Instructables
Picture of Uses of Different Soldering Iron Tips

I recently got a collection of soldering iron tips and realized that many people (including myself) might not know what the different tips are used for. After all, for a long time I was under the impression that there was only about three different types of soldering tips and only one useful type of tip.

While I still only use two different types of tips (an improvement), I am much more familiar and confident in using whatever soldering iron tip I may happen to find on the iron. Please know that is far from a comprehensive list of all the different types of soldering tips available, but rather a small handful that I am personally prone to use.

If you are not familiar with soldering, I recommend checking out noahw's instructable on How to Solder.

 
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Step 1: Tips that I am using

For those of you that want to know, I am using a 10 piece set from The DIY Outlet. This particular set features 5 different categories of 900M soldering iron tips. It has:

  • three 900M-T-C series tips
  • four 900M-T-D series tips
  • one 900M-T-B series tip
  • one 900M-T-I series tip
  • one 900M-T-K series tip

Don't worry if none of this means anything to you; we'll go over each of them individually.

Step 2: B series tips

Picture of B series tips

This is the tip that many people new to soldering would likely imagine to be the only kind of soldering iron tip, because, well, it looks like a soldering iron tip as opposed to being ground down on one side.

Due to its round shape so that soldering can be done from any angle, you can use this particular tip in a large amount of soldering applications from point soldering to drag soldering. Because of this, B series tips are widely used for general purpose soldering, but tend to be put aside when a specific soldering job needs to be done.

Step 3: D series tips

Picture of D series tips

These tips, which have a kind of chisel look to them and are my personal favorite, are also widely used in general purpose soldering much like the round B series tips. The difference is that these tips offer a much larger surface area on the face and tip of the chisel than the B series tips.

The reason you would want a larger surface area is so that more heat is able to be transferred from the soldering iron to the electrical component and/or solder. With more heat transfer, solder will flow more readily, arguably making the D series tips easier than B series for quick solder applications.

The four tips shown in the picture are different sizes (just in case you weren't sure). This is so you can pick the appropriate sized tip since larger is not always better, even though you would have more heat transfer with larger tips. The reason for this is because if your tip is too big, you may end up having solder flow from the one point you were trying to work on to it's friend next to it creating a solder bridge, which can be a real bummer.

Step 4: C series tips

Picture of C series tips
flat hoof C series.JPG

Despite looking like they were accidentally ground down on one side, these C series tips are rather useful, especially in drag soldering. The slightly curved face is ideal for spreading out solder over the tip and then evenly applying small amounts of the solder over multiple components in close proximity (such as the pins on a surface mount component).

These C series tips are different than the "hoof tips" (CM series), which have a concave impression in their surface to either distribute or collect excess solder.

If you want to learn how to drag solder the small surface mount components, check out my upcoming Instructable on drag soldering.

Step 5: I series tips

As you have likely guessed, the I series tips are for needle-point work. However, the draw-back with being able to do detailed work is that because the tip is so small (and thus less surface area) than the B series tip, it is not able to transfer a lot of heat, making it difficult to solder (relatively) larger components.

Step 6: K series tips

Picture of K series tips

This particular type of soldering iron tip is useful in a wide variety of applications. The slanted knife edge (K for knife) allows for point soldering, drag soldering and fixing solder bridges. However, because it is wide, it can become slightly unwieldy to do point soldering in confined areas although not impossible.

Step 7: Final thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, there are many more types of soldering iron tips out there that I did not cover which have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, I have hopefully made it clear that there are a variety of tips that can be used to do a myriad of soldering jobs.

Sure, it seems that you could pick one tip and use it for everything; and that's completely true. But at the same time, it might be easier to use a different tip that is better suited for the job, but in the end that's up to you.

Check out the Digilent Blog for other things that I and the rest of Digilent team are up to!

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

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baecker0321 days ago

where do you buy your tips?

JColvin91 (author)  baecker0321 days ago

I got these particular tips from the DIY Outlet: here's a direct link to the set I used.

wolfgang642 months ago

Well done I have been soldering most of my life I have made some mods but this is a a great over all guide.

JColvin91 (author)  wolfgang642 months ago

Thanks, I appreciate the feedback!

MooMeat422 months ago
My dad gave me a soldering iron with a blackened pointed tip bent to at 40° that cannot melt solder. Is that tip usually used to increase frustration over time?

Two solutions.

You can either buy a new tip, but given the condition of it I would rather you get a new one. Soldering irons can be cheap $5 up to nice up to $120.

Second temporary option would be to use sandpaper or some other abrasive material to sand off the tip to make it shiny again. It works, just every time you want to use it you will have to sand down the corrosion again.

A note about sanding it down. If you buy a new iron, don't sand it until it gets bad. Instead use light grade steel wool to polish the tip. Tips have a special metal coating that prevents corrosion and you don't want to remove it unless you have too.

Hope it helps :D

It is to reach around a part, in a professional electronic station you may have 30 + tips and 3 -4 different iron based on the situation. Use plumbers flux on the hot tip to try to get them clean.

ddw_az blightcp2 months ago

be careful using plumbers flux on electronic parts. some plumbers flux or solder have acid.

electronic flux or solder has no acid.

blightcp ddw_az2 months ago

Most of the flux is still acidic, just not enough to harm components "much", when you are working on old parts. The purpose of flux is to clean oxidation of of the part, this requires some kind of acid.

As a hardware verification engineer, I still see corrosion issues from no clean flux when it is not cleaned esp, when it is made in "cough cough(china)". The non-lead solder paste now used has almost no corrosion resistance.

The "no clean flux" does not work well with repairs of old equipment. In the 90's I worked repairing a 50Kw aircraft radars from 1965 for 6 years in the Air Force, you are going to need the strong acid based flux to work on old equipment or anything left outdoors.

JColvin91 (author)  MooMeat422 months ago

Blackened tips are definitely frustrating. What has most likely happened is that the soldering iron was turned on for too long so that the tip got oxidized and turned black so it no longer has good heat transfer.

You can generally fix this by cleaning off the tip with a brass mesh while the iron is hot. However, if it has been oxidized too much (as I have experienced when I first started soldering) you can scrape off the oxidized layer with a file, and then clean the tip with the brass mesh.

The 40° angle (in case you're curious) is so that you can more easily reach some spots on a circuit that you could not otherwise. It's the same idea as using an angle wrench; it happens to be more useful then the standard wrench in certain applications.

If the tip is so badly oxidized you are considering using a file, the tip is ruined. You should never use an abrasive such as a file or sand paper on a soldering tip. This removes the thin, protective nickle coating and exposes the copper core. The soldering iron will then oxidize almost instantly when you heat it up, and you will be back to where you were before.

The solution is to buy a new tip.

I've actually done this. My tip was all crusty so I hit it with some brake parts cleaner and a wire brush. The tip got so clean it went back to copper. I still tried to use it, but it doesn't really work anymore. (I did this to avoid buying tips from online stores, as the local hardware store doesn't carry tips anymore.) Actually, it still works okay for wood burning, but not soldering.

be careful. some solder iron tips are multilayered, I learned that from both a Hakko and a Weller sales rep

JColvin91 (author)  SiliconFarmer2 months ago

I agree that in the end buying a new tip is safest. But in my own personal experience, which is in no way authoritative, carefully removing the oxidized layer without removing the secondary coating does work as a temporary fix, at least long enough to finish the soldering job.

ddw_az JColvin912 months ago

I use an Exacto knife held at an 80 degree angle to the tip to scrape the black carbon off the tip. start with a light pressure, increase pressure as needed.

once the carbon is removed i use solder to re-tin the tip. also if the iron is not to be used for a few minutes i add a layer of solder to the tip, then wipe it clean before i use it.

my favorite tip is the K-tip, it has the long edge for IC's and can be rotated to use the tip for small components, and has a large contact area to heat up larger parts such as heatsinks. used it for 17 years when i did component level repair

blightcp ddw_az2 months ago

Same here, Air Force component level repair for KC-135.

JColvin91 (author)  ddw_az2 months ago

The Exacto knife sounds like a good way to help get that oxidation layer off of the tip. And the K-tips are super versatile; it's a great design.

ddw_az JColvin912 months ago

Yes it is. I have used it to cut rope, cut plastic, melt-weld lawnmower gas tanks.

then a hot tip on a wet sponge to clean. then solder wire to re-tin.

I agree. You can try flux on the tip to soften it and see if it will come off but if the black is on the primary contact area it going to be an issue.

Larger sizes of soldering irons used for roofing work don't come with any plating. They are just plain copper that you tin yourself when you use them. You can do the same with tiny tips used for electronics.

Ultra-Indigo2 months ago
I was taught to dip the hot iron in rosin and wipe it on a wet paper towel to get off carbon.
JColvin91 (author)  Ultra-Indigo2 months ago

I think that should work; I never have any straight rosin on hand to, so I always just make sure I wipe the soldering iron tip on a wet sponge fairly regularly. I wouldn't use the rosin as a common cleaning practice though, only to get stubborn oxidized layers off the tip. But that's just me.

I use plumbers flux really cheap. Just dont re use it for water pipes.

Flux uses the heat from the iron to remove contaminates from the surface you are soldering and brings them to the top of the solder. This cleans the surface while you solder. If you use the plumbers flux clean the area with alcohol when you are done.

Flux goes hand in-hand with soldering, If you are not using it, try it. It is a essential tool that should be used all the time.

brmarcum blightcp2 months ago

As long as the flux is not acidic, you're fine. Most plumbing flux is acidic though...

blightcp brmarcum2 months ago

All flux is acid, it just a matter of how strong it is, alcohol and a brush will clean the board.

I prefer to use the stronger acid as it helps the solder adhere to the surface. The no-clean flux does not work well with old repairs and rework.

also, use copper or brass pads over steel wool.

Yep me too.. Also re-tin you tip before turning it off to cool.

apalacios22 months ago

I've heard the K series is used to splice optical fiber and plastic cords. But I've never really used it.

Kris Jacobs2 months ago

Great article, well written.

I've been soldering for 30+ years, and just about two months ago I finally landed in soldering heaven when I bought a Hakko soldering station and have been using strictly Hakko tips.

That assortment you linked at DIY Outlet seems like a good deal for a lot of tips - Haako tips are way more expensive - but you can most definitely see and feel the difference in my opinion. I've used many brands, many styles, many wattages - the Hakko is worth every penny.

JColvin91 (author)  Kris Jacobs2 months ago

Yes, the Hakko brand tips are definitely a good way to go. I haven't used any of these tips long enough to see how they hold up in the long run, but they get the job done.

Better tips and iorns are they way to go if you start to solder PCBs on a regular basis also learning how to de-solder without lifting a trace is the next step.

blightcp2 months ago

A good writeup, it looks like the tips used in this were what looks like Weller type tips, those tips are
thermally controlled to keep the tip at the number punched on the back
of the tip so 7 would be 700F.

Using copper as a tip may work ok for a cheap $10 iron
but if you are trying to be technical a used $40 - $80 weller WTCPS PU 120 is
the way to go. It heats up much faster and keeps a consistent temp. Using a copper rod will destroy or impact the life of those iorns as the one above is a 120 watt iron and not a 5/10 watt cheap one.

To clean i use plumber's flux $2 at lowes and dip the tip in and wipe with a clean wet towel.

Always add solder to you tips before you turn them off, that keeps the corrosion and oxidation "black stuff" from getting on the tip and just wipe it on a wet rag before starting.

snoopindaweb2 months ago

~:- }

mwilson52 months ago

I've heard of K tips being used in leather work too.

Nutter2 months ago

The K-series (knife) tips are often used during rework for cleaning up excess solder left over on the pads of PCBs and/or BGA chips, before fresh solder is applied.

adamentity2 months ago

great article but I was really hoping to see examples of each in use. This kind of information is very useful for the beginner to the experienced. Thank you.

3DSteve2 months ago

Very good article. Those tips look very similar to the TrakPower/Team Checkpoint TK950 iron sold by Tower Hobbies (http://www.trakpowerusa.com/solderingtools/index.html), I wonder if they would fit? I don't know who the OEM is, but I assume they are not manufacturing their own tips.

57thcork2 months ago

The K series "Knife" tip is often used as a hot knife rather than as a soldering tip. this is used to cut synthetic rope and in the process seals the ends by melting the fibres together. It can also be used for cutting plastic or enlarging holes in plastic boxes. Just ensure adequate ventilation as the fumes are usually toxic !

lacewonda2 months ago

Thank you for sharing this info. All I need now is to expand my 'tip'collection to enable my soldering jobs.

You can make your own tips fairly easily, actually. Just by appropriately sized solid copper wire (8 GA for me) and file a point/other shape onto a length of it.

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