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Soldering Iron Tip (Copper or Plated)

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  • Member since
    January 2004
  • From: Frisco, TX
  • 483 posts
Soldering Iron Tip (Copper or Plated)
Posted by cordon on Tuesday, July 3, 2007 3:03 AM

Smile [:)]

For fifty-five years or so ( I started in 1950) all the soldering irons/guns I saw and owned had copper tips.  My trusty old Radio Shack soldering pencil, vintage 1985, has a copper tip.  I received a temperature-controlled soldering station for my birthday that has a tip with a copper core and iron plating.  It will not tin properly at any temperature with either lead-free or tin-lead rosin-core solder.  It is nearly impossible to use and makes terrible joints.  I used tip cleaner, too.  No improvement.

I've spent a few hours searching the Web and these forums.  Many web pages say that plated tips are the modern way to go and that people don't use bare copper tips any more.  I found lots of excellent advice on soldering in these forums, but no discussion on copper versus iron tips.

In frustration I bought a piece of thick copper wire from the local hardware store and fashioned a replacement tip for my temperature-controlled iron.  I set the iron for 500 degrees, and the new tip tinned up beautifully.  I tried a few wire joints, and the solder flowed perfectly.  This is the type of soldering I have been used to for years.

Questions:

Why the change to iron-plated tips?  I learned years ago that solder will not wet iron.  What has changed?

How does one get the solder to wet the iron-plated tip?

What did I do wrong?

Has anyone else had this problem?

Confused [%-)]  Question [?]

 

  • Member since
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  • From: S.E. Adirondacks, NY
  • 3,246 posts
Posted by modelmaker51 on Tuesday, July 3, 2007 5:30 AM
I'm of the same school as you, and probably the same iron with the screw-in heating elements and the "cool" grip. With a properly tinned copper tip, I always load the tip with a bit of solder and then heat the joint and add more solder as needed, for me this method always gave me the fastest and best result. Today they teach you to heat the joint up first and then add the solder to the joint, not the iron, therefore (in theory) you don't need a tinned tip and the plated tip doesnt pick up as much crud, is easier to keep clean and therefore should last longer. I've never had any trouble keeping my tips clean and they've lasted for years.

Jay 

C-415 Build: https://imageshack.com/a/tShC/1 

Other builds: https://imageshack.com/my/albums 

  • Member since
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  • From: Orig: Tyler Texas. Lived in seven countries, now live in Sundown, Louisiana
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Posted by jeffrey-wimberly on Tuesday, July 3, 2007 7:07 AM
Give me a copper tip any day!

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  • Member since
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  • From: Amish country Tenn.
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Posted by loathar on Tuesday, July 3, 2007 9:56 AM
I used to solder surface mount electronics by hand with a really fine tipped Radio Shack iron. The interchangable tips looked like chrome plated copper and didn't work worth a darn. First thing I did was take a belt sander to them and get a fine copper needle point. They wore down faster but worked great.
  • Member since
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  • From: Western, MA
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Posted by richg1998 on Tuesday, July 3, 2007 10:58 AM

I have been soldering for many years and I love the plated tips. I built my first shortwave radio in 1956 with the Weller soldering gun. I am now on my second Weller gun. I also use a tip cleaner. For quite a few years I have been using a Weller temp controlled soldering station with plated tips. The tips plate very well. A slight film of solder is needed when soldering surface mount devices that are quite small. The solder flows off the tip instantly when it touches the pc board and component.

The gun is only used for soldering the #22 to #16 wire for the DCC bus connections.

Rich 

If you ever fall over in public, pick yourself up and say “sorry it’s been a while since I inhabited a body.” And just walk away.

  • Member since
    January 2004
  • From: Frisco, TX
  • 483 posts
Posted by cordon on Tuesday, July 3, 2007 1:43 PM

Smile [:)]

Thank you, so far.  That's two for copper and two for plated.

I've read in some of the advice pages about applying the heat to the joint and the solder to the other side of the joint.  I tried that, but the poorly tinned tip could not pass sufficient heat by contact alone to make it work properly.  It took too long, allowing lower temperature heat to move along the wires and melt insulation.

A well tinned tip heats the joint in about half a second.  Another half second of solder flow and it's done, with no melted insulation.  My plated tip will not do that.

The homebrew copper tip does it perfectly. 

My understanding is that the contact through the melted solder (tinning on the tip) provides a much better heat transfer and brings the temperature of the joint up to the temperature of the tip very fast.

I have noticed that some of the pictures of plated tips show a different surface appearance for the last one-eighth inch of the tip.  One site said that that part has no chrome plating, only iron plating.  My plated tips (I have two) don't have that appearance.  Maybe I just have cheapies.

Smile [:)]

 

  • Member since
    July 2006
  • From: New Joizey
  • 1,983 posts
Posted by SteamFreak on Tuesday, July 3, 2007 3:04 PM
 cordon wrote:

I have noticed that some of the pictures of plated tips show a different surface appearance for the last one-eighth inch of the tip.  One site said that that part has no chrome plating, only iron plating.  My plated tips (I have two) don't have that appearance.  Maybe I just have cheapies.

Smile [:)]

That was my thought. Your tips may not have a decent tinning surface. The iron-clad tips I have are either polished or plated differently on the end, and they tin very well. Copper may tin a bit faster, but the plated tips last forever. It's a trade-off.

Your other observation was right as well; you can't heat a solder joint properly without tinning the tip. The molten solder covers a lot more surface area, and makes the heat transfer much faster than just the bare tip. You'll watch your insulation or plastic ties curl up long before you'll be able to apply the solder without it.

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