DIY battery powered soldering iron

When it’s time to get started on a project and put our irons in the fire, we usually reach for a nice Weller or Hakko soldering iron. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible when we’re soldering something away from a wall outlet. Portable soldering irons usually range from slightly to completely terrible, and [Adam] thought he could do better. He put together an Instructable for a portable battery-powered soldering iron that’s extremely easy to build.

[Adam]‘s project mounts a standard Radio Shack soldering iron tip in an E-10 flashlight bulb socket. Power is provided by 6 Volts of AA batteries, with a small switch added for the obvious safety concerns. Although [Adam] could have added a small project box, he chose to build his entire project around a piece of wood. This is an excellent choice in our humble opinion; wood doesn’t melt, has very low thermal conductivity, and anyone using this iron should be smart enough to turn it off if the handle starts smoking.

While this isn’t the best possible portable soldering iron (we’re partial to the disposable-lighter-fueled torches with a soldering iron attachment), it’s much better than the ColdHeat soldering iron that received consistently bad reviews.

Edit: [Adam] updated his build to be a little safer after this story was posted. We changed the original title pic to reflect this; here’s the old one.

Comments

  1. bio says:

    the first cold heat fried every chip i had … the second one was way better … a good replacement for a 30 watt soldering iron for those small jobs!

  2. Kelvin says:

    Cool, but I can’t imagine a useful battery life. Weller P2C runs over an hour on butane, refills in seconds and is genuinely good enough for nearly anything, save for small SMD work. Can be had for under $30…

  3. jaf says:

    care to point me in the direction of these butane torches with soldering iron attachments? a google search is turning up nothing

  4. HAD says:

    Cold heat is crap because of how it “works”. This build seems to be lacking in total power. Most soldering irons are 20 – 60 watts. 4 AA batteries is 6 volts and about 2700 mAh each so 16200 mAh or 16.2 amps at 6 volts for one hour (theoretical).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_battery_sizes#Table_of_modern_battery_sizes

    So in theory, 97.2 watts for one hour out of 4 AA batteries. In practice, mAh capacity isn’t for quick discharge, it is generally 20 hours or more. Heat build up is neglected, etc. But I could see this working, at least in a pinch.

    • ZigZagJoe says:

      Wrong. In series, the capacity does not add up, the voltage does. If they are in parallel, then the total capacity increases. So we’re looking at 2.7ah for this application, not 16.2.

      • Hackerspacer says:

        Bah. Correct. Can’t have both voltage AND current add. Gotta pick one. So 2700 mAh total @ 6 volts so… about 16.2 watts (in theory) or probably closer to 12 – 14ish due to internal resistance, real world, etc.

    • Enthusiast says:

      You can’t measure the ColdHeat’s power in watts relative to a normal soldering iron. ColdHead is more akin to an arc welder than a soldering iron. The one I tested did OK, but the tip was pretty fragile. The battery life wasn’t really an issue since it was designed for small jobs and it had an instant on/instant off switch.

      It would be pretty miserable as your only iron, but for quick fixes, it did a decent job, IMO. I’d own one if they made the tips stronger.

    • Ian says:

      I loved my ColdHeat iron. It was fast, effective, and ran all day.

      The difference? My iron ate Sanyo Eneloops. Any other kind of high-current NiMH or Energizer L91 cells would have worked fine as well, but I prefer Eneloops because of their good behavior compared to most high-current NiMH; they usually end up flat dead a week after being charged.

      I burned mine out trying to solder a PhlatLight SST-90 LED that was attached to its heat sink, and was horrified to discover that they were discontinued. If any of you want to unload that iron you hate, drop me a line already!

      (PS: I have the oooold Radio Shack butane iron, and the current Radio Shack battery iron that the article’s iron tip came from. It’s all right, but I prefer the ColdHeat iron for being faster; the butane iron is great for big jobs, but is slow to heat up compared to the battery irons. I also need a new tip for it after I damaged the catalysts.)

  5. HAD says:

    Not sure I agree with the logic of mounting a combustible material directly behind a hot metal object though.

    • N0LKK says:

      Respectfully; logically the wood used here isn’t a problem. Most likely will never see enough use to see the first hint of charring, much less raising the flash point to where it would spontaneously combust.

    • adam2 says:

      I can see where you’re coming from, but actually only the very top part of the tip gets hot. The rest is insulated from the heat. This is why I mounted it on wood. It was a cheep prototype for me and others could build it cheap and easy. I actually updated my Instructable to show my most recent iron inside of an Altoids tin.

  6. ZigZagJoe says:

    Had a cold heat, did ok on through-hole non-semiconductor components, but anything too large is no go, along with tool small. In addition, tip was super fragile, and it scarfed batteries.

    As for the actual post, useful life is probably less than 10 minutes. Should be careful that you only use alkaline batteries if you rig up something similar; rechargables or lithium batteries would at least be ruined if not causing a fire.

    No doubt you’d be better off using a butane torch both for ease of use and price per minute.

  7. ferdinand says:

    when I saw the picture I must think on macgyver

  8. xorpunk says:

    This is probably one of the best hacks I’ve seen in a long time..maybe because I’m in Europe where you can’t walk down the street and buy one. or even order one(without ~$70 in s&h).

    • Eirinn says:

      Whoah there dude hold your horses.

      I live in Europe too and i can walk down the street and get one :) I agree that this is a very nice hack though.

      70 bucks sounds insane too for S&H.

    • adam2 says:

      Haha! Thanks! The reason that I made the iron not very elegant is because this is supposed to be an easy and cheep project. Actually, if you check back, I changed the design to fit in an Altoids tin!

  9. Aleks Clark says:

    What you want is the Weller Portasol Kit. best butane soldering iron ever, runs about $60. I use it for soldering LMR-400 (giant-ass center conductor needs a lot of heat). Super-simple to start, don’t bother with the ratshack butane soldering iron.

  10. Tweeks says:

    This is the Weller (branded) #P2KC portable/butane unit that *I* recommend:

    More info:

    http://www.testequipmentdepot.com/weller/popups/p2kc.htm

    Gives you adjustable 25-75Watt (equiv) heating power, heats up VERY fast, comes in a nice little carry case. Excellent for Arduino hackers, in the field soldering (I use it with my high power rocket work), etc. Really nice.. and worth the extra $$ ($60-80 delivered). Just be sure not to get the cheaper units that can’t deliver a full 75Watts (equiv). These things are ALSO compatible with the other whole world of weller tips! (P2KC tips)

    http://www.testequipmentdepot.com/weller/tips/butanetips.htm

    Tweeks

  11. localroger says:

    The only advantage I can think of of the hack over just buying the soldering iron from Radio Shack for $19.99 is that the batteries probably last longer than the NiCds in the RS iron. Cordless irons aren’t generally left on, but turned on via a momentary switch for each joint and battery life rated by the number of connections you can make that way.

  12. Tom says:

    Not all portable irons are terrible…

    http://uk.farnell.com/weller/whs-mc-uk-eu/soldering-staion-40w-230v-battery/dp/1729968?Ntt=whs+mc

    Weller WHC MC, has a Li-Po pack, 40W Micro-Tip, charges in 20 min, runs for an hour. Got one for field service trips, makes SMD a breeze. Really lovely bit of kit, but somewhat pricey, yes.

  13. N0LKK says:

    Not purty, but s nice build non the less. Some refinement would make it more ergonomic and compact. I’d add a LED for an on indicator. This not being a bench tool, I don’t think battery life a big issue. Perhaps a butane iron looks better on paper. I have heard and read smokers complain they can’t readily buy butane. However places that don’t carry butane generally carry batteries.

  14. Hirudinea says:

    Sure you can buy a better portable soldering iron but this is a very cool ghetto hack and quite useful, 2 burnt thumbs up!

  15. Oh lord the Cold Heat. Granted when I got it I though wire worked the same way as solder. Never the less that’s a piece of shit I would rather forget about

  16. buzzles says:

    Hmm nice, certainly a DIY job. Kind of thing I’d expect to see out in Africa and the like.

    I would as a first step to refining it, mount the battery pack in line with the tip, probably by scalloping a big ol chunk of wood out for it.

  17. x_25 says:

    I got a Weller P2C for Christmas (along with a pound of kester “44”) and the Weller has been seeing more use than my Hakko 936 since it is a lot easier to deal with when I just need to do one or two connections (or install a car head unit).

  18. charles says:

    Looks like complete garbage, made from garbage, and still works.

    I love it!

  19. NewCommentor1283 says:

    and the tip is WHAT voltage? wow cool, i want to buy a tip of that voltage and make one myself!

    PS: i will be on the lookout, those low voltage tips look VERY appealing, 6v? use 5v smps (mod for 6v) and a 8AA/12v pack… hours and hours XD

  20. deathventure says:

    Weller has a small battery powered iron for quick smaller jobs. Heat up time is around 10-20 seconds and it’s great. It’s underpowered though for some of the larger jobs, but for spot checks, works great. http://www.amazon.com/Weller-BP860MP-Battery-Powered-Soldering-Iron/dp/B000S63P9E
    Don’t mind the bad reviews because most of these people are expecting it to solder 12AWG wire or something. Expectations not meeting product specs.

  21. harviecz says:

    I still can’t find any experience of original author of iron featured in this post. For how long he can run this iron with 4 AAs?

    1 minute? 10 minutes? 1 hour? more?
    Is it different with NiMHs and Alkalines?

    All i can see here are just more or less educated guesses, but i don’t know if it’s worth building…

    I saw product based on similar principles called “Magic Flight Launch Box Vaporizer” being used to evaporate herbs. It lasts only few seconds of operation until battery is completely depleted. However it’s using only one AA, so voltage is lower but capacity remains same.

  22. Good post. IMHO, the magic flight launch box ( mflb ) is a small, fast, portable vaporizer that can be used by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

  23. Jeff says:

    One big issue with a soldering iron is the ability for it to damage or destroy components on any board. That Wahl or now Iso-Tip portable rechargeable Iron has an isolated tip design…thus the name iso-tip. It is designed to reduce or eliminate the issue of toasting parts. The small tip they make has more than 7 parts to it. The iso-tip 7700 does roughly 125 solder joints per charge depending on how good you are at soldering of course. The butane irons work well too as long as you do not have a confined space because they generate a lot of heat. The butane models also come in different sizes. The other nice thing with the Iso-Tip rechargeable soldering iron is that they make 20 different tip styles for it. They reach roughly 900°F in around 10 seconds.

  24. richard peterson says:

    I thinkk its a brilliant diy project loaded with potential.you just made a launch pad for a 50 watt e cig.look at it again with difrant eyes and see what i mean.e cigs are basicly a heating element in contact with e juice. And i bet a soldering iron tip would more than out last a coil.not to mention the vape from hell.I’m working one one now but would love feed back. Feel free to email me at petersonrichard621@gmail.com. i love to talk vape period so any feedback is welcome.

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