Wood Burning Tool vs Soldering Iron – Are They The Same?

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A wood-burning tool and a soldering iron may seem like the same thing at first glance. If you have ever used either one of these tools, you know that each one can get extremely hot but is designed to perform a different task. A wood-burning tool is what a pyrographer would use to etch detailed artwork into wood.

The trusty old soldering iron is the tool that an electronics technician, jeweler, or other metalworkers would use to solder wires together, repair circuit boards, or join metals together.

A wood-burning tool and soldering iron is not the same thing. While they may appear similar in looks, there are many differences including tip styles, heat ranges, and their overall purpose. They may be interchangeable but it isn’t recommended for the best results.

Wood-burning tool and soldering iron side by side

With that being said, let’s look at some of the similarities between the two tools below. You’ll see that they do have quite some similarities that would lead one to believe that either will work for whatever project they are working on.

Wood Burning Tool and Soldering Iron Similarities

They Both Get Really Hot!

A wood-burning tool and a soldering iron both get extremely hot on the tip of the tool. This is so that it can do the job that it was intended to do. A wood-burning tool can range anywhere from 100° to over 1600° Fahrenheit depending on the model and manufacturer of the tool.

A soldering iron also gets very hot and typically lies within the range of 300° to 900°.

These high temperatures are needed for the wood-burning tool so that it can burn properly in various types of woods. Since some varieties of wood do not need as much heat as others, you often find a variable temperature setting for the tool so that it can be adjusted depending on the type of wood you are working on.

Beyond wood type, the temperature can also help you create the effect you are striving to achieve.

The same can be said for a soldering iron but most cheaper ones do not come with a variable temperature setting. Many of them on the market simply have an on and off and you are left with whatever temperature it heats to.

Some of the more expensive soldering irons allow you to control this temperature better so that you are able to control the heat better based on the tip you are using and the melting point of the type of solder you are working with.

They Have Fine Tips

A wood-burning tool usually has a variety of tips with most of them being designed for very fine, detailed work. This is so that the artist can be accurate with their work and precisely burn where they need to on the wood to create their masterpiece.

Tips on wood-burning tool and soldering iron

A soldering iron can also have a fine tip on it but will never match that of a wood-burning tool tip. Since the purpose of the soldering iron isn’t to do detailed work but to melt solder, it doesn’t need to be quite as detailed as the wood-burning tool does.

A soldering iron will have a tip that is ideal for being accurate enough to work on wires and circuit boards which it was meant to do.

These soldering iron tips give you a variety of options designed to work in different ways.

They Often Have Variable Temperature Controls

Higher-end models of both of these tools usually have variable temperature controls. This is ideal for both of them because it allows you to be more accurate with your work. A wood-burning tool that does not have a variable temperature control will not be as pleasant to work with since it gives you less control over the amount of burning the tip can do.

Variable temp knob on soldering iron

Without a variable temperature, you will not be able to add variations to your workpiece as easily. With variable temperature control, a lower temperature will allow you to burn less into the wood to create more of a shadowing or lighter burning effect.

A higher temperature allows you to burn deeper into the wood to create bold lines and also to make it easier to burn through harder woods.

A soldering iron that does not have a variable temperature control may be too hot for some solders but not hot enough for others. While most DIYers that rarely need a soldering iron will probably be just fine without variable temperature control, it’s always best to step up just a little bit and get yourself one that does have this feature.

Both tools often have these features but some of the more affordable, entry-level tools will not.

Both Can Be Used For The Same Purposes

A soldering iron can indeed be used to burn wood as well. However, it is not designed to do this so you will not be as accurate and the whole process will not be as pleasant as it would be with a proper wood-burning tool.

Burning wood with wood burning tool and soldering iron

In the image above, I tested both tools on the same type of wood. The soldering iron on the left had a hard time creating a smooth line while the wood-burning tool on the right cut through it like butter. It would be difficult to create an intricate design with the soldering iron.

If you are only looking to do a few wood-burning projects, you can certainly get away with completing the project with a soldering iron (if you have the right tips). However, if you would like to become more proficient in pyrography, you will want to purchase a tool specifically made for this work.

With a wood-burning tool, there is potential for you to use a specific tip that will work to melt solder. While not advised, it can do the job in a pinch if you do not have a soldering iron nearby. There are some products on the market that market themselves as both and have interchangeable tips designed to accommodate some of the most popular uses for each.

Tips Can Be Replaced

Soldering irons and wood-burning tools often have tips that can be replaced as needed. Whether you are replacing a worn-out tip or just want a tip to create a different result, these can usually be unscrewed and replaced with whatever you need.

Soldering iron with tip removed

Furthermore, wood-burning tools can often be purchased as separate pens altogether. This means that rather than changing a tip, you change pens completely by plugging them into a base unit. This makes the tip-changing process quick and easy.

You don’t have to fuss with screws or wait for a tip to cool down before changing it. You simply plug the new pen in and you are ready to go after it has heated up within a few seconds.

An example of a system like this is the Razertip Pyrographic Burner. This burner allows for multiple pens to be plugged up and makes it easy to switch back and forth between them. Additionally, you can have an unlimited number of pens at the ready to plug up as needed.

Soldering irons allow these tip changes as well but is often done by unscrewing an old tip and replacing it with a new one. This can be cumbersome as you have to wait for the tool to cool down before changing out the tip. This may be a time-consuming process and much less convenient than changing out the whole pen as you would on a high-quality wood-burning tool.

Wood Burning Tool and Soldering Iron Differences

As you can see, there are quite a few similarities but there are also some differences that are important to know. The functionality of each is quite different and can make the difference between doing good work versus doing GREAT work when it comes down to it. Let’s look at some of these differences below.

They Have Different Purposes

Both of these tools are designed for different reasons and perform best when they are used this way. When I first started with pyrography, I tried a more affordable solution that markets itself as doing both. However, I found it very cumbersome and frustrating to use the same tool that’s supposed to do soldering and wood burning.

This can cause someone to become frustrated and give up on the process. An art form that one might enjoy would be made more pleasant by using the right tool for the job.

After my initial experience, I bit the bullet and purchased a top-of-the-line wood-burning tool and have never regretted it. It has made the process much better and easier to get great results.

While a soldering iron may be able to get you started in pyrography, you’ll be able to achieve better results with a wood-burning tool designed specifically for this purpose.

Wood Burning Tools are Better For Detailed Work

A wood-burning tool is specifically designed for detailed work and to be able to burn designs into different types of woods. It’s similar to drawing except for the medium you are using is different from what a drawing artist might use.

Using both tools

The grip on a soldering iron does not allow for as much control as you would have with a proper pyrography pen. With a pyrography pen, you can generally hold the tool down closer to the tip which gives you greater control. With a soldering iron, your fingers may still be a few inches from the end of the tool which makes it more difficult to control.

It would be similar to holding a pencil up high and trying to create artistic details in your workpiece. It’s much easier when your fingers can be down closer to the end of the pencil, giving you greater control.

Beyond this, wood-burning tools offer tips that are often smaller and designed for different types of results such as writing, cutting, and shading.

Wood Burning Tools Have a Broader Temperature Range

With a wood-burning tool, you’ll usually find a temperature range that goes lower and higher than what you would find on a soldering iron. This is important for pyrography because it allows you to control the look of your workpiece better. It’s easy to achieve different effects when you have greater control over a temperature range.

Solder typically has a melting point of between 190 to 840 degrees Fahrenheit. Most solder that a DIYer would use falls in the range of around 300 – 400 degrees Fahrenheit. You won’t need to adjust your temperature as much unless you are using different tips on your soldering iron.

The soldering iron that I use, has a range on it but the highest temperature is around 900°F. Compare that to the pyrography tool that I own in which the highest temperature is around 1600°F. While I rarely use the highest temperature on my tool, it’s there for a purpose and there are often times when a higher temperature like this is needed to achieve a different effect.

Tips Are Usually Made From Different Materials

The tips of these two tools are often made from different materials. With a soldering iron, you will typically find iron or copper tips. This works great for the thick tips of a soldering iron and allows you to do what you need to do.

A wood-burning tool, on the other hand, often has tips that are made from nichrome which is an alloy of Nickel and Chromium. This allows the tip to get hotter, take on less residue, and maintain its form even at high temperatures.

It’s a similar type of material that you’d see on your toaster. You can usually see the wires heat up and turn red inside the toaster and this material is very stable at high temperatures.

Soldering Irons Take Longer to Heat Up and Cool Down

A soldering iron can often take a long time to heat up depending on the quality of your iron. The thicker tips of the soldering iron may take a couple of minutes or more to get hot enough to melt the solder.

A wood-burning tool can often take much less time to heat up because you are usually using a finer tip that doesn’t require as much time to get to the temperature needed. My Razertip pens get hot enough to burn wood within a few seconds.

From the time I turn my pen on, I can usually expect it to be hot enough within 20 seconds or less. This is unlike my soldering iron which may take over a minute to get to a point at which soft solder is melting.

The time to heat up will differ depending on the types of tips you are using. The thicker metal the tip has, the longer it will take to heat up when compared to thin wired tips that are often used on a wood-burning tool.

Wood Burning Tools Have a Large Number of Specific Tips

Wood-burning tools have a variety of specific tips designed to achieve different results within pyrography. Some of the following tips are usually available:

  • Fine Lines
  • Cutting
  • Writing
  • Stylus
  • Bead-maker
  • Stamping
  • Ballpoint
  • Shading

Razertip offers over 860 different tip configurations for their burners and you can achieve nearly anything with a variety of these tips on hand.

Multiple wood-burning pens

Soldering irons also have tips to choose from but you will not find near the variety that you will on a higher-end wood-burning tool. If you want to set yourself up for success in pyrography, it’s best to choose a tool that can allow you to achieve results in different ways. Limiting yourself to a small handful of tips may not be the best idea if you want to achieve specific results.

Bottom Line

While these tools are very similar to each other in terms of how they look and how they produce heat, they are quite different in how they function and what they allow you to achieve. You can interchange between the two but it’s best to use the tool for what it was specifically designed for in the first place.

A soldering iron is great for those times when you need to combine metals or splice wiring, but it’s best that you go with a more specific wood-burning tool in order to achieve results that you can be happy with in your pyrography efforts.