I am doing something wrong with soldering but I just have no idea what. I am encountering some seriously frustrating issues and I was hoping someone could tell me what I'm doing wrong.

My first experience was soldering components to PCB for a DIY pedal. That actually went well, was easy and straight forward.
Fast forward a few months when I break out the iron again and now for some reason it cannot melt solder. It needs to be in contact with the solder for at least a solid minute before it liquefies. I figured it was probably a fault with the iron since I had only used it once and it was a cheapie, so I went down to the store and bought a new one with a little variable temperature dial on it (cost about $30 AUD). Go home to use it, and everything is going dandy - problem solved. Few hours later and it is no longer melting solder just like my last iron!

What the heck am I missing? I have tried re-positioning the part of the tip I use to increase contact area. I have tried scrubbing the tip down with steel wool to clean it. I cannot tin the tip of the iron because when I finally get solder to melt it wont adhere to the tip, It will just melt and fall straight off. I have tried putting the iron on the surface I want to apply the solder to and then adding solder slowly but again it wont adhere to the component, surface or the tip.

The first thing I did when I bought this new iron was attempt to tin the tip. It worked initially, a nice silver tip. But as time went on I could no longer get solder to stick to the tip making it impossible to keep a nice tinned surface on the iron.

Do I just need flux? I haven't bought any yet because I have read that you don't have to have it and that a lot of people have just never used it. Is that the answer to my problem? The solder I am using came in my initial starter kit and is lead free - I don't think that would make my life this difficult though.

I've gone through two iron and neither is doing the job so it must be something else. Who knows what's up?

EDIT: Best way I can describe the way the solder behaves when it melts is that it is being repelled by tip in the same way that water would just roll around on a hydrophobic surface.
Last edited by wildozer at Jul 14, 2017,
You need to make sure that you apply the tip with solder as soon as you begin using it for the first time, otherwise you can damage it.

It's very important that there's a bit of solder on the tip at all times as you're using it. The tip becomes vulnerable to corrosion when it is hot, and the solder shields the tip from this corrosion. If the tip gets corroded, solder will no longer stick to it.

I would suggest very lightly sanding the surface of the tip with some fine sandpaper to remove the corrosion without damaging the tip's outer coating. You need to be careful when doing this as sanding too far will remove the outer coating that helps the solder to stick to the tip, thus ruining it. But in the state the tip is currently in, you haven't got much to lose by trying.
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It could be that the tip is dirty . If it's all black and nasty looking then the solder won't stick to it . I don't know if people agree with this but I have taken a damp sponge with the rough side and scrubbed the tip of it while it's still hot . That usually helps in removing the crud off.
you probably need to tin the iron. If you have a wire brush or a wire wheel clean up the tip. once its clean you can run solder over the tip.
I've found that keeping the tip clean and well-tinned is important. My electronics soldering iron is a 40w variable with a wedge-shaped iron tip. Scourers and wet pads have been mentioned. I also use Baker's Fluid (zinc chloride solution) to get it really clean, and it also makes a good flux/cleaning agent for difficult jobs. It has to be used with care, however, and the residues cleaned off, because it gives off corrosive hydrochloric acid fumes.
So the general consensus is that I need to ensure the tip is clean so it can be tinned. I have already been using a brass scourer (like the one mentioned above) but no wet sponge to clean the tip and try and remove any corrosion so it can be tinned. I did break out a wet kitchen sponge at one point when I realised whatever I was doing just was not working but it made no difference. The first thing I did when I bought my second iron was tin it and I was cleaning it after every join and constantly trying to re tin it but as time went on it just got harder and harder to do.

So seeing as it's still not working I am thinking I need to dip the iron in flux so the solder will stick to it. Is that what flux is for?

Also considering trying some different solder. This might sound ridiculous, but on close inspection of the solder wire I can't see the rosin core. It's the solder that came with my starter kit so I really don't know much about it other than it is lead free.