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:
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.
60/40 Solder: Composed of 60% tin and 40% lead, this solder melts at
374 ºF, but doesn't become
completely solid until it cools to 361ºF. This means it has a "pasty range" or "working range" of 13 degrees.
50/50 Solder: This is composed of 50% tin and 50% lead. It is liquid at
421ºF, solid at 361ºF and has a pasty range of 60 degrees.
63/37 Solder: This solder is 63% tin and 37% lead. It becomes liquid at
361ºF, and solid at 361ºF, with a pasty or working range of 0 degrees. This solder is called a eutectic alloy which means at
361ºF, you can go instantly from solid to liquid to solid just by applying or removing the heat source.
Lead-Free Solder: Depending on the specific mix of metals, lead free will produce differing liquid, solid, and pasty range temperatures. Check with the solder manufacturers for these specifics.
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.
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
Avoid the practice of dipping your tip
into flux in order to clean it. Flux is corrosive.
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.
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
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.
tips, make sure they are properly seated in the barrel
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.
For a list of the most common causes of tip failure read tipfailure.htm
Soldering Iron Care
Always place your soldering iron in a stable iron stand whether it is
being used or not.
Make sure you plug the iron into the correct type of outlet.
Try not to
use an extension cord. If you must, use a heavy duty one.
check the cord for burns or cracks and have a professional electrician
replace worn cords before using.
Make sure that the cord is not
hanging in such a way that it can be pulled off of the table.
Don't drop or bang
the iron. Ceramic heaters are especially easy to crack or break.
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.
Occasionally, remove the tip and lightly tap the barrel of wire wound heater
irons to remove debris.
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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