Identify It! Challenge Answer for 5-19-2010

After too long an absence I’ve finally brought back the Identify It! Challenge and I’m pleased to say we’ve had more guesses and feedback than any other challenge so far.

Identify It Challenge Image for 5-19-2010

Identify It Challenge Image for 5-19-2010

The answer to this challenge is… A Hexacon model 30H 80W 90-degree bent soldering iron with bench mountable holder/heat guard.

Hexacon Model 30H 80 Watt Bent Soldering Iron

Hexacon Model 30H 80 Watt Bent Soldering Iron

Design and what makes this iron special:

All soldering irons work by heating up the metal connections that are being soldered to a temperature high enough that the connection itself will cause solder to melt, flow over the joint, and then when the iron is removed, quickly cool forming a hardened metal connection that ensures a good electrically conductivity and seals the connection from moisture and oxidation. Solder joints are never structural.

The wattage of the iron (and the size of its tip) are picked based upon the surface area and volume of metal being soldered. For most through-hole soldering connecting a small gauge wire or component to a very thin copper trace only requires a very low wattage iron with a small chisel or pencil tip. This is the kind of iron and work hobbyists are probably most familiar with. For larger components, like soldering a ground strap to a metal chassis, or soldering the lugs on a large electrolytic filter capacitor or the pins on a vacuum tube socket a higher wattage iron with a larger tip to quickly conduct heat to the larger surface area is required.

Most soldering is done with the work being soldered either below and in front of you (like on a bench top) or directly in front and parallel to you (like a chassis sitting up on its side on a bench). Heat rises and so the larger the wattage of your iron the hotter your hands will get as you solder especially when soldering downwards. This might not be a big problem if you are soldering one connection but for workers in a production environment soldering hundreds of connections over multi-hour work periods this gets uncomfortable very quickly. The right angle design of this iron helps alleviate this problem by getting your hand further away from the rising heat.

Seeing what you are soldering is important especially in cases where you are soldering lugs of components inside densely packed areas in a hand wired assembly. With a conventional straight soldering iron, the iron and your hand are directly in your line of sight and obscure your vision. With the right angle design of this iron the bulky handle and your hand are removed from your line of sight making it easier to see what you are doing.

Hexacon 30H Soldering Iron in typical use position

Hexacon 30H Soldering Iron in typical use position

The story of this iron:

This soldering iron was manufactured at some point in the mid to late 1970’s by the Hexacon corporation, a well known brand name to soldering enthusiasts. There is still a paper tag on the power cord that says the iron was assembled by #7 and so whoever #7 was they should be proud that nearly 40 years later their iron is still in good working order.

The iron was purchased along with a batch of others by the GTE corporation for use in assembly, troubleshooting, and rework at their Sylvania Color TV manufacturing plant in Smithfield North Carolina. In the mid 1980’s the Sylvania brand was sold to North American Phillips corporation (a division of the Phillips name that still exists today) and assembly of TV’s was moved to the Magnavox plant in Greenville Tennessee. Sadly this meant that the production plant in Smithfield was closed down with some workers moving to Greenville and others staying in Smithfield. One of the people that stayed in Smithfield was the manager of troubleshooting and reworking. He went on to become the Electronics instructor at Smithfield Selma Senior High School (where I went to high school). He bought the batch of irons for use at the school at Sylvania’s liquidation sale. Later when I went to high school I took his electronics class and he gave this iron to me as a graduation present. I’ve treasured it and made use of it ever since. Its my go-to iron for any heavy duty work.

You can still purchase this iron (and variations on its design) from the Hexacon corporation or one of their resellers. Here are some links:

The Hexacon Corporation still makes a similar iron as well as other good soldering equipment.

80 Watt version of the 30H (called a Power House)

A 75 watt modern version of this iron with a slightly different handle design.

And don’t forget the holder:

p.s. I don’t own stock in, or get anything from Hexacon for this, it just made a neat picture good for guessing and identifying. I also thought the story of this particular iron as well as the lessons that could be taught from its design might be useful. All brand names cited in this article are the respective property of their owners and no infringement or endorsement is intended. Go forth and solder in safety and peace!


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