Solder—pronounced SAW dur: you don’t say the L— is a metal alloy capable of fusing with other metals when melted to create a joint. Solder is characterized by having a relatively low melting point. Soldering means “joining or fusing with solder,” and this process can be done using a variety of soldering tools. Soldering is used to connect piece of metal or wires and has applications in making or repairing jewelry, in creating stained glass, in electrical work to create an electrical contact, in plumbing to seal pipe joints, and automotive repair, for example. Soldering is distinguished from welding primarily by the temperature—welding is a hotter process— and therefore by the tools used.
Soldering tools include both those tools developed specifically for the task of soldering as well as tools designed for other tasks that can be hijacked for soldering when necessary. In addition to the tool that melts the alloy, a number of ancillary tools help in the process. These include soldering iron tips to vary the size of the area to which heat is directed, a soldering iron holder so you can safely rest the soldering iron when it’s hot and clean the tip, needle nose pliers and wire strippers if you’re working with wire, clips and clamps to hold your work, safety goggles to protect your eyes, and exhaust fan to clear out the fumes.
There are several different tools used for hand soldering. Soldering irons come in low-wattage and high-wattage versions, as well as a variable temperature version that gives you control over the heat setting. The soldering iron is quick to heat up and cool down and are widely available.
A soldering gun is a soldering tool that is shaped very much like a hand drill, using a trigger switch for one-handed operation. The soldering gun cools so fast that it doesn’t need a holder. The tip is a wire loop, which is easy to manipulate but needs regular replacement. The electromagnetic spike caused by the trigger release can also be problematic.
Soldering torches—which may use propylene, acetylene, or other fuels—are also soldering tools. Jewelers use soldering torches for metals that require higher heat than soldering irons and soldering guns deliver. These include copper, gold, and sterling silver.
Hot-air pencils are very lightweight soldering tools. Some are designed with a self-contained air flow in the one-piece set, which also has a storing place for the pencil, so no extra holder is needed. The slim design allows the area you’re working on to remain in view, and it is created for touch-free soldering of precision parts, particularly those that are delicate or heat sensitive.