As with any piece of equipment, it is important to keep it clean and properly maintained. This is the same for a soldering iron and its tips. If the tips of your soldering iron are not properly maintained, it can lead to soldering problems and prematurely worn out tips. Below are some things you can try to keep the tips in top condition, extend their life and save money.
1. Use the widest tip possible
Soldering tips work by transferring heat from the soldering iron to your work piece. Choose the widest tip possible to get the largest contact area possible for best heat transfer. While the tips come in many sizes, the widest tip will be best for the job and making the soldering process that much easier.
2. Make sure to have the correct temperature
The Electronics industry standard requires setting adjustable irons to 700-750°F for Tin/Lead soldering and 800-850°F for lead-free solder. While it’s tempting to run hotter, using a temperature higher than you need will shorten the tip’s life. By keeping the soldering iron as close to the optimal temperature will help extend their life.
3. Tinning the tips
Soldering tips are made of solid copper with a thin layer of nickel chrome plating. Once the plating develops a crack or hole, the tip will quickly disintegrate. Tinning should be done when you first use a new tip, every 5-10 minutes during soldering, and before you power the iron down. Simply wipe the hot tip on a slightly damp (not wet!) sponge or dry brass wool, then immediately melt some solder wire onto the tip. Using Lead-Free? You must re-tin it more often during soldering!
4. Remove your tips regularly and be careful how you store them.
The way you store your soldering iron can also impact how well the tips perform and how long the iron lasts. Loosen the nut or screw that holds it in place before putting the iron away. Remove the tip once/week or flux fumes will corrode it in place, leaving your entire iron unusable. Make sure to re-tin them before shutting down or unplugging your iron.
When you want to store the tips for a long period of time, make sure to first clean and then tin them. This can help prevent the tips from oxidizing when stored.
5. Keep your tips clean
One of the most important tasks is to consistently keep your tips clean. This can help the tips last long and actually make the soldering process run more efficiently. Simply remove the flux and oxides with a damp or slightly wet sponge. Stainless steel wool is preferable to help keep the tips shiny and clean.
6. Reactivate your tips
When a tip becomes oxidized and appears dark, you should reactive the tips. You can use a tip activator to reactivate or re-wet it. Dip the tip into a paste-like activator substance and move it around until it becomes shiny again. You can also use very fine abrasive paper or even steel wool to help remove the oxidation. Then you should tin it immediately.
If you keep up with the maintenance and regularly re-tin your tips, the soldering tips should last longer and perform better.