A Catch-22

Hi, gang, As I’ve commented, recently, I’m in the midst of adding a
jewelry/goldsmithing setup to my existing lapidary workshop, which
is in the basement of the two-family home my fiancee and I are
renting the bottom half of. Although designing and building a
decent, 6-drawer jeweler’s bench wound up being easier than I’d
anticipated, I’m fit to be tied when it comes to my
soldering/annealing setup, and could really use your collective

The “Catch-22” I keep running into stems from the fact that this
basement also contains the oil burner for our heating system and the
two natural gas-fired water heaters for our and our landlady’s
respective water needs. These are about 20’ away from my workspace,
but still within the same room, and all rely on the same ambient air
supply. Last week, a plumber came to estimate the gas line
installation job and expressed concerns about either gas leaking its
way past a check valve into the O2 tank, or O2 backing up into the
gas line, and either way, causing explosions. He then suggested that
the oil and gas heaters, mentioned above, “will turn into Roman
Candles and melt down as surely as Three-Mile Island if you ever
wind up with an oxygen leak” and said I’d have to install more than
$1,000 of protective equipment before he could even begin his own
work, which’ll likely approach that amount, as well. Problem is,
after six months away at jewelers’ school on the other side of the
U.S. from here, I neither have any way to afford this expense, nor
the technical facility to work in a shop, yet, to earn the money to
pay for this!

So, folks, is there another way that any of you have for getting
around such an obstacle? Can I get by, for the time being, by using
one of those butane “Blazer” torches? (Will one of those be both hot
and accurate enough to practice my soldering/repairing skills with,
or is there some other way around this?)

For that matter, is there anyone in the Greater Boston area who has
room for an apprentice in their shop (albeit, one who’s already a
master lapidary)? I’m committed to learning and mastering this
trade, as a means of being better able to translate my jewelry
design ideas from concept to reality, so I could really use a hand,

Many, many thanks,
Doug Turet
Douglas Turet, GJ
Lapidary Artist, Designer & Goldsmith
Turet Design
P.O. Box 162
Arlington, MA 02476
Tel. (617) 325-5328
eFax (928) 222-0815

Get yourself an Aqua Torch. They cost about $800-$1000 used, but
they’re rated as safe for use in malls, because they have NO tanks.
They burn a complicated combination of distilled water and high-test
acetone or methyl-ethyl-ketone which somehow makes hydrogen on
command. I don’t understand how it works, and I don’t care–it just
does. No tanks, no risk of leaks. I’ve got one (bought it
used) and I love it There’s another company that makes a similar
torch called the Okai Hydroflux welder, it’s about $1000 new. I
haven’t used that one, but the price certainly is better. You can see
both on one page at http://www.alpha-supply.com/148.htm (not
affiliated, just found the link online).

–Kathy Johnson

Feathered Gems Jewelry

Dear Doug, Yup, a dilemma. I know some great jewelry folks that use
the Bernzomatic set-up exclusively for soldering/annealing. They
may be reading this as we speak and answer your question.

In the Boston jewelry district there is a wonderful man that may be
able to help you. There is a little language barrier in that he’s a
Brazilian transplant. He speaks English well enough, especially if
you were to go into his shop for the intitial visit. We found him
this past September on a visit from So. Cal. to our son in
Cambridge. My hubby does lapidary and I do the metal work (so I can
place special orders directly to the source :slight_smile: We always do the
yellow pages thing when we travel and by chance found “Paul’s
Lapidary” there. Then we visited him in his little shop. The
irony: he started as an apprentice in Brazil. He says he’s the
only one able to remodel and create stones for artists in the area,
so he may either love or hate to talk with you. While we were there
several people came in and out requesting custom-cut stones for
already made jewelry. For one he pulled out a beautiful piece of
rough lapis, for another a cut emerald. He does faceting and
inlay, too. He told us business is much, much better than in LA,
where he first set-up shop (and where we’re from), because there are
so many that do lapidary in So. Cal., and I’m sure the close
proximity to the Pacific Rim/Southeast Asia and vendors from all

Give him a try if you think it fits:

Paul's Lapidary (Paulo F. Sousa)
333 Washington St., Suite 504
Boston, MA  02108

We’re happy-happy when we’re soldering!

Kay Taylor

I doubt that the small blazer torch would be sufficient for your
soldering except on very very small pieces. You might try a torch
set up which uses the small disposable propane tanks. Bernzomatic
makes one which comes with a hose and assorted tips, and does not
require oxygen. While not ideal, it should suffice until you can
devise some better way. Several friends who have very makeshift
arrangements for their studios have gotten by with these kinds of
torches. One has a Turner torch which uses disposable propane
tanks. Another uses the Bernzomatic with Mapp gas. I have been
told that either one should be perfectly safe in your situation.
Perhaps other orchidians can offer more help and suggestions. Glad
you got your bench all set up. that is quite an accomplishment.

Can I get by, for the time being, by using one of those butane
"Blazer" torches? (Will one of those be both hot and accurate enough
to practice my soldering/repairing skills with, or is there some
other way around this?)

When I lived in a small apartment in Madrid several years ago I had
only 4 of the small blazer butane torches with me. I always used two
torches at a time and I made a lot of sterling pins approximately
1.5" by 2" with no problems in annealing, making bezels or soldering
on pin parts. I don’t think you could work much larger than this
with this particular set-up. The torches aren’t too expensive and
you can find them anywhere, so I’d get a pair and practice. I still
use mine for bezels.

Donna in VA


You present quite a problem. It depends a lot on what you plan to do
in your shop vis-a-vis soldering. If you intend to do basic repairs
such as retipping, sizing, light bezels, etc, then any of the better
pencil butane torches will suffice for awhile. If you want to do some
heavier items, a propane turbo torch that used ambient air can be
great…no 02 to worry about and you can even cast with them. In our
shop at the art school, we use acetyline turbos (Smiths), again with
no 02, and keep the tanks locked in little cabinets under the bench
with a cut out in the door for the hose. That works pretty well.
Someone mentioned using an aqua torch and I agree that might be your
best alternative. We have two of them at the Gem and Mineral Society
but haven’t cranked em up yet…a recent donation. Otherwise, how
about getting a tap off of the natural gas lines feeding the water
heaters and combining that with 02? Certainly no more dangerous than
the heaters I would think.

Lets see what others have to say. Cheers from Don at The Charles
Belle Studio in SOFL where simple elegance IS fine jewelry!

    Last week, a plumber came to estimate the gas line installation
job and expressed concerns about either gas leaking its way past a
check valve into the O2 tank, or O2 backing up into the  gas line,
and either way, causing explosions 

Hi Doug;

Let the plumber stick to his specialty, plumbing. Neither the gas
nor the oxygen, to my knowledge, have any route back into the other’s
respective source beyond the amount you’d have in the lines, which is
very little. And a check valve is designed to prevent fire from
climbing back up the line back into the regulator. An oxygen leak,
is, of course, a possibility, but there would have to be a lot of
oxygen leaking out in close proximity to the other sources of flame
to create the scenario the plumber imagines. Fact is, you can do
just about all the jewelry work you want with the smallest oxygen
tanks available from welding suppliers. These are about 5 inches in
diameter and about a foot high. I think these are called 30 pound
tanks. Don’t get the disposable ones, they won’t last long at all.
Now for a gas source, get the small, disposable propane tanks you can
buy in the chain stores like WalMart. These are the kind used for
camp stoves and lanterns, etc. Get an appropriate regulator, like a
Smith, for the oxygen bottle. This should be a 2 stage regulator that
is sensitive enough for low pressures, around 5-7 psi. For the
propane tank, get a small regulator for disposable propane tanks,
available at Stuller, and, I think, Rio Grande. You can use this
setup with a Little Torch, a Meco Midget, or a Hoke, as long as you
get one for use with propane and oxygen. I use this in my shop, and
use a Little Torch for general work and a Meco with a larger tip to
cast. I can easily melt an ounce and a half of metal if I need to.
The disposable propane tanks last a surprisingly long time, and so
does the oxygen. You can even get a refill kit cheaply from Harbor
Freight to refill the small propane bottles from a larger propane
bottle, stored outside, of course. Yes, it’s a fire hazard, in the
same way as your kitchen gas range, your gas hot water heater, etc.
I suspect the plumber is a bit of an alarmist, and that’s giving him
the benefit of the doubt that he isn’t trying to psyche you up to
soak you for a lot of work and a high bill.

David L. Huffman

While I can’t speak to the safety aspects of your particular
situation, I can address your questions about the Blazer.

When I first started, I was in an apartment and I used a Blazer
butane torch. You can’t do anything really big like a solid
sterling bracelet, but there’s no problem with most other jewelry
items. It wasn’t quite hot enough for some larger pendants I was
doing, so I got another Blazer. Then I figured out the key to
making jewelry with these torches, and I learned to build mini kilns
out of charcoal blocks. It can even be just a backsplash, but you
need to make sure there’s enough heat, and that it’s reflecting

With a little practice, this setup is sufficient. It does require
dexterity, to manipulate torches, solder picks, tweezers, etc. in
both hands, but jewelers as a rule are either ambidextrous enough to
handle this and/or clever enough to work it out. The trick is to
learn how to manage the heat and the flame.

A couple years later, I still have an studio in my apartment albeit
a very slightly larger one. I still have a Blazer, but I pretty
much use it only occasionally for making creme brulee (because,
sadly, you can’t have something that delicious and fattening more
than 3 or 4 times a year). My current torch is a Meco, oxy-propane,
with the smallest refillable tanks, kept outside and set up up each
time I use them. I have an unrelated full-time job, so I set them
up once or twice each week. I plan my soldering carefully, doing a
lot of sawing, filing, preparation of various projects, etc.,
in-between soldering days. I also have excellent ventilation - only
12 blocks from the Pacific Ocean and a pair of east and west windows
that create the perfect ventilating cross-breeze.

You have a predicament, but it can be overcome. Good luck! And
feel free to email me directly if you have any specific questions.


Hi Doug, I am surmising that the oxygen is the problem, not the gas,
if you are willing to add butane to the mix. There are several gas
(acetylene or propane) torches that use ambiant air instead of
oxygen. I have one that Harold O’Connor used at a workshop and he
insists that it is the only one he needs - you’re welcome to stop by
and try it out. If the gas is the problem, then consider the
disposable propane tanks- they last much longer than you’d expect.
The disposable oxygen tanks are gone in no time at all.


So, folks, is there another way that any of you have for getting
around such an obstacle? Can I get by, for the time being, by
using one of those butane "Blazer" torches? (Will one of those be
both hot and accurate enough to practice my soldering/repairing
skills with, or is there some other way around this?) 

Try a little torch with disposable propane and oxygen tanks. Buy
the tip and hose kit from your usual supplier and then go to a
welding shop for regulators and flashback arrestors.

That’s about $200.00.

Elaine Luther
Chicago area, Illinois, USA
Certified PMC Instructor

Hi Douglas My name is Ian Davidson from Manchester U.K. Many years
ago in the U.K. we had a national miners union strike which put out
the power on several days a week. Many workers had to be laid
off…I’ll get to the point. A few years later when I started my
workshop I didn’t want to be a victim of such action, so I invested,
not a lot, in 2 machines, one of which produced oxygen by a
catalytic conversion of hydrogen peroxide. It had an attachment for
butane to the same torch - which has interchangeable hypodermic
tips. No need for O2 tanks or Electricity. Brilliant for soldering &

The second machine I purchased 30 years ago which I still use today!
is of course the legendary microwelding machine - a must have! This
compact box produces oxygen & hydrogen by electrolysis - the gas is
then passed through an atomiser of Methyl Ethyl Keytone [we even
tried apple juice & meths but MEK seems to work best! ] - to lower
the burn temperature from 2000c then through a small finger
controlled torch which has hypodermic interchangeable tips.
Brilliant! Can solder the finest gold wire or weld up platinum

Need any more info? contact me.