Heat gun and soldering iron buying guide

When it comes to home repairs, hobbies or DIY projects, the safe and controlled application of heat can be a useful part of the process. There are different types of handy tools available that can melt, shrink, loosen or otherwise change the properties of materials you are working with. If you’re looking to complete your home tool set and work station, take a look at our range of hot air guns and soldering irons available to buy online. These specialised devices are easy to use and deliver fast temperature changes when needed, but it’s important to know the difference between the basic types before you buy.

An air gun with temperature control is a pretty basic device that can be deployed to focus heat on an object. A soldering iron is a lightweight hand tool that creates a join between two pieces using individual solder joints. Add both to your range of home appliances and you will be better placed to undertake a variety of electrical work, plumbing, arts and crafts or repairs around the house. A hot air gun is particularly useful for regular household tasks like wallpaper removal or drying wet paint when decorating.

While an air gun or a soldering iron is simple to use, there are certain things you should think about before you make your purchase. Read our buyers guide to help you sort the sense from the technical jargon and get the right tool for your project.

Heat guns

A heat gun is a portable, hand-held device that directs air through a tube pointing in one direction. Equipped with a nozzle to control the air flow, an electric fan and heating element with an insulated handle which ensures safe use, most models connect to the mains electricity supply through a cable. Controls within the heat gun allow exact temperatures to be selected for performing different tasks, while temperatures can often be monitored accurately on a digital display.

Temperature control

Most heat guns recommended for home use have a lowest temperature setting of around 49°C, although some models come with a separate setting of around 30°C to aid fast cooling when an area has been treated. Top temperatures for domestic models can be as high as 600°C. A heat gun for domestic use is generally available from around £30 to £60.

The heat settings are the most important consideration when buying a heat gun. You can match the temperatures to the type of jobs you want to undertake and then look for the best model available.

For example, if you’re looking to blister old paint or soften putty to be scraped off a wall then you should be able to set your heat gun to between 90 and 200°C. This fairly low level of heat can also be applied to vinyl tiles to soften them before cutting when laying flooring.

You’ll need a range between 200 and 400°C for general electrical and plumbing soldering projects that require applied heat. Similar temperatures would be suitable for thawing a frozen lock or treating a rusted nut to loosen the fixture; heat guns are often used in plumbing to thaw frozen pipes or to carefully create a bend in a PVC pipe.

Styles

Heat guns can have a closed handle for extra protection while operating and a digital control panel to monitor functions. Some models offer a thermal stop automatic shutdown function of the heating element should it become temporarily overloaded which is a useful safety feature. Others provide an air gun station for storing the device when it is not in use or a travel case for ease of transport.

Soldering irons

A soldering iron is a thin hand tool with a heated metal tip that is used to melt a metal alloy - the solder material - and form a join between two work pieces. The device is supplied with an insulated hard plastic handle and a current is passed through a heating element providing controlled temperatures. The iron is then applied directly to the material at the point of the individual solder joints. Typically used to join wires, it’s particularly effective in forming strong conductive bonds when working with electronics and circuit boards in the home.

Soldering station

Soldering irons can be purchased with a soldering station attached to a variable power supply. This way you can precisely control the temperature of the solder tip, unlike a standard iron where the tip temperature will increase when idle and decrease when actively applying heat to a joint. A soldering station can assist with more precise tasks and hobbies or more prolonged use. The station is usually equipped with a stand for when the soldering iron is not being utilised.

Cleaning a soldering iron

Soldering tips are typically copper plated with iron, which oxidises through use. Tips should be ‘tinned’ with a little solder to reduce oxidisation. Rubbing a hot iron tip on a damp small sponge helps remove any excess solder that may be clinging to the tip. When the iron has been unplugged and allowed to cool some sandpaper can be used to remove oxidisation that may have accumulated, paying attention not to damage the tip.

Uses for soldering irons

Soldering is a technique that can be used in a range of assembly processes when working on electronics equipment. A soldering iron can be useful in joining sheet metal objects together and when undertaking some household repairs. Soldered joints are not particularly strong, so shouldn’t be used where there’s large amounts of weight involved, but can be used in some car and engine repair techniques.

A soldering iron is a handy tool in home plumbing with repairing or installing copper pipes. Conversely, many people who make jewelry as a hobby rely on soldering to combine metal pieces such as chains or to repair breaks in clasps or pins. The type of solder used will depend on what metal the jewelry is made from.

1