The short life of a soldering tip is a common complaint among those who solder for work and those who solder for fun. The switch to lead-free solder has also taken a toll on the life of soldering tips.
In an effort to reduce environmental pollutants, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS)put a ban on lead and other materials in July of ’06. The ban on the hazardous materials is not in the United States but many solder companies now sell traditional solder and lead-free solder.
It is thought lead-free solder may be gentler on the environment and those who handle the products, but unfortunately it can negatively affect the life of your soldering tips if you don’t take a few extra steps to prolong their life.
Lead-free solder affects your tip in several ways. The use of more tin and the higher melting temperature of the solder speed up the corrosion of the tip. Also, to compensate for the high melting point, a more aggressive flux is used with lead-free solders which also contributes to a shorter tip life.
Weller offers several tips for improving the life of your soldering tips when using traditional and lead-free solder:
Make sure you choose the right tip. Use the largest tip possible for your application. The larger the solder tip, the more iron plating which helps your tip last longer.
Avoid heating your iron to over 725 degrees. As I mentioned earlier, the high temperature speeds up the erosion process.
Using a Solder Tip Dry Cleaning System will make your tip wettable for a longer period of time. Wet sponges are often used but can cause thermal shock and remove most of the tinning. The Weller WDC (above) is great for dry tip cleaning.
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to extend the life of your soldering tips is to take advantage of all functions (auto-off, standby, etc…) on your station or iron that reduce the tip temperature, or you can just turn off your soldering tools when they aren’t in use.
If you do need new tips, All-Spec Industries stocks a wide variety of soldering tips that often ship the day they’re ordered.