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Experiment: Soldering 18650 = Capacity Fade?
I think you did not measure at the soldering point, i think due to heating up the metal, the metal physically changes.
So my best guess would be that this is the origin for a ir increasement.
With heating a metal you alter the molecular structure.

In my endeavors i also find out that the translucent paint is sometimes thicker at one cell or spot

To get consistent results 4 cells is a bit to low, i would aim for ten
What i would also do is test them every two weeks on a full scale capacity test.

Also like Korishan said.
Heat up one or two cells extra long, like 10 seconds.
I think just like him 2-3 seconds is the most a cell can handle, 4 is max.
One other word of advice, despite all the tests with heatguns and ect.
I would do the 10 second contact outside, just to be save.
A heatgun is 500-600?C a paintstripper is rougfhly 800-900C
A 100w soldering iron can get up to 450C, but it makes direct contact instead first thru the air.
Selling everything at marketplace.
Any data on changes in the leakage current rate, pre- and post-soldering? I can see that as being the primary indicator of damage. Except for thermal runaway, of course. ?
I only have about 400 cells gathered so far but I do have a bit of gear I use for my day job and cell testing:

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