Now to the 3 main flux type themselves which can be solid, paste, gel, or liquid and they are:
(I) Rosin Flux (ii) Organic Flux (iii) Inorganic Flux
(I) Rosin Flux
Flux is available in many types and forms and is one of the oldest and seemingly most popular for electric wires is rosin, which comes from pine tree sap (and elsewhere) and is used in its purest form or modified to give a better performance.
Why rosin and not resin, well actually rosin is a resin, as is a semi-solid/solid gooey substance that is produced by a chemical process as in industry e.g. with synthetic plastics and nylon resin. So when it comes to this viscous stuff seeping out of trees and subsequently solidifying, it too is called a resin or more appropriately ‘oleoresin’.
You can get rosin flux in liquid, paste, block form etc and also running through a central core of the soldering wire itself. I bought the paste as I thought it might be easier to handle but I haven’t tried it yet, having said that, liquid has been quoted by several as being the most efficient. The block type is actually ‘pure’ Roisin/resin and apparently does give off a whiff, but several reviews have quoted it as being an ‘old fashioned’ flux, the type their dad used to use, and others have found it good for electronics.
What I found when looking to purchase flux, way before I started reading about it, was you have a choice of what they have and the details on the products seem minimal. I now know of course, this was down to my lack of knowledge to a great extent, so as usual the way I go about buying things, is to start with the number of purchases and what reviewers say and then check things out further on the internet learning about them along the way. What I didn't notice however, were the letters on products which are in some cases abbreviations and in others codes of ‘standards’ used to categorise fluxes. Furthermore, along with these, what looks to be innocent descriptive wording could actually be telling you a good deal more, e.g. 'Rosin Flux' and No-Clean' has more to offer than first meets the eye, which I will try to explain shortly.
Rosin has good flux properties e.g., it is non-corrosive, has a low melting point and does not leave residue after soldering, which can cause issues such as reduced heat transfer, decreased conductivity and short circuits. If you did want to clean the area, this can be done with a brush, clean cloth or using a compatible solvent. Rosin fluxes are said to help the solder flow more easily and evenly over the metal surface giving a reliable stronger bond and it can be used in a number of fields such as electrics, electronics, and jewellery etc.
Natural rosin can be used as is or for an enhanced product it can be chemically modified, and although it is not naturally soluble in water and generally thought of as being an alcohol-based flux, actually rosin can also be converted to a water-based based flux. Rosin is also used for a vast array of situations including, on the bows of stringed instruments, the hands of rock climbers, gymnasts, ballet dancers shoes, and in archery, fine art, acrobatics and pole dancing etc.
At room temperature, rosin is a glassy looking solid that is inert and non-corrosive, but when a liquid it becomes weakly acidic being predominantly abietic acid.
The melting point of rosin is 172° to 175°C (342° to 347°F), which is just below the melting point of the solder (183°C).
When molten it is mildly reactive and able to dissolve thinner layers of metal oxides e.g., copper, without the use of additional additives known as ‘Activators’. However, the use of additional activators can be useful where there are heavier surface contaminants present and/or to speed up the soldering process.
The activators used with rosin fall into two groups, which you will find may pop up with the flux products, information and in standards:
- Halide Activators – organic halide salts
- Organic Acids – e.g., formic acid, acetic acid, propionic acid
These ‘activators’ are corrosive and as such should be removed from circuit boards to prevent the possibility of damage.
Rosin flux is considered safe to leave after soldering, although some say that it is advisable to clean off the residue, as the sticky substance can attract dust and contaminants and suggest using so using a solvent or water with saponifier (a form of alkaline chemical to make the water soapy). However, others say leave it alone, it’s designed to stay there, trying to remove it can be a waste of time and resources, using a brush/cloth/solvent just thins it out and spreads the residue further afield and apparently the one solvent that was effective i.e. trichloroethane has now been phased out throughout most of the world due to its environmental and health issues, there is nothing that is currently available that can match and those that are available are expensive.
The recommendation is, rather than clear up afterwards, don’t create the residue in the first place, so the thoughts are – be aware of the ‘solid’ content in the rosin flux, as it will be these that are left in the residue. For example, avoid dark brown liquid fluxes at 40% solid by volume, and go for a lighter rosin liquid flux which they are producing nowadays with far less solid content of 5% or less by volume, which will leave very little residue.
With Rosin Grades of Activity are designated by L, M and H:
L = Low M = Moderate H = High
But you can find greater detail and other standards I was saying before, and one applying to rosin flux grades is the now discontinued but still in use USA Military Standard - MIL.