What Torch to Buy

This page is the result of a question I am often asked so, I thought I’d dedicate a page to this subject.

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What Torch Should I Buy

“Yes I am using a butane Micro torch which is or was recommended on every YouTube video i have watched and they say it works but it has not for me so what type of torch do you recommended?”

My Answer

Deciding what torch to buy can be a lot of work.  The butane, that you own,  will work for many processes like annealing and soldering small items but, are limited in what they can do.  I would make sure that your soldering problems are not related to one of the other soldering-gone-wrong issues before buying a new torch i.e.:  clean metal, close joins, appropriate flux, clean solder, etc.

That said, if you are ready to make the investment and commitment to spend some money on a more permanent setup, then here’s some information/questions for you:
  • Torches and their accompanying paraphernalia can be pricey. Decide how much you want to spend.
  • Do you want a gas/oxygen setup or just a gas/air setup?  Any of these common gases (Acetylene, Propane, Butane, Mapp, Natural Gas), when mixed with oxygen will be much hotter than with air alone. With the O2 setup you need two regulators, 2 hoses, 2 tanks, etc.  With just air/gas, you need one of each component.  If you go with just gas/air I recommend acetylene because it is the hottest gas.
  • Acetylene is a dirtier gas than butane, propane or mapp.  It puts out a little bit of soot but, I haven’t found it to be a problem.  You need proper ventilation for all soldering tasks.
  • Do you live in an apartment or a condo where it is prohibited from having compressed gasses?
  •  Many insurance companies may not cover oxygen use in your home.  Oxygen is a strong oxidizer and bonds with all substances. Exposure to concentrated oxygen, lowers the ignition temperature of the item and makes it burn much faster and more intensely than it would without the 02.  Oil and grease react violently with concentrated oxygen and can self ignite. If the 02 is pure and under pressure, it can cause any thing to combust slowly (a fire) or rapidly (an explosion). Oxygen itself, is not flammable but, it sure likes to encourage combustion!  Check with your insurance company first.
  • Can you store the tanks in a relatively, temperature controlled area?  Acetylene should not freeze.

What will you be using the torch for?

Are you torch enameling or lampworking?  If so, the acetylene is a terrible gas for this type of work as it is very sooty and puts off a lot of carbon.

If you are or want to be a glassworker/enamelist, you’ll want to purchase a propane/oxygen system or, at the very least, a propane/Mapp gas torch like the Hot Head Torch. If you already have an acetylene/air or acetylene/O2 setup, you can always purchase a small, portable setup for torch enameling and have the acetylene for soldering/annealing. Lampworking requires a hands-free setup. So, you’ll want a special torch that mounts to your work area.

 ***I know NOTHING about lampworking.  I took a three day class about 10 years ago so, I am not an authority.  But, I do use the Hot Head (below) for torch enameling. Just wanted to present a few ideas.

  If you are soldering typical jewelry metals like gold, silver, brass, bronze, copper and nickel, you have several choice.  I currently use two systems:  an acetylene/air setup and a Smith Little Torch for disposable tanks.  I am going to change to a propane/O2 setup soon because, I like the control that I have over the flame with the Little Torch.  It’ also really hot!  A drawback to the portable tank situation is that you go through O2 like a hungry man at a buffet – it gets wolfed down!  You can use many canisters of O2 before you use up your propane or Mapp gas.  (See this page, on my site, for info on Mapp/Propylene gases.)

What I’m hoping to do is to remove the disposable tank adapters on the Little Torch and use the torch setup that I already have for my propane/O2 setup. I’m sure that there is no problem with doing this but, I’m waiting to hear back from Smith to be 100% sure.

Hot-Head-torch  Hot Head Torch and the  Devardi Glass Professional Lampwork Torch Head are great little, inexpensive, mountable torches for torch enameling and lampworking.

Carlisle-torch Carlisle Torch at Glasscraft Inc.

Updated: 2/23/17

For lampworking you’ll want a propane/oxygen setup or a natural gas/oxygen.  This provides a clean gas and the heat needed for this type of work.

bravo-1The Bravo Torch looks like a shiny new Cadillac.  The reviews are great and the price is high – $975.00 at 8/201.

minormega The Minor and the Mega Bench Burners from $169 – $211 at Sundance Glass.

Acetylene Torches

Acetylene and other gas torches – besides the butane – can have different size torch tips.  This gives you greater range in what you can solder:  fine tips for detail work, large tips for refining or working on large pieces and a bunch of different tips in between.

I generally, only use two torch tips:  one for everyday soldering (Goss tip #3)  and a larger tip (Goss tip #5)for refining, large pieces and warming up pitch for chasing and repousse. I have a very small tip (Goss tip #1) – which I rarely use because, it doesn’t like to stay lit.  Any fast movement and the flame goes out. I also have a #2 tip that is hardly ever used.  The #3 tip is probably larger than most people would choose but, I have become very comfortable working with this larger flame.  Plus, I’m lazy and don’t like changing tips unless I absolutely have to.

goss Goss Torch at Amazon.  This is not a complete setup.

  • The Goss torch is what I have.  I have a Silver Smith and a Smith Little Torch (geez – a bit excessive) too but, for some reason I keep using the Goss – probably back to that lazy jeweler thing again. This setup uses the “B” acetylene tank. These single regulator torches don’t allow the pressure to exceed 15 PSI.  With a double regulator, one side tells you how much gas is in the tank and the other side shows the pressure.  If you purchase a double regulator, be sure that you never exceed 15 PSI – THE TANK CAN EXPLODE.
  • The Meco Midget Torch Setup link is here.  Otto Frei carries it for propane/O2 and acetylene/O2.  Full kits, including empty gas tanks run between $590 – $598.00 – depending on the gas.
  • Smith makes great torches.  They make the Silver Smith and the Smith Little Torch.  My guess is that these are the most popular torches for jewelers as most jewelers, that I know, own one. This setup uses the “B” acetylene tank.  Smith torches have a built-in flash back arrestor.

smith Smith Silver Smith (w/o tank) at Amazon

Butane Torches

butane-torch Blazer Butane MicroTorch at Rio Grande

Butane torches are inexpensive to purchase and are good for the beginner or someone just “trying out” the craft.  But, they often need refueling which is expensive and a bit annoying. The flame size is limited and the flame temperature is low, similar to propane.  Between the lower heat and flame size, the user is limited in the scope of work they can create.  Larger, more complicated pieces will be difficult or impossible with the butane torch. But, these torches are probably best for apartments or condos and small studio use.

Large Butane Torch

Proxxon Microflame Butane Torch

Natural Gas

Most homes already have natural gas lines installed for stove, washer/dryer and other uses.  It is a clean and inexpensive gas.

Propane

smith-propane Smith Little Torch Propane at Rio Grande

Propane tanks in the home are quite dangerous as the gas is heavier than air and sinks.  That means, if you have a leak, the propane will be concentrated on the same level as your water heater and furnace – ignition sources.

Yet, many people use propane as their fuel for heating, cooking and refrigeration.  If you already have a propane setup for your home, you might have a professional run a line into your home for soldering.   Learn about your local laws, restrictions and guidelines for propane use before you decide on purchasing any gas.

Oxygen/Propane is the way to go if you need a clean gas for soldering.  The propane/02 setup is used for soldering platinum and making lampworking because the gas burns cleanly.

If you go with propane/02, the tank has to be stored outside.  See the label on my propane tank below:  

propane-tank

Ask a professional to help you set up a soldering system. Usually, you can get help at a professional welding supply or compressed air supplier like Airgas.

Small Torches – with disposable propane/mapp gas tanks

 Fireworks Torch
fireworks-torch The Fireworks Torch uses only mapp gas and air.  No oxygen needed. It mixes the gas with the surrounding air.
The head on the torch is too big for regular soldering work. But it’s great for torch enameling
bernzomatic
This Bernzomatic setup is a portable mapp/O2 setup.  You go through the 02 fast.  But, if you are only doing small jobs, infrequently, it might work.  I use this when I need a very hot, small flame for repairs or specialty soldering when the job requires that I get in and out fast and hot.  THAT sounds a bit racy, eh?
smith-little-disp
Smith Little Torch with Disposable Tanks at Rio Grande. Ditto with going through the 02 fast.
**Each area has different rules and regulations regarding the disposal of disposable gas tanks.  Check your with local disposal company for further information. I called one of the manufacturers and they said there was no recycling program, at this time.
If you want small torch tips there is the  Gentec Small Torch Kit. It is a propane/O2 setup.  It uses disposable tanks so same problem with going through O2.  Smith also makes a small torch kit. Here’s the Smith Little Torch, complete O2 and Propane setup.  Smith also make another excellent soldering system:  Smith’s Silver Smith, Acetylene/Air torch kit and tank. Smaller tips give you greater control of the flame.  The drawback is that they are great for soldering larger, heavier pieces.
The Smith Little Torch has many different tips, including one for annealing. These systems use the gas/O2 setup.
smith-tip
Here is an article by Nina Graci I found at Ganoksin that you may find useful. It is titled:

“Hot Enough for You? – What kind of torch do you need?”  Sounds right up your alley. 

When you purchase a “permanent” setup, you will need:  

There are other things too – depending on what type of torch system you purchase.

Since you already have a torch, you probably have a few of these things already.
 
The simplest/cheapest torch setup, besides the butane is a disposable tank set like the Bernzomatic kit, discussed above or the Smith Little Torch Propane/O2 kit. The drawback to this kit is the amount of O2 that you will go through.  Some people use the Blow Mouth Torch or French Pipe in combination with the propane to achieve a hotter flame.
 
The next simplest/cheapest solution is an acetylene/air system, similar to what I own:  the Goss.  But, you’ll still have to buy an acetylene tank – I recommend a “B” tank as it lasts a long time and it’s not too heavy, i.e.:  it doesn’t take 3 guys to lift it.  It’s 25.5 lbs but, straining and complaining, I can carry it by myself. There are also smaller tanks.  They are labeled:  “MC”.  Downsides:  Acetylene is dirty and not great for enameling or glass work, it’s a dangerous gas and should be treated with care.  I have an entire page, on my website, on this type of gas.  Following guidelines and safety considerations, acetylene is a safe gas to use.  

Oxygen

There is a newish type of oxygen supply which doesn’t require large tanks and frequent refills – in fact there are now tanks at all.  This machine is, basically, a rebuilt medical oxygen generator.  It can be used with propane or acetylene.  Price at Rio Grande (as of 8/2014 is $425.00).

If you don’t go with a generator, your other choice is oxygen in tanks.

So, I’ve probably confused you further but, buying a torch is a personal decision that is dictated by your needs and planned use. I recommend a visit with your local air/gas company as a starting place.  Tell them what you want to do and what you can afford and they can offer suggestions or steer you in the right direction.  Good luck!