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Soldering problems

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Firstly, I'm sorry if this sort of question has been asked before/well documented, but I thought a new thread would be ok.


I'm a novice Modder and haven't done much soldering.  I'm modding/recabling headphones and soldering plugs to wires.  The concept is all fine, but I'm still learning the technical skills (soldering!)


I bought a cheap soldering iron (£10, Maplin in the UK) and I've used it a couple of times, but the tip doesn't seem to be getting hot any more.  Other parts of the iron (sides) melt the solder, but I can't get the tip to melt the solder.


Sorry if this is a hugely novice question, but presumably I have to clean the tip of the iron quite frequently?


The tip is already discouloured, but I guess this is 'normal' (oxidation?).


The solder I have - I think - is 4% silver, 95.5% tin, 0.5% copper, which I was told has a lower melting point than 'standard'.

The solder is taking a long time to melt - which is probably bad news for the components (jack plug) and the heat is starting to melt the wire insulation.

I also cannot get the solder to stick to the iron to tin it.  Any thoughts?


Is this my 'technique'/understanding, or should I look to get a better soldering iron?  Should I look to get some flux?


I've read a few threads where brands of s-iron like Hakko, Weller, Circuit Specialists, Aoyue, Antex, Xytronic are recommended.  Some of these (Hakko f'instance) are discontinued.




Would this be worthwhile to get?  (I see it's for 'woodburning' hobbies?!)



Any thoughts would be brilliant, thanks.


Edited by DogandPonyShow - 6/22/12 at 7:39am
post #2 of 6

£10 is a cheap, cheap iron. Maplins shouldn't be selling complete rubbish though.


It sounds like the surface of the tip is oxidised or covered with burnt flux, this can make it difficult to get any heat into the solder, and even if it does melt, it just forms balls which don't wet the iron, they just run off.


Good practise when buying a new iron is to thoroughly tin (melt solder all over) the tip immediately it gets hot enough on first switch-on. Then you keep it clean by wiping on a wet sponge or a little tin of tip-tinner.


You may be able to get the tip to tin by applying flux to it before applying the solder. Use a 'normal' multicore eutectic (63/37 tin/lead) solder (it has flux in it, like toothpaste with stripes). Eutectic is the easiest to use, it's the least fussy. Some nonstandard solders have no flux core.


If the flux doesn't work, or you don't have any handy, try cleaning the (hot) tip with a wet sponge or wetted tissue paper, be careful, if you hold the item you are cleaning with you can easily get a steam burn (voice of experience).


If you can't break the oxide layer any other way, scrape it with a blade or use wet-and-dry (emery) paper or even coarse sandpaper to clean it off. This will destroy any protective iron coat the tip may have, leading to a reduced life, but it sounds like you'll be stuck anyway by the time you get to that stage, and £10 isn't a great loss if you have to bin it. Cheaper irons frequently only have tinned copper bits anyway.


A £10 iron is really only good for emergency repairs or one-offs. They generally actually run hotter than a good temperature-controlled iron to make sure they melt whatever is presented to them, but this can be bad for components.


Don't buy the woodburning iron, it's for woodburning, but Weller irons for soldering are well thought of and used throughout industry.



Edited by wakibaki - 6/22/12 at 9:04am
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 

Great, thanks for that info wakibaki!


It's interesting to know a cheap iron may get hotter than a temp-controlled one.


I think the tip is oxidised, so I'll look to clean it.  As you say, doesn't matter too much if I trash this iron as it's a cheapo. Yes! It does form balls.


The woodburning iron: removed from WishList!



Can anyone recommend a good (cheaper!) iron to find in the UK?

post #4 of 6

I occasionally sand down the tip of my cheap weller iron.

post #5 of 6

I've been using this tip for years...

It's not very well tinned right now.


I keep my iron at 550 unless soldering larger

mechanical parts or ground planes.


You should be able to melt the solder but not burn the flux.



post #6 of 6

Can you even get leaded solder in the UK? 95.5/4/0.5 is a eutectic solder that melts at 217C, which is just about the lowest melting point of any lead free formula. But it's still 30-35C hotter than 63/37 or 60/40 lead/tin. You need lots of flux, and probably want some soldering iron cleaner (a paste typically made with solder, flux, and acid) to clean once in a while (you dip the hot tip in and rub it off on the sponge or metal thingie, probably a few times in a row, but only when it starts to get bad) and possibly a brass-looking metal thingie instead of a sponge to clean the iron during use. Make sure to keep the iron constantly "tinned" when hot, and tin & wipe it it just before shutting it off.


I'd try those things before stepping up to a better iron. You can still use them after upgrading.

Edited by SiBurning - 6/23/12 at 1:15am
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