it's encouraging to hear you started out in a very similar place! i'm sure there will be a few casualties when i get around to soldering, but as you say, it's a good thing i have a broken machine (or two) to start with.
Haha! I'm still
in that same place, just less stressed and a little more confident about doing things...
As for gear - obviously the guys here on this site have a lot more advice (and experience) then me, but If you're like me (A complete noob)
Jaycar has a complete starter kit
for around $44 (includes the iron, solder sucker, small multimeter, etc) - Check it out...http://jaycar.co.nz/productView.asp?ID=TS1652&CATID=74&form=CAT2&SUBCATID=953#1
Desoldering wick is handy (http://www.surplustronics.co.nz/products/4043-desoldering-wire
)- it absorbs solder (like a wirey-sponge
) - from what I've seen in online tutorials (I've not used it that much, well, at all - I do have a reel of it) it won't remove solder from the holes in the board (due to surface tension of the molten solder) which makes it primarily a clean-up tool for when you make a mess on the PCB itself. It'll be handy at some point I'm sure...
Definitely try and get some Flux fluid. http://www.mindkits.co.nz/store/tools/Liquid-Flux-Pen-Water-Soluble
Interestingly, most flux seems to come in "pen" form from what I found. It basically looks like a highlighter that dispences flux liquid rather then whiteboard ink. Something new - all I wanted was a small bottle of it, but it'll do...
You'll need this to help solder flow easily over wires, components, etc. If you don't, like me you'll get frustrated as solder collects and beads on the tip of the soldering iron and won't come off nicely... Note on that point - you need a damp sponge as well to wipe the tip of the iron on... Make sure that your wife doesn't see you using the one she cleans the cats food bowl with...
Copper wire is another handy resource. If you need copper wire (just in case you need to fix something, or in my case, add wires to fit some modern transistors that are too large (and have different pins)) - an old ethernet cable is a good thing to have. Its loaded with handy thin wires - and lots of it.
A magnifying glass and clips - without this, it was causing me so many headaches. I was trying to solder and watching things slip and slide out of my hand made me wonder how the heck anybody did this stuff... (and led to me melting my skin a little when the iron slipped, plus it was a headache with my eye sight not being able to see the small details). Having something to hold your components in place really helps... If you want a cheap place to buy this stuff, SurplusTronics has great prices on a lot of gear (I just bought a soldering stand for $6.50 the other day). In fact, they have better prices then Jaycar on many things. I was kinda bummed that I spent $15 on one at JayCar, and they have a similiar one at Surplustronics for $8.50:http://www.surplustronics.co.nz/products/5082-helping-hands-tt0052
One last thing I got (but you won't need it in 99% of cases) was some heatshrink tubing. For components with metal surfaces, or for wires you want to prevent from shorting out things that they may touch, its valuable... Put it over your component/wire/etc and use a hair dryer to shrink it tight. I need it for my transistors as they're metal, and they'll just sit on top of the PCB and zap the crap outta things.
This does remind me that I have to get back to finishing up some work on my ZX Speccies... Just needed that flux to get some copper wire to bond to a transistor leg, but obviously haven't had time in the last couple of weeks to do it.