Thursday, October 27, 2011

How To Care For Your Soldering Iron

Learning how to care for your soldering iron is one of the basics that needs to be learned right out of the box.

Unfortunately, too many of us unnecessarily ruin perfectly good soldering irons by leaving them on when not in use or by improperly cleaning their tips.

I have been guilty of both at one time or another.

I'm sure there have been times when the phone rings or we need to let the dog out to tinkle that we walk away from a project thinking that whatever we needed to do would only take a minute to finish up.

An hour later when we remember that we were in the middle of soldering a suncatcher and we come back to find an overheated iron sitting in its holder, we thank our lucky stars the house didn't burn down.

This might be an exaggeration, but allowing a soldering iron to sit at its operating temperature while not in use for long periods, will substantially shorten the life of the iron.

Many newcomers have a hard time getting the solder to flow properly.

One of the many reasons for this is a dirty or oxidized tip.   You cannot solder with a corroded or oxidized soldering iron tip.  I just isn't possible.

When you first purchase a new soldering iron, the tip of the iron has a nickel plating on it.

Before using it, the soldering iron tip needs to be tinned and properly "seasoned" with a sal ammoniac block.

The "old school" method of keeping the tip of your soldering iron clean was to shine it up with a damp sponge or wet rag.

Although I was taught many years ago that this was the best method for cleaning a tip, I always wondered why the tip oxidized and turned colors using this technique.

When you hit the damp sponge or rag with the hot iron, steam is created and any minerals that are in the water will react with the metal tip of the iron to oxidize and corrode the tip.

These days there is a better way to clean your iron and keep your tips soldering like new for years.

Clean your soldering iron with soldering flux (which is acidic) on a sal ammoniac block (which is highly alkaline).  

By using flux on the sal ammoniac block, you are creating a neutral medium free of contaminants to clean your tip. 

Put some flux on the block, roll the tip of the iron around in the neutral mixture, and add enough solder to "tin" the tip of your iron.    Clean the excess crud off the tip with a brass wire brush and you're ready to solder. 

When done correctly, the tip of your iron will be clean and shiny.

If you do this every time you put your soldering iron away, you'll get many years of extra use from your tip.

The brief video snippet below by Rabbicoon Productions describes the process


If you take a second or two to learn how to care for your soldering iron and follow these suggestions,  you'll get many years of use from it.

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