How should I keep my soldering iron tip in good shape?

Thread Starter

Bod

Joined Sep 18, 2016
249
I have one of these soldering stations: https://www.amazon.co.uk/MVPOWER-Soldering-Station-Desoldering-Display/dp/B077Q75H35/ref=asc_df_B077Q75H35/?tag=googshopuk-21&linkCode=df0&hvadid=309799275746&hvpos=1o1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=2424699632819876028&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9046080&hvtargid=pla-696111227753&psc=1 that I got fairly recently.

I bought this for a few reasons, one being that all my other soldering iron tips were pretty ruined just from bad use.
Since this was a more expensive iron (it's a full-on station) I thought that the tip would last a bit longer. It hasn't. This had led me to believe I am doing something incorrectly.

The tip melts solder in one specific spot away from the very tip of the iron.
IMG_0246.jpg
That blob of leftover solder is the only spot where it melts. As you can see, the very tip of the iron is black and it does not melt solder.
This is the back side of the iron:
IMG_0247.jpg
As you can see, there is no solder here, and it also does not melt solder when hot.

I did a little bit of research into it and I got some mixed reactions. I heard using the sponges provided is good because it clears the flux and oxidized solder. However, for me, the sponges just smeared the solder over the tip of the iron which I thought was bad. Reading up on this article (https://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/365486/soldering-iron-tip-turns-black-after-first-use-and-wont-melt-solder) it says it is good to keep your tip tinned. Of course, I didn't know about this previously, so I replaced the sponges with a brass wool scrubber like this: s-l640.jpg
People think these are good, and others think they are bad. These wipe all the solder off the iron and so it is not tinned when I put it away. Is this causing problems? Even when I was using the sponges I seemed to get the problem of it only melting the solder on only some parts of the iron.

I intend to buy some more tips for this iron. Before I go ahead I want to know how best to store them. Even though they are inexpensive, if I am having to buy them every few months, it will soon become expensive.
What am I doing wrong when storing my iron? When I am soldering should I clean it with the sponge? Should I tin the tip before I turn it off?

Thanks in advance,
Bod
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
9,637
Just tin the tip from time to time to prevent the buildup of oxidation.

I use a damp sponge to clean the tip before most use. Some prefer the cleaner you showed, but my iron came with a sponge, so that's what I use. I've been using the same sponge for over 40 years and it's about time for a new one. I have about a dozen spares that I also acquired in the 70's when I got the iron.

If you take care of the tips, they can last a long time. I recently had to replace the heating element in my old Weller, but I'm still using the same tip. I've read that the newer Weller replacement tips aren't as good as the old ones. I don't have any personal experience because I haven't used many tips.
 

joeyd999

Joined Jun 6, 2011
4,291
Always keep the tip tinned when sitting hot. Wipe just before soldering, and tin before putting back in holder.

Also, tin before turning power off -- leave a blob of solder to protect the cold tip.

Remove oxidation with 600 grit sandpaper while hot. Re-tin.
 

Thread Starter

Bod

Joined Sep 18, 2016
249
Thank you for the replies. I have gathered I need to keep my iron tinned, which makes sense.

The tip cleaner is something I will invest in to so thanks for the recommendation.

Remove oxidation with 600 grit sandpaper while hot. Re-tin.
How long should I sand for? Is there a way to know I have sanded enough? AlbertHall mentions some irons have a plating on them that are very important. Using sandpaper won't render those irons useless, will it?

Bod
 

djsfantasi

Joined Apr 11, 2010
5,969
Ok, do as the others say, not what I do.

First, I am a hobbyist and use my iron in intense bursts (daily for two-three Weeks) with a long time between use (two-three months)

I’ve filed the tip. Once. About ten years ago. It had developed pits.

But while it’s in use, I re-tin it when I first start. Then I religiously keep the tip clean. Mainly by wiping it on a wet wad of a paper towel. Even then, after a few joints, soldering becomes difficult. Then, I use the metal scrubbie thing to clean and re-tin.

So my techniques are an amalgam of everyone’s suggestion. I calculated that with the same iron, I’ve gotten three years of continuous use with the same tip. Even after tip filing 10 years ago.
 

BobTPH

Joined Jun 5, 2013
2,207
If the copper wool is taking all the solder off your tip, it is ruined. I use this stuff myself, wiping the iron every time before I put it down. The tip always stays timned and I have been using 1 tip for years without ever having to reconditon it.

I also melt some solder on the tip and wipe It each time I turn it on.

Bob
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
9,637
How long should I sand for? Is there a way to know I have sanded enough?
I've been using soldering irons for over 40 years and I've never sanded a tip. I've never needed to do more than tinning and using a damp sponge (I used to use wet sponges). Make it a point to never let anything build up on the tip. When I have excess solder or bits of whatever I'm soldering on the tip, I tap the tip on the holder and wipe it on the sponge.
 

Thread Starter

Bod

Joined Sep 18, 2016
249
Here's what I'll do:
On my current tip, I will try the sandpaper method because as I mentioned previously, I am going to get new tips soon anyway so if it doesn't work it's no problem.
On my new tips I will keep them tinned to hopefully increase their working time and actually allow me to melt solder at the very tip. I will also invest in the tip cleaner AlbertHallmentioneds.

Thanks again,
Bod
 

Thread Starter

Bod

Joined Sep 18, 2016
249
If the copper wool is taking all the solder off your tip, it is ruined.
I may have overexaggerated a bit - it doesn't take everything off however it takes more off than a normal damp sponge would. I don't disagree with you on my tip being ruined though!

Bod
 

Ylli

Joined Nov 13, 2015
879
Rather than sand paper (shutter), try a moistened "Scotch Brite (tm)" Pad. With the tip just hot enough to melt the solder, fold the pad around the tip and give the tip a few twists.
 

Thread Starter

Bod

Joined Sep 18, 2016
249
Rather than sand paper (shutter), try a moistened "Scotch Brite (tm)" Pad. With the tip just hot enough to melt the solder, fold the pad around the tip and give the tip a few twists.
I will also try that out, thank you.
 

SLK001

Joined Nov 29, 2011
1,544
A lot of tips are copper with a thick plating of iron over it. A tip will build up an oxide over time, even when properly maintained. This oxide can be as hard as a witches heart and sometimes takes great effort to remove. Never, ever file your tip or even use sandpaper on it, because once the iron plating is gone or compromised, the copper will actually dissolve into your solder. Keeping a tip properly tinned will usually prevent an oxide from building up. If the oxide is not black, then heat, rosin and solder will usually clean it up. If the oxide is black, the the backside of an X-acto knife or a stainless steel brush is used to scrape the black off, then the heat, rosin and solder the rest of the way. I've even had to resort to heating the iron, then plowing it into a piece of wood to help scrape off the oxide. Keeping a tip "wetted" with solder most of the time prevents the oxide from forming on the tip. Normal soldering is usually enough to keep the tip wet. Try to get into the habit of applying solder to the tip prior to turning off your equipment.

I've been using Hakko soldering equipment for years and their tips are the best I've ever used. Their tips can last for YEARS, if properly maintained, and I am not that fastidious in their proper care. My previous soldering equipment was Weller and those tips only lasted a couple of months before they started to dissolve away.
 

Tonyr1084

Joined Sep 24, 2015
4,046
More than 40 years with solder, I want to say NEVER sand or file a tip. I did that once a very long time ago. Cleaned it all the way down to the copper. That tip (still have it) is totally eroded away, but I rarely use it, mostly for very large solder joints of "Junk" quality. Then I turn it right off and let it cool down.

You've gotten some good advice from scotchbrite to wood. Though, I would not recommend wood because there can be resins in the wood that can cause problems. I'm not a chemist so I can't say for sure, so I would stay away from the wood trick, unless a last resort. By then the tip is so far gone it's worth trying anything to get a little more life out of it.

As already mentioned, keep it tinned and don't let it sit and bake for hours at a time. I'm good for doing exactly that - turning it on, making a few joints then forgetting about the iron for hours. I built (out of a microwave control board) a timer to run the iron for 99 minutes and 99 seconds (longest possible [1 Hr; 40 Mn; 39 Sec.]). After that it automatically shuts down. I usually turn it on for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. That way if I forget it - it doesn't bake. And yes, a tinned tip lasts a lot longer than a bare tip.

Brass wool (I think it's brass) is good for scraping oxides off the tip but the damp sponge is likely the preferred method of cleaning just before making a joint. Then re-tinning it while at rest. A GOOD iron will sense when the iron is in the holder and idle the tip after a set period of time. I LOVE the Metcal irons, but they're on the expensive side. This is the one I'd get if I broke down and spent the money for it. But I can't justify spending this much for the amount of soldering I do.
 
Last edited:

DUFFER

Joined May 3, 2013
11
When I first started soldering as a kid back about 1962 I was told to wipe the tip often with a damp rag and add solder if it wasn't all shiny and scrub and re solder till it was all shiny. The rag does get a strong stinky odor to it with time and I don't know how many times I have burnt my fingers when wiping the tip but I still have a functioning Weller gun and iron from back then. I got a low voltage Weller 5 or 6 years ago. It now has at least 250 hours on it and it's still shiny. Tip maintenance doesn't have to be high tech as long as you are anal about it.:)
 
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