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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.
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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