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Do small butane soldering torches work?


#1

One of my goals for 2004 was to try my hand at metalsmithing. I
finally found a person to give me affordable private lessons and I
was hooked from the very start.

I’m now trying to set up my own studio space. After weighing all my
options, my garage looks like the best space to use. The only
drawback of using the garage is we have a gas water heater with an
open pilot light flame. For safety and insurance reasons, I can’t see
risking an acetylene tank.

On page 12 of Murray Bovin’s book, “Jewelry Making for Schools,
Tradesmen, Craftsmen” Revised Ed., he says soldering can be done
with a hand-held butane soldering torch. He pictures a GB2001 Blazer
micro torch with replaceable cylinders. I understand the limitations
associated with this torch, but what I’m wondering is if they really
work? I would be using it for silver and small jewelry pieces only.

I’ve read some books that say only the larger torches work. My
instructor has no experience with a smaller torch. Can anyone advise
me?

Silversmithing and Art Metal for Schools, Tradesmen, Craftsmen
By Murray Bovin


Price: $17.95

Media: Paperback
Manufacturer : Bovin Pub
Release data : 01 June, 1977

Thanks in advance,
Tracy
Tracy’s Treasures


#2
    On page 12 of Murray Bovin's book, "Jewelry Making for
Schools, Tradesmen, Craftsmen" Revised Ed., he says soldering can
be done with a hand-held butane soldering torch. He pictures a
GB2001 Blazer micro torch with replaceable cylinders. I understand
the limitations associated with this torch, but what I'm wondering
is if they really work?  I would be using it for silver and small
jewelry pieces only. 

It depends on exactly what you mean by “work.” Yes, butane micro
torches have a flame, so they “work.” Unfortunately, it is somewhat
difficult (but not impossible) for even an experienced silversmith
to use a butane micro torch for anything more than small silver
pieces.

The problem is that silver conducts heat very well. So well, in
fact, that all of the pieces to be soldered must be at or near the
same temperature at the same time for the solder to flow
effectively. If they aren’t, the heat is conducted away from the
join and the solder won’t flow. It’s tough to keep even a
small-sized piece hot enough with a cigar lighter like the GB2001.
Another problem is that butane doesn’t burn as hot as other gases.
Like the book says, it can be done…but there are serious
limitations.

The good news is that the Smith company’s “Little Torch” also uses
replaceable cylinders; propane, as well as acetylene and oxygen. The
three propane tips supplied with it are up to most silver soldering
tasks. There is also a rosebud (or multi-orifice) tip available that
will get hot enough to melt a couple ounces of silver, and I’ve used
it for just that purpose. I also use it for soldering bezels to
VERY heavy backs. I used the replaceable cylinders with my Little
Torch for 4 years before I switched to refillable tanks. Besides,
acetylene, propane and oxygen tanks are available in fairly small
sizes and can be strapped to a caddy that makes them quite portable.
You could store them outside and wheel them in and out of your
garage as you need to work. Just be sure to learn how to test for
leaks, and do it frequently.

Do yourself a favor and Google “GB2001 Blazer.” Go ahead, I’ll
wait…okay, back? Click on the first listed page (there
were only two when I looked) and read what it says. Go ahead,
I’ll…never mind, I’ll just paste it here…it says, and I quote:
“A perennial favourite, the incomparable GB2001 Blazer Blue Flame
table torch is a fantastic multi-function tool that will not only
light your cigar beautifully, but will toast your creme brullee’s,
do delicate soldering, and is a great conversation piece to boot.”

Okay, they agree it will do delicate soldering work. But it really
is better suited for lighting cigars and toasting your creme
brullee. Just don’t expect to solder much more than jump rings with
it.

James in SoFl


#3

Yes, indeed, they do work … with limitations. At one time I was
building mini kilns out of bits of charcoal blocks and using two
butane torches, one in each hand. Which was annoying when I needed
another hand to add a solder snippet or nudge an element back into
place. But it does work fine for both silver and gold.

Everything you make must be small and not too thick. Earrings,
chains, rings and small pendants are generally not a problem.
Brooches and larger pendants are tricky. Cuff bracelets are out of
the question - the flame just isn’t big enough. Annealing can be
tricky too because of the pinpoint flame. As the pieces get larger
it takes longer to get everything up to temp, and you will find they
become very susceptible to firescale.

But - it does work! Use charcoal blocks to help maintain the heat
and reflect it back onto your pieces, try not to use third hands and
other heat sinks, keep your pieces small, and you’ll be amazed at
what you can accomplish with such a little torch. I don’t have my
’real’ torch set up all the time, so even now if I just need a jump
ring or some other quick little thing I’ll pull out my butane torch
because it’s so quick and easy.

~kara


#4
... I understand the limitations associated with this torch, but
what I'm wondering is if they really work? I would be using it for
silver and small jewelry pieces only.

Hello Tracy,

I’ve used both the little rechargeable butane torch you named, the
GB2001, and a propane Bernzomatic torch with the disposable tank for
years to do the kind of work you describe. For that kind of work
they are both useful and practical despite their “bush league”,
non-professional appearance and reputation.

The little butane torch is fine for soldering jump-rings, attaching
bails to small pendants, annealing small pieces, melting small bits
of silver into balls, etc. A rough guide might be that as long as the
mass of metal you’re trying to heat to soldering point is less than a
5 cent piece or so then it’ll work nicely. You can even push it to the
size of a 25 cent piece if you’re careful about surrounding it with
firebricks or whatever. Large rings, for example, are out of the
question but many a small ring and earring can be done quite nicely
with a wee torch like this. Melting is much more demanding and you’ll
find that you’ll be hard pressed to melt even as much as a pea-sized
lump of silver with this torch.

One suggestion I would make if you do decide to add the propane torch
to your repertoire is to get one that comes with or allows
replaceable torch tips. The one I used --and still use!-- has three
tips: a big wide bushy one for annealing, a full-on blowtorch one for
large jobs and a small “pencil” flame for smaller jobs. You can cover
a lot of ground with a set-up like that. I’ve soldered heavy silver
bracelets (50+ grams) and been able to melt as much as an ounce of
silver. It ain’t a pretty torch and it certainly ain’t professional
calibre but it will work and you will be able to make a good variety
of small jewellery with it.

Once you start to get serious about your metalwork you’ll quickly
discover that neither of these torches is going to do the job right
over the long term. They wear out --I’ve gone through three or four of
the little butane jobbies-- the fuel is not cheap, the propane flame
does not have a fine enough control and has a tendency to "whoosh"
when you slosh the gas container around, you don’t have enough heat to
do a lot of things you’re probably going to want to do, etc, etc,
etc. But then you’re probably already know all that.

In other words the limitations of these torches are are legion, as
you would expect, but if you’re willing to live with that for the
time being one or both of those torches will get you well on your way.

Cheers,
Trevor F.


#5

Tracy,

Many many years ago when I was starting out and could not afford
equipment I used a hand held Plumbers torch and a hand held micro
torch.

Yes there are limitations to these torches but I will tell you that
if you master the use of them on repair work you will find using a
full size torch outfit to be a breeze.

By determining the heat that these torches produced, I was capable
of soldering a delicate open link chain with the larger hand held
Plumbers torch.

Make sure you practice on some scrap items to determine how best to
use them.

the major drawbacks to these hand held torches is the cost of
replacing cylinders and you can not do casting.

Good Luck
Greg DeMark
email: greg@demarkjewelry.com
Website: www.demarkjewelry.com
Custom Jewelry - Handmade Jewelry - Antique Jewelry


#6

I’ve used a butane torch for some time with good success on small
stuff. I’ve soldered earings, rings pendants, you name it. Even for
making granules in silver and in gold. I don’t have a ‘real’ studio
or shop, most of my work is done right in my kitchen (firebrick
right on stovetop) or workbench in the den (right next to kitchen).
I do have a bigger propane torch, but I use it outside or in the
garage. Butane torch on larger pieces doens’t work as well, like a
cuff bracelet, just too much metal for the butane to heat up. But I
love the small portable size of the butane types. Besides which,
butane is safer inside because it disipates rather than settling on
the floor like other gases.


#7

Tracy,

I bought a little butane torch at a hardware store - not sure how it
compares to the model that you are referring to, but it does work
for soldering small things, like jump rings. For larger pieces, I
have trouble getting the piece to heat up enough for the solder to
flow - so I bought a propane torch, also from the hardware store,
that doesn’t have quite the control of the little butane one, but
gets hotter. Between the two, which were both inexpensive & are
small/portable, I’ve been able to solder everything I’ve tried to
solder, although I haven’t done anything that is very large or with
lots of solder joints. I guess I should mention that I’ve been
working with sterling silver, using hard and medium solder, in case
that is relevant to you.

Leah
www.michondesign.com
@Leah2


#8

recommend them. They always seem to gum up, start spitting, go out
intermittently - everything you don’t want to happen in the middle of
a soldering job. And if you got a high quality one, you’d still end
up paying an unacceptable price for the fuel, and they run out of
fuel quickly. I can’t think of many good arguments for using a mini
butane torch for anything but a pocket lighter.

I’ve been using (completely inappropriately) a Bernz O Matic brazing
torch kit, substituting propane for the brazing fuel. This offers
utterly no control over where the flame goes, and tends to melt
projects in a hurry if you’re not extremely careful, but it suggests
to me that a plain-jane hardware store blowtorch might suit your
needs for the time being.


#9

Acetylene will not give you a problem. It is lighter than air.
Propane on the other hand is heaver than air and may present a
problem if there are leaks and it is around the gas water heater.
We use both natural gas/oxygen and acetylene in our studio (near a
natural gas water heater) with no problem (and without our local
fire marshal having a problem).

Cheers.
John Fetvedt
bijoux de terre
http://www.jef.com


#10

Hi James,

Thank you for the wonderful insight into cigars and creme brullee.
HA! I like your style :smiley:

But seriously, thank you for the great I need a torch
to handle soldering more than just delicate items. I’ll have to take
another look at the Smith torches. I was just reluctant to buy
something that expensive when what I really wanted was an acetylene
setup. I want to learn smithing so badly, but I also want to be smart
about my tool purchases, too.

Our community codes restrict having “out buildings” on our
properties … ie sheds and unattached structures. Otherwise, I’d
have purchased a nice sized shed, wired it for power and gone to
town. Maybe I’ll buy a shed anyway, pass out cigars and creme brullee
to our community code enforcement members and hope they’ll look the
other way.

Cheers,
Tracy


#11

Dear Tracy,

The only drawback of using the garage is we have a gas water
heater with an open pilot light flame. For safety and insurance
reasons, I can't see risking an acetylene tank.

I had a similar problem; it is more widespread than usually
recognized. I got a hold of something called the Precision LP Gas
Torch. This is hot enough to alloy gold or silver and it can be
operated off of a disposable canister with good results. This is the
only product of its kind that I know of, it is in fact designed for
professional jewelers. It lives up to its billing; I personally
prefer it to air/acetylene for silver. But I do not want to overly
influence a choice, only point out this option, I am very happy with
mine. http://www.apecs.com.au/guild/lpgas.htm

As for the small butane torch, I can only think of one thing I made
that perhaps could have been done with it. Not to knock the product,
but beyond jump rings and such it’s not going to get it (although I
am told it is excellent for that sort of thing). Also they are not
made for prolonged use at a time.

I would also like to point out an option you may wish to
investigate. If you are the homeowner you might want to see about a
natural gas torch. As for a good one, I wouldn’t know, but I am sure
several list members use one.

Take some time and decide on all options, then make the choice. For
instance you may prefer the safety factor of a torch operated off a
disposable canister (only a limited amount available) over the
attractive advantages of a natural gas torch. The type of work to be
done should also be considered, although my torch and natural gas are
not mentioned see http://users.lmi.net/~drewid/PWR_gasses.html for a
general discussion. (You may not need that info, I include it for
perhaps someone out there that may wish to know.) This will give some
idea on choice. A “water” torch may be an option, but like all, it
can not do every thing best, has some limits, expensive also. But do
investigate everything thoroughly. (As some things claimed for some
products, which I will refrain from mentioning, are to put it kindly,
bull. Moreover, I do not really think some stories I have seen as
credible, even if, such feats as using multiple tiny torches in each
hand are at best ridiculous.)

One guy off the lapidary arts list wrote me that he got hold of a
used oxygen generator for $100, and used disposable propane cans with
his little torch. I now have a chance to get one of those (free), but
will still use my LP torch (a better choice on silver). I am pleased
enough with what I have that I am in no hurry, but may wish at some
time work a platinum or palladium project, until then I have no need.
(But will get it just the same for storage.) Good luck and keep an
open mind.


#12

I am a tool hound. I currently have 5 torches: 1 for
glass,oxypropane little, oxyacetylenen litttle, oxyacetylene
cutting/welding, self igniting butane, and self igniting propane. My
favorite for silver is the Self-igniting propane. I learned to
solder on gas-air large torches (a common propane torch i.e. $15 is
the most similar) I still find it is the best torch for annealing,
and while jigging things up so you don’t have to hold something in a
tweezer takes time, it still my preferred torch for soldering- the
joins are stronger since you’re not holding the piece or tweezer and
transmitting “solder shake” (like holding a camera for a long
exposure) It’s not that good for gold, and probably wouldn’t be good
for argentium silver (I don’t Know- I haven’t tried it yet- Curses)
Silver is so heat conductive you want a big flame, and both pieces
that are being soldered have to be the same temperature. I also
find I get very little firescale this way, compared to oxypropane
small torch and cooking one spot to get it to solder. The butane
torches have a comfortable feel, but the flame is too small for much
more than soldering links in a chain. If it takes half an hour to
heat something to soldering temp, you need a bigger+/or hotter
flame. I’ve even cast with it , tho only small amounts (1oz or less)
of silver. Note- Gold is a whole other story.


#13

Tracy

My first torch was a small butane Blazer torch. It works well on very
small items. But it has limitations. It does not have enough heat
for larger items. I have had problems soldering findings onto 20Ga
sterling silver brooches larger than about 1 square inch. Also, you
also have to refill it quite often if you do a lot of soldering.

A better bet, and in the same price range would be a Bernzomatic
pencil torch. It works off of a plumbers type 1 pound disposable
propane bottle. The hand piece has a 3 or four foot long flexible
hose on it. The propane tank lasts for a very long time. It
provides more heat than a Blazer torch, but still not enough heat
for larger jewellery pieces. I currently use a Little Torch, with oxy
/ propane. My propane source is a 1 pound disposable bottle and my
oxygen is in a high pressure cylinder. I feel that this is a safe
setup and provides ample heat for typical sized jewellery pieces.

As your main concern seems to be safety, I suggest that you search
the orchid archives as they contain a wealth of related
to the safe use of soldering gases.

Regards
Milt Fischbein
Calgary Alberta Canada


#14

Hi Greg,

I’ve thought about the plumbers torch and I just don’t think they’ll
work for me. I’ve got small hands and really like the more precision
control I get using a torch with a handle.

Someone else suggested using a propane torch assembly, so I’m going
to check that out this weekend.

Cheers,
Tracy


#15

Hi John,

That’s interesting to hear. I always knew propane pools on the
floor. If I go with propane, I’ll store the tank outside, so I won’t
have to worry about leaks when I’m not using the gas. Since I’m in my
garage, I’d probably have the door open at least half way when
soldering, so I’m not concerned with a gas buildup (plus our heater
is about 5 inches off the floor). I was hoping to avoid having to lug
a tank in and out every time I wanted to use it, but I promised my
husband I’d find the safest way not to burn the house down or cause
any major explosions.

I guess the other thing I need to find out is if it’s OK to store
acetylene tanks outdoors. I don’t know how hard it is to take the
hose off after each use. I’m guessing the hose would rot due to
extreme temp changes if I stored it outdoors. I’d love to be able to
use the torch/gas I’m learning on because that’s what I’m comfortable
with.

I know I’m probably fretting over nothing, but I’d rather find out
about all my options now.

Thanks for the info.
Tracy


#16

Don Norris [http://silversmithing.homestead.com/SilverClasses1.html]
states that he starts his students with the common $10.00 propane
torch from the hardware store.

I have never tried his material but he definitely seems confident.


#17
    Besides which, butane is safer inside because it dissipates
rather than settling on the floor like other gases. 

Dawn Butane is heavier than propane and has a tendency to sink and
pool on the floor.

It is neither safer nor more dangerous to use than propane.

Regards
Milt Fischbein
Calgary Canada


#18
    Thank you for the wonderful insight into cigars and creme
brullee. HA! I like your style :-D 

You’re welcome, Tracy :slight_smile: You also may want to consider an
acetylene/air torch. One gas bottle is all you’d need. It won’t get
as hot as a gas/oxygen setup, but it can sometimes be a little more
cost effective. You can order a decent rig from Indian Jewelers
Supply at www.ijsinc.com with interchangeable tips and a bottle full
of gas. Last time I checked, the price was around $150 - 160 US, but
there is a hazardous material shipping fee in the neighborhood of
$40 and a #10 crating fee.

One more thing, one of the local welding suppliers here had a
complete oxy/acetylene welding/brazing kit, complete with full
bottles for under $200. Of course, the tips are practically useless
for most jewelry-making operations, but they stock smaller
replacement tips that work perfectly. This kit had the bottles
filled and secured in a caddy, ready to use immediately. Best of
luck to you, Tracy.

James in SoFl


#19

Hi Tracy,

I have been using the Smith torch for acetylene for the past 25
years and wouldn’t trade it for any other kind. I have used a few
others and I like the ease of changing out the head pieces. There is
no confusion as to the opening I am using with this torch. I use it
to teach with also and I haven’t had any complaints from any of my
students either. Periodically ( once every couple years) I need to
change the “o” rings out, but no big deal.

You won’t be wasting your money on that purchase. But I know others
who would disagree with me. We all have the tools we have because we
are comfortable with them. Everyone is an individual and picks what
is comfortable for them. Just like techniques, we do what we do,
because we like the way we do it.

Jennifer Friedman
enamelist, jewelry artisan, ceremonial silver
Ventura, CA


#20
Someone else suggested using a propane torch assembly, so I'm
going to check that out this weekend. 

Hi Tracey,

In your note that started this thread you expressed concern about
having acetylene in your garage with your gas water heater. Please
keep in mind for propane as well, it is heavier than air and will
pool around the bottom of the room if you were to have a leak. Not a
good thing to have happen around a pilot light. Please ask questions
and get some safety info from your local welding supply place. Be
safe so you can continue having fun!

Carrie Nunes