Probably the most neglected things for hobbyists are their tools. I would take a guess that a higher percentage don’t do regular maintenance on their tools even though it is one of the major purchases for the hobby. On a regular basis students come to me upset and can’t believe how bad the tip of their soldering iron looks, especially after they look at our irons. The conversation usually begins with, “I got this soldering iron a month ago and the tip looks horrible.” Then they reveal their irons from behind their backs and sure enough the tips are solid black.
So here are a couple of tips for keeping your soldering in top shape:
1. The sponge that all of you are wiping your iron on should not be soaking wet. When you take a modern soldering iron and go back and forth between hot and cooling it off on the sponge the metal in the iron tip expands and contracts and it can actually age the iron tip prematurely. We do wipe the iron on the sponge; however, the sponge is only damp and it is a quick one time swipe. Don’t fuss over that little dot of solder that is left on the end, ignore it and move on.
2. If you look in the picture to the right you will see a metal tin (Its the lid from a can of cookies. We cut one edge off with tin snips). In that tin I throw small left over solder and a very small amount of flux. Every now and then as the tip appears to get gummed up with black I heat up the iron, then take the tip and lay it in the metal tin. While the tip is in the tin I move it around and you will see an amazing thing happen. The black on the tip comes off and the tip gets a nice fine layer of solder on it making the tip all clean and looking new again.
3. One big DON’T that we have found with today’s soldering irons is Sal Amoniac. We never use Sal Amoniac on pre-tinned iron tips, which is what most soldering irons have today. We have found that it actually pits and removes the pre-tinned area and destroys the tip.
Most of the time when I am done soldering for the day I will do the same procedure placing the tip in the tin until it is clean. Once it is clean I turn off the soldering iron and leave it alone. The next day when I come back the tip is nice and clean and ready for another day of use. Try this and I know you will be amazed.