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I am in the process of assembling 80 (28 left to go) dmx controllers ( 7.99 from holiday coro ones). I assembled 20 earlier in the year. My solderin skills were limeted at first, but due to some good old irish stuborness and you tube videos, I know enough to be dangerous now. Here is my question.

In the process of soldering, I am on my 4th soldering gun ( 25 or 30 W miller from box store) and the tips keep wearing down, and the point becomes concaved. Any one else have these issues???

At first I thought the first tip was defective. Returned it and replaced it. Same results. Second one returned and replaced it with a similar gin from a differenct store. ( Ace this time and not box store) Same result. Bought a $5 one from harbor freight, different brand, same result. Replace the tip on that one with a tip from radio shack, and this one lasted longer, but same result. I have a soldergun inthe package un opened from Radio shack, but I do not want to get it out yet. I will have about 80 rolls of 5050 leg rgb lights to assemble, and I want to make sure I have a fully function gun before I jump into that aspect of my fabrication for this year.

I am using a sponge to clean the tip while in use, and I have it on for a couple of hours at a time when I am using it.

Is this normal for the tips, and should I just sand / grind it back down to a tip and move on????

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Tips wear out, that's why they are replaceable. ;)

With all the soldering that you are doing, you may want to upgrade to a better iron/station. You don't need to spend a fortune. For example, I have a lot of time using this one and enjoy it. You should also order a spare tip or 2 while you are at it. Since you can adjust the temp with this station, you can set it just hot enough to do the job which also helps with preventing tip-burnout.

Don't sand or grind a tip. You'll remove the coating and the solder won't 'flow' off the tip onto your work. Once they wear, just toss em.

For cleaning, I prefer something like this. It does a great job cleaning the tip without cooling it off too much like a wet sponge does.

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Lincoln,

What temp do you use to solder?

Mike pointed out some good tips (no pun intended ;) )

Temperature and keeping the tip clean (not sanding/grinding) is key.

One other thing that can be overlooked is pressure. Some put alot of pressure on components thus wearing out tips. Use the right size tip for the job, the right temp and just touch the component to get it hot. Once the solder melts, back off and wipe the tip clean. Keeping that tip clean is the biggest issue of all.

Spend that money on a couple good tips.

Hope that helps and good luck.

Tom

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I have a weller soldering pencil. This has a plated steel tip and I have soldered so many kits and other things and not a bit of wear. Now some of the cheap soldering irons have a solid copper tip. And resin which is a mild form of acid will clean both the wire and solder pad, but also the soldering iron tip. Slowly eating away at the tip. I highly recommend that you get a weller that has the iron tip.

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I have a weller soldering pencil. This has a plated steel tip and I have soldered so many kits and other things and not a bit of wear. Now some of the cheap soldering irons have a solid copper tip. And resin which is a mild form of acid will clean both the wire and solder pad, but also the soldering iron tip. Slowly eating away at the tip. I highly recommend that you get a weller that has the iron tip.

+1

I have a Weller and solder many of those 3ch DMX controllers as well as strips, string, ect. Still using the same tip and working perfect. Fact I used it yesterday and worked like like day 1 out of the box. Weller is the way to go!

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I am in the process of assembling 80 (28 left to go) dmx controllers ( 7.99 from holiday coro ones). I assembled 20 earlier in the year. My solderin skills were limeted at first, but due to some good old irish stuborness and you tube videos, I know enough to be dangerous now. Here is my question.

In the process of soldering, I am on my 4th soldering gun ( 25 or 30 W miller from box store) and the tips keep wearing down, and the point becomes concaved. Any one else have these issues???

If you are really using a soldering gun (as opposed to a soldering iron) for almost any electronic construction, it is the wrong tool for the job. To clarify, a soldering gun is sort of shaped like a handgun with a trigger that turns the heating element on and off. A soldering iron (or soldering pencil) is sort of shaped like a odd shaped fat pencil with a power cord coming out one end and the tip on the other. A soldering gun is fine for soldering wires together, and really large stuff, but for just about ANYTHING on a PC board, a gun is too big. A soldering iron with interchangable tips is far better suited for the purpose. A soldering station (which consists of a generally small iron, and a base unit that controls it) is even better. Most soldering stations allow you to change temperature and tip size and shape to fit your particular job. Much better!

And I agree with DevMike about using a shaved brass ball for tip cleaning. Far superior than a wet sponge.

As I was finished typing this message, I realized that I might have an incorrect belief about what soldering you were doing as I am unfamiliar with the Holiday Coro DMX controller. So I looked it up and found that on those, the assembly was just soldering wires together - NOT soldering electronic parts onto a PC board (which is what I had assumed it to be). So, you can cancel the part about the wrong tool for the job as I did state that for just soldering wires together, a soldering gun is acceptable. I would still prefer a good soldering iron, but a gun would do fine.

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We need Ernie!

It has been my own experience that there are few things you can do to extend tip life:

  1. Don't over-heat them
  2. Prevent oxidation by putting a blob of solder on the tip and allow it to harden after unplugging. Clean it off next time you use it.
  3. Don't over clean them. I only clean my tip every 2-3 minutes of work, not after every joint. After a while you can just look at the tip and know when it needs cleaning.
  4. Use decent 60/40 (sn/pb) or 62/36/2 (sn/pb/ag) solder. Stay away from the Pb free stuff, it's much harder to work with, & requires higher temps.
  5. Turn it off when you are done. It's better to wait 10 mins for a reheat than leave it on for 20 and not use it.

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A soldering GUN is usually the one that is rated at 100 and 140 watts. I see that the op was using something in the 30 watt range. I have seen a few of those that the handle is in the shape of a pistol grip. But I would not consider that to be a soldering gun per say. Reason is that the high wattage GUN actually has a two stage trigger to turn it on.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am attempting to solder together RGB strips for the first time, and upon a trial run...well, I failed. I am decent at soldering, but I cannot get the solder to stick to the tiny little copper things that seem like thin sheets of paper. The solder melts right away on the tip of the soldering iron, but it seems to not get the strip hot enough to get the solder to stick to it, and is ruining the connections at the end of the strips the longer I leave the iron on it.

Anyone else experienced this issue in the beginning? What should I do....?

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I am attempting to solder together RGB strips for the first time, and upon a trial run...well, I failed. I am decent at soldering, but I cannot get the solder to stick to the tiny little copper things that seem like thin sheets of paper. The solder melts right away on the tip of the soldering iron, but it seems to not get the strip hot enough to get the solder to stick to it, and is ruining the connections at the end of the strips the longer I leave the iron on it.

Anyone else experienced this issue in the beginning? What should I do....?

The copper pads aren't clean. They may look clean, but from what you're describing, they're not. I scape them (gently) with a knife then use a small-fine wire brush to clean them. they should be bright and shiny copper. If they're clean, they will almost solder themselves... you'll see.

tj

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I am with tj, just a xacto blade and with it at 90 degrees to the pad. Just give it some gentle scraps to make sure you have all of the clear rubber or what ever that stuff is cleaned off and no thin skin of it left behind. BTW make sure that once you have wetted the tip with a bit of solder. Not a big ball of it, just enough to wet it. Now touch the pad and give it at two count. Now touch the point where the iron and pad touch with just a bit of solder. If everything is right, then the solder should melt and spread across the pad.

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I am attempting to solder together RGB strips for the first time, and upon a trial run...well, I failed. I am decent at soldering, but I cannot get the solder to stick to the tiny little copper things that seem like thin sheets of paper. The solder melts right away on the tip of the soldering iron, but it seems to not get the strip hot enough to get the solder to stick to it, and is ruining the connections at the end of the strips the longer I leave the iron on it.

Anyone else experienced this issue in the beginning? What should I do....?

No need to scrape and clean them. Get some rosin soldering flux from radio shack and place a tiny dab on the pad before soldering. It will flow instantly. Then take a paper towel and dab up the melted flux.

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Use "no-clean" flux, not rosin. The no-clean flux is used by nearly all board houses now both for PCB assembly as well as rework. It is not as corrosive to the iron tips and does not leave behind a brown mess that needs to be cleaned off the board. For the pixel strips, a flux pen such as Kester #951 has a tip much like a magic marker tip that can be wiped over the copper pads with a very mild force to clean them without damaging the copper pad like scraping will. Tips on a good iron such as a Weller should last several thousand connections when used with no-clean solder and no-clean flux/flux-pen provided that the iron temperature is not too high.

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No clean flux. Cant say that I have knowingly used this kink of flux. Maybe that is what is in the PC kits that I have built. But the whole purpose of flux is to clean the joint as the solder is melting and flowing. Ubber clean copper promotes solder flow and adhersion. And what I do to clean off the older type of flux is I take a 1" cheap ass brush and cut the bristles down to say 3/8" get a can of denatured Alcohol and give it a good scrubbing. Rinse by pouring some on the back of the board held at about 45 degrees and dry. Then I tape off the socketed ICs, RJ-11 & 45 jacks, the header, fuses, and quick connects. Then give it all a heavy spray of Kryon clear spray paint. Good to go in the box once all of the tape is removed. BTW this is top and bottom of board.

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I totally agree that clean copper is the key. I was introduced to no clean for rework about 10-12 years ago and yes, that's what is in most of the kits. It is also lead-free and complies with RoHS requirements (which hobbyist don't usually care about). I have also taken acid brushes and cut the bristles to scrub off old rosin with alcohol similar to you. It works great. The tip material in the flux pens is very stiff and also does a fine job of cleaning the old flux in lieu of a brush. I can actually get more scrubbing on the copper with a flux pen than I can with a brush. Although the pen is a bit more expensive. By using no-clean (or a water-soluable flux) both to wet the copper as well as in the solder the result will be a nice clean looking board with minimal residue that needs to be cleaned off the boards. If you decide to clean it that can be done by simply washing in water. It is very easy to remove. (The PCB assembly houses actually clean it off with water sprays in what looks like long dishwashing machines.)

I especially agree with you in spraying a non-conductive coating on your finished boards although I have not used Krylon for that purposes. All of the circuit boards that I make (or have made) are covered with a conformal coating made specifically for electronics. It is required for many uses (such as within the hospital/medical field). I have found this to be especially important in this crazy hobby we have. It provides VERY good protection from the inevitable rain/snow/moisture. I run my show rain or shine (I don't get snow here in Florida). One benchmark might be this: I have approximately 150 Xenon strobes that I opened and sprayed with conformal. Most of them I have been running for 6 years now. They all still work. Some have drip holes, some do not. You know the history of strobes from the various comments on these forums so I believe that proves that whether we use conformal or Krylon, the protection works. I even had a box with one of Greg's Rainbox Brains and a power supply in it last year. I sprayed the Rainbow Brain (not the RJ45s - very important). The box ended up submerged for about a week and in the end, the brain only needed some minor brushing of the two RJ45s whereas the power supply was dead and corroded.

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TechSpray has a good line of no-clean pens, solder as well as conformal coating spray. They are available at Mouser.com.

If you do decide to coat your boards, make absolutely sure that you do not coat any connectors, jumper pins, dip switches, etc. The coating is an insulator and they will not anymore. (My brother found that out upon return from his honeymoon - we coated all of the plugs on his lamp cords - but that's another story.)

Secondly, think ahead and be prepared for the day that you need to repair a board or replace a part. Get a conformal coating removal pen and maybe even a conformal coating dispensing pen to cover up after your repair work. I do not know if these will work with the Krylon clear spray.

The coating works great for me. We usually have 80-90% relative humidity during my July 4th show and although enclosed, my original 16 LOR units have never had a glitch due to moisture.

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I wanted to thank you guys for clearing things up as far as cleaning the copper pads on the strips. My first (4) attempt(s) to solder a 4 pin male to male onto a strip was a disaster to say the least. I was wondering how they got those tiny little beads of solder on the strips. I was thinking to myself "man, it must take them forever". I went out to the local radio shack and pick out a set scrapping/cleaning tools and some rosin soldering flux. After some trial and error I figured it out and man what a difference it makes. The solder just flows on the copper pad, Thanks a bunch for the info.

:)

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