Soldering Tip: Buy a Tin of Tip Tinner/Cleaner

Tip Tinner/Cleaner Compound (0.5 Oz.) –

If you do more than a little soldering, then a pot of tip tinner/cleaner (I’ve been using RadioShack’s brand, stock #64-020) is a worthwhile investment. The heating and cooling of the soldering tip over the course of many sessions tends to corrode it–I’m a little unclear why, as I’ve gotten a lot of mixed explanations. Some chalk it up to impurities in the solder, and others to the fact that, if you tinned your tip with regular strands of solder, you’ve likely done so unevenly, resulting in a blob on one side, and an almost naked face on the other. Whatever the cause, the degradation of a soldering iron tip is *much* more pronounced when you use a cheap tip (which, by definition, is lower-quality metal) or a cheap iron (which is less temperature stable, meaning that even as you work, there are big swings in the temperature of the iron).
In any case, I’ve found that tip cleaner extends the life of a soldering iron tip by years. Here’s the skinny:

1) Buy a little pot of this stuff and stick it to your soldering stand (the tip cleaner usually comes with a piece of double-stick tape already mounted on the back)
2) As your soldering iron is heating up, uncap the tip cleaner.
3) When the iron is warmed up, shove it tip down straight into the cleaner compound (which is a gray, slightly grainy cake)
4) The iron will sizzle, and when you pull it out will be coated in a gleaming, perfect layer of solder (and leave behind a perfect little hole in the cleaner compound).
5) Wipe the tip on your sponge and solder as usual. Then, at the end of your session, once again poke the iron’s tip into the cleaner, put it in the stand with its super-perfect, beautiful coating of solder intact, and let it cool. This extra layer of solder will protect the tip as it sits in your tool box, so stray moisture doesn’t lead to rust (which will ruin the tip).