Soldering iron tip quality

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by Razor Concepts, Sep 6, 2009.

  1. Razor Concepts

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Oct 7, 2008
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    I was wondering if the cheap soldering pencils had a much lower tip quality than good brands (weller) and other soldering stations. For now I have used $3 irons from ebay, and soon the sharp point gets burned down to a nub. I use one of those metal soldering sponges to clean the tip.

    I want to get a high quality soldering station and was wondering if I would experience the same tip-eating as the cheap irons.
     
  2. creakndale

    Active Member

    Mar 13, 2009
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  3. Wendy

    Moderator

    Mar 24, 2008
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    I can say definately yes!

    The better irons will hold their shape on the tip (until the coating wears out), and melt better and more controllable. I used to take a cheap iron and file the copper tips down, it worked, but not well.
     
  4. t06afre

    AAC Fanatic!

    May 11, 2009
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    A common problem is that a cheap tip very soon will not be wettable. As Bill mentioned, if the tip is not wettable, use a fine file, or fine sand paper. And remove all oxidation on the tip until you se the new copper. Do this on all edges. I will recommend using Weller. The Weller tip is very good. And hard to wear out for the hobbyist, if you use it as supposed. If money is the problem buy a cheap weller iron, and replace the tip with a tip from a more expensive weller series.
     
  5. flat5

    Active Member

    Nov 13, 2008
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    "I use one of those metal soldering sponges to clean the tip."
    I don't know what this is, exactly, but don't use anything abrasive to clean the tip. Use a moist sponge or cloth.
     
  6. Razor Concepts

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Oct 7, 2008
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  7. Wendy

    Moderator

    Mar 24, 2008
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    The point is, on better irons, you don't need to file the tip, ever. The oxidation just doesn't occur there. A wet sponge (or in case of emergency, a wet paper towel) will remove the solder oxide much better. I suspect the metal material won't be as kind to the better tips due to abrasion.

    The shape of these tips is much better overall too, they come to a finer point (optional) and are easier to work with overall. Temperature control is also important for a good experience with soldering.

    I will use a cheap iron, and I have enough experience to do a good job with it, but the better irons are just plain easier to use.
     
  8. steveb

    Senior Member

    Jul 3, 2008
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    In my opinion this is one of the most relevant points here. Related to this is that the most advanced soldering irons (like those made by Metcal) have tips that automatically stabilize the temperature. More importantly for tip life, the controller runs the tip at lower temperature when you are not soldering and then quickly heats up when it senses you have begun soldering again. It does this so smoothly and quickly, that you would swear that the tip was always running hot.

    A cheap soldering iron runs full blast all the time and is usually much too hot for optimum soldering, or good lifetime. Further the tips are not designed for long lifetime.

    I don't do a great deal of soldering in recent years, but my Metcal SP200 has the same tip for the past 6 years. I bought this unit used, with a used tip on it. I was also give a few extra tips, but have not needed to use them yet. I would guess there are at least 500 hours of running time on that one tip, and it's still going strong.

    I've attached a PDF of the SP200 instructions which gives some good general advice about tip care.
     
  9. Wendy

    Moderator

    Mar 24, 2008
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    It doesn't actually have to be temperature controlled, I've used 3 variations, no control, PWM control with no regulation, and full temp control with good results. Experience is more important IMO, but you do get spoiled to good tools.
     
  10. steveb

    Senior Member

    Jul 3, 2008
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    I agree that experience combined with good habits really help extend the tip lifetime. Still, units with the low temperature idling greatly extend the life if you tend to leave the iron on between soldering and prep work. I guess you could argue that practice is a bad habit, but it is often a good time saver. Ironically, I could turn my Metcal on and off without much loss of time since it controls with high power if necessary, but those old uncontrolled irons take too long to heat up if I remember correctly, due to limited constant power operation.
     
  11. flat5

    Active Member

    Nov 13, 2008
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    An old trick to preserve the tip when keeping an iron ready all day is to put a diode in series with the power to the iron (ac models only). Use a spst toggle switch to short out the diode when you want to solder. You might incorporate the switch into the iron's stand.
     
  12. t06afre

    AAC Fanatic!

    May 11, 2009
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    At home then I doing hobbyist project, I only use hole mounted components. My favorite solder iron for doing this is a cheap old Weller solder iron. But I have pimped it up with a Weller long life tip. It may be just luck, but for this work it outperform more expensive solder iron. I have used it for 15 years and hope it will work 15 years more. And then it comes to soldering I am very pedantic;)
     
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