When it comes to hand soldering operations, the strongest tool in your toolbox is the proper soldering iron. A soldering iron, when properly cleaned and cared for, may provide several hours of dependable operation. The solder tip is the business end of a soldering iron and serves as the heat transfer part that melts the solder and heats the job, allowing it to meld together. A soldering tip should be properly cared for and maintained to ensure optimum life and performance. Here are few pointers to help you get the most out of your solder tips and cartridges.
Avoid Excessive Heat
Oxidation is a natural process that occurs with a standard iron-plated solder edge. Iron oxide is formed at room temperature but a slower rate. When the tip is heated, the rate of oxidation increases as well.
Running a soldering iron at a higher temperature than necessary raises the rate of oxidation for the tip unnecessarily. Keeping the solder tip temperature within the correct range for the solder in use reduces the chances of harm to the job.
When switching solder styles, be sure to check the system temperature. Lead-free solder can require a higher temperature than others.
When not in use, turn off the soldering iron
As previously mentioned, oxidation increases significantly when the solder tip temperature is higher than the room temperature. Simply turning off the soldering iron while not in use will avoid a lot of oxidation.
Turning off the soldering iron is often gentler on the device’s heating elements and good practice for maintaining a clean work environment.
There are advanced soldering tools available today that provide an auto-sleep feature in their design. When not in use, these tools can automatically power down the tip, extending tip life.
Cleaning the Soldering Tip
A clean soldering iron will last longer and perform better. Ideally, the tip should be cleaned during use and after each session, and it should be stored neatly. Making this a routine can greatly increase the life of a solder tip.
A soldering tip can be cleaned using a variety of methods. To keep pollutants at bay, one popular method is to use a damp sponge during use. Some soldering iron holders also have a sponge tray, making them more convenient to use when working.
Protect the Tip with Solder
Once you’ve cleaned the tip thoroughly, apply a coat of solder to it before storing it. This layer helps to keep the iron plating from oxidizing by sealing it off from the sunlight. The best solder for iron safety is one with a high flux content.
Take an Active Role in Oxidation
Oxidation is an unavoidable side effect of soldering iron usage. The first indication of oxidation is a decrease in solder efficiency. If it appears that the iron is not getting hot enough, a thermal barrier of oxidation could be stopping the tip from doing its job.
Other symptoms of oxidation will appear until it is clear that you have a problem. If the solder begins to pool up (think mercury) instead of running properly around the tip, it is most likely due to oxidation. The thermal barrier would also prevent heat transfer to the job, causing additional issues.
Several items on the market can assist in cleaning oxidation from a soldering tip. For this reason, many people would use tip thinners or cleaning paste. These products contain a mild acid that aids in the breakdown of oxidation without harming the iron plating underneath.
Know When to Replace a Solder Tip
And the best-kept solder tip would finally need to be replaced. A properly cleaned tip can be used as long as the iron plating remains intact. However, if a crack or hole forms in the plating, the tip is no longer usable.
The problem is that the thermally efficient copper under the iron plating can melt and become mixed with the solder. This material removal would leave a void on the tip, preventing proper heat flow. On the surface of a tip, you can find pits or even a hole in some instances. If this occurs, the tip or cartridge must be replaced.
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Source: Metcal Blog