Soldering Iron &Tip Care

Most iron tips today are a copper core surrounded by iron, hence the term 'iron clad' that is then nickel or chrome plated. Because solder won't stick to nickel or chrome the plating on the chisel end of the tip is removed to expose the iron cladding. Solder does stick to iron. To keep the tip from rusting you must keep it coated with a layer of tin, hence the term tinning and why solders used in stained glass are a mixture of tin and other metals. It will ensure that you are receiving the maximum heat at the tip surface. You will extend the life and improve the performance of your soldering iron and tips by following a few simple guidelines:

Tip Care

  1. Make sure to use good quality solder. Impurities in the solder can build up on your tip, effecting heat transfer and and make it difficult to solder.
Alloy Tin Lead Solid to Liquid at Pasty Range
50/50 50 50 361 421 60
60/40 60 40 361 374 13
63/37 63 37 361 361 0
  1. Keep the tip of the iron clean while you work. Have a damp sponge handy to occasionally wipe your tip on while soldering to keep it clean. Properly cleaned tips are bright and shiny. Keeping it clean ensures you receive the maximum heat at the tip surface. You can also use metal mesh pads made for the same purpose.  
  2. Keeping the tip clean is important but constantly wiping it on a wet sponge can cause early tip failure. Excessive wiping causes the tip temperature to drastically rise and fall and the different metal layers in the tip to repeatedly expand and contract. This cycling leads to metal fatigue and ultimately tip collapse. The more frequently you wipe the tip, the more you stress it.
  3. Avoid the practice of dipping your tip into flux in order to clean it. Flux is corrosive.
  4. Never use sandpaper or any abrasive material to clean a tip. The best way to minimize your tip maintenance is to find a good quality solder. Use one that has a high tin content and high metal purity.
  5. At the end of a soldering session, wipe the tip clean, flood the tip with solder (63/37 or 60/40 is best), wipe it again and then unplug the iron. This will flush and re-tin your tip, protecting it from oxidation and corrosion.
  6. Prevent the tip from seizing (becoming stuck) in the barrel by loosening the nut or screw that secures it. This is an especially good practice when storing your iron. If your tip seizes, you can easily damage the heating element trying to remove it. It is best to return you iron to the manufacturer for removal.
  7. When reinserting tips, make sure they are properly seated in the barrel
  8.  If your tip becomes "blackened," and isn't coming clean using the wet sponge, you might try a tinning block or a brass brush. A "tinning block" (sal-ammoniac) is used by placing a small amount of flux on the block and rubbing the tip of your hot iron in it. Wipe the tip on a damp sponge to remove debris. You may need to repeat this several times if your tip is very dirty. Do be aware that the sal-ammoniac block is abrasive and excessive use can wear away the iron cladding, exposing the copper core and make the tip unusable. You can also gently use a soft brass bristle brush to clean your tip and then re-tin.
  9. For a list of the most common causes of tip failure read tipfailure.htm

Soldering Iron Care

  1. Always place your soldering iron in a stable iron stand whether it is being used or not.
  2. Make sure you plug the iron into the correct type of outlet. 
  3. Try not to use an extension cord. If you must, use a heavy duty one. 
  4. Regularly check the cord for burns or cracks and have a professional electrician replace worn cords before using. 
  5. Make sure that the cord is not hanging in such a way that it can be pulled off of the table.
  6. Don't drop or bang the iron. Ceramic heaters are especially easy to crack or break. 
  7. Do not allow the iron to idle at operating temperatures for extended periods. This could burn out the element or even the iron. If you are using a rheostat, turn it down to a low "idle" setting. If not, unplug the iron. 
  8. Occasionally, remove the tip and lightly tap the barrel of wire wound heater irons to remove debris. 
  9. If you will not be using your iron for an extended period of time, you may want to store it (after it has fully cooled) in a zipper type bag to protect it from corrosion and humidity.

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