There’s a certain do it yourself aspect to amateur radio. Some take DIY much further than others, from simple kit building to elaborate home brewed radio and antenna systems. But eventually every ham will come to a point were they will need to solder something. be it to construct a simple cable or to put a PL-259 onto the end of a piece of coax. You could use a soldering gun to complete this task, but I find a little butane soldering iron like the Iso-Tip Pro 50 Solder Pro Butane Iron to be more convenient. Radio Shack used to sell these little irons under their own brand name and I’ve owned a couple over the years. But let’s talk about the specs.
This iron runs on Butane fuel, so its great out in the field or on your desk. It heats up fast, usually in under 20 seconds and a full charge of butane will run for about 30 minutes. The tip temperature is adjustable, from about 400 to 750 degrees, so at full power its output would be equivalent to a 70 watt iron.
Filling the iron is easy, insert the tip of the butane canister into he back of the iron and press gently. To light, open the valve and use the little striker to light. You’ll see a little flame and the combustion chamber will glow red. After a few seconds the iron will be ready to use. There’s a built in stand so you can set the iron down without burning your desk or letting it roll away. Finally to turn it off, move the lever to close the valve and stop the flow of fuel. The tip will cool quickly, but you can cap it with the cover while still warm.
What I like about this iron is its convenience. The iron lives my tool kit. So when I need to use it, all that is required is a buff of fuel and I’m ready to go. No searching for a power outlet. It works indoors or out, although I’ve found that you need to shield it from the wind for maximum effect. It’s powerful enough to solder a PL-259, yet will work for more sensitive soldering needs.
Now for the downside. This isn’t the most durable soldering iron. Like I said, I’m on my third one in 16 years. These irons tend to fail in a couple of different ways. Either the valve stops working or the reservoir cracks. But despite that, this iron has been invaluable out a Field Day, or in the driveway installing an antenna in car. With a retail price under $30, you can’t wrong.
Here’s a few tips to make soldering easier:
- Keep your tip clean. Give it a little coat of solder and wipe it with a damp sponge. If you are outdoors, just swipe the iron in the grass.
- Tin your ends before your solder them together. A little solder on the end of your wire and the connection will make the process easier when you solder them together.
- Work fast with a hot iron. The solder should flow around the connection, look even, and shiny. Allow it to cool a bit and then check the integrity of the connection.
Well that’s it for this episode of Ham Radio Q&A. Links to the Iso-Tip Pro 50 Butane Soldering Iron can be found here. Do you have any tips for the new ham starting out with soldering? Please feel free to leave a comment. I’m Michael, KB9VBR, thanks for watching. 73.