Soldering Iron acting strangely

Not sure this is the rignt forum, in fact not sure what to ask, but my Weller Soldering Iron just started acting strangely. It has been working fine since I bought it, but today....
Here's what it's doing. It heats up fine and it will "fry" flux as it always has. But when I try to melt solder nothing. I can touch the tip to the solder and nothing. I turned the soldering station heat dial to max, still will not melt solder. I changed the tip and same issue, in fact I couldn't even tin the new tip. If I hold the solder to the tip, after a few seconds the solder "balls up" but will not flow to the object needing soldering.

If anyone has any suggestions, please chime in. I am at a loss. I am not a long time solderer, but I am not a newbee either.

Thanks.

Well there are many things that could go wrong. Your iron is heating up but not hot enough. This could be a faulty thermostat cutting off the power too early. Or the switch to the heater could be going high resistance. Or the heater could have some turns of the wire shorting reducing the area where the heat is coupled to the bit.

ov10fac:
Not sure this is the rignt forum, in fact not sure what to ask, but my Weller Soldering Iron just started acting strangely. It has been working fine since I bought it, but today....
Here's what it's doing. It heats up fine and it will "fry" flux as it always has. But when I try to melt solder nothing. I can touch the tip to the solder and nothing. I turned the soldering station heat dial to max, still will not melt solder. I changed the tip and same issue, in fact I couldn't even tin the new tip. If I hold the solder to the tip, after a few seconds the solder "balls up" but will not flow to the object needing soldering.

My guess:

You've either left it switched on unattended or set the temperature too high. Now the tip is coated in
black iron oxide which you need to carefully remove without puncturing the thin iron layer that protects
the copper bit.

The new tip you used needed to be carefully wetted with solder on first heating, which takes a bit of determination usually, and careful and repeated cleaning/wiping of the tip.

Never run an iron too hot, it rapidly oxidizes the tip like this, and oxide is hard to remove. In normal
use flux will prevent the build up of oxide, but leaving an iron for long periods or running too hot will
char the flux and stop it working.

I am worried by your description of "fry the flux" - if the flux is getting discoloured the iron is definitely
too hot. Rosin flux should melt and smoke a little, but not blacken.

If you need to leave an iron for a few minutes, always coat the bit with fresh flux (or flux-cored solder)
first.

If you follow what MarkT said...one solution to help remedy that tip situation is to get a block of SalAmoniac and rub the hot tip surface on it. It will remove the gunk from the tip and you will be able to re-tin it with no trouble (provided your tip is actually reaching the melting point of solder).

Honestly, it does sound like your heater is messed up.

It's rare though. I've had a Weller since 1978 and only had to replace the heater/thermostat once.

(They don't make'em like they used to, I guess)

MarkT:
My guess:

You've either left it switched on unattended or set the temperature too high. Now the tip is coated in
black iron oxide which you need to carefully remove without puncturing the thin iron layer that protects
the copper bit.

The new tip you used needed to be carefully wetted with solder on first heating, which takes a bit of determination usually, and careful and repeated cleaning/wiping of the tip.

Never run an iron too hot, it rapidly oxidizes the tip like this, and oxide is hard to remove. In normal
use flux will prevent the build up of oxide, but leaving an iron for long periods or running too hot will
char the flux and stop it working.

I am worried by your description of "fry the flux" - if the flux is getting discoloured the iron is definitely
too hot. Rosin flux should melt and smoke a little, but not blacken.

If you need to leave an iron for a few minutes, always coat the bit with fresh flux (or flux-cored solder)
first.

Sorry, fry is not the right word. The flux rapidly melts when touched by the iron and sometimes sorta boils off. As you say it smokes a little and boils offf. I normally dip both items to be soldered in flux before soldering. When I solder two wires together I normally tin both wires and then join and heat with iron.

Its a Weller 100 soldering station that I have been using for about two years. It has always workd like a champ. I never leave it on more than the time I am actually soldering. When done I turn it off. It can be set to a max setting of 5, I have been using it at about 4 and it worked fine.

Yesterday I tried my first solder of a protoboard. Not a very happy experience. I just wanted to connect three wires to an led. Getting the components soldered to the board wasn't too difficult. I watched several videos and they had some good ideas that seemed to work pretty well. Soldering a common wire to all three was a different story, that's when I noticed the problem with the iron. When I hold the iron to the board with a wire already soldered in place and try to apply the solder, it just doesn't want to melt the solder. If I take the iron off the board and place the solder on the tip, nothing happens, it doesn't melt like it used to. I am using the same solder and flux I have been using for two years with no problems.

I am almost at the point of buying another iron. I have no way to measure the tip temp, so have no way to actually trouble shoot the iron. But since the station has a place for a normal plug, I can probably just buy a good iron and plug it in.

I am almost at the point of buying another iron.

If cleaning doesn't help replace the tip before buying a whole new soldering iron.

I usually scrape the tip with an X-acto knife, which helps but it does NOT make it "like new".

Google just found [u]HOW TO TIN AND CARE FOR SOLDERING IRON TIPS[/u]. Maybe I'll try one of the special-purpose products...

BTW - This problem seems to be worse for me at work where we use lead-free solder and water-soluble flux. (At home I mostly use regular-old tin-lead solder and rosin flux.) But, I'm not sure because I don't solder THAT much at home or at work.

DVDdoug:
If cleaning doesn't help replace the tip before buying a whole new soldering iron.

I usually scrape the tip with an X-acto knife, which helps but it does NOT make it "like new".

Google just found [u]HOW TO TIN AND CARE FOR SOLDERING IRON TIPS[/u]. Maybe I'll try one of the special-purpose products...

BTW - This problem seems to be worse for me at work where we use lead-free solder and water-soluble flux. (At home I mostly use regular-old tin-lead solder and rosin flux.) But, I'm not sure because I don't solder THAT much at home or at work.

Thank you. That is a good article. I will definately try to retin the tip and see what that does.

Oh, this is that horrible Weller 100. I'm emberassed that Weller made that. That is a power control, not a temperature control. IE, a lamp dimmer.

It is not uncommon for the tips on those to get way too hot when not soldering. Then you get the problem described of the tip getting a coat of black oxide.

I always add a little fresh solder to the tip before putting it back in the holder. The solder protects the iron cladding.

Did you switch to lead-free solder ? man that stuff is awful.

To tin a tip that has no solder on it, either new or a cleaned tip that was blackened, I wrap a coil of solder around the tip before turning it on.

Tinning a new tip

polymorph:
Oh, this is that horrible Weller 100. I'm emberassed that Weller made that. That is a power control, not a temperature control. IE, a lamp dimmer.

It is not uncommon for the tips on those to get way too hot when not soldering. Then you get the problem described of the tip getting a coat of black oxide.

I always add a little fresh solder to the tip before putting it back in the holder. The solder protects the iron cladding.

Thanks, but I had a brand new tip I had purchased when I bought the iron. I put the new tip in and let it heat up. Flux did its normal thing, but solder just balls up on the tip. It just doesn't seem to be getting hot enough to actually get the solder to flow.

polymorph:
To tin a tip that has no solder on it, either new or a cleaned tip that was blackened, I wrap a coil of solder around the tip before turning it on.

Tinning a new tip

I’ll give that a try

I use brass wool and repeatedly stab the soldering iron into it. Don't leave it in there, just in and out several times and apply solder.

Do NOT file or sandpaper. I avoid even steel wool, but might use it as a last resort.

Don't use those crappy "copper" pads meant for scrubbing steel pots. They are actually steel tape with yellow lacquer on them.

Use this: https://amzn.to/2KHE7Ct

I'm not endorsing that particular one over any other.

Just ordered the brass cleaner polymorph suggested. I did try a new tip and tried to tin it all to no avail. I am thinking the iron may be toast. I tried to pull it apart to see if I can replace the heater element, but it doesn't seem to be something meant to be replaced.

So, any suggestions on a good soldering iron. I don't do much soldering, just a protoboard every now and again, and some wire splices that sort of thing.

Thanks.

Strongly, STRONGLY suggest actual feedback controlled temperature. Lots of junk with dials labeled with numbers that mean nothing.

polymorph:
Strongly, STRONGLY suggest actual feedback controlled temperature. Lots of junk with dials labeled with numbers that mean nothing.

Thank you. How do I determine if a station has feedback controlled temperature? Will the manufacturer state that fact?

A soldering iron without a feedback loop of some sort controlling the temperature (either old style curie point that has a tip that becomes non-magnetic above the target temperature, or something more modern) is inappropriate for working with electronics. Or really doing anything more advanced than burning marks into wood. So I would assess attempting to make that iron work to be a poor use of time - get a decent temp controlled iron. These will allow you to specify a temperature not a dimensionless number, and will be advertised as temperature controlled. The nicer ones will show the temperature measured at the tip on a 7-segment display. (The old style magnetic ones, you set the temperature by the tip you use).

I am not familiar with the Weller 100 - it sounds like it's not a terribly good iron (is it one of the post-buyout ones where they stopped caring about quality and just milked the name? IME, the ones in the old greenish bakelite cases are excellent, and the ones in black cases are mostly trash)

I have always been able to abuse the hell out of my weller irons (all from the green-case era, most of them older than I am) and never even had to replace a tip (ex: leaving them on and going away for a week - came back, wiped the tip on a wet sponge, and tinned it and it was ready to go. Used them to melt through the glue on top of a solder joint I was desoldering. Accidentally melted or scorched a variety of materials. Cleaned tip (in a pinch) by rubbing against a nearby surface. And so on... ). The only time I had a failure, it was one of the old style ones based on the curie point, and the mechanism jammed (mechanically, for no apparent reason) leading to it sticking on. Got red hot. Later, problem didn't reproduce. I took it apart, found no problem, put it back together again, and it has worked ever since. I think the tip was even still usable!

The difference in durability compared to modern production irons is stunning.

DRAzzy,

I agree on current quality. My other hobby is restoring old wood working tools. When I compare them to the high cost tools of today there is no comparison. My Craftsman table saw is from the 50s. I rebuilt it about 6 years ago and it runs like a dream. My Drill presses are precise and smooth and great to work with. When I am forced to use new tools I struggle to get the accuracy I can get with my older machines.

So I guess the question I would pose would be, who has a recommendation for a good iron that will give me the performance I need to solder protoboards. I am considering the Hakko FX888D. It seems to have the best reviews across the board.

Thanks.

You could always score an old weller from the good old days on ebay :wink:

The source of this problem is that most buyers are extremely price sensitive now (often theres little else for the average customer to compare), so every corner gets cut, and the cheap garbage wins and pushes out the good stuff

Weller WES51, rock solid and you can feel the quality.