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Old 21st May 2018, 10:45 pm   #1
Phil G4SPZ
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Default Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Has anyone else seen or got one of these? It was given to me, covered in muck and dust, about a year ago and I've just got round to looking at it. It was made by Scope Laboratories of Melbourne, Australia and its rating is 90 Watts at (wait for it...) 4 volts!

It has no element in the conventional sense. A spring-loaded rod carries a replaceable carbon tip up the tube, and the tip makes contact with the back of the copper bit when the iron is switched on by sliding the collar forwards. Heat-up to soldering temperature takes barely four seconds. Within ten seconds, the bit is glowing red hot. Obviously, the operator is supposed to manage the bit temperature manually! I practiced for a few minutes and it's surprisingly easy to master the technique.

Measuring the AC current into the transformer primary shows 0.4 amps, equivalent to just shy of 100 Watts. The transformer itself may not be the original; it's by the Hinchley Engineering Co of Devizes and its secondary is intermittently rated at 3.5 volts at 150VA.

I had to dismantle the iron to repair a dodgy soldered joint, so I checked the condition of the carbon tip, which was fine. The iron came with two packets containing 15 spare tips, so I should be okay for a while, but if anyone needs a couple of spares, do let me know.

This is a really powerful iron which is likely to displace my Weller gun!

Phil
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Old 22nd May 2018, 4:16 am   #2
Radio1950
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Very common in Australia in the 1950's thru to the 1980's.

Useful for general work after you got the hang of the control, and often used for soldering directly onto the chassis, and for PL259 coax plugs etc.

There were at least two tip types, one for general work. and a smaller round "pointy" tip.
Original transformer was 3.3 V, I think.
A lot of hobbyists like me just bought the iron, complete with special cord, and wound their own transformer from an old valve receiver transformer core.

What this iron lacked in thermal mass (ie it doesn't have a large tip) was made up by the large heating capacity.
If the element jammed, sometimes the steel barrel and tip went red hot.

Workshop "larks" used them to light cigarettes.

On balance, there probably wasn't an equivalent iron anywhere which had so much heat in an easily handled tool, as they were quite light and relatively small, and heated very quickly.
Later, there was a Miniscope also, which was OK, but by then, other decent temperature controlled smaller irons with conventional elements were becoming available.

The "Rolls Royce" scope irons had stainless steel barrels.

These scope irons did have one drawback to catch the unwary, like me once.

The iron pulls about 30 - 40 amps, and the tip circuit can induce destructive currents into semiconductor circuits and the like via leakage.
Also, if the tip is loose in the barrel, there can be incidental high currents floating around the circuit where you are soldering.
I once burned out the secondary side of an IF transformer like this.

I think the original scope transformer secondary was floating and not earthed. I may be wrong.
If I remember corectly, those of us who wound our own, earthed the barrel side, and marked the cord terminal accordingly, to reduce problems with leakage currents.

I had two Scope Irons, one with a long cord, and a Miniscope.
I probably have some spares around here somewhere.

You can still buy a variation of this Scope Iron, and parts, from Warren and Brown AUS.
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Old 22nd May 2018, 4:41 am   #3
Argus25
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Very common iron in NZ. My brother has been using these there since the early 1960's & swears by them and won't use many other irons. They can be used for small and big jobs because of the manual control. Everything from valve radio repairs to soldering up a car's radiator.
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Old 22nd May 2018, 7:42 am   #4
Phil G4SPZ
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

G'day both, and wow! Thanks for all the info and for the superb adverts. My iron's the same, but clearly the transformer is not the original National model, although it is double-wound and the secondary is earth-free. It looks like the low voltage wiring is not original, either. I wonder which company imported these and sold them in the UK? I have no idea how it got here.

I don't think I'd use it on sensitive circuits, but last night I used it to solder a wire direct to a metal chassis and it worked admirably. I did discover that by pressing the switch a bit harder, the power can be increased to about 130 Watts. I've not tried it on a car battery - 6 volt, obviously - but it should work off a decent SLA battery capable of giving 20 amps plus.

Fascinating! Thanks again.
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Old 22nd May 2018, 8:55 am   #5
Alistair D
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

There is an advert in the 1966 edition of the RSGB Amateur Radio Handbook for the same iron only here it is called the Superspeed. The iron cost 39/6 and the transformer 35/6. Both were available from Enthoven Solders of Bermondsey London.

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Old 22nd May 2018, 8:09 pm   #6
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

When I changed jobs in 1960, I met old Jack Lovatt, the service engineer for Kents. He used to come and service our 10 Multilec control/recorders every 6 months. Jack had a similar iron, but I am fairly sure he ran his off a 12v transformer. The Multilecs had a transformer, and I think He used that. Anyway, it did have the sliding on/off control collar; he was a smoker, and used the iron for that purpose as well.
I remember I was given an old TV (Ultra) with a round 12v CRT (CRM something I think) which I got working a bit, but very dim trace. Jack gave me a rectangular tube to fit, but I had to add a dropper in the CRT supply to get 6v for the heaters. I seem to recall it had loads of 10F1s, some of which were faulty. Shortly after I paid about a fiver for a much better Phillips set.
Not many like Jack let now!
Les.
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Old 24th May 2018, 1:36 pm   #7
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Hello Young Phil and all of the other forum members.

Good to see you have acquired a Scope iron.
Used in the correct places they are a great iron to have around.
Not for surface mount stuff I am afraid.
I have one on my bench and use it quite often. For the larger soldering jobs.
My Scope iron is powered by the original National transformer. 3.3 Volts 30 Amps intermittent service.
I have used Scope irons for probably 60 years and will continue to. I also have a Miniscope iron sitting on the same holder alongside the big one. I might add that the Scope irons are not the only soldering irons I have on my workbench.
As has been said in a previous post it is not prudent to use them on sensitive circuits.
However they have a place on my bench. Try to solder a ground connection to a chassis with a modern solder station. Easy with the Scope. As you have found.
I had an American made soldering gun. Such a pain to use, literally. If I tried to do big jobs with it the transformer would get so hot that I would have to stop work.
One thing I found it good for was de-magnetising screw drivers and such with a coil of wire where the soldering tip would normally be.

Some ideas for working with a Scope iron:-
The tips are just copper and not iron clad so they will erode in normal use. Keep this in mind as they will develop craters on each side of the flat tip.
Do not let the iron overheat as it will oxidise the copper tip where it screws into the barrel. This can lead to sparking and other damage that can lead to the tip seizing into the barrel. Using Murphy’s law it will occur at a most inopportune time and can be a mongrel to fix. I was present when a workshop owner sacked a technician because he lit a cigarette by using an overheated Scope iron. I think it might have been the last straw in a long list of misdemeanors for this tech.
Clean the internals of the iron often. The ceramic beads are getting hard to get so look after them as they are fragile. The beads and the spring should slide easily on the small internal rod with no rough spots. Obviously switch off the iron first as they can short out when the barrel is unscrewed. I have found the easiest thing to use to polish the inner rod in one of those kitchen scouring pads.
The internal parts of the iron should be dry with no lubricants. I have seen irons clagged up because somebody has used some sort of lubricant inside the barrel and it has oxidised with the heat and jammed up the works.
When cleaning the internals and checking the carbon etc. Just invert the barrel and gently tap the side of the barrel on a piece of wood to dislodge any loose carbon.
When attaching a carbon tip to the end of the small rod do not overtighten it. Just finger tight and then bring the locknut up to the steel ferrule and tighten. It is possible to pop the carbon element out of the ferrule (I won’t reveal how I have known this for many years) and these things are getting harder to obtain.
Just in case I forgot to mention it, keep the internal bits clean and free running.

There is a later more modern looking version of the Scope iron. Orange main handle with a black contoured longer trigger collar. The transformer also has an orange plastic case and a different design of iron holder. My transformers are of the older style metal cased ones.
As said earlier there is the Miniscope iron.
There was a long leaded one as well that was sold predominately to the automotive repair businesses. It was fitted with leads of about 4 metres. The iron itself was a standard one so I guess they used the voltage drop in the longer leads to prevent damage to the iron.
On the subject of leads I have looked at the picture of your iron and it just may have the original lead on it. Original was figure 8 cable reasonably heavy with a rubber like insulation and grey in colour. From memory one sheath had small raised ribs running parallel with the length of the wire for polarity identification.
There was also an etching tool called a "Vibroscope". Very simple and was used to write on metal. The writing was very rough looking but in a workshop setup it was good enough to put your name on stuff so others couldn't nick it.

That is about all I can say at this time as my health issues prevent me from going to my workshop to seek more info.
Probably more correct to say She Who Must be Obeyed has taken control and won’t let me out to my shed.
I am sure I can sneak out for short visits when she goes to bed early.

Enough of my chatter for now.

If anyone wants more info I am sure I can provide it. I do not have any of the paperwork for them but I do have the fully working irons.

I forgot to mention that the low voltage secondary of the National Scope transformers were isolated from ground or the mains supply. Handy if working on something live.

Cheers, Robert.
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Old 24th May 2018, 9:26 pm   #8
Phil G4SPZ
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Hello Robert,

"Young Phil" eh? It's been several decades since I could qualify for the term "young", but you cheered me up no end!

Thank you very much for all the useful information. I didn't know how to remove the bit until you mentioned it unscrews. I tried it earlier this evening and was pleasantly surprised to find that it came undone relatively easily using a pair of pliers. The back of the bit is in excellent shape, so I simply wire brushed it, applied a trace of contact cleaner to the threads, and refitted it. All perfect, and the bit now reaches soldering temperature in 3 seconds. I've attached a couple of pictures of the unscrewed bit. The tip certainly appears to have had relatively little use; it's probably a replacement.

I will take great care of the ceramic insulator, as I can see it would be virtually impossible to replace.

From what you say, I am almost 100% certain my iron has been rewired at some point in its life. When I dismantled it, there was a very dodgy soldered joint near where the cable is soldered into the brass disc at the base of the barrel. I had to unsolder and remove the stub of original wire from the hole in the brass disc, and found that the 'new' wire is too thick to fit into the hole, so I had to carefully trim back about half the strands to enable it to go in. You'll see from the photo that there are two separate black wires, rather than an insulated and sheathed cable.

At some stage I would like to restore the iron to its original state by fitting a better quality cable, something like a 2-core 1.5 sq mm silicone rubber insulated flex, as the present one is rather too stiff for comfortable use, so if you could please post a picture of your iron and its cable, that would be very helpful.

With so many glowing testimonials about these Scope irons, and my own very positive experience of using one, I do wonder why they didn't become popular in the UK. I know they were imported here, but perhaps the price was prohibitive. They would also be less appealing to the mobile service engineer, with the separate (and heavy) transformer.

Thanks once again for all the interest in this unusual iron.

Phil
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Old 25th May 2018, 11:10 am   #9
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

I had one as a TV field engineer around the early 60's. Brilliant as you didn't have to wait for the good old Solon 25 watter to heat up. Beware - if you get the copper tip too hot you can melt it.
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Old 25th May 2018, 4:27 pm   #10
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Are those ceramic beads the same as those which were used on the leads of Mercury switches, electric fires and some toasters. We knew them as fish spine beads, I might have a few some where in the workshop.
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Old 25th May 2018, 4:54 pm   #11
Phil G4SPZ
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Quote:
Originally Posted by ex 2 Base View Post
Are those ceramic beads the same as... fish spine beads?
No, they're larger, cylindrical, straight-ended and quite different. As it happens, QQV06/40 has kindly sent me a link to an Australian supplier who still stocks all the spare parts for these irons, including ceramic beads, carbons, bits, springs etc. I've ordered some parts and am waiting for a quote for postage.

I love the term 'fish spine beads' though, which describes them perfectly. I have quite a lot of them in different shapes colours and sizes, recovered from scrapped equipment in the hope they'd come in useful someday. Sure enough, last week I had to use a few of them to replace some smashed ones in another old soldering iron. I think they may have come out of a duff Henley Solon.
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Old 25th May 2018, 5:03 pm   #12
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Quote:
Originally Posted by vidjoman View Post
I had one as a TV field engineer around the early 60's. Brilliant as you didn't have to wait for the good old Solon 25 watter to heat up. Beware - if you get the copper tip too hot you can melt it.
Good to hear of a field engineer using one of these!

On over-heating copper bits, I have found that a layer of oxide builds up very rapidly and the solder just runs off in molten balls. I do a lot of tinsmithing using old-fashioned copper-tipped irons heated in a paraffin blowlamp flame, and there is an optimum temperature where the flame turns pale green, which I assume is the copper oxide burning off. If the bit accidentally gets overheated beyond that, it has to be filed or wirebrushed clean again. I don't know the actual temperature at which this occurs, but I'm guessing that it's well above 400 deg C.
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Old 31st May 2018, 10:29 am   #13
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Spares on their way. The supplier is Wiltronics Research in Australia. Prices are reasonable, even taking into account the 25 $AUS postage charges.
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Old 18th Jun 2018, 11:08 pm   #14
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Default Re: Scope Laboratories soldering iron

Quick update. The spare parts arrived last week, but the supplier Wiltronics had mistakenly sent a spring-loaded rod instead of the copper bit that I'd ordered. A quick e-mail to them, and the correct part was in the post and arrived this morning, FOC. Great service.
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