Question: Hello, I would like to know the benefits of tip tinning and tip maintenance. Is it necessary to tin and turn off irons when not in use?
Answer: Tip tinning is important to maintain the ability of the soldering iron tip to efficiently transfer heat to the materials being soldered. When the tinning on the tip is gone, or the tip cannot be tinned, that oxidized surface is a poor transmitter of heat and energy which is required to melt the solder to make the solder joint.
One must consider the two typical alloys being used today, one being Tin/lead and the other Lead-free. Regardless of which alloy being used, the tip should always be kept tinned. The process of soldering requires that when the tip is removed from its holder, it is wiped and brought to the components being joined, at which time a small amount of solder is added to the tip to create a heat bridge to help the heat transfer and speed up the process of heating the components. Once the solder joint has been completed the tip is tinned again and the iron is returned to its cradle. Newer types of soldering irons have magnets in their cradles to lower the temperature of the soldering irons while it is not being used. This is called the idling temperature.
Should you shut off your iron when they are not in use? I would agree to that statement, but common sense has to prevail at this point. If the iron is not going to be used for 10 to 20 minutes, would I shut it off? NO, where as if I was not going to solder for the remainder of the morning or afternoon, then I would shut it off. Keep in mind that newer irons heat up very quickly, in a matter of seconds, so reactivating the iron to soldering temperature is a relatively easy thing to do at any time.
So where are we with this position? My recommendation is to shut down the iron if it is going to idle more than 1 hour. Shut it off for your daily breaks. And definitely shut it down at night, at the end of the shift. Prior to shutting down the soldering iron station make sure the tips are cleaned and tinned again.