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I have an ordinary Weller soldering iron with a conical tip, which I fear does not transfer much heat to the area. Since I am planning to do a dead bug project I thought it would be better to get a flat on the tip of the iron, possibly by grinding it so it looks like this:

enter image description here

However, I am told that this will not work because the tip is not actually solid, but is plated, and if I grind it, then the plating will get ground off. Is this true?

Can I just buy an alternative tip and then install it somehow on the iron, or do I need a special kind of iron that supports interchangeable tips. The type of station I have is an older analog station which is one piece with the holder and sponge on top and a strip of LED lights that indicate the temperature.

UPDATE

My Weller is an S4240. On examining it closer, it has a knurl and screw on sleeve. When this is unscrewed the tip slides out and apparently can be replaced.

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Can you give us a part number for the iron? All Wellers that I have seen have some way to replace the tip... – bitsmack Jan 20 at 0:11
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Weller has many different styles of irons/tips, so you have to be sure to get the right tip for your model iron. – Peter Bennett Jan 20 at 0:13
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I do all sorts of work with a 1/64" conical tip (WPTS7) I have others, but it's a hassle to change in the middle of working. It has a pointy part, and it has the side of the pointy part - properly tinned, it also has the heat-coupling power of a little drop of fluxed solder, which is significant. Practice with what you have. – Ecnerwal Jan 20 at 3:26
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While I agree with the others that you should not do it, it is not entirely impossible to reshape a tip, you just need to repeat all the steps of electroplating and so on, which generally makes it uneconomical to do yourself, especially because you will get it wrong the first few times... – PlasmaHH Jan 20 at 10:03
    
I suppose I should ask the obvious. Does the tip have solder on it when you're using it, or are you using it dry? I always have the tip tinned with solder first. Flux syringes are godlike as well. Never had an issue with cheap soldering irons using them in this manner. Having it too hot tends to make them go bad faster so I just keep it typically between 360-380C or 670-700F . – Cameron Feb 18 at 2:27

DON'T grind your soldering tips. It will ruin them. Good quality tips are made from copper with a thin layer of iron or another metal on top. The copper conducts the heat, and the other metal prevents the copper from corroding. You can buy new tips of any size and shape you want. They are pretty cheap. There is usually a tiny screw on the side of the soldering iron near the hot end that lets you change the tip.

Here's a cross-section of what's inside good tips (image by Hakko)

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On the Weller irons (and some other makes) that I've used, there is a sleeve with a knurled nut near the handle that slides over the tip, and holds the tip to the heating element. – Peter Bennett Jan 20 at 0:32
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"corrosion" is not the right word to describe the process. Rather, the copper from the tip diffuses into the tin and gets carried away. You'll be effectively soldering with tin-copper alloy. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 20 at 12:00
    
That's very interesting, Dmitry. Is it the same process that allows the solder to bond to the copper pads on the board? – rstif350 Jan 20 at 12:03

Do not grind your tip. Tips are usually made of copper with iron plating. The copper transfers the heat well but would get eroded away too quickly by the solder. So what to do?

First, a plain conical tip isn't such a bad thing. That's what I mostly use for all kinds of soldering. Dead bug soldering usually requires less heating power, since there isn't a copper trace acting like a heat sink attached to the pin. A plain conical tip should work fine. Try it.

Second, many soldering irons have interchangeable tips. You only said you have a Weller, but not what model. Weller makes a lot of different soldering irons. Some good ones which definitely have interchangeable tips, like the popular WES51. They also make low end soldering stations aimed at people that don't know much about solder and buy on price. Some of those may not have interchangeable tips. The kind of people that buy a $40 soldering station because it costs less than the $45 soldering station don't think about changing tips when they buy, so the soldering station is designed for lowest possible initial price, even if maintainance costs more in the long run.

You get what you pay for.

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I agree with the other answers that you shouldn't grind a tip that is still in good condition.

However, if you ever happen to have poor quality tips or tips that have weared out, you can use a file to reshape them. The downside is that as the copper corrodes, you'll usually have to repeat this every 5-10 times you use it. Eventually the tip will have been filed so short that it is no longer usable.

I do this to get big flat tips, which I only need rarely to solder bigger components.

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I've done this on quite thin copper wire wrapped round the tip, for some very fine work with an iron for which fine tips weren't available (let alone cranked tips for the awkward job). It worked well, but needed re-filing frequently. – Chris H Jan 20 at 16:50

Yes solder tips are not solid, they are just plated. So you do not want to grind it down. That will remove the plating and then solder will no longer stick to the tip rendering it useless. However, most soldering irons have replaceable/exchangable tips, and they do make a chisel or flat tips you can purchase here. I don't think you will have any issues finding tip that is exactly what you are looking for.

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