Soldering iron tip cleaning and tinning

@ChrisGammell

A heads up that some of those (or all of them) may not actually matter either way and I may be overthinking this but I am trying to find out if I am overthinking them and I should stop or if I’m not - which way is the right way

  1. Manually tinning the soldering iron tip with solder after every couple of solder joints made - is this actually needed?
  2. Some people actually recommend straight up tinning with a tip tinner regularly, like once a day at least - isn’t this a bad idea (for the health of the tip) or is there actually merit to this recommendation?
  3. When cleaning my tip (with the brass sponge) there is still solder left on the tip, like not just it being coated in it, but there’s a visible amount left on the tip, unless I clean it thorough. Should I strive for cleaning it so just a coating is left or is just shove and twist or two in the brass sponge enough?
  4. A certain part of the tip is iron coated but when soldering we use only a part of that coated part, so when tinning the tip, should I strive to keep the whole iron coated part tinned or just the part I use? If not tinning the whole coated part, will that reduce tip life?
  5. When I’m tinning my tip (besides when solder gets on it on its own while soldering) I can’t tin it just a little and still cover all of it but then it ends up being a whole ball (like i’d put when i’ll be turning the iron off). I guess I’m asking what’s the right amount or how do I tin it so I don’t use more than I should and I don’t use less than I should?

I dial the temperature back when I put the iron down for more than a minute. Does this actually increase tip life?

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Tremendously. My Weller gear does it automatically. My older stations turned it off completely, the newest one drops it to 360F for a while to reduce reheating time to even less than what it usually is, which is fast to begin with.

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I whack the handpiece on the bench to knock excess solder off. Works better than the brass sponge.

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Note that all of this is more critical with lead-free solders, but still really important if you use leaded solders.

Usually no. The reason you tin the tip is to replace/displace the oxidized solder that coats it. The reasons you do this are to have optimal heat transfer to the soldered joint, and to avoid contamination of the solder joint (with the oxidized gunk on the tip.)

You’re likely to need to do it more than once a day. There is no useful magic formula that I’m aware of. I tin mine when it looks oxidized after I clean it on the sponge or solder scrunchy. I’m also careful to leave a decent coating of solder on the tip after I’m done with a joint. This usually isn’t too hard to do during normal soldering. Note that flux is not your solder tip’s friend. Don’t leave a lot of visible flux - it just eats the plating and oxidizes the solder on a hot tip.

I think this depends on the results you are getting. It you are getting good joints, don’t sweat it. A small amount of solder helps heat transfer, and that’s half of the game. The other half is cleanliness.

If I have visible blobs after sponging it I wipe it with something else. I’ll wipe mine with a damp sponge, damp paper towel or cloth. I keep both a brass scrunchy sponge and a wet sponge handy when I’m soldering. I also have a Menda dispenser of isopropyl and some brushes handy.

Use the tip manufacturer’s tinning as your guide until you figure out how much you actively use. The manufacturers are usually very conservative. I usually maintain a little more than I expect to use to be sure.

The problem with tinning only for the current application is that the oxidation of the unused part continues. It’s often possible to recover it and re-tin it, but not always Any flux left on the untinned area of a hot iron eats into the plating as well as the tinning. Note that the flux left on the tinned area eats that as well, but we’re continually refreshing that.

While overkill for most applications, NASA-STD-8739 “SOLDERED ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS” (was NHB 5300) is both a wealth of knowledge and an effective cure for insomnia.

Many of the requirements have useful background explanations and it’s a god source of reference material. Just be aware that it’s all leaded solder. Space generally doesn’t do lead free.

Rich

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  1. Manually tinning the soldering iron tip with solder after every couple of solder joints made - is this actually needed?

I’d say cleaning is more important than tinning. If you’re having trouble with the actual joints every few, you might want to look at your solder and get some with a flux core.

  1. Some people actually recommend straight up tinning with a tip tinner regularly, like once a day at least - isn’t this a bad idea (for the health of the tip) or is there actually merit to this recommendation?

I usually start my day like this, but I’m not sure about the pro recommendations. I don’t believe this will have any impact n the life of the tip, at least any more than the normal wear and tear of using it for multiple hours a day.

  1. When cleaning my tip (with the brass sponge) there is still solder left on the tip, like not just it being coated in it, but there’s a visible amount left on the tip, unless I clean it thorough. Should I strive for cleaning it so just a coating is left or is just shove and twist or two in the brass sponge enough?

This may be indicating that your brass sponge is full of solder, don’t forget to clean that out and/or replace it from time to time. I would say the brass sponge is enough, but it’s going to come down to how stringent your soldering needs are.

  1. A certain part of the tip is iron coated but when soldering we use only a part of that coated part, so when tinning the tip, should I strive to keep the whole iron coated part tinned or just the part I use? If not tinning the whole coated part, will that reduce tip life?

Not sure on this one

  1. When I’m tinning my tip (besides when solder gets on it on its own while soldering) I can’t tin it just a little and still cover all of it but then it ends up being a whole ball (like i’d put when i’ll be turning the iron off). I guess I’m asking what’s the right amount or how do I tin it so I don’t use more than I should and I don’t use less than I should?

I normally just over-do it, if I’m being honest. And solder and tinner/cleaner is cheap enough that I’m not worried about using a bunch of it.

You really are putting a lot of thought into this, @ifohancroft, so kudos on that. Ify ou change out the tip on a regular basis, I think many of these concerns will disappear.

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Ha and I just saw that @rich responded around the same time I did. Thanks! Looks like we have similar-ish answers

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Enormously. The problem we are fighting is oxidation and other chemical effects. All chemical processes are accelerated by heat. Dropping the temperature dramatically reducing the reaction.

Rich

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@rich and @ChrisGammell Thank you both so much!

I thought I may be overthinking this.

A couple of things that I should have probably stated from the beginning:

  1. I am using a Hakko FX-888d with a 2.4mm chisel tip (T18-D24 I believe, although I have the T18-D type tips in all possible sizes except 3mm and 3.2mm), lead free SN100C solder (not the original, but one by Balver Zinn, I don’t remember on top of my head their particular model number, I believe something like LN5357NC) in 0.3mm thickness with flux core (I believe 2.2% but don’t remember the type of flux) and I solder at 350C, I believe the tips are genuine.

  2. My tip and brass sponges are new (have been used a couple of times so far

  3. I seem to be getting good joints and no weird behavior from the tip or the solder joints, except 1 thing:

Sometimes touching the solder to the pad after holding the tip to the pad and component leg/lead for about a second, the solder doesn’t start instantly (but i believe i may have not touched the component lead with it as well, not sure, need to get a magnifying glass or something) and i either have to touch the solder to the tip to get it started or wait about a second and a half loger. Although I have been soldering eBay practice boards with questionable quality and who knows what kind of plating.

Is this normal?

  1. My tip tinning paste is again by Hakko, can’t remember the model number. I beliene FS-100?

  2. When I talk about retinning the tip after every couple of joints, I should have mentioned that I also clean it after every couple of joints (before and after retinning it).

I am sure I am missing something but I can’t remember right now.

Let me recap to see if I’m understanding the what would be a good procedure (perhaps not the only viable one). Let me know if this seems corret/a good way to do/keep doig things:

I turn on the iron, wait for it to reach the 350 (or chosen temperature), when I am ready to start soldering, clean the blob of solder I left on the tip last time before shutting the station off, clean it so there’s not much solder left on the tip but doesn’t have to neccessarily be “coating tin”, solder a couple of joints, clean it again, re-thin it (and it’s ok if you put a lot of solder) covering the whole iron plated part of the tip, clean it again, so at least there’s not a blob of solder on it?

Also, any time you notice oxidation on the tip or part of it and you can’t tin it with just solder so it starts forming bubbles instead, don’t be afraid to “shove it” into the tinning paste?
Clean not right after every couple of solder joints but right before the next one (after those few ones) to not leave it hot and exposed?

Also, once again, thank you so much! Everyone makes videos about tin, solder, clean, tin, etc but it’s hard findig info on how much should you clean and tin, which of the two should be the last step and whether it actually matters.

Also, thank you for the NASA guide! I have been wondering about building, soldering, making, etc hardware for space and extreme conditions, ever since I found out that the requirements are different than the regular.

Would you be able to make a video with your concerns? Doesn’t need to be public

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Besides the question above asking if this is normal:

Sometimes touching the solder to the pad after holding the tip to the pad and component leg/lead for about a second, the solder doesn’t start instantly (but i believe i may have not touched the component lead with it as well, not sure, need to get a magnifying glass or something) and i either have to touch the solder to the tip to get it started or wait about a second and a half loger. Although I have been soldering eBay practice boards with questionable quality and who knows what kind of plating.
Is this normal?

The rest was my explanation of what I understood and asking for confirmation to make sure i understood right.

No concerns besides that, also out of things to solder atm to be able to make a video.

Sounds fairly normal to me. It is a stochastic process. Could be reduced cross section area of contact with tip, how the tip plating solder just happened to deform on contact, trapped gas or oxides, or a host of alternatives. High speed thermal camera video would be fantastic. :wink:

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@ifohancroft
I use higher temperatures with Pb-free solder. I set it to 375C to 400C, not 350C.

Have you tried add a little flux with a flux pen?

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@quozl Can you please ellaborate on:

Could be reduced cross section area of contact with tip

Also, yeah, it would be nice to have a high speed thermal camera.

@cgervasi I just set it up according to Hakko’s recommendations.
I.e. Solder melting temperature (for my solder that’s 227C) + 50 degrees + 70 or 100 degrees depending on the thermal conductivity of the soldering station (I believe mine has great thermal conductivity so I use 70degrees instead of 100) which gives me about 347 degrees C and since 350 is a round number and most people seem to use 350, I just set it to 350.

I still need to buy flux, as the flux pen I bought, turned out to be an empty flux pen you are supposed to fill with flux yourself.

I’ll try. But I don’t want to appear to be an expert or overdo it.

So as I understand it from your quoted text;

  1. your starting condition is tip hot, wetted and cleaned, pad cold, component lead cold, and solder cold,
  2. you hold the tip to the pad and lead for about one second, touching both with the tip,
  3. you touch the solder to the pad or the pad and the lead,
  4. you expect the solder to heat, melt, and flow, but sometimes the melt is delayed.

A number of things have to go right in step 2 and 3. Heat has to flow. Time is of the essence. The rate of heat flow depends on;

  • temperature of the tip,
  • temperature of the pad, lead, ground plane, component and board,
  • temperature of the solder,
  • the cross section of the area of contact between all these things, which for the tip is mostly the angle you are holding it and the thickness of wetting; can you see your face in it or is it so clean you can see the tip plating erosion or texture,
  • if the wetting surface is clean, invisibly oxidised, dirty, or still dancing with liquid flux in brownian motion,
  • ambient wind speed and air temperature; my soldering exhaust fan makes a difference,
  • heat sourcing capacity of tip and control system,
  • heat sinking capacity of component, trace, ground planes, vias,
  • gas flow from flux evaporation; and the path the exhaust gas chooses to take,
  • cross section of the area of contact between the hot surfaces and the cold solder as it hits; freshly cut solder behaves differently to previously used solder with a balled end and remnant flux.

On the heat sourcing capacity of tip and control system; larger tip will dump stored heat faster, and how faithful the control system of the FX-888d complies with demand can be a bit invisible; look at the heating indicator at the end of the temperature display, and remember that an overshot temperature is not usually displayed to you. It’s not 350°C, but at least 350°C. Heat the tip from an external source to prove that.

Another way to look at it; if you’re noticing a one second variability, that’s about as much as I had expected given what’s going on in there.

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Thank you so much!
Now I get it! I realize now that my problem understanding what you meant was because of not knowing what a cross section of an area is.

I should have said cross-sectional area. Sorry, I’m not from 'round here. :grinning:

At small scale, pushing a wetted tip against a pad and component is like pushing a balloon against a pillow on a bed. The balloon deforms a lot. The pillow less so. The heat transfer rate is mostly proportional to the area of contact.

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