Best torch for basement studio?

Hi all,

I’m excited to report that I will soon have basement space in which
to set up a studio. I’m baffled as to what to purchase first, after
a torch of course. We’ll have natural gas at the house but have heard
a nat. gas pressure booster is quite expensive (would I need one).
But would it be cost effective in the long run? I was considering
propane and a Little Torch. Then a rolling mill. Could use your
expert opinions on what type, where to purchase etc. I am an
intermediary level metalsmith and very dedicated.

Thanks so much, Cyndy

Cyndy, congrats on the new space! I have used all the various
torches over the past 25 years and I always prefer natural gas. Both
at home and my retail shop I have had a plumber(argh!) run a line
with a nipple and shut off valve. You could check with your gas
company to find out the pressure in your area but I have never had a
problem.

Kate

Dear Cindy,

I trained at a commercial school on a natural gas torch, and then set
it up at home, used it in 2 jobs that lasted briefly. All I have to
supply is the O2. I bought the best torch supplied over 20 years ago
and could look it up for you and have used it ever since. I do have
to have a whole acetylene rig to cast, but I have been completely
satisfied with the natural gas and O2. It requires no booster, but
comes as supplied in the house line.

Jay

The basement is NOT a good place for propane. Dig in the archives a
bit… to find all the pros and cons on torches, gases, regulators,
hoses. etc.

Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA
209-477-0550
instructor@jewelryartschool.com

Cyndy,

First, check with your local building inspector regarding codes and
what would be allowed inside. In every municipality I’m aware of, you
cannot have propane stored inside a building (too much of an
explosion danger). That means it has to be stored in a tank outside
and piping run into the house.

Many municipalities do allow acetylene tanks inside (I know mine
does) because it is a lighter-than-air gas that tends to dissipate
easily rather than pooling at the floor level to build toward an
explosion. So that may be an alternative for you. Depending on your
usage, a B tank of acetylene can last a very long time – just be
sure that you secure the tank by chaining it to a wall or immovable
object to avoid it tipping over and breaking the regulators.

If you’re planning to do an oxy-gas mix, definitely consult your
local Fire Dept about how best to secure and label it. Also check
with your homeowner’s company to ensure that it doesn’t negate your
policy in case of a fire. (The oxy tank being the bigger danger
here.)

Hope this helps!
Karen Goeller
@Karen_Goeller

Cyndy,

If you have natural gas piped in you have the best option for your
torch. Definitely have the gas company put in a spigot and shut off
value. You will need an Oxygen tank with regulator and a Hoke torch
hand piece. And you will want to chain the tank securely to a wall or
post to prevent it from falling. The Hoke handpiece is optional but I
was trained on one and still love it best!

I don’t know what all the fuss is about propane! There is only a
danger of explosion if you have a leak! If you are leaking gas from
your tanks then the risk of explosion is the same with any gas. Small
refillable tanks like those used for a barbeque grill are acceptable
for indoor use and will last an incredibly long time. I used this
type of propane tank at Nordstrom (in a basement workroom), the
University of Washington (in a basement studio) and here at Art
Jewelry and it has not impacted the insurance coverage or fire codes
in these places any more than any other form of compressed volatile
gas.

Propane you can smell, and if it is leaking, you shut it down, find
and fix the leak. Same as with any other gas. I never continue to work
with tanks or regulators that leak gas. Regardless of the gas, it’s
not safe. So, I have never had a problem with my propane tank and
would highly recommend propane over acetylene, it is far cleaner.

If Natural gas is not available then I choose propane especially
when using a little torch with oxygen. Propane / oxygen with a little
torch handpiece is very versatile and does not produce the bright
flame that will damage your vision like oxy-acetylene.

Oxy-acetylene and a little torch handpiece produces a flame bright
enough to burn your retinas unless your wearing welding glasses. If
you close your eyes and see bright spots where you where looking (at
the flame) soldering, those are retinal burns. I hope anyone using
an oxy-acetylene w/ small torch arrangement is wearing the correct
eye protection.

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext.228

This is a photo of a gas meter at a jeweler’s shop where torches
were connected directly to the natural gas line without flashback
arrestors. Not only is the explosion violent but the pipeline is
damaged enough to cause a significant gas leak.

Many jewelers do not install flashback arrestors because there isn’t
enough pressure to move the gas through the arrestor to the torch;
gas flow is either very weak or completely blocked.

One solution is a natural gas pressure booster, that elevates
standard low-pressure gas high enough so that the flashback arrestor
will be effective. Pressure boosters are also safe and approved for
installation in a basement studio. Distributors include Rio Grande,
Gesswein and Stuller.

Ed Howard
G-TEC Natural Gas Systems
www.safe-t-gas.com2

Hi Nanz,

In Alberta my understanding is that it is illegal to have propane
tank larger than 5 lbs indoors…

best
Charles

You need to revue gasses, propane is heaver than air and will fill a
basement and will not dissipate. Natural gas and acetylene will rise
and dissipate. Hoke? Why use an antique when you can get a spaceship

Can I agree with Brian P Marshall, never use a propane gas torch
system in a basement environment, as any gas leakage can form a pool
of gas if there is no gas escape ventilation, and as a basement will
be below ground level, this is a perfect tank for a pool of gas. Can
I give some simple advice to anyone contemplating starting a studio
in the home environment, don’t start using factory grade soldering
methods. When I first started in this trade we used natural gas and
mouth blown torches and they worked fine, when we modernised we
introduced small electric blowers to each bench and these worked even
better. I have a small gas torch in my collection that gives a small
pointed flame from a pen sized torch and the only air power comes
from a small fish tank air pump. I have also had a system with a
natural gas torch blown by a small air brush compressor, and this
works fine also. As I now have a studio at the bottom of my garden I
use an oxy / propane set up, but if I run out of bottled fuel I
still have my old torches and blower systems to use.

James Miller FIPG in the UK.
Looking forward to the warmer weather

Wow, thanks to all of you for so generously sharing all the great
info!. It’s wonderful all of you are so satisfied with your soldering
systems. Now I realize that this really does come down to personal
preference. So…now I’m much more educated and have even more
questions! As I mentioned before I’m grateful for all advice
regarding my soon-to-be basement studio. I work in sterling and fine
silver now and hope to soon add gold.

To recap, I’m undecided as to fuel choice but will have the
advantage of natural gas (line running to basement). Many of you
think this would be a good choice but I assume I’d have to add
oxygen. Should this be via a pressurized tank or could I use an
oxygen concentrator? Can an oxygen tank be stored (and secured )
outside or should I keep it protected inside? Can I use flashback
regulators effectively? What kind of pressure would be required of an
average gas line to a house? I know - lots of questions!

Another option would be propane with a line running from outside
(like gas fuel fireplace logs).

Thank you everyone! !!!

Cyndy

I don't know what all the fuss is about propane! 
  • that is what I said.

Thank you all for sending me the press stories about propane tanks
blowing up buildings from coast to coast!

I would like to retract my statement that small refillable tanks are
acceptable for indoor use, and retract my statement that they can be
used in basements. As Brian Marshall from the Stockton Jewelry Arts
School astutely pointed out, home basements also contain hot water
heaters and furnaces which can be a source of ignition for a gas
leak. Now, I know what all the fuss is.

Like most goldsmiths I guess I figured if I have been using it
safely for 15 years than anyone else should be able to also. With the
I have received from many respected members of this
organization I am now re-thinking my practices.

Sadly, I still prefer propane over acetylene and will search for a
safer way to use it in the absence of Natural gas.

Lesson well taken, thank you all again!

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext.228

Hi Nanz

I would like to retract my statement that small refillable tanks
are acceptable for indoor use, and retract my statement that they
can be used in basements 

I use a disposable one pound propane tank to fuel my little torch. I
am personally very comfortable using it. Note that I use a small
disposable tank and not a refillable BBQ tank. Some facts about the
fuels we all typically use in our torches…

  1. Propane, acetylene and natural gas will all explode violently if
    mixed with air in the correct proportions and exposed to a spark or
    flame and even a hot glowing piece of metal.

  2. Propane and butane are heavier than air and will sink or pool on
    the ground. Natural gas is lighter than air and will rise. Acetylene
    has a density similar to air and could sink or rise.

  3. Whether a gas pools or rises makes little difference in a confined
    space such as a basement studio or a spare bedroom. One of these
    gases leaking in a room with little or no ventilation will
    accumulate. If it is heavier than air (propane) it will sink low to
    the ground, start to mix with the air in the room and then slowly
    fill up the room from the ground up. If it is natural gas, it will
    rise to the ceiling, mix with the air in the room and slowly fill the
    room from the ceiling down. Eventually, any of these fuels can find
    an ignition source and has a good chance of exploding.

  4. The good thing about a 1 pound propane bottle is that once the
    bottle is empty, the leak has to stop. An acetylene B tank contains
    lots more gas than a 1 pound propane bottle, so an acetylene tank
    will leak lots more gas. Same goes for a natural gas line. A leak
    from a natural gas line will go on forever since it comes from a huge
    distribution network of pipelines. Limiting the amount of fuel,
    limits the size of leak and the size of a potential explosion.

The best thing we can all do is learn as much as we can about these
fuels and how to work safely with them and make informed choices
about which one is right for our own situation. Regardless of which
fuel you select, you must handle it with respect, maintain your
equipment safely and make sure you shut off your fuel supply when you
leave your studio

Jewellery is my hobby. In my day job, the one that pays the bills, I
work for an oil company and I design the plants that process some of
the gasses that fuel our torches. Been doing it for more than 26
years.

Also, I have posted on torch fuels a number of times
over the years For more info, you can search my name in the archives
to find my old posts. My first post on this topic was back in 1997
when I first discovered Orchid…

Regards
Milt Fischbein

Cyndy,

Having natural gas at hand is certainly a nice situation. You’ll
probably need some sort of pressure raising device, as house pressure
is usually too low for most torches. This is often done-- check the
archives, I’m sure there’s stuff there…

The nice things about natural gas are that it is not too hot a
fuel–as I find acetylene to be, it is clean burning and is always
there when you need it, if hooked up to city lines.

I use oxy/propane, which I’ve plumbed into my studio from a standard
gas grill (20lb/5 gallon) type of tank. It works great and gives me
peace of mind. Of course, as Nanz said, you’ve got to pay attention
to your nose. With every joint in the black iron pipe that I plumbed
in is a potential for leakage. Still, the bulk of the gas is outside,
where it sits in a cage with an open slatted bottom so that any gas
that leaks there is quickly dissapated.

My oxygen tanks are kept inside, strapped upright. The main danger
is that they fall over, lose their nipples and become missiles. I’m
not sure what danger an O2 tank poses in the case of a fire…

Take care,
Andy cooperman

I don’t have the in-depth metalsmithing experience as some of the
contributors but I have worked in health and safety for a large
medical/industrial gas company and I believe that we all need to
consider the risks associated with everything we do in life -
everything,including doing nothing carries a risk.

Risk is the product of severity of outcome and likelihood of
occurrence. For example as I sit at my laptop composing this email I
am at risk that a fully loaded passenger jet bound for the nearby
London[Luton] airport is at this time plunging towards my home with
all four engines out of action. The outcome would truly be terrible
but the likelihood is quite small so I can place this risk in the
low category and continue with the email. Cutting your left hand
with a graver is more common but the outcome is normally only slight
so that’s also a low risk.

So how does this apply to torch safety in a basement or any other
situation. You cannot have a flame without a combustible gas and
although I totally agree that gases which are heavier than air are
the most dangerous in such a situation as they have no possibility
of venting to free air, lighter than air gas trapped in an enclosed
basement doesn’t have any means of escape either and will still
raise the roof in a dramatic way if ignited.

If we accept that we are going to use combustible gases for
soldering it doesn’t really matter what form of torch you use,
prevention of a gas leak is our major concern.

For the record I also have a range of torches which I have acquired
over the years including a mouth-blown French style torch, a
flamefast needleflame torch with air supplied by an aquarium pump
and a little touch which runs on propane and oxygen. All of the
torches can be used for jewellery but if you need more heat or
greater control over the flame type/size the oxy/propane the little
torch is excellent.

Clearly we need to follow basic measures and I follow this routine:
I turn on the gas at the cylinders at the start of each day and then
slowly open the regulators, then I open and close each torch valve
in turn to purge the lines of gases other than those that should be
there. In addition once a week I use an industrial grade gas
detection spray [ if you are using oxygen ensure that the spray is
oxygen safe and do not use a water/detergent as it contains grease
and can cause an oxygen fire] over the regulator and hose assembly
to check for leaks. If I leave the workshop for any reason or decide
that I will not be carrying out soldering operations for some time I
will back the regulators out to zero cutting off the supply to the
torch. At the end of each day I close the taps on the cylinders and
drain the lines and the regulators before ensuring the gas is turned
off at the torch, at the regulators and at the cylinders.

Replacing the regulators at the manufactures recommended intervals
is sensible as they can contain rubber disks which can harden with
age and fracture. Other measures for gas leaks include the fitting
of an electronic combustible gas detector which will alarm if gas is
present in the atmosphere. One important point - if you are using
cylinders that use a spanner to open and close the valve make
certain that it’s in-place all the time in case you need to carry
out emergency close down.

Of course gas explosion isn’t the only risk with soldering torches
fire is a major risk and we need to think about the possibility of
fire, what could accidentally catch fire, how could we minimise this
possibility and how would we put the fire out or escape - how many
exits are there in your basement. I have an extinguisher and a fire
blanket near to hand. Fumes from the soldering activity also need to
be evacuated.

There is one major risk factor that I have that you could avoid and
that’s the use of oxygen. Oxygen is not a combustible gas as such
but its presence in high concentration greatly assists items that
would not normally burn to do so. In addition its under great
pressure and there is a possibility of severe cold-burn from
escaping gas should you not fit the regulator correctly. I believe
that there are more serious industrial accidents with oxygen than
with combustible gas. However you will need an air compressor or
learn to blow and breath at the same time- a skill that I have never
achieved.

Hope this helps.You cannot escape all risks, just understand what
they are and take action to minimise them.

regards

mike kersley
also waiting for this UK winter to end

It is my humble opinion, that if the ventilation is so poor as to
allow leaking gas to pool, the ventilation is too poor for ANY kind
of jewellery making. Come on folks, this is our health I’ m talking
about. My shop ventilation system exchanges the volume of the room 8
times in an hour. There are so many airborne contaminants in our line
of work, gas is the least of our worries.

VENTILATION!
VENTILATION!
VENTILATION!

I can’t stress this enough.

Dean D. Amick Jr.
Master Goldsmith
Bethlehem Pa.

Hi Andy

In your post on this topic yesterday, you wondered what an oxygen
tank would do in a fire

An oxygen tank, if overheated in a fire could overpressure and split
open/rupture violently. To avoid this, oxygen tanks are equipped with
a safety device known as a rupture disk (also called burst disk or
frangible disk). When an oxygen tank exceeds a certain safe pressure,
the rupture disk bursts open to release the pressure in the tank by
allowing all of the oxygen to escape. It does not re-close and has to
be replaced by a qualified person. The sudden release of oxygen into
a fire when the rupture disk opens has the risk of making the fire
worse, since pure oxygen supports combustion amazing well as compared
to air, but the increased fire has a far smaller damage potential
than allowing that same oxygen tank to overpressure and rupture
sending metal rocketing all over the place.(Hmmmm not a pleasant
thought!)

Regards
Milt Fischbein
Calgary Canada

While this topic is quite serious, this thread is evolving into an
almost humorous direction because most people keep saying they know
all of the answers and as far as I can tell, no one is seeing the
whole picture. Any unburned flammable gas leaking around an open
flame in an unventilated, enclosed area is extremely dangerous. It
doesn’t matter if it’s a sinking gas or a rising gas, it’s still
potentially going to make an explosion. Yes, there are certain extra
safety issues with a sinking gas like propane, but natural gas,
acetylene or hydrogen are plenty explosive as well.

There are thousands and thousands of homes in America that have
propane piped inside. Propane heats stoves, water heaters, and home
heaters, even powers some refrigerators. Propane can be legally used
indoors as far as I know everywhere in America. The reason people
hear that propane tanks often aren’t legally allowed indoors is that
those 5 gallon tanks that most people buy are single wall tanks that
are only rated for outdoor use. Those tanks are like bombs if they
get heated. If you really explore the issue you will find that double
wall, indoor rated propane tanks not only exist they are plentiful.
Those little propane tanks that you buy at most hardware stores and
many grocery stores for powering camping stoves and lanterns are
double wall tanks. (Notice those gas-filled disposable tanks are
indoors at the grocery store when you buy them.) The Smith Micro
Torch sells a regulator specifically designed for those disposable
tanks for about $35. A $3.00 disposable propane tank can last for
months with a Micro Torch under heavy use. Not only is the disposable
tank double wall and legal indoors, it also is only a small amount of
gas, lessening potential danger if there is a leak. If you want a
bigger tank, you can get indoor rated double wall tanks from your gas
supplier like we have at the college that I teach at.

The primary issue with the original question is what torch is safe
in an enclosed basement in a residence? As long as there is no leak,
the torch or tank is not right next to a heat source and there is
adequate ventilation, there is no problem with any torch, but if
there is a gas leak and an open flame you’ve got a big problem with
any flammable gas. If you truly want to be safe, spend some money and
buy a hydrogen generator torch which only creates as much gas as it
burns and is designed to be used where gas tanks of any kind are not
legally allowed.

Remember, in many ways this is the most important issue, others have
mentioned it here as well… If you are doing business in a
residence without the proper permits, inspections and business
insurance you are voiding most home owner policies, assuming you are
a home owner. You could not only burn down your own building, but the
entire neighborhood as well and be financially and legally liable for
it. Potentially there are far more lives than your own at stake here.
It’s good you are doing your research. An accident like we’re talking
about isn’t a problem until it happens. When it does it could be life
changing for all those who surround you. I hate sounding so serious
here, but you asked a serious question. Even if you bought the
hydrogen/oxygen generator torch with no gas tank and accidentally
started a fire, you’d still be legally and financially liable for
damage without the proper insurance.

Jeff Georgantes
Dartmouth College

Hi Andy,

Your oxygen tank is not explosive or flammable in itself,
technically, however it’s full of a great oxidizer, which, by
definition aids burning. Oxygen plus fuel plus ignition huge
explosion. As in bye-bye house.

A severed gas hose, plus a severed oxygen hose, if ignited while
pressure is available will create a scene you will not want to witnes
ever again, but at least that may be controllable. The presence of
available fuel plus a surplus of oxygen, like a broken-off valve from
the O2 tank…welll…you won’t be around to tell about it.
Remember, we are working on top of pressurized potential bombs.
There’s a reason most malls won’t allow gas canisters around. Safety
first.

Wayne

Thank you Mike, for taking the time to elaborate on gas safety.
You’ve just authored the protocol placard that will be posted at my
future bench. That’s got to be the most descriptive walk through
I’ve read (and watched) yet, and I’ve read tons. I’m awaiting my
flashback arrestors from Rio but will now go out and find “industrial
grade” leak detector. I’m still not anxious to open a valve but will
when my mind is confidently ahead of the points of risk. It does good
to see reminders that experience and comfort don’t make the
possibility of consequences go away.

Jaye