“Hey, you’re talking to my guy all wrong. It’s the wrong tone. Do it again, I’ll stab you in the face with a soldering iron.”Joe Dirt (2001)
While we don’t recommend using your soldering iron for homicide, we DO recommend following this guide to determine which tips you’ll need for your project.
Soldering is probably a lot older than you’d think. It dates back to at least 3,000 B.C. where the Sumer people of Mesopotamia used soldering to assemble their swords. Historically, soldering was used mainly for jewelry, cookware, and stained glass. Today it is widely used in electrical work and electronics.
If you’re a total beginner, you may want to check out our video tutorial on How to Solder before continuing. This is a brief overview of some of the different types of solder tips that are out there. This is not our in-depth tutorial.
Tips For Tips
In order to use each tip properly, you should know the 3 types of physical contact they can make- line, face, and tip. Line contact is for flat tips that can apply heat across a narrow surface (you know, like a line). Face contact applies the heat by using the flat sides of a tip. Finally, tip contact is exactly what it sounds like- minimal contact with just the tip.
One of the other factors you’ll want to decide on is size. Larger tips can transfer more heat at a quicker rate, but you will sacrifice precision for speed. Smaller tips work the opposite way- you’ll have very precise joints, but it may take longer for the solder to melt, or may not melt it at all. If you are unsure of what size to use, a general guideline is to use a size that matches the size of the joint you want to solder. It is important not to over- or under-heat your solder. In this instance, size definitely matters.
If you are looking to purchase tips for a soldering tool you already own, it is crucial that you ensure they are compatible. There is no universal guide to soldering tip sizes, so one company’s T10 may not be the exact same size as another. Generally, you want to buy tips sold by the same brand as what you already own.
With all that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the five most common types of soldering tips.
This is the most commonly used tip for soldering. It’s the one that most people who don’t solder regularly stick with; which isn’t to say that professionals don’t use it as well. It’s simple and functional and can serve most purposes adequately. It’s uniform shape means that you can solder from just about any angle. B-Series tips are great at both drag soldering and point soldering, as well as precision chip work. They are useful for tip contact only.
BC- and C-Series/Cut Tip
BC- (cone-cut) and C-Series (column-cut) tips are the next most common type. These feature a flat, angled surface which can “hold” globs of solder. What’s the difference between BC- and C-? BC tips taper toward the top similar to the B-Series pencil design. C-Series tips are a uniform thickness from the tip to the base. Generally you want to use the pointed end to heat your lead. Like the B-Series, these are also great at both drag and point soldering. They are also effective at pre-tinning and precision work.
There is also a CM-Series (hoof tip) which is very similar to the C-Series except that instead of a flat cut, they have a slight concavity. This allows solder to accumulate in the hollow section. When filled with a small amount of solder, it will actually “suck up” any extra solder from your joints, making it very useful for correcting mistakes and unintentional bridges.
Chisel tips are arguably the most versatile of all soldering tips, but they require a bit more skill and soldering know-how than the B-Series to use effectively. Knowing when the use the edge and when to use the face of the tip can mean the difference between a perfect solder joint and an absolute mess. Chisel tips are great for both drag and point soldering, pre-tinning, and precision work.
The K-Series is another highly versatile tip used by professionals. The knife tip is unique in that it can apply all three types of contact- line, face, and tip. These are great for drag soldering, narrow precision work, and correcting unintentional bridges. The downside to the knife tip is that you need to be extra careful to not apply to much pressure when using the pointed edge, otherwise you can damage delicate parts. A little practice is all you need to overcome this, though.
I-Series/Fine Point Tip
The final common tip we’ll look at is the I-Series. Because of their fine point, these tips generally transfer the least amount of heat. As such, they become increasingly more difficult to use as your project size grows. These tips are ideal mainly for precision work.
Now that we’ve covered all that, you shouldn’t have any trouble choosing the tip that’s right for your project. At least, not right away. As you learn more and familiarize yourself with the different tips and processes, you’ll probably find other tips that you like just as much.