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I've been going through my third soldering iron this weekend. I already bought two and took one back to the shop. I'm in the middle of a project and the tips keep failing: the lead-free solder won't stick to the tip despite cleaning them with sponge, metal sponge and tip cleaner/tiner. I bought the latest iron yesterday (25W Antex) and it was already useless after a few hours. I don't know if I should return this one again? What am I doing wrong? I can't keep buying soldering irons every day... I use to have one that lasted for years and the tip was usable even after months.

edit: when using the tip cleaner, blobs of solder form on the tip like pearls. In other words, nothing will stick to it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Lead-free solder is a bit of a pain to use... a higher temperature iron seems to work better for me, as also lots of flux. \$\endgroup\$ – Anindo Ghosh Feb 2 '14 at 9:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @alkopop79 when using the tip cleaner, blobs of solder form on the tip like pearls. I have a tip cleaner that does this. After using it, I usually have to clean the tip cleaner remains off the tip. Can you post pictures of the tip and provide a very detailed description of what exactly you're doing? \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Feb 2 '14 at 9:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I will take a picture in a minute. What I have noticed is that the only a small part of the tip can be wetted. The solder won't stick to the rest of the tip. I bought it yesterday and wonder if I did something to destroy the tip or it's faulty? \$\endgroup\$ – alkopop79 Feb 2 '14 at 10:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Get a temperature-controlled iron. Period. \$\endgroup\$ – JYelton Feb 2 '14 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Steve mentions some good points, its always better to get a quality product, as low quality tip often make the process of soldering longer which may cause the ICs or components to heat up and may be cause permanent damage, also a temperature controlled iron is best, helps you work with both low and high melting solders. \$\endgroup\$ – MaMba Jul 2 '16 at 5:00
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Solder not wetting the surface of the tip indicates an incompatibility between the solder and the tip material. This can happen when the external plating on the tip wears away or is contaminated.

You don't mention what you are soldering, so how many Watts you need can't be determined.

I have not used Antex irons but after a quick search it seems they are at the lower-end of the quality spectrum. If you are doing a lot of soldering then a better iron with replaceable tips will serve you well.

For surface mount work I use Weller, Metcal and Hako at work and all are good. Weller is the most affordable of these but, again, the tips oxidize/wear out most quickly of the three. All of these have replaceable tips ranging from $10 to $75 per tip. The Metcal is ten years old, the Wellers are eight years and the Hako is two. We keep a small variety of favorite tips and replace them as needed.

Tip tips:

  • Make sure your solder has a rosin core; without rosin in the solder even leaded solder is difficult.
  • Make sure your solder does not have an acid core; this stuff is only for plumbers with torches.
  • Clean the tip only with a slightly damp cellulose (not metal) sponge. I never use anything else. A quick wipe is enough to remove the excess solder and contaminants from the last soldering operation. Note that a very wet sponge will cool the tip quickly which could contribute to a shorter life.
  • If a tip cleaner/tinner compound improves the tip performance it really means that the tip is worn out and needs replacement.
  • The tip may be too hot and oxidizing the plating. If it is adjustable, try turning it down.
  • The tip may be too cold and requiring too much time to heat the work, resulting in extra wear and tear.
  • If the iron is inexpensive, the tips may not be built to last. Try a more expensive iron. There is a lot of technology in making a tip plating that will last and the quality vendors don't give it away cheap.
  • Return the iron to the holder with a drop of solder on the tip. The solder will help protect the tip from oxidation. Wipe the excess solder off of the tip just before use.
  • Turn the iron off when not in use for more than 20 minutes or so.
  • Use the tip against the work with care. Rubbing, scratching or scraping the tip against the surface being soldered will wear it out. If you always hold the iron the same way, you'll wear out one spot quickly. That worn out spot quickly oxidizes and undermines the plating on the remaining parts of the tip.
  • Make sure that only solder touches the tip. I've used irons to make holes in plastic and other such unorthodox uses, but the tip suffers.
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Based, on googling lead-free solder and iron wattage, 25W does not appear to be enough. The tip size and circuit you are soldering are also big factors. From experience, I have a 45W iron with adjustable power control. The potentiometer goes from 0-5 and I have to keep it at around 3.5-4 to handle lead-free solder. I don't for sure that 0 corresponds to 0W and 5 corresponds to all 45W. Nonetheless, this result makes me believe more than 25W is necessary. I would try a more powerful iron next time.

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Don't bother with 25W or 30W cheap soldering irons, the don't produce enough heat at the tip. The tips are made of crappy metal ex china and foul and oxidise after basically one use. Today I threw out two irons after only a single use, because the tips were stuffed, one was 25w one was 30w.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good but short answer. When suggesting a product is bad for certain reasons, offer the OP better options including links if possible. One dimensional answers leave the OP looking for solutions as well, so provide a few. \$\endgroup\$ – Sparky256 Jul 2 '16 at 3:54

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