Torches

Note: Nancy L. T. Hamilton and any affiliates are NOT responsible for any injury, damage, or health issues resulting from or even remotely related to these posts!  You understand that you and only you are responsible for your decisions and actions!  Take care and USE COMMON SENSE when working with any material or following any procedure that is even slightly a health risk!!!!!!!!!  

Last updated:  July 1, 2021, 9/23/17

Nancy LT Hamilton, Author

 

Things to know about this page

I have many pages on different torches, scattered throughout my website.  In 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.  See the Related Video and Web Page links section, above, too.

What is a Torch?

torch

A torch is simply (or not) a tool for controlling gas and air, to heat or solder metal.  There are many different types of torches that employ, equally as many,  gasses.  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. The type of torch you use depends on the type of gas you will be using.

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

The gases generally used for jewelry soldering are:  

  • Acetylene
  • Butane
  • Gasoline Fumes (used in Africa and other countries – very dangerous).
  • Hydrogen
  • Mapp Gas
  • Natural Gas
  • Propane

Types of Torches Used for Jewelry Making

Acetylene Air

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. 

More information can be found on the acetylene/air torch on the following pages:

Here’s a nice little chart on adiabatic flame temperatures from EngineeringToolBox.com. (Adiabatic flame temperature is basically the temperature of the flame measured in a controlled chamber where no (read: very little) heat is lost.) 

 Each gas is subject to its own particular needs and precautions. As long as you are aware of all safety concerns and follow all precautions, you will be safe.  It’s usually the idiots who blow themselves up!  Check with your local fire department and/or your city or county’s regulations about storing and using bottled gasses. 

Acetylene Oxygen

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, I have no problems with it and have been using it for over 20 years.

Butane/Air

  (FunOwlet Butane Torch on Smile Amazon)   I’ve found that the heat generated by a butane/air system (with a larger head – not a small creme brulee torch head) is sufficient for most smaller soldering jobs (3578°F).  You can anneal metal, solder, ball up metal, etc. But, and this is a big but, there is little in the way of flame control with one of these torch heads.  You can’t really adjust the flame sizes up or down or create a fuel-rich or oxygen-rich flame with one of these large torch heads – which you may want to do someday.  An example of a process where you will be wanting to have such control is with flame painting. 

Propane/Mapp  Air

Nothing here yet!

Propane/Mapp Oxygen

See Q&A: Torch/Gas for specific information on my recommended propane/02 systems, Here!

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 pound or 20#) in your studio, home, or a garage attached to your home. He said that they have a bad history of leaking. 

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. 

Some make it sound like the tanks will explode easily, 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 tanks to reach pressure levels that can lead to explosions called BLEVEs. What can happen with 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 has happened enough 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!), you especially, should not store large tanks of gas in your home or attached garage.  These BLEVEs (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosions), can kill firefighters and first responders, not to mention you and your neighbors. 

From some of the blogs and posts that I’ve read, you should be using those small 1 pound camping tanks in your studio.  They last quite a while and you can refill them!  There are propane refill valves that you can purchase.  (June 2021).    Wadeo Propane Refill Elbow Adapter at Smile Amazon.  You have to turn the larger tank upside down, freeze the 1# canister and then fill.  Read the directions!!!

Note:  when using propane/O2, I don’t recommend using disposable oxygen tanks.  You will use 7 or more oxygen bottles for every propane canister.  Very wasteful, as there is no recycling program in effect and they just get dumped into the landfill.  You can get a portable oxygen generator or a larger O2 tank with regulators.  There are adapters available for the Smith Little Torch to convert it to a portable tank.  

One more safety note:  Of course, you are now not storing a propane canister of 20#s and up in your home, studio or garage. Now, you just have the 1# canisters.  But, you should only have one stored and one in use.  No more than two in an enclosed space! 

More Information

Water Torches

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.  Please don’t ask me to explain this!!!

Lil-Water-Torch  (The Lil Water Torch). There is also the Lil Water Torch which includes torch tips, flashback arrestor, etc. Here’s a video on the torch by the creator, JDC Products. Although, I have heard some negative comments regarding the company not shipping?  There was also a problem with a refund.  So, beware and speak with the company before purchasing.

hydroflux-welder-water-torch (Hydroflux Welder)  Otto Frei ($1,500) carries the HydroFlux Welder as does Gesswein ($1,250) and Rio Grande ($1,275.00) and other suppliers.  This torch is great for repair work but, is not hot enough for casting or large scale work though.  Read more about this torch at Otto Frei. Here’s a link to the MSDS for the electrolyte solution used.  Rio has information on use and maintenance of this product under the “more info” tab at their link.

 I emailed JDC Products with some questions.  Follows, are their answers to them (my questions are in italics with a bullet):

  • what is the composition of the electrolyte?  Do you have an MSDS on this product?  Where would one purchase this electrolyte?
Most alkaline electrolyzers use Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide as the electrolyte. The system will come with a starter amount, about a cup. Sodium Hydroxide is also known as NaOH or common Lye used in the food industry and for things like soap making. It is a caustic chemical but very safe to use. http://www.certified-lye.com/MSDS-Lye.pdf
 
  • Do you have to add it often?  How long does it last?
Unless you flush the system you usually do not ever have to add any electrolyte as the chemical is not used up in the system, its only used to create higher conductivity of the water so electricity flows through the system easier.
 
  • What does the electrolyte do? Something about splitting the H2O or is that the electrical current. 
The electrolyte is only used to make it easier for the electricity to flow through the water. Common table salt does the same thing but cannot be used in these types of systems due to the breakdown of the chemical. The electrolytes used with our systems do not breakdown and never needs to be added again once you calibrate the device.
 
  •  So, I need to buy a computer power supply thingy that has some sort of converter? I read it should be at least 250 watts.  What is the wattage range then? What is too many watts?  Can the amps be adjusted?

I would recommend you use or purchase a 12-14 volt 250-500 watt variable power supply. The voltage adjust dial will also adjust the amps. The higher the voltage and current the more gas you will produce, which translates to a larger more intense flame. We can also include a high quality variable power supply with the unit for an additional $250. The supply has built in safety mechanisms and meters. Once you receive the kit the only thing you need to do is add the distilled water and that’s it. The power supply plugs into any standard ac outlet and also has a 1 year manufacturers warranty. If you order a system and would like me to include a power supply let me know and I will build you an additional invoice for the $250 and include it with your torch unit.

  •    Could I send too much voltage into the machine and is there a way to tell?  What would happen if it was exceeded (10 – 14 volts, I think you said)?   I am not an electrical genius.  Actually, I’d be considered mentally challenged in this area – I can put in a chandelier and understand that there is a pos., neg. and ground and that’s it!  I don’t understand amps, watts, and volts – obviously, I need to do some homework! I just need to know how not to blow up the machine and not kill myself.
As long as your input voltage isn’t rated any higher than 10-14 volts the system will be fine. The more volts and amps you give the cell the more gas and heat it exhausts. If you are interested in the system but not very familiar with power supplies please allow us to supply you with a high quality supply to meet your needs as explained earlier.
 
  •  What are the “washer dry cells” for, what do they do? Do you need to replace them?
The washer dry cell is a specific type of hydrogen cell design and is not related to the water torch system as the system utilizes a different type of cell design that is more robust. As long as you do not overdrive the system with too much voltage or current the cell never has to be replaced.
 
  •  Is there maintenance required? What does that entail? Replacing the cotton, water and electrolyte I would guess

Yes, about every 3-6 months its recommended you flush the system with clean distilled or tap water to remove any sediment or corrosion developed from the system during use. The safety and filtration bubbler will need to be replaced with clean water and cotton filters as well.

  • Do your other torch tips allow for a larger flame? 
  • Any ways to lower the torch temp? Like an adjuster knob on the torch handle? 
The other tips with the unit will create different flame sizes. Unlike compressed gas systems the flame temperature and size is actually controlled by changing the voltage or current as opposed to adjusting the flow or gas pressure. The additional variable power supply will allow you to adjust the flame to your liking.
 
Do not hesitate to email if you have any other questions and no question is too silly. This technology is very old but from my experience, 90 percent of the population have never even heard of it. I came into the research with much of the same questions. I have sold dozens of the torch systems to hobbyists and jewelers over the past few years and they have all been very happy with the results. Thanks again for your interest and support.
 

Mouth Blow Pipe – aka: French Torches

blow-torch

Torch image from G&A Warburtons in New Zealand.

The mouth blowpipe employs the breath of the person working the torch and a non-pressurized gas like from an oil lamp or alcohol lamps.  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.

Mark Burgess has a YouTube video on this torch.

Here’s some information at Ganoksin by Collette.

For Further Research

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