Long-Term Review: Weller Magnastat Soldering Iron

One of the things you find yourself doing as a young engineer is equipping yourself with the tools of your trade. These will be the foundations upon which your career is built in a way that a diploma or degree certificate will never be, for the best degree in the world is less useful if the quality of your tools renders you unable to capitalise upon it. You may be lucky enough to make some of them yourself, but others you’ll lust after as unaffordable, then eventually put the boat out a little to buy at the limit of your meager income.

Your bench may have a few of these lifetime tools. They could be something as simple as screwdrivers or you may have one of those indestructible multimeters, but in my case my lifetime tool is my soldering iron. At some time in 1992 I spent about £60($173 back then), a lot of money for a student, on a mains-powered Weller Magnastat. The World Wide Web was still fairly fresh from Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT in those days, so this meant a trip to my university’s RS trade counter and a moment poring over a telephone-book-sized catalogue before filling in an order slip.

The Magnastat is a simple but very effective fixed-temperature-controlled iron. The tip has a magnet on its rear end which holds closed a power switch for the heating element. When the tip has heated to the Curie temperature of the magnet, it loses its magnetism and the switch opens. The temperature falls to below the Curie temperature and the magnetism returns, the switch closes, the tip warms up again, and the cycle repeats itself. The temperature of the tip is thus dictated by the magnet’s Curie temperature, and Weller provides a range of tips fitted with magnets for different temperatures.

The result is an iron with enough power to solder heat-sucking jobs that would leave lesser irons gasping for juice, while also having the delicacy to solder tiny surface-mount components without destroying them or lifting tracks. It’s not a particularly small or lightweight iron if you are used to the featherlight pencil irons from today’s soldering stations, but neither is it too large or heavy to be unwieldy. In the nearly quarter century I have owned my Magnastat it has had a hand in almost everything I have made, from hi-fi and tube amplifiers through radio transmitters, stripline filters, kits, and too many repairs to mention. It has even been pressed into service plastic-welding a damaged motorcycle fairing. It has truly been a lifetime tool.

You only really get the measure of a supplier or a piece of equipment when something goes wrong, and thus we come to the incident that prompted this review. A couple of weeks ago, inconveniently while I was building a microcomputer kit, the magnet on my iron’s tip failed. It’s inevitable that this will happen to a magnet subjected to continuous high temperature, and it’s a known failure mode for Magnastat irons. When it happens the heating element is left on continuously and the tip temperature skyrockets. Eventually you notice the tip is glowing a soft red, and you know it’s time for a new tip.

Two Weller Magnastat tips. Upper: brand-new unused tip, lower: 25-year-old tip with failed magnet.
Two Weller Magnastat tips. Upper: brand-new unused tip, lower: 25-year-old tip with failed magnet.

It’s worth taking a moment to look at the tip that failed. On the right is a picture of two tips, the upper one is a brand-new tip and the lower is the 25-year-old one with a dead magnet. You can see the extra oxidation on it from its final moment of extreme heat.

I had never really considered the condition of my iron’s tip until I removed it. As you can see it is still exactly the same shape as it was when it was made, there is no pitting or recession. When you consider that this tip has seen over two decades of use, that is remarkable. It’s a long time since I used a cheap iron on a regular basis, but one of the things I remember about them was the tendency of their tips for erosion. Perhaps the condition of my iron’s tip is due to my use of decent quality solder and flux, but even so had I thought about it I would not have expected it to have lasted this well.

Replacing a Magnastat tip is a simple task. There is a knurled nut at the base of the tip which you unscrew, then withdraw the old tip before dropping in the new one and returning the nut. Despite a lifetime of heating and never having been undone before the nut undid readily without extra tools, another unexpected bonus.

So, I ordered a couple of new tips – might as well have more than one tip shape – and fitted one to the iron. Job done, you might say, except it isn’t quite. There is a snag, even though I’ve spent the majority of this article praising the Magnastat to the skies as one of my most useful and reliable tools.

I said earlier that you only really get the measure of a supplier or a piece of equipment when something goes wrong, and I’ve examined in detail the piece of equipment. How about the supplier?

Weller have made Magnastats for decades and they are still a significant part of their range. They make a large selection of replacement tips for Magnastat irons both young and old, in the system’s various different formats. If you have an older Magnastat as I do, you can buy all the tips you could when it was first made.

Unfortunately it is difficult to escape the impression that Weller do not want to make life easy for owners of their older products. All their tips are listed in detail, but with a glaring omission. When they list which irons the tip is compatible with, they only list the models in their current range. Owners of older models are left to guess, phone a friend, or fruitlessly search the Internet. It’s something of a surprise that this would have been an easier process back in 1992, then I’d have taken my old tip to the trade counter and the guys there would have brought out a selection of stock for physical comparison. The Internet has done wonders for product availability, but it’s not quite bridged that gap. In the end I solved my problem with the help of friends, I’m not the only person in my circle with an older Magnastat, and eventually we identified the current tip range that would fit my iron.

There are a handful of manufacturers who make products that are legendary for lasting forever, and who still support their products made a lifetime ago. These are usually those who set the standards in their field, and whose products are synonymous with what they do. People buy them even though they cost more than some of their competition because they know they will get the best product available, and they are unlikely to ever have to buy another one.

Weller I would have said are one of those companies. There are other soldering irons, there may even be better or more expensive soldering irons. If you buy a Weller though, I would have said, you can consider yourself to have solved your soldering problems, you may never have to buy another iron.

The trouble is, given my recent experience I now can’t quite put Weller completely in that category. They make great irons that last forever and they make tips for aged irons, but such a crucial and simple piece of the puzzle as maintaining the compatibility information that links the two is missing. If I could sit down in front of the boss of Weller in his office in Germany I’d suggest he rectify that situation. It needn’t be a difficult task, he could simply give a lucky summer intern a big name on their résumé by sitting them down with a spreadsheet and a big box of tips and old irons. If he did that, he’d be certain to reap the benefits as grizzled old engineers with decades-old irons extol the virtues of their new-found support to the ironless young buyers.

So if you are looking for a soldering iron, I can heartily recommend the Weller Magnastat as one that will last you a lifetime. Mine has, and so have those owned by countless other engineers. I’d buy another one without a second thought, they are that good. If your Magnastat tip eventually fails you needn’t worry about whether a new one will be available, though identifying which one fits your iron may for now be something of a challenge. Don’t let that put you off, you won’t be the only person who has faced this issue.

39 thoughts on “Long-Term Review: Weller Magnastat Soldering Iron

  1. Ah, the creaking and clicking Weller’s. Good tools too, and easy to suppress the switching spikes when needed. (Hint, add a Triac, even if not zero crossing at the turn on, a huge reduction in turn-on splat, and also saves wearing out that expensive switch!)

  2. PS: It’s not the magnet that fails. If that was the case, the iron would cool down and not heat again (look up the Curie point effect, it’s how they work.) It’s the electrical switch that welds itself shut! In the first instance, a sharp knock on the bench can effect a temporary reprieve of expense…

      1. The lab technician in my Electronics Lab at Uni was a Mr DeAth by name; if any of our equipment went faulty, like a scope or power supply, we’d put it on the shelf and tie a label to it with “Needs one of Mr DeAth’s Thumps” written on it.

      2. If in doubt, use a bigger hammer :D
        Having the experience to be able to hit equipment in the right place, with the right force and usually get it working, only having to resort to taking it apart when hitting it fails. :D

      3. When I started as a Field Engineer at Westinghouse in 1984, we were issued toolboxes that included a ball peen hammer. When I asked an older engineer what use there was for a ball peen hammer in a radar engineer’s tool kit, he told me it was a decommissioning tool. After I got tired of other guys leaving burned out EPROMs and other components around to be picked up by unsuspecting techs, I put it to good use, too.

      4. I call it the “fonzie treatment”. (“Happy Days” – Arthur Fonzarelli or “The Fonz” AKA Fonzie hitting the jukebox to make it play) It’s one of my best troubleshooting tools!

  3. Mine still works like the day i bought it about 15 years ago… and even then it was 2nd hand.
    I’ve had the heating element fail once (a few months ago), but a replacement was easily found on eBay. I haven’t had any tips fail.

  4. +1 on getting info on old Weller products. Just last week I inherited a pair of WTA50 desoldering tweezers, an LR21 iron, and an ancient EC1002 controller to power them with. Only the WTA50 is still actively sold, I think,, but I could only find general info on it, like compatible controllers and replacement tips. No manual to be found, which seems very odd to me. I was able to find manuals for the other two on “datasheet” websites.

    To summarize, the Weller website is simply terrible. The info I wanted may be there, but was not easily accessible. In the support section there’s a “manuals” option, and a “manuals archive” section, but they list only a handful of model numbers on each. My searches returned pages and pages of irrelevant hits, and the search engine wasn’t smart enough to match up search terms with a hypen to the correct entry (i.e. “EC-1002” did not match “EC1002”).

    Overall, a pretty frustrating experience. I’ve always thought very highly of Weller, but they seem to be another company that have a history of making great products, but haven’t been able to make it into the 21st century in terms of support resources, (joining the ranks of Sony and Philips). When I was in the market for an iron and controller, I thought about buying a Weller, but purchased a Hakko instead, and I think I made the right choice.

  5. I’ve had my Weller for well over 40 years now and have used it pretty much every working day! It’s a PS-1D base and TCP iron. It’s a bit like ‘Triggers broom’ – I’ve replaced tips, a couple of elements, a couple of ‘stats, the handle, the lead and I’ve even repaired the case – it having fallen onto a concrete floor – but it’s still my original iron. I’ve tried other irons but none irrespective of price compare to the Weller – the Weller just works. I agree with the problem of documentation regarding compatibility of spares etc. but overall I’m not going to change it now.
    Having said all that, the insulation on the stat wires failed a week or so ago. That caused a short and caused the transformer to fail. Given the service it has provided over the years, I’m reluctant to ditch it now, so I’m looking for a replacement transformer – I may even get one made. They really did set the bar high with these things.

  6. Wow! It’s deja vu all over again! Who says that nostalgia isn’t what it used to be? Kris nailed it.

    I bought several of the original steam driven irons, on which Carl E. Weller filed the original patented “ferromagnetic” regulated iron, Sept. 6, 1960. My dad bought at least a dozen vacuum tube Heathkits back then, and his boy (me) built all of them! He got assembled kits, and I learned the use of slobbering irons, a skill I have employed to make a living ever since ;-) Thanks dad!

    Even back then, Carl’s customer service pretty much sucked. The steam driven models were big, awkward to use, and just plain clunky. The tips were in a limited selection, with available temperatures only in 100 degree F increments. Very soon, I found much smaller, better designed irons, and paired them with a small (200W) variac. The variac soon sported a setting calibration chart for each iron type vs. temperature. No more constant clicking, better tip selection, just as rapid warmup, and fine temperature control.too. Sorry, Carl.

    Yep! “They don’t make irons (or cars) like they used to!”, and I am glad of it. For me, Huzzah! Huzzah! for Hakko!

  7. One minor point of correction.
    The magnet is not in the tip, the tip contains an alloy that has a predetermined curie temp.
    The body of the iron.
    I am on my third Weller of this type, I bought my first in 1974 and it was a used iron at the time. Simplicity at its finest.

  8. The nice thing about Magnastat irons is their simplicity and reasonable availability of tips.
    They just need a 24V power supply (AC seems to be better for the switch, but DC works as well–any idea how to prolong switch life on a DC-supplied Magnastat?) and you’re good to go. That makes them quite uncomplicated compared to almost any other iron. Weller now supplies temperature adapters to use new tips with old irons. You just buy the adapter for a temperature (say, 600°F) and put it in the iron. Then you put the new tip on top of it. The tips for the new irons are dirt cheap and really plentiful, and the adapters also don’t cost a lot of money. You get slightly diminished performance due to not perfect thermal coupling, but you can alleviate this by getting a larger selection of tips and using just the right tip.

  9. My biggest ‘lifetime tool’ is my oscilloscope i guess, spend literally 3 years searching the web and reading tons of forums that had a ‘Buy Sell Trade’ (or similar section) for one i could afford, finally got one a few months ago, but havent really used it yet :P

    1. Get probing; you won’t regret it. Over the years I have migrated from a Hartley 13A, to an HP 1707B, an old Tek, HP 1741, a Hameg and now an HP 54502A. I don’t know what I would do without it. Well, apart from have another couple of square feet of bench space.

  10. Versus a company like Lincoln–bought a couple of very old red, roundtop, ac dc buzzboxes with their name on ’em a couple years ago. Drill down on their website and POW, up come the manuals and schematics, along with those of a hundred other models, all for free. Ditto for Singer, when I was considering an upholstery sewing machine a few years ago, I found the scanned manual for a pre WW ONE offering which was specifically built to stitch the ends of leather belts together in shaft-driven cotton mills. The way things ought to be.

  11. Hmm, they made improvements since I bought mine. You need a spanner or pliers, no knurled nut to get the tube off.

    I also have a selection of DIL tips for 8, 14 16 and 20 pin through hole (remember those) 74 series.

  12. I have an old Weller WTCP station which uses the same type of tips, though they are shaped slightly differently. I’ve been using that station for at least the last 25 years, and my father used it for many years before then. He bought it used sometime in the late 70s or early 80s, I think. It’s been through several tips, but they last long enough that I feel I’m getting my money’s worth.
    I’ll probably keep using this station for the rest of my life, if it doesn’t die before then.

    1. They aren’t shaped differently, they’re the same. ALL Weller Magnastat Irons use PT series tips. The irons come in many guises and voltages:- 12v, 24v, 50v, 110v, 240v. By far the most common are the 24v models, the TCP and the FE50M. Finding the right tip is easy when you know to stick to the PT series, finding a replacement heating element can be a bit tricky though as there seem to be many more part numbers available for sale than Weller’s documentation covers. I just replaced mine and I took a chance, buying two elements of an unknown part number for the same price as one with the correct part number. The part number of the ones I bought does not appear to exist anywhere else on the web other than on the ebay page I bought them from but they fit and work fine.

  13. As it happens, I performed minor surgery on my Weller soldering station just this morning, It is a 20-year-old unit. The wire had become flakey at the back of the handle, so I shortened it three inches.

    Having the details firmly in mind, I decided to see how hard it really was to get a new tip. A quick look at he Weller site confirmed that it takes PT series tips. An equally quick trip to Google discloses that Techni-Tool has no less than 38 various tips for it.

    Come on people, this is not rocket science.

    1. I get the impression it’s a lottery, as Weller have made essentially the same iron under a lot of different model numbers and variants over the years. It sounds as though you are one of the fortunate ones whose model number matched some online information. Unfortunately mine didn’t – and yes as someone who’s received a Google paycheque in the past I can safely say I exhausted every online search avenue.

      Once you identify which tip series your iron takes, as you say there is a huge choice. It’s the crucial link of obscure model number for a specific variant in a particular market to tip series that’s missing.

      1. One ‘gotcha’ on these tips is that some of them have shrunk in diameter over the years, and the original tip holding barrel will not actually catch the shoulder of the replacement tips.

        I found this out when I bought a few new tips for my WPCPT irons that I bought from my work when they upgraded to WD1 irons.
        I found that one barrel would hold them, while the other the tips would fall through after barely touching the rolled shoulder at the tip.

        All that said, they are great irons, and you can even change the temperature set point with the change of a tip. Not as easily or quickly done as the digital irons are now, but simple and reliable.

  14. As a trainee (from many many years ago) I can happily confirm that these irons work beautifully – and will continue to work beautifully for many years to come.

    Until some smart-alec wraps Scotch MAGIC TAPE (TM) aronud the Active pin on the mains lead – then it is fun watching the other trainee figure out why their iron doesn’t heat up :-)

    1. I got a used mag switch weller station 10 years back, and I haven’t started using it yet. I got my first soldering iron in 1979 , and it lasted until 2004, then I got a modern Weller with a ceramic washer between the handle and the heating element to keep the handle cool. The ceramics broke after two months, so I reverted back to my 1979 taped up iron. My current Weller, 5 years old is also a modern one with triangular cross guard with 3 white LEDs so it can just lay on the table, no temperature control either. While I’m looking forward to using my gifted Weller station, I have never really missed temperature control, A hotter iron often heat the component less as there is less time for the heat to conduct away from the bond! For SMD work I use a small 18W pencil sized one with a small pointy tip. Soldering cable bushings and heavy wires i use a 40W plumber iron from the 60’s.

      1. Yeah, I use my Aoyue pencil for most work. But if I need to transfer some heat (heavy ground planes, etc), I fire up the old Weller. It doesn’t have _huge_ thermal capacity, but its 40 watts usually do the job.

  15. W61 here, had it since the nineties. Antex comes and goes, Weller stays afloat. :)
    I’ve been soldering pretty much anything that can be soldered with resin core 40/60 with it, including SMT.

  16. I don’t own a Weller, but wouldn’t be nice to share the spare tip id so anyone needing it would not pass to the same sad experience?

  17. Unfortunately it is difficult to escape the impression that Weller do not want to make life easy for owners of their older products. All their tips are listed in detail, but with a glaring omission. When they list which irons the tip is compatible with, they only list the models in their current range. Owners of older models are left to guess, phone a friend, or fruitlessly search the Internet. It’s something of a surprise that this would have been an easier process back in 1992, then I’d have taken my old tip to the trade counter and the guys there would have brought out a selection of stock for physical comparison. The Internet has done wonders for product availability, but it’s not quite bridged that gap. In the end I solved my problem with the help of friends, I’m not the only person in my circle with an older Magnastat, and eventually we identified the current tip range that would fit my iron.

    Sounds like a perfect opportunity to create a Hackaday.io project to identify Weller soldering iron tips by photograph. Have users around the Internet send in photos and identify them. Or iFixit.com. Or someplace.

  18. I have had several Weller soldering stations, the cheaper ones and in every case, the screw cap that holds the tip into the barrel eventually, sooner than later, disintegrates and the tip no longer stays in the barrel. Really crappy.

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