Originally Posted by djchrishiggs
Low wattage for circuit boards!
The wattage is totally and utterly irrelevant in terms of potentially damaging fragile items - the temperature and type of tip fitted governs the iron's suitability for delicate jobs.
You can do tiny, SMD soldering with an 80-watt iron - no problem - it's all down to the temp setting and the tip used.
In Europe, Weller is near industry-standard, but it's very expensive compared to other brands.
In the US, Pace and Metcal get good reviews, as does Hakko.
Make sure to get a selection of tips.
With regards to power, a larger iron will enable you to solder heavy-duty items such as speaker binding posts etc. If you don't intend to work on such items, a 25-watt iron will be perfect for cabling and PCB-related soldering. You can get away with using a 25-watt iron for binding posts etc, but you'll need to leave the tip in-place for longer, which subjects the item being soldered to heat for a longer time.
You'll also want to some 'helping hands' (those adjustable stands with crocodile clips - essential for cable making)
A soldering-grade sponge.
Some solder - 63/37 or 60/40 is industry-standard - DON'T go for lead-free solder unless you REALLY have to (in Chicago, you don't). Pb-free solder is much more tool-intensive - don't do it unnecessarily.
Desoldering wick. Avoid desoldering plunger-type pumps for anything other than thick binding posts etc - they can do a lot of damage. Wick is best for delicate stuff, and more thorough.