Home made soldering iron bits

Home made soldering iron bits

Postby James Moorhouse » Tue Jan 03, 2012 7:30 pm

On a certain email group(*) Martin Wynne extolled the virtues of making your own soldering iron bits out of copper. Since I was in need of some new bits, I thought I'd have a go. Here's what Martin suggested:

Plated bits are fine for electronics, but I much prefer a plain copper bit for modelling. Much easier to keep clean, solder flows cleanly from it, and it's quickly filed back to shape when it gets worn.
You can buy a length of copper bar from Eileen's Emporium and make half a dozen different shaped bits for different jobs. The Weller irons accept plain 5/16" dia copper bar.
If anyone is struggling to learn to solder, try starting with a plain copper bit freshly filed. Tin it with cored solder *as it warms up*, and off you go...


I have a Weller WSP 80 and it certainly wouldn't accept 5/16" bar. The Weller soldering iron bit sizes do vary depending on which model. The WSP 80 accepts 6mm bar however.
The most difficult exercise was turning a shoulder on the copper. This is required so that a sleeve can fit around the bit and secure it in position on the element. The turning was made easier by using milk as a lubricant. The tip of the soldering bit was filed and, with the aid of some wet and dry paper, a smooth finish was easily achieved.
Next to tin the bit I used cored solder as Martin suggested and this took very well but did leave a residue which was the rosin in the solder. Slightly unhappy about this I sanded the parts of the bit affected with wet and dry back to the copper and dipped the bit in Carr's 188 solder paint and then turned the soldering iron on and let the solder paint fizz. I neutralized the bit by dipping it in a 50/50 mix of meths(no IPA to hand) and distilled water while still hot. Here is the result, along with a drawing should anyone else have a suitable soldering iron (the element, bit and sleeve arrangement on the Weller soldering irons was its selling point, if you have an Antex you're stuck with buying expensive bits, I don't know what Ersa soldering irons are like):

Image

Image

(*)Brain Lewis' finescale yahoo group
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Re: Home made soldering iron bits

Postby Philip Hall » Tue Jan 03, 2012 11:19 pm

I too have used copper for bits for years after many problems with plated ones. I got a local model engineer to turn up some (I didn't have a lathe at the time) to fit a 18W Antex iron and a 50W temperature controlled one. Provided the temperature controlled one is set at about 280 degrees it doesn't tarnish at all, but above that it does get black quite quickly. Strangely, the smaller bit on the 18W, which runs at a far higher temperature, also doesn't tarnish. Quite why the smaller iron should behave differently I have no idea!

They do tend to burn away a little, but I solved that by making them a bit longer and tapered slightly, so that you end up with a parallel bit after a while. I spoke to Antex before doing all this and they said that the bit being longer should not be a problem. Being able to file them to a fine edge means you can pick up tiny amounts of solder and get into corners.

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Re: Home made soldering iron bits

Postby Terry Bendall » Wed Jan 04, 2012 4:40 pm

James Moorhouse wrote:The most difficult exercise was turning a shoulder on the copper. This is required so that a sleeve can fit around the bit and secure it in position on the element. The turning was made easier by using milk as a lubricant.


Copper can be turned using the same tool angles as those used for steel, but the tools do need to be very sharp. Use an oilstone to finish the tool to a sharp edge. I have not heard of milk being used as a cutting lubricant for. Do you mean cow's milk or are you using the slang engineering term for soluble oil (sometimes called pigion's milk) which has a white appearance? Checking some of my reference books, one source suggests lubricating oil whilst another suggests turning copper dry or using soluble oil. I have not had a cause to turn copper very much but when I do cutting fluids are not used at all.

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Re: Home made soldering iron bits

Postby Philip Hall » Thu Jan 05, 2012 12:31 am

When I had my bits turned they were done dry, but with light cuts. It was done on a very big lathe, though, and drilling the long hole down the shaft took a while, needed for the Antex irons. When they were finished, I put them in a big vice and used a hacksaw to put the long slit in them.

Philip
Last edited by Philip Hall on Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Home made soldering iron bits

Postby James Moorhouse » Thu Jan 05, 2012 1:32 am

Terry Bendall wrote:Copper can be turned using the same tool angles as those used for steel, but the tools do need to be very sharp. Use an oilstone to finish the tool to a sharp edge. I have not heard of milk being used as a cutting lubricant for. Do you mean cow's milk or are you using the slang engineering term for soluble oil (sometimes called pigion's milk) which has a white appearance? Checking some of my reference books, one source suggests lubricating oil whilst another suggests turning copper dry or using soluble oil. I have not had a cause to turn copper very much but when I do cutting fluids are not used at all.


I was following Martin Wynne's advice of using milk as a cutting lubricant on copper. In the past he has suggested using single cream as a cutting lubricant, so I assumed he meant cow's milk here. It seemed to work quite well, and I wouldn't have wanted to dismiss it without trying it out.
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Re: Home made soldering iron bits and soldering tips

Postby James Moorhouse » Sat Jan 07, 2012 1:03 pm

Philip Hall wrote:When I had my bits turned they were done dry, but with light cuts. It was done on a very big lathe, though, and drilling the long hole down the shaft took a while, needed for the Antex irons. When they were finished, I put them in a big vice and used a hacksaw to put the long slit in them.


Many thanks for your description, but I think that the turning job to produce the Antex type bit is somewhat more involved than that for the Weller. I chose my Weller soldering iron with home made copper bits in mind.

From the same thread on the finescale listing, a very useful table transpired, which I refer to when soldering:
As a guide, here are the settings I use for various solders:
70 190 Deg C.
145 300 Deg C.
179/188 360 Deg C.
224/243 450 Deg C.


On the theme of useful soldering tips what's your routine for cleaning up after soldering sessions and for given types of fluxes how do you give your models a 'deep' clean?
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Re: Home made soldering iron bits

Postby Philip Hall » Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:01 pm

I have a problem with exposure to lead, whitemetal and acids, so I tend to wipe down each joint with a wet tissue as soon as it's been done. Sometimes I use a baby wipe ('Basics' from Sainsbury's, the Tesco ones stick together) and this is often enough. I never wash down any further until the model is complete, when it gets a final scrub with Jif or something similar before painting. I use a home brew of phosphoric acid/distilled water flux, about 10%, in a CPL Flux Pen; occasionally La-Co for steel and electrical joints and dipping the iron in to keep it clean! 'Powerflow' is a bit of a nightmare, there's always a residue which turns green later on. I have some 'Flux-Off cleaner which Danny Cockling recommended, which I have yet to try, simply because I also had a breathing problem years ago when I tried to go over completely to Powerflow.

I have had models in progress for years, only getting this quick clean after each joint, and virtually never get any tarnishing or residue. It also makes the job much more pleasant to handle.

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Re: Home made soldering iron bits

Postby James Moorhouse » Tue Jan 10, 2012 10:10 pm

Thanks again for your description, Philip.

The CPL flux pen is a new one on me, but it's probably been around for years. Is it actually designed to enable you to put your own flux in and does it use a felt tip like nib?
I think the Powerflow fad is coming to an end. John Brighton was one of the main propagators of its use, but many professional painters have condemned it since. Having said that I have a number of unfinished brass kits constructed using Powerflow from around five years ago that show no sign of corrosion. John advises cleaning after every soldering session with a 50/50 meths and water mix and tooth brush and I have always followed this; people that end up with the dreaded green residue normally have not. However, a few years ago Tony Wilkins took apart a crossing vee that I had soldered together using Powerflow and told me that he discovered the green residue inside. I've been put off using it ever since. Incidentally, Tony uses Carr's Orange Label flux for all of his track construction, both for Nickel silver (Hi-Ni is his preference) and steel rail.
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Re: Home made soldering iron bits

Postby Philip Hall » Wed Jan 11, 2012 1:01 pm

James,

The CPL Flux Pen is a wonderful thing for anyone (like me) who's knocked over a bottle of flux! You fill it with liquid flux of your choosing, and the flux is dispensed through a brush. A slight squeeze sets the flux running. I think Pat Legg of CPL still has them; see the adverts in MRJ for the address. The Anglo - Japanese (?) instructions are a hoot, almost worth buying the pen for that.

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