Get a good soldering iron!

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Fluesheet, Feb 15, 2006.

  1. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    Although I've been enjoying model railroading for a long time, I'm inexperienced with a soldering iron. I've had off and on success with my Archer (Radio Shack) 35watt iron, mostly due to uneven heating of the tip. I've found that the tip loosens easily, which ruins the heat transfer. More recently, I've plain had bad luck trying to solder feeders to rail (in practice). Warped ties and such. It appeared that I was still getting poor heat transfer to the tip, in spite of everything being tight.

    So I finally sprung for a decent 35 watt Weller iron - it's made all the difference! Heating is faster and consistent AND you actually have a choice of tip sizes and shapes. I feel like I've gained years of experience!

    Good equipment makes all the difference. Spring for it!
  2. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    You got that one right. The cost of a good iron will pay for itself in time saved and problems that it will prevent from happening. I have several irons that we had with our business. They are all temperature-controlled. The one I use the most is a Weller I bought over 30 years ago and is equipped with a 700 degree pointed tip. Works just fine soldering rail joiners and feeders.

    In case you're not aware, there are several things that can make a soldering job easy and worry-free. One is to wipe the tip on a wet sponge before each time you go to solder a joint, and second is to use a touch of flux on the joint before applying solder. Both these will help insure you get the heat to the parts that you're soldering together.
  3. jim currie

    jim currie Active Member

    yes a good iron is the best investment one can make.:)
  4. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    Thanks for the advice. I do wipe the tip on a damp sponge, but not necessarily before each joint. I think this is left over concern with taking too much heat out of the tip.

    The flux (and clean surfaces) tip I learned when I was much younger when trying to solder plumbing without flux. I think that first pipe was pretty much reduced to carbon before the solder would flow... :D

    I'm still learning soldering subtleties, but at least the iron is not in the way any longer.
  5. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Out of habit, I wipe the tip each time before soldering, and sometimes while soldering a number of joints. The irons we used were up there in price, but everytime I'd try something new or cheaper, my wife would complain that the iron heat couldn't keep up with her. She would always go back to the Wellers because they would maintain the heat regardless.

    The technique is in the timing. Taking the iron off the joint to quicky results in a "cold" solder joint (poor connection). Leaving it on too long will burn the component causing carbon and another poor connection. Heat the component, not the solder. Keep the iron on the joint long enough that the solder will melt when touching the solder to the part. Keep the iron on it until the solder flows, and just a fraction of a second longer. Most solder connections should only take a few seconds, even when joining rails. Give the joint a bit of time to cool down before moving anything around.

    Oh, and I'm sure you know better than to use plumber's flux on an electronic connection. Some people might not.
  6. screen

    screen Member

    I use an iron and cordless iron made by the Wahl Clipper corp.

    Found out about them when I worked for Motorola! Techs wouldn't use anything else!
    Wahl developed them because they couldn't find anything good enough for their assembly line, then made them available to the general public -
  7. boppa

    boppa Member

    weller are the only way to go in my books

    ive got 3 these days-an ancient weller 150w job(the one with the thumb pushed bakelite collar to turn it on and off) `semi' temp adjustable by different tips(and how long you push the switch on for)- absolutely perfect for quick in and out jobs that need high thermal inertia

    a 6w weller soldering `pencil'-for ultra small ic/surface mount components (smallest tip available is a tiny 0.2 mm) -i normally use a 0.5mm tho

    and a weller temp adjustable soldering station for general electronics pcb work

    either the first or the third would be perfect for soldering rails-id prefer the older 150w job-buuut it does take some practise with
    a temp adjustable solderingstation with several different tips would be my choice if you could only have one-a small conical tip for general electrical work(say about 4mm)
    and a large chisel bit for the heavy stuff

    `most' hobby 20-50w units quite frankly arent much use for anything imho
    considering the cost of even a `cheapie' temp adjustable soldering station that with only 2 or 3 tips can do from the finest to the heaviest soldering required-id say if you want to solder-get a cheap temp adjustable soldering station

    (btw ill second what was said previously)

    never ever ever ever ever use plumbing flux(acidic) anywhere near electrical wiring
    in case you missed it


    all electrical solder is prefluxed and if(very very rarely ive found) you need that extra `something' - only use ELECTRICAL flux

    more often a good scrub with stainless steel wool or a brillo pad works better than extra flux tho ive found

    sheese a long post but ive something else to add...

    for soldering `weird' stuff rather than just copper to copper(which is what 60/40 solder is designed to do) ie brass or coated metals

    look around for `silver solder'

    you wont find it in your average `home hardware' store- go to an electronics store

    it wets much more quickly and better to other metals than `normal' 60/40 does

    finally finished :rolleyes: and :oops:
  8. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    I do use an electronics (non-acidic) flux when working on model railroad stuff, but that purchase wasn't necessarily an "educated" one - more because that's what Radio Shack carried.

    The discussion regarding acidic flux is interesting - I recently watched one of the videos on the fast tracks web site regarding soldering rail to PC board (while building a turnout). The gentlemen stated he gets a lot of grief from non believers, but he ALWAYS uses acidic flux for that task, with the caveat that you must wash the finished product to prevent the joint from eventually failing. His claim was that the acid flux does a better job facilitating a strong mechanical connection.

    Regarding higher wattages, I think I'll get wait to get the hang of 35 watts before considering something else. I've found (somewhat surprisingly) that the thing generates enough heat to allow me to solder my track feeders to 12 guage wire (my bus) with about 5 seconds of heating. I thought I'd have to sink a lot more heat in it than that! The only time that doesn't work well is if the iron has been sitting in the holder, with the heater or tip contacting the spring - that sucks a lot of heat out in my observation.

    And now I'm rambling.... Thanks for the input / feedback guys!
  9. boppa

    boppa Member

    solder should never ever ever be relied on for mechanical strength as many a tv manufacterer can attest to

    make it secure mechanically first-then solder only for electrical conductivity

    ive seen many pictures of lay the wire alongside the rail and slap a bit o solder on it

    it may work-but it is not the way that anyone with electronics or electrical trade knowledge would say is a good way
    it may work-but its certainly not the best way longterm or for reliability(imho)

    solder shouldnt ever be used as the primary mechanical connection-it will fail sooner or later

    (ive not been able to have a running layout since around 95 due to moving around storage etc-but)
    im heavily into electronics as a hobby and around 85 had a fully computerised 30ftx6ft layout-using a vic 20 as a controller for all functions

    my sugestion would be using a microdrill and using the hole, anchoring a few strands through the hole before soldering the entire thing beneath the rail(between two sleepers)

    it isnt perfect in electrical terms
    but its far supiorer(sp) to most ive seen as recommended usual practice ie lie it alongside and slap a bit of solder on

    a cheap dremal style tool could be used to clean up afterwards
    a good solderer should end up with not needing it after a few hundred thousand joints (wink wink)

    all imho mind you
  10. boppa

    boppa Member

    as regards to low power soldering irons

    it is far better to learn (as i did during my apprenticeship) that a quick hot iron in and out under a second is better than a low power (5 seconds!! wow-how did you avoid melting ties??) held on until it eventually heats up

    my suggestion is find a local auto elec and shout him a few beers

    then when hes had a few-steer him back to his shop

    get to play with both low and high wattage irons on various grades of wire(you will find most ho rail is equal to around 3mm^2 automotive cable as far as soldering to it)

    if hes a halfway decent solderer...and still capable of standing upright ;-) he'll even show you that a big iron in and out quick will leave no visible heat deformation anywhere else
    where a little iron for 5 seconds-wow look at the melted plastic...

    if you are well prepared you might even bring along a few offcuts of old track to experiment on..

    my 2c
  11. boppa

    boppa Member

    and to those of a `a 35w iron will do anything' bent
    ask yourselves `why do they make them from (less than a tail light bulb) wattage to (melts plastic at 10cm) wattage if one iron could do everything?????

    often a 35w will `kinda sorta' do the job
    but the same ones that say it does a `good' job
    also probably dont have the equipement or the knowledge to determine whether or not it actually did a good job

    or a merely `adequate' job

    or even a lousy job but it `stuck' so it `must' be a good job....

    (the last can apply to removed) as tv builders-congradulations you have all the qualifications required for the job lol...
  12. boppa

    boppa Member

    i hope im not considered as `flooding' the thread...

    but ..(ignores the moans and groans from the side gallery..)

    ive seen people recommend scotchloks(as they are known here) as a good way to hook buses (edit to add `and feeds') and feeds together

    known in the usa as `suitcase connectors' for some reason

    weirdest thing `they' say solder a feed to every!!!! individual track for reliablity

    then use the most `expletitive expletitive here' connector to hook the feeder to the bus
    now if you have ever only read the manufacturers blurk-best thing since sliced bread..

    in the trade-known as `get you homers'

    they will probably-get you home...maybe....

    i wont even have them in my toolbox-and sidecutters and a crimp are the order of the day when one `crosses my path'...

    and yet at atlas and here they seem to be the `best thing since sliced bread' for hooking feeders to buses...

    solder feeders to track-then `lousy connection to bus'-as a notoriuos(sp) `rip out every scotchlok in sight'er..




    i probably have a bias

    but then i have a reason for it

    4 years as an elec fitter apprentice...-now a tradesman

    everyone has a right to their own opinion

    doesnt mean they are right...

    (btw im often not right but..i dont say believe me..

    go out and check it out yourselves-
    im often not right-but im often `more' right

  13. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    I was referring to soldering a 22 guage wire to 12 guage wire re: my 5 second comment. My seat of the pants thought was that it would take longer given the relatively heavy guage of the bus wire (as well as heat being conducted away from the joint).

    Of course compared to the inconsistent iron I was using, everything I'm observing is a revelation!

  14. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    Anyone use those "cold Solder" irons??? How good/bad are they????

    And yeah - I always use crimp connectors and suitcase conectors when I can :) :)
  15. Fluesheet

    Fluesheet Member

    They were reviewed in one of the motorcycle magazines that I subscribe to - they were not impressed. Only seemed to work on small solder joints, and even then it wasn't entirely acceptable. YMMV.
  16. jim currie

    jim currie Active Member

  17. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    I've been tempted a few times, especially when the local Harbor Freight has been selling them for $16.95, about three bucks under the going price. But I keep looking at the size if the tip and wonder how good it is for pin-point control. My conclusion is that it's not an iron a professional would use, and I've still got to maintain my professionalism even during retirement.:D :D Crimp and suitcase connectors have their place and I use them occasionally, but these connections are mechanical and shouldn't be substituted where you can solder the joint. :wave:
  18. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    Yeah - Thanks - - I was wondering about that :) Someone would have had to review them by now.....
  19. toolman

    toolman Member

    Lite soldering i use a 15 watter. General work i use 25-30 watter. Heavy work i use a 100 watt soldering gun, a 45 and 80watter irons. Mostly on my slotcars, chassis work and soldering in out of slotcar motors.
  20. Harold Cole

    Harold Cole Member

    I've found that the aligator type heat sinks work very well and really do take away the heat.

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