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I've read the other posts on iron cleaning technique and I'm pretty sure I left it dirty often enough that it's toast, it seems the iron coating on the tip has flaked off completely; since I've got nothing to lose I'll attack it with a file in a second and see if I can get another small job out of it. $15 lesson learned.

The real question is why the plating up near the catalyst is flaking off and the whole tip is bending. Does this indicate I'm using too much heat?

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NEVER USE A FILE!!!

If you use a file on a (long life) soldering iron tip you will ruin it!

You are running the iron much too hot, turn it all the way down so the catalyst is only just glowing, if that's too cold turn it up slowly!!!

To get your tip back use tip tinner or a soft wire brush, such as brass to avoid damaging the tip.

Again, NEVER, EVER get a file anywhere near a non-shitty soldering iron.

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    \$\begingroup\$ He says that the iron has flaked off, which if is the case, a file isn't going to harm it much more, and should help for short durations. True, using a file near any tip that still has it's iron coating is flatly wrong, but in this case... \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Jan 11 '11 at 15:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nope, he says that it's flaked off next to the catalyst, so the tip is probably just covered in oxide. For the record I've had exactly the same problem with exactly the same iron (from the looks of it) and I fixed it by scrubbing the tip with a brass wire brush. If I'm reading it wrong and the coating on the tip is flaking off, then file away and get a new tip that you don't abuse. \$\endgroup\$ – dren.dk Jan 11 '11 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Never use a file? or Never use a file on a decent tip? \$\endgroup\$ – BG100 Jan 11 '11 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dren.dk FTFQ: "it seems the iron coating on the tip has flaked off completely" \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Jan 11 '11 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is file? :-D \$\endgroup\$ – BarsMonster Jan 11 '11 at 18:03
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A good dip and rummage in a tip tinner will help your tip. I've rescued many tips this way.

Image from http://store.curiousinventor.com/guides/how_to_solder/cleantip/

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It's just a good excuse to switch to a soldering iron with replaceable tips (butane or more conventional) ;-)

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's an Iroda SolderPro 50, the tips are replaceable, but SGD$15 each. I now know why—if I don't abuse them like I have been, they should last for a couple of years. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Atkins Jan 12 '11 at 16:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or get a TS-100 and a 6S LiPo battery. Portable, powerful, and temperature controlled. Oh, and I nearly forgot: Relatively cheap for what you're getting. \$\endgroup\$ – Dampmaskin Apr 4 at 8:53
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That looks like a tip from a Radio Shack butane soldering iron. I have one just like that and it does tend to run VERY hot! Even with the adjustment at the lowest setting. The tip seems to have a fluffy fiberglass like substance in it which acts like a catalyst. But because the soldering iron runs so hot it tends to burn out the catalyst until there's nothing left. I've found that you can replace the burned out catalyst material with a very (very) small amount of fluffed up fiberglass insulation material. After replacing the catalyst you will need to let the tip flame for a few minutes before it starts to glow. But keep the heat turned down or you will burn out the fiberglass again.

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