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Author Topic: Soldering iron tips, why plated?  (Read 20377 times)

Posts: 144

« on: May 02, 2012, 11:38:41 AM »

Most tips I see these days seem to be plated material, that flakes off after a while, sometimes after quite a short while. They are also quite expensive from the likes of Pace and Weller, although here in the UK the service from Pace is truly excellent. Way back when I used to have soldering irons with plain, solid copper tips, and never saw any plated ones. I have a machine shop and it would be trivial to turn some copper rod into tips for my irons and file or even machine them to different forms. What are the pros and cons of plated tips versus plain solid copper ones? Thanks.

Best regards, Chris Wilson.

Posts: 2104

« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2012, 12:53:26 PM »

In soldering, copper is considered a contaminant and a high copper content in the elemental mix of soldering alloy can lead to poor wetting or blobby looking connections on circuit boards.

For more info, look at this;

Ms. Tisha Hayes, AA4HA
Lookout Mountain, Alabama
Free space loss (dB) = 32.4 + 20 × log10d + 20 × log10 f

Posts: 3055

« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2012, 01:32:26 PM »

Here are the Educational materials ....
Common errors: Temperature too high; Tip size/mass too small for work;
Wrong solder; Not cleaning tips when work finished.

IF you are using LEAD-FREE Solders -- these early formulations have KNOWN issues
with soldering tips.  SEE the Weller University presentation for actual photos.

Better Soldering (text) - Weller

Better Soldering (brochure)

Soldering Tips & Lifetime Issues “Coping with Lead-Free”
Weller University

Soldering Tip Care and Use
Weller Soldering
« Last Edit: May 02, 2012, 01:34:36 PM by W9GB » Logged

Posts: 7433

« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2012, 01:50:03 PM »

Copper dissolves in solder - admittedly slowly. So this limited the life of copper tips. Multicore solders introduced the 'Savbit' alloy with some copper in it to minimise the effect.

Iron plated tips are supposed to last longer - but not if you use Savbit, which actually dissolves the iron plating somewhat faster than non-copper additive solder.

Iron plating seemed to appear about the time of the first Weller TCP irons back in  about 1969 or so. But I am not quite sure why unless it is because it lasts longer.

Posts: 5498

« Reply #4 on: May 02, 2012, 09:29:19 PM »

If I replaced every soldering iron tip when the plating flaked off, I couldn't afford the parts to solder!

While the reasons for plating the tips are valid, I have been using tips where the plating not only has flaked off but I periodically point up the tips on my belt sander and then re-tin them.  I normally use a tip until it's only about 5/8" long and then change it out. 

BASIL:  If you can turn your own tips, go for it!  Save yourself some money.

Posts: 1818

« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2012, 09:08:23 AM »

I have dug out my old Sal Ammoniac soldering block, and dragging my crusty tips across it provides a nice clean surface to immediately wet with solder.

since this is an acid salt, I wet and flick clean and rewet to reduce the contamination chances.

you're not going to find one unless you check out the real hardware stores in your area, with open bins of unbagged bolts.

not suitable for SMD.

Posts: 4002

« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2012, 02:32:08 AM »

I can buy either "genuine Weller tips" or "just like Weller tips".

The plating on the genuine tips holds up far better. But they cost a buck or two more.

What ends up ruining my tips is usually leaving the iron on when I'm not using it, sometimes for a week or more. The plating begins pitting etc. and cleaning doesn't help. If I could just remember to turn it off all the time, I would get a lot better tip life.

And just my two cents, doing general purpose soldering (not a lot of SMT stuff), is to tend towards the fatter tips, not the skinnier tips. Even for SMT like fine-pitch IC's, I use the fat tips covering say 5 IC leads at a time, and count on some applied flux and surface tension and maybe a little clean up with solder wick to keep the solder where it's supposed to be. I know, it's counterintuitive, lots of folks insist on the skinniest tips and skinniest solder for SMT stuff, but I find myself using a good old fat screwdriver or wedge tip and 0.0625" diameter solder.

Posts: 852

« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2012, 07:29:13 AM »

I think high tip temperature is the greatest cause of tip deterioration.  Temperature controlled irons are nice and Chinese versions are available for $50 or so.  I set mine to about 300C (572F), sometimes 320C if I need more heat.  Back when, I used to use a variac with my older 40W iron, and adjusted to about 90 volts, just right for most soldering.

I avoid lead-free solder like the plague.  Recently switched to 63/37 from 60/40 that I have traditionally used.

One hint I was given was to add some extra solder to tip when you are going to let iron on for a while.  The extra solder shields tip from air, and supposedly extends life.

Posts: 5498

« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2012, 08:40:47 PM »


As I grow older I'm getting more forgetful and spend more time looking for a tool or component than actually using it.  Leaving the soldering iron for a day or two is the latest screw up that I find myself doing. 

I eliminated that problem by digging out a digital darkroom timer that I built many years ago and never used.  Building a timer using a 555 chip, a driver transistor or relay and a larger relay would be a simple project.  Now I plug my soldering iron in it and set the time for 1 hour.  Now if I forget it, it shuts off automatically.

When I did leave it on accidentally, I found it necessary to grind off the crud and re-point it on the belt sander.  I used to use a file which did a good job but not as fast as the belt sander.

As for using a large wedge tip like you I prefer the pointed tip for accurate work.  I very seldom have to use solderwick. 

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