Nancy LT Hamilton
The following information is based on my own experiences and research and is for informational use only. Your reliance on any of this information is at your own risk!
Last updated: 10/11/21, 10/10/21, 8/11/21, July 1, 2021, 9/23/17
Nancy LT Hamilton
- 0.1 What is the safest torch and/or soldering setup?
- 0.2 Things to know about this page
- 0.3 What is a Torch?
- 0.4 Gases Used in Jewelry Making
- 0.5 What’s the difference between a gas/air mixture and a gas/oxygen mixture?
- 0.6 The Gases and Torches
- 0.6.1 Acetylene/Air
- 0.6.2 Acetylene/Oxygen
- 0.6.3 Butane/Air
- 0.6.4 Mapp Pro
- 0.6.5 Propane information and warnings on storage
- 0.6.6 Safety information about refilling camping-sized propane cylinders
- 0.6.7 Propane/Oxygen or propane/air
- 0.6.8 Hydrogen Torch (Water Torch)
- 0.6.9 Mouth Blow Pipe – aka French Torch
- 0.7 Micro Torches
- 1 For Further Research
- 2 Related Videos
- 3 Related Web Pages
What is the safest torch and/or soldering setup?
- If you are looking for the safest soldering setup, IMHO, either try a small butane or a large, canister-based butane system.
- Another option and it is what I’ve switched to which is an oxygen concentrator with a 1 pound cylinder of propane.
- Yet another option, is to add a natural gas line (you’ll probably also need a concentrator as the pressure in a home line is very low) or even a propane line to your studio. Most homes already have natural gas or propane set up for stoves, dryers, water heaters, etc. If your home is already set up with propane or natural gas, this may be the safest option for you. Once again, do your homework and get approval (I like everything in writing too!).
- Hydrogen torches, although pricey are pretty danged safe too. Zero omissions. No oxidation or moisture.
These options MAY pass muster with your insurance company/fire department/homeowners association/landlord/any other agency, department, etc. Always ensure that you have all required permissions and follow all laws, regulations, fire codes, and safety requirements for whatever system you choose.
Things to know about this page
I have many pages on different torches, scattered throughout my website. In some instances, where the torch is unique or doesn’t come up in discussion very often, I have added more detailed information here, on this page. Each type of torch has either information or links to information on that particular type of torch.
Please read Charles Lewton-Brain’s Ganoksin thread on Gas Handling Guidelines.
Check your local, state, and county regulations regarding the usage of gas cylinders in your home or studio, and also check with your insurance company before investing in any system!
What is a Torch?
A torch is simply (or not) a tool for controlling gas and air/oxygen, to heat or solder metal. Each gas has a torch that is specifically designed to work with that gas. Occasionally, torches can work with different gases but, you better be danged sure you’ve got the right torch for the right gas!
Torches have interchangeable tips (usually) that can be utilized for different applications and heat. Small tips produce, obviously, smaller flames and less heat, larger tips, produce larger flames.
Note: There is a huge difference in the amount of heat generated by what the gas is mixed with. Air, one element that is mixed with gas, is the ambient air surrounding you and your torch. Oxygen is the stuff that comes in a bottle, tank, or generator. We, humans, have a tendency to interchange the meaning of air and oxygen but, in soldering (and a million other things), they ARE NOT THE SAME THING. This is very important to remember when learning about and using torches.
Gases Used in Jewelry Making
- Gasoline Fumes (used in Africa and other countries – very dangerous).
- Mapp Gas Pro
- Natural Gas
* Important Note: Each gas is subject to its own particular needs and precautions. As long as you acknowledge all the dangers and safety concerns and follow all precautions, you should be safe. Don’t use bottled gases if you are inebriated, high or whatever else you want to call it. Seek advice from experts before you set up a soldering system. Check with your local fire department and/or your city or county’s regulations about storing and using bottled gasses. If you have a home studio – either in your garage, outbuilding, or home, be sure to make sure that your insurance company will cover any losses due to having acetylene, propane, or other bottled gas on your property as well. If you rent or live in a shared space like a condominium, check with your homeowner’s association, landlords, or other organization, group, individual before setting up your soldering system.
What’s the difference between a gas/air mixture and a gas/oxygen mixture?
Below, are a few considerations when deciding if you want to use a gas/air or a gas/oxygen soldering setup.
- One factor to consider is the cost. With a gas/oxygen setup, you will have two tanks to refill, two sets of regulators, and two different hoses. Also, a gas/oxygen setup will usually require flash arrestors and check valves (aka backflow preventer or reverse flow valve). When using two cases, these devices prevent the two gases from mixing together and moving into the hose which is why they are installed at the back of the torch handle, before the hose.
- Obviously, having two of everything will cost you more. A gas/air mixture will require only one of each and cost considerably less. You also don’t have to worry about using flashback arrestors or check valves. Using just oxygen or just gas, you do not have to worry about flashbacks. A check valve will only allow the gas to flow in one direction.
- A gas/air setup produces a less controllable flame. With a gas/oxygen setup, you have control over whether you are using an oxidizing flame (very little gas, good for soldering platinum), a neutral flame (50/50 mix of O2 and gas, good for general soldering), or a reducing flame (very little oxygen, producing less oxidation). While a gas/air mixture automatically adjusts the gas to air ratio offering you very little control over the type of flame that you have.
- Another consideration is space – do you have the room for two tanks? The tanks need to be secured to a sturdy wall or a heavy-duty piece of furniture. Do you have sufficient space for this? Oxygen tanks are usually much larger (taller) than gas cylinders. You burn through more oxygen than gas. With acetylene, the ratio of oxygen to gas is 1.2 of oxygen to 1 of gas. Propane has higher oxygen requirements and burns at a ratio of 4.3 of oxygen to 1 of gas. So, if you are using propane, you will need a larger oxygen tank.
- Safety. This is a big one. Is it legal or allowable for you to have a gas/oxygen system or a gas/air setup in your home, studio, barn, garage, shed – whatever? As I’ve said a million times (and will say so again: check with your local laws, fire department, city or county, and state requirements. Don’t forget to check with landlords, home associations, and other relevant beings.
- If you are not allowed to have a soldering setup in your studio, think about visiting a makerspace like Chimera Art Space or a local school, studio, or workshop for your soldering needs. Many offer low-priced membership. See my extensive listing of places to learn and work, here, on my Jewelry Instruction and Information page.
The Gases and Torches
Much about the acetylene/air system has already been covered in numerous posts on this site. See Related Videos and Web Pages, at the bottom of this post, for my links.
Specific information for an acetylene/air torch setup can be seen in my YouTube Video: How to Set Up A Torch for instructions on setting up an acetylene/air tank, regulators, and hoses. (See the embedded video below).
Acetylene/Air is just what it sounds like. Ambient air is pulled into the torch and mixed with the gas. the Silver Smith Torch, and Goss, are just two of many different torches designed for the acetylene/air system. There are also special regulators and hoses associated with the use of acetylene gas. You CANNOT use acetylene with propane/Mapp Pro/Butane/Natural gas regulators, torches, flashback arrestors, hoses, or anything that is not specially designed for acetylene.
Acetylene is a volatile gas and has a special tank to contain it. For more information, please see my page on Acetylene here. There’s also a ton of information on other gases.
Here’s a video I did for our jewelry studio at Chimera Arts. Information on starting and shutting down your acetylene tanks.
My other video on Acetylene torch setup.
Acetylene tanks have PRDs (pressure release devices) that release pressure in the tank by venting. Under normal fire circumstances, it shouldn’t explode during a fire. But, releasing jets of flammable gas into a fire scene is not something you want to occur. Nor do you want any living being nearby. Think carefully about your insurance, your safety, the safety of others, and your life when choosing a torch system.
I am, recently, in the process of switching from acetylene/air to an oxygen concentrator and 1# propane cylinders. I’ve never had problems with my acetylene/air system but, decided that it was time to change it up.
The acetylene/oxygen mix creates a very hot flame. There is almost a 1000°C (1764°F) difference between acetylene and air and acetylene and oxygen. If you need a very hot flame, this is the setup for you (6296°F!).
When comparing acetylene and propane, acetylene/air (4532°F) is about the same temperature as propane and oxygen (4578.8°F). Many choose acetylene/air because it burns hot AND you only need one regulator, one hose, and one tank.
Note: Acetylene is a dirtier gas than propane or butane. It is not recommended for glasswork or torch enameling – although, I have used acetylene for torch enameling. The backside of the enamel is often dirtied by the gas but, the front looks great. There are other applications where the extra soot from acetylene is unwelcome but, for general soldering it’s great.
This is a very inexpensive, relatively safe setup for soldering. The smaller, creme brulee torches are great for small items like earring posts, settings, fine soldering needs, balling up wire, etc. But, a larger torch, like the Iwatani, below, might be necessary for large jobs. There’s no reason to not have two torches on hand! (Well, lack of funds is a pretty good reason).
From what I’ve read, it’s best to store the butane canisters in a cool, dark place. You don’t want the canisters to sit in the sun and overheat. For gawd’s sake, please don’t store them in your oven!
I’ve found that the heat generated by a larger butane/air system is sufficient for most soldering jobs (3578°F). You can anneal metal, solder, ball up wire, sweat solder, join ring shanks, etc. If you practice, you might be able to use it for all of your soldering needs. That said, some dislike using the larger torch for small soldering jobs like when making settings or other delicate work, because of the large flame. As I said earlier, have two sizes on hand!
While you’re shopping, make sure that the torch you are going to purchase is not a butane soldering iron/heat gun. That type uses the flame to heat up metal tips and is only for soft soldering, not the hard (silver soldering) that jewelers do.
The smaller butane torches require that you refill them with a pressured butane refiller. I end up refilling mine constantly which is one reason I like the larger, canister type for most soldering needs (see below).
The larger torch uses a canister. You can purchase these at Asian markets, and restaurant supply stores, among other sources, in California and elsewhere (they cannot be shipped in CA). Other states can order online. Amazon carries them. I usually get a case as the store I purchase them from is often out.
The torch head twists and sort of locks onto the special canister head (word?). Be careful though, it likes to unlock itself often. I check that the canister is locked to the torch head, often.
Here’s a video from Blazer on how to fill their torch with butane.
- Here’s a good article on Butane tanks from Globo Surf.
- Another article on butane on how to use and store butane for soldering from Hardi Man from Illinois (???).
Okay, the things I have learned about Mapp gas today! So much. So, I guess you can’t weld/solder steel with Mapp gas as Mapp gas has too much hydrogen in it and it creates weak welds. Who knew? But, you also can’t buy regular Mapp Gas anymore. (See below).
Mapp gas is no longer sold. Now it’s called Mapp Gas Pro. Mapp Gas Pro can be used to solder steel as it is now composed of propylene (and a tiny bit of propane) which doesn’t contain the same amounts of hydrogen that Mapp Gas (old stuff) did.
Mapp gas can be used alone or in combination with oxygen.
It comes in 1# tanks.
Mapp Gas is sold by the Linde Group and the name is trademarked.
Mapp gas burns hotter than propane. Mapp Pro has an air/flame temperature of 3730°F (2054°C) and propane at 3596°F (1980°C), for comparison.
Mapp Pro is made of propylene (aka Propene; methyl ethylene; methylene) with up to .05% of propane.
The old Mapp Gas was composed of methylacetylene-propadiene propane and iso-butane and butane.
Mapp Pro gas is heavier than air so, it sinks like propane.
In case of emergency. (From the SDS on Mapp Pro Worthington Industries). “Do not extinguish fires unless gas flow can be stopped safely; explosive re-ignition may occur. Promptly isolate the scene by removing all persons from the vicinity of the incident. No action shall be taken involving any personal risk or without suitable training. For fires involving this material, do not enter any enclosed or confined fire space without proper protective equipment, including self-contained breathing apparatus.” Read more here. This is only a partial bit of info.
You can use a torch with a hose. Bernzomatic sells one that can be used with Mapp Gas Pro or Propane. It’s called The Reach Torch.
8/22/21: I just wrote to Bernzomatic with questions about using Mapp Pro with a Little Torch or another torch with a hose since they call their canisters “hand-torch cylinders” – implying that you use a hand torch. But, since they sell a torch with a hose, to be used with Mapp Pro, I’m going to put my money on it being ok. Just need confirmation before stating it as fact. I also inquired as to whether Mapp Pro was able to be used with propane hoses, regulators, and torches. I’m waiting to hear back from them. Just in case you missed me stating this twice before (above).
Propane information and warnings on storage
Drew Hadley, from the New Approach School for Jewelers, during a recent stone setting class that I took, spoke of the dangers of using those white, barbeque-type propane cylinders (20 pounds or 20#) in your studio, home, or a garage attached to your home. He said that they have a bad history of leaking. I’ve read a few stories that verify this. Propane is heavier than air and it sinks. The gas can build up and any type of spark, from turning on a light to your water heater can set it off. Acetylene rises and mixes with the air so, doesn’t seem to concentrate as much as propane does. But, all gases will concentrate in an enclosed space like a car or a locker.
I did a bunch of research on this topic and can’t find any hard and fast rules besides don’t store the bigger tanks in your home or in structures attached to your home. Supposedly, there are rules about propane/gas storage but, I’ve yet to find specifics. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist! Do your own search! I would wager that zero insurance companies would cover fires and/or explosions that were caused by propane tanks in the home. I just read this Ganoksin thread that you might find interesting.
Some make it sound like the tanks will leak/explode. Others have said that it is the exception, not the rule. Generally, high heat, such as that found in a house fire or a forest fire, can (but, not always) cause the pressure inside these tanks to reach pressure levels that can lead to explosions called BLEVEs. What can happen is, a tank that contains liquid fuel begins to boil and expand in the container. Either due to the fact that it cannot vent fast enough or sometimes the release valve can fail, the tanks may explode. Suffice it to say, that if tanks have exploded in the past, and have exploded enough times that it has been given a name, then I believe it can happen again! This type of explosion is called a BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion).
If you live in an area prone to wildfires (like me!), or volcanos (like I used to before the volcano ate my house) you especially, should not store any size tanks of gas in your home or attached garage. (Except for butane which should be stored in the house in a cool dry place – according to what I have read). These BLEVEs (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosions), can kill firefighters and first responders, not to mention you, your family and your neighbors.
Safety information about refilling camping-sized propane cylinders
You cannot refill 1# propane tanks or smaller propane tanks. The walls are too thin for the pressures present while filling. It is, in fact, illegal to refill DOT 39 (camping, 1# canisters). If you get caught with refilled canisters or refilling them (DOT 39) you are liable for a $500,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison – if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, you could be dead or severely burned as in the Everett, Washington fire and explosion (see the video below).
Please see this video from the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for the dangers inherent with refilling.
The Flame King refillable propane cylinder which used a 1# canister designed to be refilled has been recalled. See the Flame King recall notice in the prior sentence. Dang, it!
I found this about bottled gas as hazardous waste in California at the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s site.
“Households should take their used cylinders to Household Hazardous Waste collection facilities. Compressed gas cylinders that are not empty are not to be disposed of in the trash. Contact the household hazardous waste facility, recycling or disposal facility to determine the requirements for their criteria to accept the cylinders.”
Propane/Oxygen or propane/air
Remember to oxygen away from grease or oil.
This system is very similar to acetylene/O2 or acetylene/air in many ways but, also quite different. Gas handling, PSIGS, types of equipment may vary. With oxygen/O2, you’ll need two regulators: 1 for the propane and the other for oxygen. If you are using propane alone, you only need a propane regulator. I like having a regulator because I’m able to adjust the PSIG to match the tip size I’m using. The Smith Little Torch has a chart showing tip sizes and their relationships to gas and O2 pressure. This chart is only applicable for the Smith Little Torch.
Rio Grande’s video on setting up a propane/oxygen torch.
If you are going with an oxygen tank, purchase a tank that is larger than your gas tank. Acetylene uses O2 at a rate of 1 part gas to 25 parts oxygen. If you are using disposable cylinders, you will use 5 – 9 disposable oxygen cylinders for every disposable propane cylinder. See Smith’s PDF for more information.
You can get a portable oxygen concentrator from places like Rio Grande, Stuller to have unlimited oxygen without the hassle and costs of regulators.
All your gas and oxygen lines should have flashback arrestors installed, preferably, at the torch handle or between the regulator and the hose.
Propane should never be stored in a home, basement, or attached garage. See Propane 101 for information on propane storage. Check your local, state, and federal laws.
One way to detect propane leaks is with a propane leak detector. Be sure the detector is installed near the floor, as propane is heavier than air and, therefore, it sinks. These are often used on boats and with RVs.
I found this video on removing the gas from a 1pound propane cylinder so that it can (hopefully) be taken to a recycling center. I have not tried this. If I was to follow this advice, I’d open and remove that valve thingy outside and away from any potential flame source. Not sure if you can do it with small oxygen cylinders too. Here’s something similar to the tool the video creator uses to remove the “thingy”. (Schrader Stem Core Removal Tool).
Hydrogen Torch (Water Torch)
Water Torch. Yep, runs on water. It splits H20 molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is what comes out of the torch and burns. It can reach very high temperatures but, the flame size is limited to reduce flashback. These types of torches are called HHO systems and I think, work off of Electrolysis. For more information look into the individual torches. Please don’t ask me to explain this!!!
I have used most of the gases and torches on this page but, I have never used a water torch.
Mouth Blow Pipe – aka French Torch
I have never used this type of torch.
The mouth blowpipe employs the breath of the person working the torch and a non-pressurized gas like from an oil or alcohol lamp. Historically, mouth pipes were the first torches used in metalworking and employed a hollow reed. They are similar to bellows soldering where the air is forced into the gas, making it hotter. Bellows soldering is still used today, as is the French torch.
Otto Frei sells a Mouth Blow Pipe that is used with propane. According to Otto Frei, this German torch produces less oxidation.
Mark Burgess has a YouTube video on this torch.
Here’s some information at Ganoksin by Collette.
A micro torch offers a smaller, more controllable flame. This type of flame is often used in jewelry making/metalsmithing/goldsmithing due to the control that it offers.
Miller Smith makes the Smith Little Torch.
There is also the Meco Midget Torch (available at Stuller, Otto Frei, Rio Grande, and other suppliers.
Then there’s the much cheaper Grobet Hoke Torch.
You’ll want flashback arrestors for your torches too. The Smith and the Gentec are B fittings. Not sure yet on the Hoke or the Meco Midget. The best type are those for the back of the torch handle and the second-best scenario is hose to regulators. Ensure that you are purchasing the correct type! It should denote torch or regulator!
You might also want connectors for disposable gas canisters. Check that the adapter will work with your torch, first! These adapters will work with the Smith and the Gentec. You might want to purchase only oxygen or only propane adapters too. Here’s the VERY PRICEY Oxygen and Propane. BTW, just read on Miller Welds (the Smith Little Torch’s home), that the ratio of oxygen to gas was 25/1. 25 times the amount of O2 used! They also stated that the ratio for propane was 1 propane to 5 oxygen, although, elsewhere on their site they noted that the ratio was 1 (O2) to 9 (gas). Oh well.
For Further Research
- Nini Graci: Hot Enough for You – What Kind of Torch Do You Need?, at Ganoksin from Lapidary Journal.
- Oppi Untracht: Jewelry: Concepts and Technologies, Pages 410-412, The Mouth Blow Pipe.
- The Studio: Rio Grande’s Blog. Rio Grande’s Soldering Video Series: How to Choose the Right Soldering Torch for Jewelry Making.
- “Butane Hand Torch Troubleshooting“. Learn what to do when things go wrong with your Butane Torch.
- How to Set Up a Torch – have a torch, need to set it up? Here’s how.
- Soldering 101, part one and Soldering 101, part two
- All About Solder – You need to understand what you are working with!
- Flat Square Edges on Metal – Important techniques for creating square edges like on ring shanks, tubing, settings, etc. – pretty much any two pieces that you want to solder together!
- Getting Ready to Solder – Important steps before you solder.
- Identify Wire Solder – Mark your solder before confusion reigns!
- Jewelry Studio Safety – Extremely important information that every jeweler should know! Don’t risk your life or your health! Know the dangers of metal dust? If not, don’t sand anything – yet!
- Creating Consistently Sized Spheres – how do you make perfectly round spheres? You might need to know!
- How to Anneal Silver Sheet – an important skill to have otherwise, you can damage your metal and work twice as hard!
- Annealing Wire – Want broken wire? How about the melted wire? Need your wire soft and bendable? These tips will help you to avoid these problems and work with ease!
- DIY Fume Extractor for the Studio or Shop – One of the BIG ONES for studio safety. Learn to make your own!
- How to Make a Bezel and Set a Cabochon Part One – Want to solder thin material too thick? Want to set a stone or two? Learn how to create and solder bezels.
- How to Make a Bezel and Set a Cabochon Part Two – Ditto from above.
Soldering Jewelry: How to solder settings, bails, and wire. – We solder dissimilar shapes and sizes of metal together, all the time. Want to stop melting your settings or bails? Can you solder wire without melting it?
Soldering Jewelry – Sweat, Flush, or Applique Soldering – How to solder two pieces of metal on top of each other. Learn tricks for a successful joining of dissimilar sizes and how to apply solder.
My YouTube Soldering Playlist – A list of all my soldering videos on YouTube.
Related Web Pages
- About Solder – Learn all about the material you use.
- Acetylene, Torch, Tanks, Safety – A huge page with so much more than info on Acetylene! Learn all about torches, soldering, and how to protect yourself!
- Charts – Soldering related charts. Includes things like annealing temps, compressed gas valve sizes, what temperature does your gas burn at, what are the melting points of your metal. Also, there are wire gauge charts, a millimeter to fractions and inches charts, drill bits to wire gauge charts. Lots of information!
- Cleaning Metal – nice to know if you plan on soldering anything!
- On Pickle, Acid, Crock Pots, and Baking Soda – How to remove the schmutz left from soldering, how to make your own pickle, how to use pickle, and how to neutralize pickle. Tons of info!
- Oxidation, Flux, and Fire scale – Why does oxidation occur? Why do you keep getting fire scale, how do you get rid of it? Learn the whys of what is happening when you solder and the solutions.
- The 4 Steps for Successful Soldering – The 4 steps will help you to achieve soldering success!
- Identifying Wire Solder – How to mark your solder so that you always know what type it is.
- Jewelry Tools – Harbor Freight – Cheap tools for the studio!
- Miter Cutting Vise and Jig: Having a hard time squaring up the ends of your ring shanks? Check out this tool!
- Q&A: Firescale/Firestain – See what others have had problems with and find the solutions!
- Q&A: Annealing – How long to hold your annealing temps. Kiln annealing.
- Q&A: Wire Questions. Balling up wire, tapering wire, work hardening wire, straightening wire, and more!
- Recipes: They aren’t just for cookin’ anymore!
- Pickle Recipe – make your own pickle
- Prip’s Flux Recipe – make your own flux
- Removing Broken Drill Bits From Your Metal -snapped your drill bit and can’t get it out? Here’s how to remove broken drill bits.
- Removing Copper Flashing i.e.: How to remove the copper coating you might get from pickling. Also, how to remove copper from brass or bronze that comes to the metal’s surface after soldering.
- Wire and Sheet Metal
- What Torch to Buy: Trying to figure out what you need to make a fire in your studio? Check out this information before you buy!
- Soldering Questions – One of the most asked after the subject matter. Many of my web pages have been inspired by soldering issues and questions due to the number of problems, confusion, and fear that this topic inspires!
- Torch/Gas Questions – Portable vs. regular torches, problems with the torch, butane torches, water torches, setting up a torch safely, buying torches.