Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Caring For Your Soldering Iron's Tip

Caring for your soldering iron's tip is easy to do and will keep your iron working like new for quite a long time.

Almost all soldering irons that are sold today are constructed with "Iron Clad" tips.

Except for the chisel end of the tip, Iron Clad tips are usually nickel or chrome plated over a copper core.

Solder will not stick to chrome or nickel plating but it will stick to iron, which is why the chisel end of soldering iron tips are not plated.

If you don't properly "season" the tip of a new soldering iron before using it, the tip will quickly corrode on you.

When you season the tip by "tinning", it prevents rusting and allows proper heat transfer to the tip's surface.

Tinning is simply the process of coating the tip of the iron with a layer of solder to extend the life of the soldering iron and improve soldering performance.

Impurities in the solder can build up on your tip and make soldering more difficult. The "crud" build up on a dirty tip affects the temperature at the tip and makes it harder to solder a uniform joint.

When your tip does become "blackened" and will not come clean using a wet sponge, break out your brass brush or your tinning block.

Put some flux on the sal ammoniac Tinning Block and gently rub the tip of your hot iron in it. Add solder to the mix and wipe off the tip with a damp sponge to remove any left over debris.

Tinning Block

If your tip is extremely dirty, you may need to repeat the process.

Don't put too much pressure on the tip of your iron when cleaning with a sal ammoniac block. It is an abrasive mineral and can wear away the iron cladding on the tip of your iron when used excessively.

You can also use a brass wire brush can to clean the crud off your tip before re-tinning.

Using a high quality solder is the easiest way to noticeably lengthen the life of your soldering iron tips.

Using a solder that has a high tin content and high metal purity such as Canfield 60/40 Solder - 1 Lb., will keep your tip looking like new for years to come.

Different types of solders that are commonly used for stained glass construction have different melting points and working properties.
  • 60/40 Solder
60/40 solder is made of 60% tin and 40% lead. It has a melting point of 374 ºF but doesn't become completely solid again until it cools down to 361ºF. Because of it's 13 degree working range it is the most commonly used solder for stained glass work.
  • 50/50 Solder
50/50 solder is composed of 50% tin and 50% lead. It becomes a liquid at 421ºF and regains it's solid state at 361ºF. It's 60 degree working range makes it usable for lead came stained glass work.
  • 63/37 Solder
63/37 solder is made from 63% tin and 37% lead. It liquifies at 361ºF and instantly becomes solid at that same temperature. With a working range of 0 degrees it is mainly used in circuit board applications and seldom used for stained glass construction.
  • Lead Free solders are a mixture of metals that melt at different temperatures, depending on the manufacturer that produced them. Lead free solders are most frequently used in plumbing applications.
Alloy         %Tin         %Lead      Solid         Liquid        Working Range

50/50           50                 50            361º            421º                    60º
60/40           60                 40            361º            374º                    16º
63/37            63                 37            361º            361º                      0º

Caring for your soldering iron tip is not that difficult.

To keep the tip of your iron clean as you work, keep a damp sponge or a bronze mesh pad handy.

A properly cleaned tip looks bright and shiny. To keep it that way, occasionally wipe it on a damp sponge or on a metal "Brillo" type pad.

Excessively cleaning your tip on a damp or wet sponge can cause early tip failure, so using a metal pad is preferable.

Repeatedly cleaning your tip on a damp sponge causes the temperature at the tip to dramatically rise and fall. This causes the metal at the tip to quickly expand and contract which will eventually cause metal fatigue and ruin your iron.

In addition, the impurities in the water can cause oxidation and unwanted mineral buildup.

Water based flux is acidic and corrosive, so don't continuously dip your soldering iron tip into water based flux to clean it.

The exception is when you tin or clean your tip on a sal ammoniac block with flux.  Sal ammoniac is an alkaline mineral and when combined with the acidic flux becomes neutral.

Never use sandpaper, a file or a grinding wheel to clean your tip. Instead, use a good quality fine brass or copper wire brush to clean off excess "grunge" from your tip before re-tinning.

When you're finished working on your stained glass project, wipe off the tip and load it up with solder before unplugging the iron.

In essence you are re-tinning your tip and protecting it from oxidizing.

Caring for your soldering iron's tip doesn't take much time or effort and will keep your iron working properly for many years.

Arts & Craft Books