Often laypeople think that soldering wick looks more like copper jewelry than an industrial tool because it is brightly colored braided copper. Manufacturers call it wick because it resembles braided oil lamp wick. Electronics repair technicians and engineers use it to remove unwanted solder from electronic circuit boards and other electronic devices. To use soldering wick, a person places the copper braid over the unwanted solder and heats it with a soldering iron. After the heat draws the solder into the braid, the technician or engineer removes both the braid and the heat source simultaneously.
Usually soldering wick comes on spools, which makes it convenient for people to use. Experienced technicians or engineers leave the copper braid on the spool while they use it because the copper gets hot enough to burn a person's fingers. A person needs to be careful to not use too much heat on a circuit board because the heat can damage the surrounding components. Using solder wick precisely often requires experience and patience.
Once the copper braid is full of the waste solder, a person clips off the used copper braid and disposes of it properly. Most solder contains lead and needs to be disposed of as a hazardous waste product. Manufacturers typically are transitioning to lead-free solder, but the solder wick works equally well on the lead-free solder.
Generally, soldering wick is expensive. Experienced technicians and engineers use a de-soldering tool called a solder sucker to remove large amounts of solder. They then finish the clean-up with soldering wick. This offsets the expense of the wick and cleanly removes any remaining excess solder. In general, solder suckers and similar tools do not remove the solder as completely as the copper braid.
Soldering wick generally comes in two types: standard and fluxed. The fluxed copper braid has a soldering aid — flux — added to the copper braid. This helps the solder flow into the copper braid. Many companies do not use fluxed solder wick because it may cause problems. There are many different formulas of flux on the market, and sometimes mixing the different types of flux causes problems.
There are several reasons why soldering wick does not work properly. The common reasons include old copper braid, too little heat, and an inappropriate solder tip. Aged copper braid turns brownish or discolored and often does not work well, so using brightly colored copper braid is best. Another problem is incorrect heat application because the solder iron tip is too small. Selecting the proper solder tip will make the job easier and protect the other components surrounding the unwanted solder.