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Version:

June 18, 2015:
Revised: v1.0

A Soldering Iron Tip Cleaner

Elsewhere on my website, you can read the story behind the design and construction of my temperature controlled soldering station. This is an accessory I made for cleaning the tips of the soldering iron.

Introduction

In the final stages of designing and constructing my new temperature controlled soldering iron and 3D-printed base, I realized I would need some form of tip cleaning system.

In my old Weller and Radio Shack soldering stations, there was a small rectangular cutout in the base. This held a water-dampened sponge for wiping excess solder and residues off the soldering iron tip. While effective, this is perhaps less than desirable. I noticed some tip damage over time which could possibly be attributed to water corrosion rather than from soldering.

It also required me to have a small plastic squeeze bottle of water at the back of my bench so I could periodically dampen the sponge. In an air-conditioned room, that got used frequently. I never had an accident, but the risk of knocking the plastic bottle of water over something was always present.

My new soldering station did not have a sponge tray because I was a bit reluctant to repeat the same approach. Instead, I observed that many current soldering stations use a dry system. To me, they appeared to be using some form of stainless steel “wool”. It looks like the spring-like waste produced from metal cutting processes on lathes. This tip cleaning method seems to have some advantages. For one, it reduces the temperature drop caused by wiping a tip on a cold water-filled sponge. Potentially, it might also reduce the tip corrosion I had noticed with my old soldering irons.

Design

Lacking a suitable source to purchase such a tip cleaner system, I decided to make my own. Once again, I used DesignSpark Mechanical to do the heavy lifting involved with designing the holder. I have found that software to be very easy to use although it does take a little time to get to grips with the important features.

I also bought a small packet of stainless steel pot cleaning pads from the local supermarket for the local equivalent of about $US1. I used these to dimension the holder in my design. When you print your own version, you may need to scale the holder slightly to suit the cleaning pads you find at your local supermarket, although the design is fairly forgiving. It’ll fit a reasonable range of such products, I suspect.

The base I designed is just over 50mm in diameter. The ball of stainless steel wool seems to fit into it quite tightly – It’s just pushed in until you can’t fit any more inside. The balance “blossoms” out from the angled open front of the base nicely. That’s important because you don’t want the tip getting anywhere close to the 3D printed plastic base. That would melt it instantly. Messy.

In the same manner as I used for the design of the printed base of the soldering station, I also designed a hollow space into the tip cleaner base.  I’ll explain why in a moment.

Construction

The base was printed using standard PLA filament in 0.2mm layers on my 3D printer. It took about 30 minutes to print. I used black filament to match the base of my soldering station but any colour is likely to prove satisfactory.

Using the same method I used for the soldering station base, the hollow base of the tip cleaner was also filled with a single layer of small lead balls. Again, I used a few dozen shotgun pellets to fill up the hollow space. This was covered by a layer of plaster of paris to hold everything in place and left to harden overnight. This approach definitely stops the base from falling over or moving about, anchoring it safely in place on my bench.

Results

I’ve been using this tip cleaner so far for about three months, fairly intensively. I’ve been very happy with the results. The soldering iron tip seems to be cleaned surprisingly well with this method, and I’ve seen no signs of corrosion resulting from wiping the tip against the stainless steel wool. Thus far, I’ve also avoided getting anywhere close to the 3D printed plastic of the base.

On the negative side of the equation, I have noticed that, very occasionally, the springy nature of the stainless steel “wool” can occasionally catch and fling a really tiny speck of hot solder or waste around the bench or across the room. It doesn’t happen very often at all, but it’s enough to make me more careful. If you work close to others, small pets or children, the old wet sponge method might be preferable for you.

For me, this tip cleaner is going to stay in action on my bench. I like it a lot, and it’s proven very effective in use.



Downloads:


arrow3D printer files (STL format):  Tip_Cleaner



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