counterintuitively I actually find a less fine tip (the normal fairly blunt-pointed tip I use for all soldering) is better, I got an extra pointy tip for SMD but the sharp end of it doesn’t actually heat up as much and it’s harder to use
for that matter, I bet 90% of people ITT who think they are bad at soldering generally just don’t have a hot enough iron
A few things I’ve learned. A good quality soldering iron is totally worth it. I replaced my no-name one with a mid range Hakko and it made a world of difference.
I’ve always hated using tin solder so I’d use lead solder instead because it melted so much better. I’ve found that silver core solder while being a little more expensive works really well. It has a nice melt like lead, but without being so toxic.
Also flux. Use lots and lots of flux. It’s a woefully underused tool. When working with small components or doing things like soldering ribbon cables onto pads it can practically be magical.
I also have a fine conical tip, but it gets no real use- only if I have to reach in some extra tight spot.
Notwithstanding the declining eyesight, I’ve moved to 90% surface mount for my hobby projects, mainly for these reasons:
Most modern stuff simply does not exist in through-hole version.
if I don’t want to design or wait for a PCB, 0805 SMD components (2.0x1.2 mm) are so easy to solder across two 0.1" pads on experiment boards - I can solder down to 0603 with no problems, 0402 if needed.
The resulting circuit are much more compact and robust.
Passives (and often semiconductors/ICs) are so much cheaper!
I still have a large amount of eutectic Pb/Sn+Ag solder, it’s impossible to get now but It’ll probably outlast myself (and no, eBay/aliexpress solder is not worth the savings).
I just have to remember not to chew on it.
solder iron technique frustrations are one of those few areas where blaming the tool is highly valid. It’s a reasonably complex topic involving thermal mass of the tip, thermal loading of the work-piece, conductivity of various parts of the stack (including the PC board, internal planes etc.) not to mention the ever-ongoing variable vs. fixed power level (misleadingly thought of as variable temp) solder iron debates. One of the biggest revelations I had - years into the craft - after soldering (poorly) with quickly destroyed tips - was to abandon the wet-sponge tip clean method. Turns out the sudden thermal shock causes delamination of the tip-coating and makes an (initially) invisible gap between the coating and the underlying metal - making heating spotty and inconsistent.
What do you use then? One of those metal coil thingies?
Changing to a temperature controlled Hakko with a readout of the actual tip temperature (versus a cheap one that only tells you what you set it to) was super helpful. You don’t even need an expensive rig. A mid-range Hakko can be bought for around than $100 and it’ll work amazingly well. (Be careful though, there’s lots of Chinese knock offs.) That, and changing to a slightly more expensive SnCuAg alloy which made a massive difference over more typical Pb-free SnCu alloys (which I learned are fine for industrial wave soldering applications, but lousy for hand soldering).
Yep - the “brass wool” is where it’s at, (i think that’s what it’s called). Major tip-life extender.
I have colleagues who swear by the Hakko’s, definitely high quality stuff - I didn’t know about actual temp display - good to know, that feedback definitely would make a big difference over open-loop power-level settings, (like old Wellers I used to use, always oscillating between over-cooked and too cold). Am now in the Metcal cult (microwave driven “curie-temp” fast cycling tech, the tip is locally heated (really fast) through HF induction and magnetically-quenches at a target temp (so no overshoot) - but the temperature can’t be varied, except by swapping out the tip) - they’re pricey but popular in industry so lots of availability on the surplus market - also Thermaltronics is a compatible cheaper compatible option (the company some employees launched after getting bought up by OKI).