Glass Crafted

The 4 Best Stained Glass Soldering Irons In 2020

Few tools in your kit will see more use or make as much difference in the quality of your finished works as your soldering iron. The difference between a good and bad soldering iron can be huge, and a great iron will make your work faster, and more enjoyable. But how do you know what soldering iron is right for your needs (and wallet!)?

Below, we’ll give you a quick overview of our picks for the best stained glass soldering irons on the market today. We’ll also go over the attributes you need to look at when choosing between your options, so you get the best one for your unique circumstances. Finally, we’ll give an in depth review of each soldering iron on our list of top picks, and sum up everything we’ve learned.

Let’s get started!!

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Stained Glass Soldering Iron Buyer’s Guide

You’ll find a pretty broad range of prices when looking at stained glass soldering irons. So what’s the difference between them? What makes for a good value? The main attributes you need to keep in mind are:

  • Wattage: Roughly, the amount of power the iron has.
  • Handle Type: The type of grip and ergonomics of the iron.
  • Max Temperature: The maximum temperature the iron can reach.
  • Element Type: Type of heating element used in the iron.
  • Tips: The available soldering iron tips for a particular model.
  • Accessories: Supplemental items like a stand, flux, sponge, etc.
  • Price: How much the iron costs!

Wattage

Wattage is the amount of power available to a particular soldering iron to heat the element and maintain that temperature. Similar to light bulbs, higher wattage values are more powerful. However, wattage alone doesn’t determine how hot an iron can get (see element type and max temperature below).

Irons with a higher wattage will be able to reach the target temperature faster. It’s also easier for an iron with high wattage to recover from drops in temperature when operating, so they provide a more consistent amount of heat. Generally, wattage values can be categorized as:

  • <100 watts: Entry level soldering irons - 100w are good for very small pieces and projects with lite soldering required (less than ~50 watts are for very small electronics work).
  • <200 watts: Mid-Range soldering irons - good for small and medium pieces and projects with moderate soldering required.
  • >200 watts: High-End soldering irons - good for all projects and heavy use.

This is one of the most important attributes to consider when you look for a soldering iron, and a general rule of thumb is to buy the one with the highest wattage you can afford.

Handle Type

Most soldering irons are a standard ‘In-Line’ design, where the handle and the heating end are in one long straight line. The works well for most people, but if you suffer from joint pains or other issues with hand strength, consider one with a ‘Hatchet’ design option. In the hatchet design, the heating element is at a 90 degree (or similar) angle to the handle, which can provide better leverage with less hand strain.

Max Temperature

The maximum temperature is a common stat you’ll find on most soldering irons. However, they basically all meet requirements to melt solder (around 700 degrees). It’s more important to understand how much wattage the iron requires to meet that temperature, which is a measure of efficiency. Generally, it’s ok to look at this stat when making comparisons, but don’t put too much weight on it.

Element Type

As we alluded to above, the different types of heating elements have different properties which make them more or less efficient, and better or worse at holding a constant temperature. There are 2 common types found in soldering irons, wire wrapped (Nichrome), and ceramic.

The wire wrapped models are characterized by a thicker metal element running back from the soldering tip. Inside this metal is a wound nichrome wire which is heated up when power is applied. Because there is more physical material heated in this type of iron, they tend to warm up more slowly, but maintain a more consistent heat.

The ceramic models are thinner, and heat up more quickly. They also tend to have a harder time holding a constant temperature under heavy use.

Our general advice is to go with a wire wrapped model, unless you’re doing very small / lite work with it. In the long run you may want to invest in a second iron, so you can pick which one suits your needs in the moment.

Tips

Most artists use chisel type soldering iron tip, which resembles a flathead screwdriver. If you’re just starting out, it’s advised to just go with a chisel tip until the difference becomes enough to matter. It’s an important consideration when making a buying decision, as replaceable tips and the selection available to fit the make and model you’re looking at should factor into your decision.

Accessories

There are a ton of accessories available for soldering irons, some more useful than others. We won’t go into detail here, but some of our recommendations are (links go to Amazon.com):

Price

Finally, price is the key factor in determining whether a particular soldering iron is a good value for you and your unique needs. A good soldering iron isn’t cheap! Prices range from $50 on the entry-level end, to $300 or more at the extreme high end.

While there are irons available at a lower price point, these are typically targeted to lite electronics work, and are not suitable for stained glass making.

As we mentioned above, a good rule of thumb is to go with the iron that has the highest wattage you can afford, and look at other features as secondary.

Stained Glass Soldering Iron Reviews

TitleHonorWattsElementGrip
Hakko FX601-02Best Entry-Level65CeramicInline
American Beauty 3158-200Best Mid-Range200WireInline
American Beauty 3178-300Best High-End300WireInline
Weller W100PGHonorable Mention100WireInline

Hakko FX601-02 Soldering Iron

Hakko FX601-02
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Pros: Great starter iron, temperature control and readiness indicator.
Cons: Relatively delicate, treat with care.
Our Rating: 5.0 / 5

The Hakko FX601-02 is pretty much the default recommendation for entry level soldering irons for stained glass use, and for good reason. The ceramic core on this unit gets up to speed quickly, and bounces back pretty fast after cleaning with a wet sponge. It’s lightweight and easy on the wrist.

The key list of features include:

  • Adjustable temperature control.
  • Inline design.
  • 65 Watts.
  • Ceramic Heating Element.
  • 9.6 Oz weight.

The iron is highly recommended for beginner and intermediate stained glass artists, and will suit your needs for a long, long time. It can handle pretty much anything short of professional level use, but it’s not the most durable iron on this list so be sure to treat it with care. For many, this will be the only iron they ever need.

If you’re unsure about exactly what your particular needs are, we strongly recommend starting here!

American Beauty 3158-200 Soldering Iron

American Beauty 3158-200
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Pros: Extremely durable, powerful enough for big jobs.
Cons: Fewer bells and whistles than the Hakko, may be overkill for hobbyist level work.
Our Rating: 4.7 / 5

American Beauty manufactures professional grade soldering irons, and comes in with 2 entries on our list of top soldering irons for stained glass. While we recommend the Hakko 65 Watt for just about any hobbyist level use, at some point professional artists will want to turn to something a little more durable. Enter the American Beauty 200 Watt iron.

The key list of features include:

  • Inline design.
  • 200 Watts.
  • Wire wrapped element.
  • Diamond Tip.

These irons are workhorses. Rugged and powerful, they will stand up to just about anything you can throw at them. What it lacks in bells and whistles compared to the Hakko with it’s adjustable temperature, it makes up for in raw wattage and quality construction.

All in all, once you’re ready to move beyond the entry level soldering-irons, we think this one deserves your strong consideration!

American Beauty 3178-300

American Beauty 3178-300
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Pros: Extremely durable, powerful enough for big jobs.
Cons: Fewer bells and whistles than the Hakko, may be overkill for hobbyist level work.
Our Rating: 4.7 / 5

Just like our pick for best Midrange soldering iron, the American Beauty 3178-300 is an absolute beast in performance and durability. As mentioned above, this iron is overkill outside of a professional setting with high use, and significant wear and tear expected.

The key list of features include:

  • Inline design.
  • 300 Watts.
  • Wire wrapped element.
  • Chisel Tip.

It’s certainly not the cheapest unit out there, but considering the raw power clocking in at 300 watts, it’s an attractive option for high end users in demanding environments.

If you’re ready to take the plunge on a top end unit, the American Beauty 300 Watt should definitely be it.

Consider making this unit the last stained glass soldering iron you ever need to buy.

Weller W100PG

Weller W100PG
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Pros: Good wattage, decent alternative to the Hakko FX601.
Cons: No temperature control, and heating can be inconsistent.
Our Rating: 4.5 / 5

Our last pick didn’t quite take the top spot in any of our categories, but we felt it deserved a nod due to it’s popularity. The Weller W100PG is another option at the entry to mid-range level, with a fantastic 100 Watts and wire wound element.

The key list of features include:

  • Inline design.
  • 100 Watts.
  • Wire wrapped element.
  • Chisel Tip.

While we still recommend the Hakko FX601-02 every day of the week, if you’ve had a bad experience with that brand or are just looking for something different, the Weller W100PG won’t disappoint. This iron is fairly durable in comparison with the Hakko, and will also last beginner and intermediate level stained glass enthusiasts a long time before they need to upgrade.

Conclusions: What’s The Best Stained Glass Soldering Iron For You?

We’ve covered a ton of great info about what makes for a good stained glass soldering iron. We’ve given our top recommendations for various price-points in the stained glass soldering iron market. To recap:

The Best Entry Level Soldering Iron:Hakko FX601-02
The Best Mid-Range Soldering Iron:American Beauty 3158-200
The Best High-End Soldering Iron:American Beauty 3178-300
Honorable Mention (Entry LEvel):Weller W100PG

Ultimately, only you can decide which iron is the best for your circumstances.

If you’re a beginner to intermediate level stained glass artists, or just don’t have very heavy usage requirements, the Hakko FX601 is our top pick. Its adjustable temperature controls, ceramic heating element, and lightweight design make it a great pick. This iron will actually last most casual users their entire career without need for an upgrade.

For users in a more demanding environment, for example a professional shop, our pick is the American Beauty 3158-200. For the absolute top end, it’s the American Beauty 3178-300. Both of these irons have an extremely rugged design. They both pack a ton of power (the 300 has more obviously) for consistent heating and the ability to tackle any size job.

Finally, we mentioned the Weller W100PG as another great entry-level unit with decent specs and good popularity overall.

To sum up, if you aren’t sure you need something bigger - go with the Hakko and use it pretty much forever. If you’re sure that doesn’t suit your needs, look to one of the American Beauty models we recommended.

Good luck, and go create something amazing!