Soldering 101: Lesson 1: Tin the Tip

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Introduction: Soldering 101: Lesson 1: Tin the Tip

About: Every now and then I come up with a unique idea. And then I find someone else has already thought of it . . . which is AWESOME! Who knew there were so many kindred spirits on the web! YOU GO all o' us!

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.

If you appreciate this instructible, please visit my blog for more ideas:
GoodCleanCrazy

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:
water
solder
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.

Step 1: 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

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

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.

Step 4: Why Tin?

Now that your tip is properly tinned, you can start soldering.
Try to solder immediately after tinning the tip, the sooner the better.

Periodically while you are working (after soldering one or two connections), clean and re-tin the tip.

Tinning improves conductivity and makes soldering easier, as well as quicker, which is a good thing.
Some electronic components are sensitive to heat, and the quicker you can solder them, the less likely they are to be heat damaged.

According to the instructive Terry, properly tinning the iron tip before putting it away will help preserve it.
Comparing our soldering iron (like new), and the iron of the guys down the hall (terrible) this seems to be a good practice to keep.

Happy soldering! -Royal

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    new soldering iron, can't get any solder to stick to tip,using fluxed solder 60;40, cleaned tip with steel wool no result, tried liquid flux, no result, solder turns to balls and rolls off, never had problems before. DRAPER 60w. tip looks black and sooty, Regards J.

    72 Comments

    Wow! Nice solder station! I only have a Weller model WTCPN :( I'm jealous. On the upside I have a much better way of tinning a soldering iron. I use my solder pot, just dip the cleaned tip of the iron in.

    7 replies

    You posted this comment when i was 6 years old, time has really flown

    Now a solder pot would be nice! But, this isn't really my soldering iron--it's the job place's. I do all my soldering there because of my cheapo iron at home.

    don't leave us in the dark. what's a soldering pot?

    Oh, that's a pot of molten lead--I've never seen one, but my soldering guru says they're really great for tinning the leads on anything. Just dip it in!

    Wet spunge is bad choice. I never apply water to the bit. i prefer steel wire mesh. Cleans it much better I find. And preserves the Bit you are using.

    I have the same Soldering Iron as you, i bought mine off ebay. Very common on there.

    Im not sure if the WES51 is the best brand tho.

    2 replies

    I don't particularly agree with that, but comment back on more reasons why steel mesh is better. I think that not only does the sponge help keep the bit well maintained, but I agree with ScunnerDarkly that companies probably wouldn't include a sponge with every soldering kit if it was worse than steel wire mesh.

    "Wet spunge is bad choice"... Seriously, if that was the case manufacturers of hand-soldering equipment wouldn't supply sponges with soldering stations and iron stands, for that exact purpose. Cleaning a hot soldering bit on wet sponge is quick, effective and non-destructive to the tip's plating. Using steel wool or mesh will reduce the lifespan of the bit as it will wear through the plating at the tip. I know from experience as I've been soldering for nearly forty years.

    Yes but you're going to get brittle joints if you do. There's also no reason not to do it. It takes about 10 seconds after the pen warms up and doesn't take a lot of solder to do.

    I have a 30w soldering iron I bought from wally world yesterday for 7 bucks. It's a pencil tip soldering iron. Despite my best attempts at tinning the tip, it seems to be impossible. I tried over and over again and all that happens is that the solder melts and immediately falls off. How are you guys getting it to stick and somehow layer on the tip of your gun????

    1 reply

    Flux. You have to use lots and lots of flux ... that's what makes the solder stick to the tip and not just bead up and fall off. I have a small container off it that has about 2 shotglasses full of flux paste. I put the tip in the paste, wipe it off with damp sponge, dip it in the paste again .... and then the solder will stick and "tin" the tip. Flux, flux, flux ... is the magic ingredient.

    A good quality iron ( I use Weller and Ungar soldering tools ) Good quality solder and/or flux makes a difference too . Cleaning your soldering iron tip with fine sandpaper ( I use 220 grit silicon carbide ) but it is very seldom if ever needed . SAVBIT solder from Ersin Multicore is a good one , I use it all the time . It has a certain amount of copper in it's tin/lead alloy formulation which keeps the heated solder joint from eroding the tip of the iron . Kester 44 solder is another good one that I use , and I keep a small tin of rosin flux handy , but I very seldom , if ever need it . Way back when , years ago , I worked in a repair shop fixing audio equipment , and would leave my soldering iron plugged in and heated up for 8 hours at a time .and with reasonable care , the tips would last a long time !

    Cheers , take care , and have a good day ! 73

    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.

    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?

    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