Picture of Soldering 101: Lesson 1: Tin the Tip
This short and easy instructable shows how (and why!) you tin the tip of the soldering iron.
Never soldered before? Here's where to start.

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Last week I decided to make a USB powered flashlight.
While I know a lot about computers, I'm pretty much a solder newbie.

This was a problem.

Luckily, though, I work with a formerly-NASA-micro-soldering-certified technician and soldering instructor.
Yesterday, he instructed me as I soldered together my lovely little flashlight.

My newbie perspective is useful as I won't overlook any "obvious" things that more experienced solderers might.
And my knowledgable overseer (Thanks Terry!) taught me the proper methods, so you can do things the right way too.

You will need:
A soldering iron

If you can't get a soldering iron with a digital temp readout (and I can't) get a soldering iron with a temperature dial. You'll be glad you did in the long run.
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Step 1: Prepare the Iron

Picture of Prepare the Iron
Clear your work area (like a desktop).

**If you're reading this instructable, you shouldn't be soldering chips (ICs) yet, but if you WERE to solder ICs, you'd be soldering on an ESD mat.

Plug in the iron and turn it on. Using water, soak the sponge that comes with the iron and squeeze it out a little. This sponge is used to clean solder off the tip of the soldering iron.

Adjust the temperature of the iron to about 750 F(75 on the dial) like so:

Step 2: Clean the Tip

Picture of Clean the Tip
After a minute or two the iron should be hot enough to steam when touched to the sponge. If not, wait a bit more, or add more water to the sponge if it's too dry.

When the iron is hot, wipe both sides of the soldering tip on the sponge. Your goal is to remove old solder from the tip.

Step 3: Tin the Tip

Picture of Tin the Tip
When you put a light layer of solder over another piece of metal, it's called "tinning".

Holding the solder in one hand and the iron in the other, briefly touch the solder to both sides of the tip.

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ddegagne1 month ago

Surprised this hasn't been answered. You tin your soldering iron tip when you begin and when you end your soldering. You never ever want to see the tip go black. The shinier the better.

yaro.kasear2 months ago

I like these guides, but something that keeps annoying me is NONE of them explain this: How OFTEN do I tin? Is it every time I go to solder? Is it just when I get a new tip?

RhinosarusD5 months ago

I have this exact same iron... I bought a new tip for it because
the old one is a short fat nub. Now the new one WONT MELT SOLDIER.
Doesn't have any problem melting the parts I am trying to soldier.
Plenty of heat to completely ruin many new parts in short time, but
can't handle the SAME soldier that the old one had NO PROBLEM melting,
even at LOW temperature.

Would not "tin" at first either. Started at 40 & slowly went up til it melted... it never melted. So much for "tinning".

Even at FULL 85... Parts get super hot, enough to melt... but not the soldier.

The ONLY way I can use the new tip is to sand it down each time I use it.

~Rather pissed @ my iron

If you have some spare time consider a fab class or soldering class at a local college or vocational school you will learn a lot of tips and tricks if not just hit youtube and forums. The problem you are having to my knowledge is that you have some sort of gunk/oxidation on your tip and need to clean that off, we use this solder tip cleaner/chemical paste. Once cleaned don't forget to tin your tip after every use. I don't suggest you sand your tip after every use because then you will wear down the tip in no time.

amplex1 year ago
When you mention conductivity, is this heat or electrical conductivity? I fail to see how tinning helps for either. Just wondering why tinning is an important step. I can see how tinning the tip before you are done can help preserve it by limiting oxidation (rust). Thanks for the instructable!

IanWizard amplex11 months ago

Heat conductivity. And I believe it's because it prevents the oxidation, and keeps the tip covered in molten solder.

amplex1 year ago
Why do you need to tin the soldering tip?
Dromedary22 years ago
Thanks; I am a newbie here and to soldering and tinning. yes, I had/have a cheapo soldering iron but afterv reading this instructable, it's a good quality non blister-pack iron for me. Incidentally I am learning to solder deans connectors and banana clips for use in high-end rc aircraft...

Great instructable; I look forward to learning a LOT here! Hope onde day to add my input and help others :-)
blade973 years ago
This is pretty good, but isn't there a way to cool the solder on quickly, no matter what solder I use I can't tin the tip of my iron because the solder runs off no matter what, I have used at least 15 different solders and I can't seem to get it to work.
it seems your iron tip is messed up, oxidized, thought most of the folks doesn't like to sandpaper the tip, in worst case scenarios it would work like a charm if you're kind with your precious tip, use the finest sandpaper available and scratch JUST the oxide from your tip, after that try again to tin your solder tip and clean start being nice with your iron, after every use leave a thin film of solder on the tip and clean often your tip every soldering action, after using the sandpaper you may notice a faster degradation of the tip, but that's not a big deal if you were unable to use it at all before the sandpaper trick.

have fun.
I'm having this same problem, and have now tried both cleaning and sanding my tip, but it still won't tin. Any other suggestions?
osgeld blade973 years ago
Get some tip cleaner, its basicly nasty flux and petrolium jelly that smells like hell but will restore your tip (or just buy a new one) if the solder is not sticking its cause it will not stick to dirty stuff
uberchoob7 years ago
On the topic of tips, I use a Weller gun type iron for most of my soldering. Instead of using Weller tips, I just make my own out of copper wire. Reasons: Straight copper heats up faster than those with coating. The end can be bent and ground down to any shape you need. They're super cheap, which outweighs the fact that the solder can eat away at the copper. You don't have to worry about chunks coming off the tip if you flick the solder off. Sure, you shouldn't leave a uncoated tip tinned, because the solder could eat away at the copper. Instead of leaving the tip tinned, I just take two or three swipes at it with a wire brush before I start. Also, My thoughts on wire feed soldering guns. A big part of soldering is controlling your solder feed.... (duh?) So applying it through a feeder would be impractical unless it had a reverse switch to pull the solder away. Also, you will need to apply the solder from many different angles in different applications. So basically, a wire fed iron would only be practical if it had a reverse function to pull the solder back, and if you are always soldering from the same angle.
and you are changing the metal chemistry of the joint by increasing the copper content. = Brittle joints.
Jezza Bear8 years ago
OK so I will come clean, I am a 41 year old who is crap at soldering. There I said it. I bought one of these ready made kits to solder components together and completely failed. The tip of my iron had a great chunk eaten out of it and I had to replace it after one circuit board. What did I do wrong?
The tips of soldering irons are mostly copper with a thin protective coating of iron over that. The protective coating is there to keep solder from touching the copper, because the tin in the solder will quickly dissolve the copper. What happened to your tip? On just about any soldering iron, if you leave it on for a while with no solder covering the tip, the tip will oxidize (rust). All it takes is leaving an one night for the the protective coating to oxidize away, and once there's a hole in that, solder will quickly eat away the insides. This is why it's important to always keep a glob of solder on the end of the tip. I add solder back onto the tip every time I set down the iron. If you're using an $8 iron in the first place, maybe it doesn't matter. But for the more expensive ones, the first time you turn them on, it's recommended to hold solder against the tip so that the instant the tip gets hot enough, solder will melt onto it and protect it. All and all, it sounds like you got a bad kit. One other possibility is that you were using too much pressure with the iron. Very little force is needed--clean parts and sufficient wattage is all that's required.
Halleluya, someone who knows what htye are talking about.
Thanks, I think you have banged the nail well and truely on the head. I bought a really cheap and cheerful iron and I had it banging around by tool box. I personally think that as it was cheap thing the tip was probably very cheap too and had flaws in it. I certainly didn't know about the protection with solder but that is a very good idea. Haven't had any reason to do soldering recently but this whole thread and ideas from everyone has been brilliant. Thank you.
i suk too but im only 12 lots of time to improve but practice and a parent with money helps a lot
royalestel (author)  rasengan6098 years ago
Being 12 with lots of time and a parent with money helps a lot with any venture . . . wish I'd had that when I started learning computer graphics . . .
Same, I wish I could've at least started sooner, now I'm 17 and just learning that my tips are getting chewed away because I've been flicking the solder off (thanks by the way for the info) getting an early start will definitely help you in the long run.
This happens when you flick the solder off of the tip when soldering. When I first started soldering, I was too lazy to wipe the solder off the tip of my $8 radioshack iron, so i'd tap my iron on the side of a cup, kind of like flicking ash into an ashtray... this quickly took chunks of the tip along with the excess solder.
lieuwe theagent4 years ago
 really? i always did that, and after getting the charred filth off of it it looked like new, no dents/holes/whatever...
sam Jezza Bear8 years ago
I think this happens when you leave a cheap soldering iron on for too long.. the same thing happened to a cheapo one I got at radioshack a while ago. It think the metal sort of rusts away. If it wasn't tinned, that wouldn't have helped much either. That said, its easy to reshape your soldering iron tip with a file. Just make sure you tin it after doing that.

I just bought a iron from radioshack, and it cost about $8. I got home turned it on and suposedly tinned it( melted the solder on there and wiped off the excess. My joints were not perfect, but as I went on I relized my tip was eroding away. What can I do to stop this, I have rosin core solder. This has happened to me plenty of times before. Is it me or the fact that I have a cheap soldering iron? Please help. A video would be realy nice.

if your using a wet sponge, stop. IMO it just causes thermal shock and I would put a big divot in a radio shack tip in no time flat. I got a copper scowering pad and the tip still looks new 3 years later (use dry).

now I have not been using it all that much, but my good iron came with a flux soaked brass sponge and its tip is just now starting to show some wear over 2 years later.

The other side of that coin is people argue the metal sponges scrape off the coatings used on better quality tips, though I have never seen brass foil knock a hole in to cast iron ...
kbb06253 years ago
Excellent Instructable! Exactly what I was looking to learn, thanks
Hi, you did not explain how to correctly solder - ie form a "heat bridge" by touching the soldering iron tip to the wire or component until it heats up, hold the solder to the work and watch the molten solder "wick" onto the component. cheers
The title of the lesson is "Soldering 101: Lesson 1: Tin the Tip"
dh1236 years ago
Hi! Nice tutorial but I have two comments. First, 750F is HOT! Really HOT! On the pcb's, wires, etc we do in my lab regularly a well tinned iron never needs to be above 650F. If you need to do some really heavy gauge wire, or a board that has a great copper pad you might need to go a little warmer, but only for a short period of time. Secondly,add a slow 1 count while the tip is heating the joint to ensure you don't get any cold joints. Nice instructable, thanks for taking the time!
DJPhil dh1235 years ago
I thought I might help avoid a misunderstanding. What dh123 is saying is excellent advice for the most often used lead based solders. In the past several years there has been a movement to begin using lead free solder, and these types of solders have a higher melting temperature. An iron temperature of 750F is a respectable mid-range for the average lead free solder, and would be excessive (likely to the point of harm) for assembly work with lead based solder.

To add to the above, I believe one of the many good reasons to buy a temperature controlled soldering iron is that you can adjust the iron temperature for both the job at hand (heating more metal takes more energy, too much energy damages fine components) and for the specific mix of solder you are using. There are many off brand digital thermocouple controlled adjustable irons available nowadays, and little research should turn up several between $50-$100US. They provide a drastically different experience than the standard $10US blister pack iron. My advice is that if you intend to work on circuit boards of any kind (as opposed to just the occasional wire tinning or appliance mending) you will be well served by investing in a good iron.

More details can be found on the soldering iron and solder pages on Wikipedia, and out in Googlespace. Some brand names to search for would be Weller, Hakko, Aoyue, and Xytronic.
obeyken8 years ago
I have the same soldering station and I think I just learned the hard way not to use metal wool-type stuff with these Weller tips. Apparently it's easy to wear off the iron electroplating (I can now see the copper core, and solder won't wet to the tip). For this same reason these Weller tips can't be reshapped with a file. Great tutorial!
The key is brass. Steel is harder than iron, so steel wool is out. You could use copper wool, but it will soak up solder like a sponge. Not a problem with brass. Since I switched to brass brushes, I haven't replaced a tip in 3+ years.
panstar16 years ago
I found those "lead free " tips for the weller sp25 irons are a pain to tin and use & for me there the only type I can get ,but I find that polishing them with 1500 grit sand paper helps a lot & and tinning it with lead free solder also help keep the the oxide down ,as well it is better pay more & get a good iron then ending up frustrated with my set up I built my own temp controller ,the most useful thing I have ever made it may not have a lcd read out but it works for me. As for weller plated tips can be reshaped or DYI out of copper wire which I have done for years a bit of good quality "high temp anti seize" mine is good for + 2000 F it is made by locite will help extend the life of a unplaited tip ,I wonder if there is a way to replate or plate bare copper tips using electrolysis at home ?
what I really don't get is why the guys who make soldering irons can't take the long and short out of it, and create the possibility of reel feeding a soldering iron, the same way a wire welder is fed. don't worry, if I get my hands on a solder-sucker type of solder remover, i'll be sure to try my hand at making one...
RadioShack used to sell a solder feeder that worked similar to the reel feeders from wire welders. I ran into problems with the one I purchased where it would constantly solder itself shut, or would work its way down the iron and the solder had to constantly be adjusted onto target with my freehand. Needless to say it lasted about a month before I wound up fed up with it and tossed it.
thats the whole thing, you don't use the same method of melting as you normally would, you have to go the path of the coldheat, and apply a large voltage between two very close points to melt the solder, not use a heating element. pass the voltage THROUGH the solder to melt. try hooking up a solder line inbetween the prongs of two nine volt batteries...
royalestel (author)  TheMadScientist7 years ago
Yeah, that would be spiffy!
andy607 years ago
hmm my soldering iron is showing some coppper after so many wipes of a nail file to remove old lumps of plastic as it fell onto my couch whilst i went to the toilet lol, one massive hole, smoke everywhere! but is there a way of protecting the tip of my soldering iron? thanks- andy
ramman3457 years ago
Hey guys, one thing that I notice is lacking from this instructable is the use of flux. Flux helps to carry the heat and spread the solder evenly and quickly. Flux was originally animal fat or lard and many hardcore types prefer that to some of the newer pastes. The problem that flux helps with is getting solder to stick to slick surfaces like jacks and IC pins. If you don't have any flux using some steel wool to roughen up the surface will help immensely. If you have flux you just have to rub a little on and when you touch the properly tinned soldering iron to it (and some solder at the same time) it will very quickly attach and cover evenly. BTW, you can pick up Hakko soldering irons on ebay for >$50 that have digital readouts. I have a Hakko 927 that is awesome.
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