Help me tell the DIY shop guy he's wrong (?)

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Demi Jon
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Help me tell the DIY shop guy he's wrong (?)

Post by Demi Jon » Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:51 am

I bought a new soldering iron today, not a super-expensive one or a soldering station, but a $40 temperature adjustable one. I soldered in the first few resistors in my DIY kit no worries, but then the point just stopped getting as hot as the shaft of the tip. Like, it would flow if I touched it to the sides but not to the top 1.5cm of the tip.

I took it back to the shop and the guy tested it, and he said 'the point never gets as hot'. To me this sounds like nonsense -- my cheap $10 soldering iron always got hot at the point, before the tip distorted and became useless. How else am I supposed to solder with precision, and also why have a point if it doesn't get hot?

I'm pretty new to DIYing, have only ever soldered a few passive modules. But I just treated myself to a Fonitronik Cascade and a new soldering iron, third arm and solder sucker, to try to get more into it. So I was thinking 'Oh well, maybe I don't know what I'm talking about'.

Am I right or is the shop manager right? :help:

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NV
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Post by NV » Mon Nov 11, 2019 2:34 am

Your tip likely became oxidized, which affects heat transfer. This can happen with any iron but it's easier with cheap tips and certain solders. You can polish minor oxidation off with some flux and brass wool, or in more severe cases with tip activator or a polishing bar.

Tip oxidation can cut the life of the tip, so best to avoid it. Don't keep your tip overly hot (above 400 °C starts to kill tips), clean it between components on brass wool (ideally) or a damp sponge and re-tin it before tackling more joints, thoroughly clean and tin it anytime you're putting it in its holster, and don't leave it on during a break or period of board stuffing. Sounds like a lot but once you get the hang of it the process takes all of a couple seconds.
Last edited by NV on Mon Nov 11, 2019 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Demi Jon
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Post by Demi Jon » Mon Nov 11, 2019 3:15 am

NV wrote:Your tip likely became oxidized, which affects heat transfer.
Could it become oxidised in only an hour after purchase? I was cleaning it with a sponge after each joint, and it wouldn't actually re-tin: the solder would just not stick to the top 2.5cm.

Using lead-free solder -- what temp should I be ideally using?

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Post by cackland » Mon Nov 11, 2019 3:29 am

I find if its a cheap tip, a damp sponge causes more problems than good and will weaken the tip. Definitely use brass wool.

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Post by teleport » Mon Nov 11, 2019 3:52 am

Have seen cases where the thermal shock from a wet sponge caused a sort of de-lamination of the plating on a soldering iron tip, that could defintely cause the symptom described. If this is what happened -maybe your iron allows the tip to be replaced separately?

I second the brass wool recommendation for this reason.

The solder manufacturer will have a data sheet that quotes the flow temp, but correlating that to your iron in the abstract might be tricky, unless it has a known accurate temp scale, (most don't). Best practice for tip longevity is to keep your iron warm in "standby" and ramp it up when only it's being actively used and the energy flowing in has somewhere to go.

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Post by Demi Jon » Mon Nov 11, 2019 4:10 am

teleport wrote:Have seen cases where the thermal shock from a wet sponge caused a sort of de-lamination of the plating on a soldering iron tip, that could defintely cause the symptom described. If this is what happened -maybe your iron allows the tip to be replaced separately?

I second the brass wool recommendation for this reason.
Hmmm I think you may be right -- the point of the tip is dull while the rest of the shaft is still shiny and still heating the solder properly.

And for the brass wool: do I need to get specifically a solder-removing product, or the sort of thing I can get at the supermarket for scrubbing pots?

Also -- the guy at the shop was still wrong then about 'the point never getting as hot' though eh.

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NV
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Post by NV » Mon Nov 11, 2019 4:15 am

Demi Jon wrote:
NV wrote:Your tip likely became oxidized, which affects heat transfer.
Could it become oxidised in only an hour after purchase? I was cleaning it with a sponge after each joint, and it wouldn't actually re-tin: the solder would just not stick to the top 2.5cm.

Using lead-free solder -- what temp should I be ideally using?
New tips can be sensitive, and if they aren't tinned the right way the first time they can get messy. The first time you install and heat a tip stand by with some solder and get it cleaned and tinned as soon as it will accept it. After that you can baby it a bit less, but still keeping it clean and tinned constantly is the best way to keep the tip alive.

Lead-free is particularly rough on tips - Hakko says 4-5x reduction in tip life compared to leaded. Lead-free will melt around 220 °C depending on the alloy, but you need the iron to be much hotter to actually solder properly. Kester recommends 370-420 °C for lead-free soldering, although I'd tend towards 370. Too far below that can cook larger components by allowing too much time for heat to transfer, too far above reduces tip life and can damage smaller components. Cheap irons don't have the temperature controllers that more expensive irons have, so they can easily run too hot and oxidize quickly.

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Post by Graham Hinton » Mon Nov 11, 2019 6:13 am

Demi Jon wrote: Could it become oxidised in only an hour after purchase? I was cleaning it with a sponge after each joint, and it wouldn't actually re-tin: the solder would just not stick to the top 2.5cm.

Using lead-free solder -- what temp should I be ideally using?
There's the problem--the tip is not intended for lead free solder. You need special tips for that and don't use a wet sponge, use brass wool to clean it.

The shop is giving you BS, they obviously don't understand this.

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Post by teleport » Mon Nov 11, 2019 5:25 pm

Demi Jon wrote: And for the brass wool: do I need to get specifically a solder-removing product, or the sort of thing I can get at the supermarket for scrubbing pots?
You'll want the soldering specific stuff. It's inexpensive - a some googling turns up a discussion about the brass vs. copper scouring pads, and apparently the kitchen ones are actually steel under the copper plating - (which would tear up the tip).

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Post by Demi Jon » Mon Nov 11, 2019 5:44 pm

Thanks team! I’m taking the iron back to the shop for a replacement today, and I’ll get some leaded solder and proper brass wool; and I’ll make sure to tin the tip immediately when I start. You folks are the best!

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Post by SphericalSound » Tue Nov 12, 2019 10:28 am

It seems the shop guy is a liar or incompetent...

I would really search for lead free solder. It makes a huge difference and more if you are starting. If you search you will find it.

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Post by Demi Jon » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:32 pm

It seems the shop guy is a liar or incompetent...

I would really search for lead free solder. It makes a huge difference and more if you are starting. If you search you will find it.
Yeah, it was a slight battle getting him to replace my iron (in fact, he just gave me a new tip, which is fine).

After all the comments on this thread, and due to my status as X_TREME s.D.i.Y. n00b™ I'm going to go backwards to using leaded solder until I feel more comfortable with soldering and get all the good habits in place. I'm not sure at this point how deep I will go down the DIY route!

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Post by sduck » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:50 pm

You don't mention which iron you have, but when I was getting into DIY after a few false starts I ended up with a Weller 35, which is a fairly usable basic iron that costs about 35$. And it lasted a few years actually - I finished quite a few projects with it. I still have it in my portable fix it kit. With that one though, your sales guy would have been right - the tip doesn't get as hot, and the tips don't last. I used to buy replacement tips 5 at a time - if you looked at them funny they would just stop working, and no amount of retinning or cleaning would get them going again.

Currently using a Hakko - it's lasted maybe 5 times as long, the tip is as hot, and I've only replaced the tip once, and that was just to get a smaller size.
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Post by NV » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:58 pm

Demi Jon wrote:
It seems the shop guy is a liar or incompetent...

I would really search for lead free solder. It makes a huge difference and more if you are starting. If you search you will find it.
Yeah, it was a slight battle getting him to replace my iron (in fact, he just gave me a new tip, which is fine).

After all the comments on this thread, and due to my status as X_TREME s.D.i.Y. n00b™ I'm going to go backwards to using leaded solder until I feel more comfortable with soldering and get all the good habits in place. I'm not sure at this point how deep I will go down the DIY route!
I think Mapache meant to say leaded, as it is much easier to work with.

Eutectic solder is particularly forgiving, which is 63% tin / 37% lead. Eutectic means the transition between solid and liquid occurs at one temperature, avoiding the pasty plastic stage that 60/40 has in between. This helps for preventing cold joints as you're learning. Here's a fancy diagram if you're curious:

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Post by Demi Jon » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:58 pm

It's a Duratech TS1540, which according to the website, has a 'Plated long-life tip.'

It's a cheapie, but my old $10 iron lasted me through 2 2x1:3 passive mults, an AT-AT-AT, and a massive 72HP DIY 1U 10x1:4 passive mult, before the tip deformed.

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Post by cornutt » Tue Nov 12, 2019 4:47 pm

NV wrote:
I think Mapache meant to say leaded, as it is much easier to work with.
This. There's absolutely no reason for a hobbyist to use lead-free solder if you don't have to. There might be components out there that won't take leaded solder, but I haven't come across any myself.
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