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A soldering iron is a tool used for soldering. The device supplies heat to melt solder which is used to make a permanent connection between two work-pieces. Soldering is one of the most basic skills required to dabble in the modern world of electronics. Soldering stations are most commonly used for repairs, installations and production tasks in electronics assembly.
In this world of improving technological surroundings, it’s very important that people everywhere not only be able to understand the technology they are using every day, but also be capable of building, altering, and fixing it as well. If you are going to use soldering station more often, you must not only know how to use the device but also understand the unit and its mechanism.
Anatomy of Soldering Station and Functions
A soldering station has many parts. Although there are different types of models available in the market, all systems consist of the basic parts listed below.
A soldering iron is incomplete without an iron tip. The iron tip is the part of the soldering station that heats up and melts the solder, allowing it to flow around two or more components being joined. The iron tip literally transfers heat to raise the temperature of the metal elements to the melting point of the solder, and melt the solder accordingly.
Most soldering irons come with replaceable tips; should you have to replace your old tip, or if you need to switch to a different style of iron tip. Generally, tips come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes for different types of components. Some of the common types of tips are the chisel, bevel, conical, blade and pyramid.
Bevel tips have comparatively larger flat surface. This type of tip is used in soldering tasks that require pre-loading of solder on the tip. It’s good for drag soldering or soldering small size gauge wires.
Chisel tips are wide and capable of delivering equal heat to both the component pads and leads. This tip is recommended for soldering components with bigger surface-mounts, wires, and through-hole electronics, and also for desoldering.
Conical tips are pointed and cone shaped. These are basically used in precise electronic soldering. Conical tip is also used for usual soldering applications and ideal for beginners. As its tip is pointed, it’s able to deliver heat to tiny areas such as components with smaller surface-mounts.
Blade tips have sharp edges like a knife. This tip works well for professional-quality soldering that demand clean and smooth finishing.
Pyramid shaped tips have pointed tip and a flat surface on the sides. This type is tip is good for industrial work.
The wand is the segment of the iron which holds the tip. It’s also the part that is held by the user while operating the unit. Wands are generally made of varieties of insulating materials like rubber to avoid the heat of the iron tip from transferring to the outer section of the wand that the user comes in contact with. The wand also houses metal and wire contacts that transfer heat from the outlet or base of the system to the tip. A high-quality wand is much appreciated due to the dual role of heating as well as preventing burns.
Some soldering irons have just a wand that plugs directly into a power outlet. This type of iron is as simple as it comes, and it doesn’t have any controls or settings to change the temperature. In the simple irons, heating filament is directly built into the wand. Wands come in two varieties; one that comes with a non-replaceable tip, and another type that allows you to screw many different types of iron tips.
The base basically consists of a huge transformer and numerous other control electronics which allow you to safely vary the temperature of your iron tip. The base of the soldering station is the main control system. In soldering stations with a base, the wand is plugged into the base and heat is received from the internal electronics.
There are two types of bases; analog bases, which have a dial to control the temperature, and digital bases, which have a digital display that shows the current settings and buttons to adjust the temperature. Some stations even have bases with extra features like heat profiles that enable the user to change the amount of heat transferred to the tip quickly for soldering varieties of elements.
The iron stand, which is also often referred to as a cradle, houses the iron tip when it’s not in use. The stand may not seem an important part of the soldering station, but leaving an unattended hot iron lying around on your desk or work-table is a potential hazard. This could burn you, or, even worse, it could burn your table and start a fire. An iron cradle can be simple like a metal stand, or it can be quite complex, consisting an auto-shutoff feature, which reduces the temperature of your iron tip automatically when the iron is placed on the stand. This plays a very important role in increasing tip life by preventing it from wearing off over time.
The stand will keep the iron away from other flammable materials. It also often comes with a flux pot and cellulose sponge for convenient cleaning of the tip. Many soldering irons that are constructed for continuous and professional use come with an iron stand which allows the accurate temperature of your tip adjusted and kept constant.
The heating element is a vital part of a soldering iron. It’s located in the wand of the soldering device. The heat is supplied through the heating element, which is then transferred to the tip. In most of the high-end models, the heating elements are ceramic and can be replaced when they wear out over time. You can purchase the replacement of the heating filament of your soldering iron either from a local vendor or online stores.
Mechanism of Soldering Iron
The soldering iron works on a very simple principle. When current is passed through a material of high resistance, heat is generated. This heat is used to melt down a conductor metal alloy called solder wire. The melted solder is put between two different components in order to connect those parts electrically so that current can pass through the joints.
As the technology is advancing day by day, apart from the basic parts in the soldering iron, many units come with several other features to deliver better result and allow for convenient use. Here are some of the advanced features that might be useful for you in the long run.
Adjustable Temperature Settings
Temperature setting is a crucial part of a soldering iron. Some units come with a fixed temperature that can’t be varied. However, there are many high-end models that consist of a wide range of temperature options. This feature can be very useful if you are going to work on different types of components that require different heat settings.
While many standard soldering irons have an analog control of temperature, now there are these advanced models that offer fully digital control and display of the settings. This feature will enable the user to set accurate and precise settings. Some of the highly advanced and professional soldering stations even have touch screen feature.
Auto Shut off
Auto shut off feature is considered the most useful safety feature. A device with this feature will automatically shut off the power to the soldering tip if the iron is not actively used for the pre-set or default period of time. It can prevent accidents and potential hazards.
Heating the Soldering Iron
To properly conduct heat, your iron tip must be free of any old solder and dirt. When the tip is exposed to air, it oxidizes, causing it to insulate against the heat. To make everything work efficiently and quickly, it’s important to conduct heat. With a dirty tip, the iron will have to be held on longer, with a higher risk of heat damaging the work-piece. To avoid this, keep a wet sponge ready, and when the iron tip is fully heated, scrape it softly against the wet sponge in order to remove the old solder. The tip should appear nice and shiny.
Controlling the Temperature
I would recommend you to start with the lowest temperature setting available on your unit, which you can increase slowly up to the melting point of the solder. If you have set the highest temperature possible on your soldering iron, you must minimize the amount of time that you let your iron tip be in contact with the components of your work-piece. Over-heating the components can damage the components. This way you’ll be able to control the amount of heat being transferred to the component. For precise control over the temperature, I would suggest you use a temperature-controlled soldering iron.
Soldering irons can be quite complex to understand for beginners. It’s important that you become familiar with the components and mechanism of the device that you are working with to be able to understand and make the most out of it.