldering gun will be practical if you work with heavy-duty applications.
If you work with both applications (most heavy-duty applications also have controllers with PCBs and complex electronics) or in two different fields, I recommend you have at least a 30W soldering iron and a soldering gun for more tough jobs.
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.
Back to Contents
- Key Features of Soldering Irons and Guns
- Difference Between Soldering Iron vs. Soldering Gun
- Choosing the Right Soldering Tool
- Closing Thoughts