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Why did my soldering iron explode?

I just replaced the tip of my TC201 iron (on a WTCPS soldering station), with a new PTA8 tip, and went downstairs to get some coffee.  *BANG*  I ran upstairs to see what had happened and found my soldering iron laying across the workbench a half meter away from the soldering station (not on the stand), and frantic investigation located the PTA8 tip near the station (it bounced off the stand) and the copper insert (the heat-conducting element) a quarter meter away from the soldering station.

So why did my soldering iron's tip explosively separate?  What the heck?

 

The PTA8 soldering tip is now in two pieces instead of one.

Extra Details: The 800 degree tips have been burning out every 12-18 working hours (estimated), which makes me think that perhaps the (temperature-controlled) iron is running too hot.  The 700 degree tips last longer but still deteriorate.  I wouldn't know the expected life since I've been working as a hobbyist for about 9 months now.  Tip life might also be short for this reason (http://www.inlandcraft.com/uguides/tipcare.htm):

  1. Keeping the tip clean is important but constantly wiping it on a wet sponge can cause early tip failure. Excessive wiping causes the tip temperature to drastically rise and fall and the different metal layers in the tip to repeatedly expand and contract. This cycling leads to metal fatigue and ultimately tip collapse. The more frequently you wipe the tip, the more you stress it.

Pictures: Burnt tips

Pictures: Close-Up

 

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soldering_explosion_1.JPG97.56 KB
soldering_explosion_2.JPG59.03 KB
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DSC_2258.JPG94.89 KB
DSC_2260.JPG69.73 KB

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Hmm. Soldering irons that explode should probably be replaced. If you had been sitting in front of that thing when it went off...

If the soldering iron is within its manufacturers warrenty, I'd suggest you contact them for a replacement. Or just buy a new one.

It seems unlikely to me that the bad switch caused your problem. It's failure may be more of a symptom. Be wary of replacing it, because it may just blow up again; maybe you won't be so lucky next time and you'll get hurt.

Be careful out there.

double post -- deleted

Apparently, my TC-201iron is missing parts and cannot (never could) use the magnetic/mechanical temperature control.  I suspect the iron was jury rigged to account for a missing part.  I now know why the tips burned out so quickly -- there was no temperature control, and no "click" of the magnetic mechanism. 

I guess the cause of the explosion may have been moisture/pressure in the tip, coupled with unregulated heating.  My wife suggests I buy a new iron, since it's cheaper than jury rigging the iron once more, then seeing a doctor if the iron explodes while I have my face near it.  There is wisdom in that.

John_NY----rather you than me - those tips do look like bullets though - they are magnetic if i remember - looks like a gas build up in the Tip chamber - even maybe water or something trapped in the enclosed space........ i take it this was brand new!!!
Yup -- the tip was brand new, right out of the package.   I find myself wondering if humidity could get through the sealed plastic and through the tip and somehow condense inside ...

It looks like I may be in the market for a new TC201 iron (or some replacement parts) if the base is still working -- the iron stopped heating after the explosion.  Since the tip is lasting << 8 years it is probable that the iron was malfunctioning.

Thank you for the help -- getting started, I don't know what sort of performance to expect so it's hard to know when something goes wrong unless it goes *BANG* :)

Thanks,
-John

(looks like there are some options to try to fix it: http://www.action-electronics.com/wewtcpt.htm)

sure enough, the switch is broken:

Quick Check-Remove the switch and put DMM across the wires in continuity mode. Place the solder tip against the end of the switch. You should get continuity and hear the switch "click". If not switch needs replacing.

Mouser has the SW-60 in stock, so I have it queued for my next order.  The soldering iron I use has a the switch wired in with twist-on connectors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wire_nut), so it's trivial to replace the part.

It looks like you have a Magnetic temparature controlled type soldering iron.....

- ie when you heat a magnet it loses it magnetism - the soldering iron-tip has a magnet in its base- it is normally in contact with the heating element - it heatsupheatsupheatsup until it loses its magnetism and then falls off the heating element and cools down untill it regains its magnetism again - with this type of iron you can hear it making a subtle click every now and then.

These guys are pretty "Bomb" proof (excuse the Pun) mine lasted more than 8 years and still the tip was in good shape......

Could be a problem with the sleeve that screws over the heating element - maybe its alignment........