What Is Tinning? And Why Is It Important?

Tin is an excellent source of material used for coating joints and materials used in joints that have soldering. The process called tinning makes many things possible that you may have never thought of. Although tin is an underrated mineral globally, it provides some profound benefits and importance for electronics, metal protection, and strengthening. 

The process of tinning is when anything gets coated with a layer of melted tin. Tinning is crucial because it limits corrosion on metal devices, parts, and solder joints; cleans up the ends of wires; and makes your soldering tip last longer. 

Soldering and working with wires is a messy and challenging job. The ends of wires tend to get crumpled and difficult to thread through holes, and the soldering tip tends to get dirty, rough, and blackened. However, tinning’s critical process cleans up many aspects of working with electronics, soldering, and wiring. Read on to find out more about tinning and why it is essential. 

What is Tinning? 

The simple definition of tinning is when melted tin material gets added on surfaces of other metal products, usually during soldering. Tinning gets used all the time with soldering on joints of electrical wires, copper pipes, and copper plates and can even get added to the tip of a soldering gun to improve and prolong the gun’s efficiency.  Adding tin material to the wires and tip of the soldering gun is necessary for most soldering jobs. 

Tinning the surface of things that you are soldering is standard practice and means adding the melted tin material to the surface of the tip, contact area, and wires you are working on. 

How to Complete Tinning

Tinning should start with the tip of your soldering iron. Once the tip is cleaned and coated with tin, you can apply the solder to the wire. The wire should have a coating of tin in between the strands of wire. Read on to find out more about how tinning gets completed and why it improves the flow of soldering from a gun onto copper materials like wires, pipes, and sheets.  

Tinning the Soldering Iron Tip

After soldering for a while, the tip of your soldering iron will have rust and black spots on it. This debris gets caused by a lack of tin material coated on the tip of the soldering iron. Since the soldering iron tips are missing tin coating, you should complete tinning the soldering iron tip before attempting any more soldering of wires. 

Tinning the tip of your soldering iron makes it last longer and easier for soldering wires. The basic tinning of the soldering iron tip is necessary before any efficient soldering work gets completed. Read more below for steps of the process of tinning the soldering iron tip.  

  1. Stop soldering when you notice black spots or rust on the tip of your soldering iron. 
  2. Clean the soldering iron tip with a brass tip cleaner or damp sponge until all debris or dirt gets cleaned away. 
  3. Add a small amount of solder to the tip so it gets protected from future soldering work. 
  4. Clean the extra solder material from the soldering iron tip with a damp sponge or a brass tip cleaner. 
  5. Add rosin core solder or flux, which is ideal for the soldering iron tip because it aids the solder in binding to the iron tip. 
  6. Begin soldering again as before until the tip becomes dirty again. 
  7. Repeat the above steps as needed.

(Source: The Soldering Station)

Tinning a Wire

Tinning a wire is one of the best things you can do for your productivity. Tinning a wire is excellent for several reasons, including: 

  • Combining wires that would not twist and connect otherwise
  • Solidifying smaller wires into one piece for threading through holes
  • Easier to work with a soldering iron when coated with tin

Adding tin material as a coating to wires is a great way of helping make your soldering cleaner and easier to work with. 

Some specific tips for tinning a wire include: 

  • After tinning the tip of your soldering iron, place the tip of your iron on the wire for two seconds.
  • Apply solder to the wire after placing the iron on the wire for several seconds.
  • When the solder begins melting and flowing onto the wire, allow the melted solder material a thin coating layer.
  • Do not overheat the wire, or you risk melting it.
  • Less expensive wiring with cheaply made insulation might melt back off the wire if heated for too long.
  • If the copper core is exposed, you have heated the wire for too long and should start soldering on a new piece by snipping it back for a fresh start.
  • When the wire is filled but not melted too much, it is time for removal. Remove the soldering iron by snipping off the end with a wire snip scissor and clean up the end of the tin with the scissors, as well. 
  • Snip off any extra tin that may have balled up on the end of the workings.

(Source: Media College)

Why is Tinning Important

Tinning is a great way to protect and clean up the process of soldering and working with electrical wires or other fragile metal surfaces like copper foil. Tinning is a process that is difficult to do cleanly and consistently. However, it is essential for strong bonds, clean wiring, and protective surfaces on many metal soldering projects. 

Most novice workers who use soldering irons do not typically use flux as a material that coats the soldering things. Instead, the novice will use solder rosin with a flux core. However, flux is a material that both cleans and spreads over the soldering surface. It is better added separately by melting parts into the surface getting soldered than using a rod with flux at the center.

Tinning is a process that acts a lot like a traditional flux. Since the tin material used for coating in tinning gets used as a flux in soldering, engineering, fabricating, or manufacturing in general, it is imperative for many reasons. Read more reasons below for why tinning is essential. 

(Sources: Superior Flux, Delphi Blog)

What is Tinning Wiring

Wires have the primary job of transmitting electrical currents from one place to the other. The quality of the wire material influences the efficiency of the wire’s ability to transmit electricity. However, the process of injecting tin into the metal and wires used for electricity broadly enhances their transmission efficiency. 

The primary function of tinning wires is adding melted tin material as a coating to electrical wiring. Almost all of the soldering projects on electrical wiring benefit from tinning the soldering iron and wires you work on first. 

While you work on wires with a soldering iron, tinning is an excellent idea: as the tin melts and spreads out over and into the wiring coating, the wire surface’s consistency increases. Tinning a wire helps conductivity and efficiency of wires only as much as the specific wire material is susceptible to soldering. 

Read more below about the differences in the electrical wires you might solder and use the process of tinning with. 

Wire Metal MaterialRelative Conductivity (With one as the highest)Strength for Mechanical WorkingsTemperature Range of OperationHow resistant to CorrosionCostEase for Soldering
Copper1Medium100 degrees Celsius PoorLowMedium
Copper-Covered Steel3Medium200 degrees Celsius MediumMedium Medium
High Strength Alloys2High200 degrees Celsius LowHighHigh
Stainless Steel4High870 degrees Celsius HighHighLow

Why Tinning Wiring is Important

Tinning makes the wires that are coated better in many ways. The operating temperature range gets increased when wires get coated with tin. Also, tinning increases the wires’ corrosion and water resistance. Finally, tinning coats on wires increases the mechanical strength of copper wire. 

The attributes of wires, especially bare copper and copper over steel wires, need support for their overall strength and corrosion resistance. Coating wires with the tinning process also helps all wires with conductivity for electricity and mechanical stress due to actions put on the wires such as twisting, stripping, and soldering. 

Finally, the contact resistance on wires will always increase over time. Increasing the contact resistance of your electrical wires means that there could be a sudden voltage drop at your wires’ connection. Tinning helps decrease contact resistance that increases over time, depending on how thick the tin’s coat gets applied to the wires and connection surface areas. 

Overall, tinning wires is incredibly cost-effective and increases energy output, conductivity, strength, and reduces contact resistance. Coating your wires with tin is cost-effective and better in many ways than the other options of wire coatings out there. Read on to determine the main differences between tin coating wires and other materials used for coating electrical wires. 

(Source: Cable Manufacturing and Assembly Co.)

When to Tin and Not Tin Wires

When you complete tinning wires, proper techniques give you the best results for your tinning. However, tinning is not always an appropriate technique for your wires. Read on to find out more about the times when it is appropriate to tin your electrical wires and when it is not appropriate to tin your electrical wires. 

You should not use the process of tinning electrical wires when the following conditions get met: 

  • Wires are part of threaded fasteners: Threaded fasteners depend on tightening a screw and nut down on a wire. The screw and nut tightness hold the wire in place and create a stable electrical bond of conductivity. If you tighten the screw and nut down on the solder joint, the tinning will crack or break apart. 
  • Wires use crimp terminations: Crimp terminations are similar to threaded fasteners. The crimp is pressed together with great force on the wire connection. The tight hold bonds the wire in place and creates conductivity. If the crimp termination tightens down on a wire with tinning, the solder joint could break. 
  • Wires create a mesh splice: A mesh splice is when wires have their coating peeled back, and the individual strands of the wire are spliced together in a woven mesh. Soldering with the tinning process could disrupt the conductivity of the mesh spice. 

(Source: EPTAC)

You should use the process of tinning wires when the following conditions are met: 

  • Wires that get connected to simple terminals: Wires going into simple terminals are held in place well with tinning. Wires with a coating of tinning are secure and conduct electricity to simple terminals very well. 
  • When you want an improved soldering joint: Most electrical wires increase durability and electrical conductivity when adding a tinning coating on the wires.
  • When the wires have high-temperature demands: Soldering an electrical wire with a tin coating improves the heat range that the wire can withstand and operate under. If you have wiring that needs heat-resisting properties, tinning is an excellent option. 
  • If wires are in a corrosive or oxidizing environment, sometimes, wires get exposed to outside or home elements. When wires are exposed, they build-up oxidation of rust and even start corroding more quickly, turning the wires’ electrical conductivity into less efficient wires. Tinning wires exposed to the elements resist corrosion and oxidation. 
  • Low-cost option on DIY projects: Not all projects require the durability and quality soldering and wire coating with silver. Silver is costly and not needed for common metal joints joined with soldering joints. Tinning is a great and cheaper alternative to some other more expensive methods of coating your electrical wiring. 

(Source: Cable Manufacturing and Assembly Co.)

Tinning Wires vs. Other Wire Coatings

This article’s information points to tinning as the most cost-effective and best option for coating wires on the market. However, the strategy of coating wire is not limited to tinning. Several materials are excellent for coating wire. The table below shows the most common types of material that get used for coating wire. 

See below for the differences and similarities between the most popular and useful materials used for wire coating beyond tinning.  

Wire Coating MaterialBenefitsDownfalls
TinCost-effective Easy to work withGood for electrical conductivityDoes not require flux for soldering wiresLimits conduct resistanceLow-temperature resistanceContact resistance increases over time.Poor resistance to corrosionLow strength for mechanical workings
NickelVery affordable optionExtends the temperature resistance and operating temperature of the wire to over 450 degrees CelsiusTerminability for crimping is right upfront.Decreases the wires’ electrical conductivityRequires additional amendments as a flux for coating wiresLess affordable than tinContact resistance increases over time.
SilverIncreases the electrical conductivity of the wireMakes the bare wire much better for operating temperature range.Very good for soldering Keeps contact resistance low over the life of the wireVery expensive 

(Source: Cable Manufacturing and Assembly Co.)

Tinning Solder Iron Tip

The other primary purpose of tinning is to coat the tip of the soldering iron. Coating the soldering tip is excellent for keeping the soldering clean and increasing the efficiency of wires you work on. Your soldering looks and feels better because of the more efficient heat transfer and flows that a clean soldering iron tip produces. 

Tinning also keeps your soldering iron tip from oxidizing and creating ugly ad dirty build-up due to air on the iron’s surface. The iron tip of the soldering iron oxidizes when exposed to oxygen. Oxidation makes the soldering iron tip much less efficient and limits the heat transfer from the iron to the surface and wires you are working on. 

There are several steps that you need for tinning and coating a soldering iron tip. It would be best to add tin to your soldering iron tips before each time you perform soldering and after each soldering session. It might make your soldering cleaner and more efficient if you add tin to your soldering tip in between every two or three soldering joints. Keep your tip tinned at all times

Tinning the tip prolongs your soldering iron tip’s life and gives you better and more efficient work on wires. Make sure to read below for the best steps to take when tinning the solder iron tip before continuing with your soldering. 

  1. Clean the tip either with a moist sponge or by scraping the tip with a metal scrubber.
  2. Melt a fresh layer or coating onto the tip of the soldering iron. Make sure the entire tip is coated and looks shiny and smooth.
  3. Begin soldering right after coating the tip. 
  4. Apply fresh tin material on the tip of the soldering iron after every few soldered joints.
  5. At the end of your soldering session, tin the tip one final time, wipe it smooth, then turn the iron off and store it away once cool.

(Source: Weller Tools)

Tinning Copper Water Pipes

Copper pipes are among the most common types of material used to move the water around a home. If you are a homeowner looking to save some money or a DIYer looking for a more advanced yet attainable project with your home’s copper piping, read on to find out more about how tinning pipes with a soldering iron is a skill possible to master at home. 

The job of tinning and soldering the copper water pipes in your home is relatively easy and consists of two main steps. The first step is the prep work, which means you need to prep space around and on the copper pipe joints you are working on. The second step is heating the joint of the pipes you are joining and adding solder with tinning flux to join the pipes together. 

Soldering pipes together may seem complicated and best left to professionals. However, this process of tinning pipes, called “sweating” the pipes, is possible to learn by following some simple steps. It is an excellent idea to proactive these steps on practice pipes before beginning work on your real pipes. Read more below about the specific details of the steps needed for tinning copper water pipes: 

  1. Examine and clean the pipe of any remnants of cutting like burrs, shards, or ridge pieces with a piece of fine sandpaper. If the pipe is not clean, never use an abrasive cleaning product or solution to create a film. Films and coatings from cleaning products create a barrier of the solder joint that makes weaker joints. 
  2. Wrap an emery cloth around your finger and clean the mouth of each pipe. Your pipe needs a thorough cleaning when soldering it with a tinning joint. When cleaning the pipe, the first couple of inches inside and outside of the pipe are all you need to focus on. The mouth of the pipe is essential for getting smooth and clean. A clean and smooth pipe fitting ensures that the joint is healthy and that tinning is successful. The tool that helps the most with roughly cleaning and sanding away debris is a wire fitting brush you rotate inside the pipe. 
  3. Avoid touching the pipe once you clean and scour the pipe until it shows bright and shiny like a new penny. The oils and dirt from your hands will make a mess. 
  4. Apply a thin layer of tinning to the tip of your soldering iron and the cleaned sections of the copper pipe you are working with. Wipe off any excess with a cloth or brush. 
  5. Run the fire of the propane torch two inches from the fitting over the pipe section. Make sure to wear safety goggles and hang a flame protector cloth over any surfaces that might burn within a foot of your soldering work. 
  6. Pass your torch over the sections with tinning slowly for about ten seconds or until the tinning heats up enough for melting. When the copper darkens, sizzles, bubbles, and smokes, the surface is now etched and ready for bonding.
  7. Connect the two sections of pipe and twist them together. When you twist the pipes, the tinning material gets spread over the circumference of the soldered joint. Make sure the material gets distributed on the inside and outside. Wipe off extra tinning material. 
  8. Heat each end of the copper pipe. Make sure your torch gets set to a lower power “rosebud” flame. The flame should wrap around the pipe’s perimeter and get the tinning to “sweating” temperature all the way around. Heat the entire section of the joint seam.
  9. Hold the propane torch at a ninety-degree angle while you heat the entire joint. If you make the pipe hot enough, the solder will melt or “flow” once you touch it to the pipe. 
  10. Melt or “sweat” the solder material on and around the pipe joint while keeping the heat constant throughout your work. 
  11. Make sure you add tinning to the tip and new joints as you work on different pipe sections. 
  12. Use a clean rag to wipe away excess soldering material from each joint as you finish. Make sure to place your torch in a safe and secure position to limit the chance of burns or fire. 

(Source: Bob Vila)

Tinning Sheets of Copper

Sometimes flat sheets of copper need joining. Soldering these flat sheets together with tinning on the joints is a great solution. Sheets of copper and other types of metal sheets get used in housing to support heavy beams in the roofing and plumbing support all the time. Some of the most common sheet metals that require tinning joints are copper sheets for house roofs or HVAC.  

Copper roof seams made with the sheets of copper and tinning of half-inch wide seams of soldering get made to withstand thermal expanding and contracting. In testing, the amount of solder used without gaps and the cleanness of the soldering edge affected the lifespan of the copper roof seams.

The method of joining copper sheets for roof beams on homes is a professional quality soldering called flatlock seam installation. After physical testing of circular soldiers of flatlock seams on copper sheets on roof joints, testing found that tinning while joining the copper sheets creates a bond that lasts for up to 75 years. 

(Source: Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association)

In Conclusion

Tinning is the ultimate way of protecting, strengthening, and bonding your electrical wires. There are several methods of tinning, but all of them include using metal material tin. Tin is handy because it is affordable, applicable in most situations, and has user-friendly properties. 

Hopefully, this article clearly shows you the details of the most common tinning techniques, reasons for using tinning, and the materials that a tin coating gets used for. Tinning is a great option for expert soldering technicians and novice DIYers alike. Take the time to review the steps and details in this article to get on your way for more substantial and more conductive solder joints. 

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If you liked this article, have a look at my other articles I wrote about the topic!

Alexander Berk

A bit about myself: I am a certified international welding engineer (IWE) who worked in different welding projects for TIG, MIG, MAG, and Resistance Spot welding. Most recently as a Process Engineer for Laser and TIG welding processes. To address some of the questions I frequently got asked or was wondering myself during my job, I started this blog. It has become a bit of a pet project, as I want to learn more about the details about welding. I sincerely hope it will help you to improve your welding results as much as it did improve mine.

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