In terms of the sheer number of things it can be used to build, fix, augment or disassemble, the full range of potential soldering iron uses is effectively limitless. However, all of this incredible versatility can be categorised under two core functions - soldering and desoldering.
Soldering involves allowing the heated tip of the iron to reach very high temperatures before using it to melt the solder wire around the components that will be soldered. As it cools back to room temperature, the bond will solidify and become permanent - at least until it is desoldered.
Tool temperature is critical, as the soldering iron must get hot enough to melt the solder to a liquid state, but without melting or damaging the components. Some more advanced models of iron will include an adjustable temperature feature, offering enhanced control and greater compatibility with a range of different solder types. However, the majority will simply heat themselves to a preset level automatically on connection to the mains or another suitable power supply.
The basic process of soldering is broadly seen as fairly simple and straightforward. However, knowing exactly how and when to use a soldering iron for the best possible results is something that professional engineers continue to develop over years of dedicated use, and learning the proper techniques for achieving a neater, more effective join can demand a significant level of finesse and experience.
For help learning how to solder, you can read our beginners' guide to soldering for more handy tips, safety advice, and assistance learning the best soldering techniques for a variety of different scenarios.