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According to Wikipedia;

The body of the tool contains a transformer with a primary winding connected to mains electricity when the trigger is pressed, and a single-turn secondary winding of thick copper with very low resistance. A soldering tip, made of a loop of thinner copper wire, is secured to the end of the transformer secondary by screws, completing the secondary circuit. ... Since the tip has a much higher resistance than the rest of the tubular copper winding, the tip gets very hot while the remainder of the secondary warms much less.

So basically, it uses copper as a heating element. The only reason the "heating element" part has a higher resistance than the rest of the copper wire is because it's thinner.

enter image description here

So I guess they must be made like either of the bottom two in this picture. I figure that they must be iron plated like soldering iron tips, as I don't see why they would be any different.

But this must be quite inefficient, especially considering how easily it can be improved. There must be quite a significant amount of heat generated in the wrong places, given that the "heating element" is the same material as the "conductor". The transformers appear quite small for what's surely a very high current, which would make this more of a problem.

Another thing I see (for some tips, in the style pictured) is that the shape of the tip is too wide to have much relative resistance (if it's made of the same material), so it must rely on heat conducted from the thin wires attached to it.

So wouldn't it be better if the tip had a bit of solid iron in the current path (like the top one in the image)? If that's too hard to manufacture, than how-about brass? Even cheaper, why not make the entire tip piece out of brass? These would surely all be more efficient, with the heat concentrated in the right place, and be easier on the transformer (which means a smaller, lighter transformer can be used).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You can use silver ones if you need more efficiency directly from that. \$\endgroup\$ – Overmind Jan 4 '18 at 10:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Two years on: My recollection is that the tip is made by fold and crimp and is designed to work harden and provide a much higher resistance at that point. I may be wrong :-). | If not so there would be a substantial proportion of heat ALL along the element. Heating is via I^2R so inversely proportional to area. While there is a necking down (probably in 2 dimensions) near the tip there is still a lot of area elsewhere and you'd expect the balance of the assembly to take a largish %1age of the energy. I don't think it does. It may be that tip end heats and thin feeds minimise heat conduction. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Apr 12 at 20:25
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The big difference between a soldering gun and a "regular" soldering iron is the former is only heated for a few seconds, while the latter usually stays on all the time during work.

Because of that, the gun already is more efficient than a "regular" soldering iron. Very few needs to further improve it.

Apart, from that, why not choose brass? Because brass is more rigid and likely to break. That's bad for a tool which is meant to be thrown into a tool bag.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you. But you still didn't say why Iron can't be used as a heating element, only mentioning brass. By "rigid" did you mean "brittle"? \$\endgroup\$ – Electric-Gecko Feb 27 '17 at 3:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, sorry, yes. Brass becomes brittle when it was heated a number of times. Iron has the big disadvantage of a high µr, which results in a dramatic skin effect even at 50 Hz. The skin depth is 300µm only. \$\endgroup\$ – Janka Feb 27 '17 at 22:50
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The heating element is entirely within a centimeter or two of the tip, and has no contact with any parts that must remain cold. That means the heated mass is very little more than the mass of the tip (and the workpiece). So, it IS efficient. Low voltage high current is no strain on the transformer, but does require good contact force at the joints to the tip.

At soldering temperatures, brass is soft and brittle. It would be a bad material for this task (maybe titanium would do, though).

Mainly, the cold conductor that delivers current, is the thick metal of the rod you see coming out of the transformer: that last little bit of copper from the rod to the tip is thick enough to not dominate the heating, and thin enough to keep the rod from getting overheated at the joint. The 'rod' part of such irons is not always copper, it can be aluminum formed in a loop as the secondary winding of the transformer.

Melting points of interest: solder, 230C; aluminum, 660C; brass 930C; copper 1084C; iron, 1500C; titanium 1670C.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When I was talking about efficiency, I was talking about heat generated in other parts of the circuit (such as the wire around the transformer), not the heat that's conducted away from the tip. Like Janka, you mentioned that brass is too weak to be used, but you didn't mention Iron. But if brass were used, would the iron plating reinforce it? \$\endgroup\$ – Electric-Gecko Feb 27 '17 at 3:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, when you mentioned Titanium, you triggered my curiosity about something else. I was thinking about possible alternatives to iron for the surfaces of soldering tips, as iron is far from perfect. I wonder how titanium would work. \$\endgroup\$ – Electric-Gecko Feb 27 '17 at 4:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Iron confers (mainly) a resistance to dissolving in solder; yes, it does have some strength, but is usually just a thin electroplated layer, with possibly an overcoat of chrome or silver to control the tinned surface at the tip. Titanium has strength at temperature, and forms a pretty yellow nitride rather than oxidizing, but I'm unsure of direct solder compatibility. \$\endgroup\$ – Whit3rd Feb 27 '17 at 4:27

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