Soldering Iron

A soldering iron is used to join two pieces of metal, or electrical contacts, together by melting a metal solder that joins them together when cool. Today solderin g irons are powered by electricity or an internal gas but in the past it was more common to have an external heat source that the iron was held in until it was hot enough to work with. Tonight we have an example of one of these early soldering irons as used by the British military:imageThis iron is huge, being over 12 inches long, and very heavy, easily weighing a couple of pounds. The tip is made of copper, to better retain heat, and is marked with a /|\ stamp and a date of 1946:imageA second /|\ mark and number 83 is stamped on another face of the iron and is possible an inspector’s mark:imageThe copper tip is attached to an iron handle with a large pair of rivets:imageAnd this in turn is firmly fixed to a wooden handle that protects the user’s hand from the extreme temperatures:imageSoldering in the 1940s was a laborious process and as most of us are unfamiliar with the methods needed to heat up these old style soldering irons, I thought these instructions from a period handyman’s book would be instructive:

An atmospheric gas burner, Bunsen type, is the best for heating the soldering bit, or for applying heat to work to be sweated. Unfortunately a certain amount of oxide is deposited on the bit, so that it requires frequent cleaning by wiping with a rag. Occasionally, after hearting, it will need to be filed clean with an old coarse file (whilst still hot)…

The old fashioned method of heating the bit in a clear fire has much to recommend it, but the worker must guard against too prolonged heating which will burn away the faces of the copper. When using a gas ring, choose one with a small ring of jets close together; cover the bit with a bent piece of sheet iron put on top, to conserve heat…

Heating the soldering bit- Light the gas ring, and put the bit across so that the middle of the copper as well as the pointed end gets the flame. Presently the flame will turn a vivid green, and when the colour is very pronounced remove the tool. Avoid overheating the bit, otherwise the solder may not adhere. Wipe the working faces of the bit on a thick, clean (non-greasy) cloth, and immediately put the bit in the tray, on the end of the stick of solder. The solder will run, and flow over the working faces of the copper bit, which is then ready for use.

Needless to say, when electrically powered soldering irons became reliable this method was quickly dropped as it was far from convenient. Today these old soldering irons are often scrapped for the copper content in their tips, so it has been nice to save this example and add it to my collection of military tools.

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