Decent soldering iron in the US$20-30 range? Do they exist?

Blue Jinn

Rider of the ARPocalypse
I don't want to spend a fortune, but the radio shack one I have is a little too big and unstable for delicate work. I manage, but it can get pretty ugly.
I have used one of these:

For several years. The equivalent should be available in US as mine originally came from Maplin so I think 'Duratool' is a Chinese company supplying everyone?

That the iron suits me is praise indeed. My solder station for over 40 years was the Weller Magnastat. Superb iron with interchangeable bits for different sizes and temperatures but the pencil alone is well over $100!

BTW, do NOT use the damp sponge to wipe the bit, the thermal shock cracks the Iron plating, especially at Pb free temps. Best is brass wool or, as I use now, folded kitchen paper.

I'd definitely go for something temperature controlled. I checked the price of the one that Dave recommended and, even from CPC, it is probably out of your price range so you may have to go for something more basic. There are very cheap temperature controlled irons that appear in the supermarkets over here which might be OK for occasional use but apparently they are a bit fragile so I'd look more towards the top of your price range.
A solder iron/station is something you buy only once or twice in a lifetime and like any tool it pays to buy the best you can afford.

I used to maintain about a hundred of the Weller stations I mentioned and those irons did thousands of joints a day, 5 days a week (and you could NEVER get the buggers to turn them off!) A tip would probably last a month with care, other parts a year or so. Cheaper kit would have been failing daily.

For soldering a few cables say, once a month a $100 station will likely last a decade or more (mine has)

Tip: Get some 60/40 Lead solder if you can (well you CAN if you look!) This is easier to use for the inexperienced and in any case some ancient cables/connectors cannot stand Pbfree temperatures. Do not be concerned about Lead, bit hysterical IMHO. Just do not eat,drink, smoke, solder and wash hands well after.