Increase the Life of Your Soldering Iron Tips

by Andy on November 4, 2010

Most soldering iron tips are made with a Copper (Cu) core with a protective Iron (Fe) plating on the outside. The copper core is used to conduct heat energy from the soldering element, while the iron plating prevents corrosion during the soldering process. Because the copper and iron features of the soldering tip are directly affected during the soldering process, take the following into consideration to extend the life of your soldering tips:

Soldering Iron Tip 1. Tip Maintenance: Maintenance is the most important aspect in maximizing your tip life. This includes routine cleaning, inspection and re-tinning the working surface of the tip. To clean your soldering iron tip, dampen a sponge with distilled water or use a non-abrasive tip cleaner. While cleaning the tip, take notice of any defects such as shape change or pin holes. These may be signs that the tip needs to be replaced. Applying solder to the working surface, or “tinning the tip,” is the last and most important step in tip maintenance.

2. Tip Temperature: Temperature directly affects tip life by speeding up the rate of oxidation at the tip and the solder/flux reaction with the tip’s iron plating. By using a lower temperature, the rate of oxidation is decreased, which will lower the thermal stress on the tip.

3. Solder: The composition of the solder being used is important, as solders with high levels of Tin (Sn) and components that react with the plating will shorten tip life. This is apparent in the soldering industry today, as more people are transitioning to lead-free solder.

Kester Flux 4. Flux: The type of flux being used in the soldering process also plays a small part in extending tip life. More active, aggressive fluxes wear away the tip’s plating at a faster rate. To reduce this, use mildly active fluxes or try using less flux during the soldering process.

5. Operator Technique: By choosing the correct tip shape and size, the right amount of heat will be transferred to make a strong solder joint. This also helps to avoid increasing the temperature during soldering. Also, flux should only be applied to the connection to be soldered rather than directly to the tip.

6: Soldering/Rework Application: Though some applications may call for more solder joints than others, some applications may also increase the amount of thermal cycling that a tip undergoes because of heavy ground planes. This is important to take into consideration when estimating the length of your tip’s life.

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