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Over time, your soldering iron can become so blunt that it is no longer useful. In those cases, you’ll likely wonder I you can solve the issue by sharpening your soldering iron. Perhaps you’ve even watched someone give it a try on YouTube. However, if you look for products, you’re far more likely to find soldering iron tip cleaner than anything meant for sharpening them. There are good reasons for that.
Sharpening a soldering iron is usually ineffective. If your soldering iron is iron-plated, you can’t tin it after sharpening. Ensuring you have a sharp soldering iron tip comes down to prevent it from becoming dull. Achieve this through proper care. If your soldering iron is dull, replace it.
There are a few reasons why you shouldn’t try to sharpen a soldering iron. There are also several ways to prevent the need for sharpening in the first place. Avoiding the need for sharpening is the best plan of action. With a few simple measures, you can make those tips last a tremendous length of time.
Reasons Not to Sharpen Soldering Iron Tips
There are a few core reasons why you should not sharpen a soldering iron tip. The most important reason is that sharpened soldering iron tips do not tin well. Without proper tinning, the longevity of your soldering iron tips will significantly diminish.
Sharpening a soldering iron tip can also make it more prone to pockmarks. This diminishes the performance of your soldering iron.
Those two outcomes both point to the same fact. It is better to replace a dull soldering iron tip instead of sharpening it. In the sections below, we will explore more details that support the idea that you should not sharpen a soldering iron tip.
Iron-Plated Tips Won’t Tin Well After Sharpening
The reason soldering iron tips do not tin well after you sharpen them is because you have removed a critical coating layer. The way you would sharpen it would be simply to file it, right? So, when you file it, you remove the copper plating. Once that’s removed, tinning it won’t have the desired effect.
The desired effect of tinning is to create a protective layer over the iron plating. The protection this layer provides is from oxidation. It works by sealing the iron plating. Therefore, it won’t seal as well on a tip that no longer has a copper plating layer.
You can easily find a video of someone trying to sharpen a soldering iron. You can do it, but the results aren’t optimal. A more useful DIY project would be making a new soldering iron tip. Either one is more time-consuming than buying some tip replacements on Amazon, but the latter results in a quality tip.
You Can Sharpen Copper Tips, But at What Cost?
You may meet someone who claims they have sharpened their soldering iron tips for years. If so, they are likely referring to copper tips. But while it is technically possible to sharpen copper tips, it is not worth it to do so.
For the most part, copper tips are cheap and outdated. They may complete a few small jobs for you. But they also corrode much faster than iron-plated tips. There is a good reason that iron-plated tips are becoming the standard. Essentially, the iron-plating extends the lifetime of a soldering iron tip.
Most of today’s soldering iron tips have iron plating to prevent corrosion from oxidation. The point of tinning your tips is likewise to prevent oxidation. Tinning works better on iron plating. With copper tips, you can sharpen away. But why not take a more practical approach?
Continually filing your copper soldering iron tips will not be as effective and efficient as replacing them with iron-plated tips. The best type of tip combined with good care grants a lengthier lifespan to your soldering iron tips. So, ultimately, replacing your tips is the better way to go.
Why Replacement is the Better Option
You can likely replace your soldering iron tip in the time it would take to struggle through filing and tinning it. Replacements are easy, quick, and cheap. Plus, there are so many options for you to evaluate. Here’s a list of products from various retailers:
- 10X900mm Soldering Iron Tips from Amazon
- Replacement Pencil Soldering Iron Tip from Show Me Cables
- Replacement Tips for 30 Watt Soldering Irons from Parts Express
- Replacement Tip for Battery Powered Soldering Iron from Esslinger.com
After finding a quality soldering iron tip, it is time to maintain it. Regular maintenance will produce better results in your soldering projects.
Ways to Maintain Your Soldering Iron Tips
Now that it is clear that sharpening a soldering iron is not a good idea, let’s explore the alternative. The best way to maintain a sharp soldering iron tip is through quality maintenance habits. Below, you can learn three of the best means for keeping your soldering iron sharp.
Keep Your Soldering Iron Tips Clean
Cleaning your tips is easy and will extend their life. It is essential to clean them before and after each use. You need the following items:
- Brass or stainless wool
- A clean cloth
- A damp sponge
- A little fresh solder
- Weller Soldering Polish Bar (optional)
Start by wiping away anything on the tip with a clean cloth and a little alcohol. Then, begin scrubbing with the brass or stainless wool, keeping the tip cool by wetting it with the damp sponge. Finish by pressing the tip in the fresh solder. You can use the Weller polishing bar for an even deeper clean, but it isn’t necessary to do that frequently.
A Weller polishing bar renews an oxidized soldering tip. Ideally, you can prevent your tips from oxidizing by tinning them. Cleaning should always come before tinning. If you clean and tin your tips before every soldering session, you may not need to polish your tips at all because you will have prevented them from oxidizing.
Keep Your Soldering Iron Tips Tinned
Tinning your tips is a great way to make them last because it prevents oxidation. Tinning creates a layer between the air and the iron. This is why tinning a filed iron-plated tip is ineffective. The disruption between the metal and the coating makes it harder for a protective layer to form.
You should tin your tips before and after you solder anything. In addition to making your tips last longer, it makes the soldering process smoother. In a sense, the effectiveness of tinning is why tips are now iron-plated. The iron-plating prevents corrosion and oxidation as well, and any layer of coating improves heat transfer while soldering.
If you buy quality, iron-plated tips that you tin frequently, they should last you a good while. Note that cleaning the tip should always come before tinning. See the above section for cleaning tips. Basically, before you start soldering, you should clean and tin your tip.
Store Your Soldering Iron Tips Properly
If you must store your tips for some time, you should clean them first. Then, seal them. Most importantly, give them time to cool first. Do not store it at operating temperature.
Maintaining your soldering iron tips is all about preventing oxidization. Proper storage is no exception. You want to clean it and seal it at the right temperature to avoid oxidation. In between soldering usages, your tips should be fine in a solder iron tip holder.
You should not file iron-plated soldering iron tips. You can file copper tips, but those tips are inferior. If your tip needs sharpening, replace it. Thankfully, replacements are both affordable and plentiful. Once you have a replacement, make sure to take better care of it. Through diligent care, you can maintain your sharp soldering iron tips for a long time.