Fear of torch and students lighting torches

I am a self taught metal artist and have decided to go back to
school, the torch set up at school is natural gas and oxy, I use a
smith little torch propane oxy for 15 years, I am also dyslexic.

My problem is I am afraid of the torch, any ideas on how to get over
the fear of being around beginning students lighting torches. I know
I don’t crank down the oxygen as much as other jewelers, but I taught
myself how to solder. I was told the teacher likes to scare students
with the torch, help, any good tutorial on how to get over the fear
that someone will do something stupid,


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Think, relax, and open your mind. Fear is inhibiting while repect is
empowering. Repect your torch, and when possible encourage others to
do the same. Accidents can happen, as can bone heads (soldering two
domes without an air vent driled into one of them, heat, gas expand
rapidly, metal foes flying). Remember the basics:

  • You don’t want to light oxygen, therefore fuel out, then oxygen.
    Oxy off then fuel.

  • For an enclosed vessel, if there’s air in there then it will want
    to come out as air expands when heated, which of course soldering
    will do.

Relaxation techniques will help with the trepidation, as does
acceptence of what can happen. We can easily be afflicted by such
throughout our daily lives, but developing agorophabia out of fear
doesn’t help you. Moving metal, heating to allow the crystalene
structures to realign, helping connect the bland to make to
extrodinary. In short embrace the joys of what a torch offers the
metal artists and all the wonderful things that are happening on a
level we can’t see and you’ll more likely to come to love working
with the torch.

With regards to others, it won’t take long for you to learn who you
don’t trust to work around, also if horseplay start to occure, then
simply walk away and come back to your work when it’s safe.

Good luck in your metamorphasis from torch-fearer to torch-embracer.


K. David Woolley
Fredericton, NB
Diversiform Metal Art & Jewellery

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I was told the teacher likes to scare students with the torch, help
Vicki, if this is true you should really do yourself a favor and
find another teacher and another school. Any knucklehead who would do
such a thing is not a good teacher. If you’re already a metal artist,
there are plenty of books and instructional videos that can be of
more use than such a “teacher.” Check ganoksin.com’s The Jeweler’s
Selected Bibliography to find plenty to choose from.

any good tutorial on how to get over the fear that someone will do
something stupid, I know this isn’t what you’re looking for, but
getting completely over that particular fear is not necessarily the
best solution. If you can replace the fear that someone will do
something stupid with an awareness that someone might do
something stupid, you’ll be creating a safer environment for yourself
(in any situation) through increased alertness.

Of course, nothing can protect one from idiotic horseplay, such as
scaring the students with dangerous equipment. If that’s the case,
continue looking for a different instructor or avenue of instruction.
Books and instructional videos about goldsmithing aren’t exactly
cheap, but they don’t sneak up behind you, fill an upside-down paper
cup with gas and ignite it behind your back POW!

James S. Duncan, G.G.
James in SoFL

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When I was at college I had the same issue with fear of the
torch…we had a oxy and natural gas system aswell and had two types
of torches…one was a smaller melting torch and the other was a huge
casting torch…I am 4ft 10 and this torch was as big and as heavy as
i was…and offcourse the loud bang that occurs when u are turning
the flame off and foget to turn the oxygen off first doesnt
help…What i suggest ou do is to to remember on which side the taps
are for the gas and oxygen and if u forget the colour of the piping
should indicate, usually its red for the gas and blue for the
oxygen…that how i always remembered never to turn the gas off
first…I held the torch in my hands and made friends with it
almost…study it and get comfy with it in your hands…the story of
the teacher that will use shock therapy on you would basically mean
he/she will make it “POP” by turning the gas off first…thats
all…it will make u jump the first few times…but always remember
to keep the torch nozzel up towards the extractor and away from
you…visualise if u think you going to forget, remember that when
turning the torch on you have to light with gas so the first flame u
see if an orange fire flame…and thats the last type of flame you
shuld see when turning off the torch…

I hope i have explained myself well enough foryou to understand…i
can get so lost in thought that i dont make much sense…hope this
helps…its gets better the more u use it, so dont avoid it likei
used to do…

Raakhi Rana

Ask one of the other students for help. More often than not the
students are better teachers than the “teacher”. They are going
through a similar experience and might understand your concerns

Kevin Kelly

Hi Vicki

My problem is I am afraid of the torch, any ideas on how to get
over the fear of being around beginning students lighting torches. 

I’m guessing that this is something that is not a trivial matter for
you. I can’t answer your specific question, as I don’t have the same
fear. However, speaking as someone who has to find a way to deal
with various fears, i thought I might speak up.

I believe that where there is one fear, there is usually a few more.
I also believe the old adage “face your fears head-on” is dead wrong.
I have faced my fears before and was only left terrified and a bit

Try to find what would bring you comfort. In the class I was in, the
torch was lit inside a big fire-proof box with only the front of the
box open. This seems like it might help. You could let your
instructor know of your nervousness before the class. That way
he/she might be sensitive enough to not scare the ** out of you.

I have a fear of crowds. It’s a pretty big one for me. I never go to
wholesale shows. However, since I would like to exhibit at larger
retail shows, I have to find a way to deal with it. To me, the
construction of my jewelry display case is very important. It has to
be made in such a way that it will provide a comfortable barrier
between me and the public (with no room for anyone to come behind
the jewelry case itself as this is my “space”). To someone without
such fears, this behavior sounds bizarre, but such is life. I do what
I do.

Good Luck, and know that your mind is making your fear bigger and
bigger. If you find a way to go to the class and go through having
the torch lit by a student, you’ll probably look back and say, “that
wasn’t bad at all”

Kim Starbard

Now that’s a bizarre tale!!! A teacher who likes to “Scare students
with the torch!?!?!” What kind of idiot could he be? It’s not that I
disbelieve you, it’s just bizarre that anyone could be that stupid. As
for your fear of the torch, I would suggest that familiarity and
practice should solve that, and using common sense precautions -
always point it away from you, etc. As far as the teacher - IF it’s
actually true (it could be a school rumor, like Mrs. Hatchett keeps
snakes in her basement), then I would suggest that you be the one to
stop it. If he should do such things, let him know you don’t think
it’s funny. If that doesn’t work, tell his boss you don’t think it’s
funny. I don’t think it’s funny…


My advice is that any teacher who wants to scare a student with the
torch shouldn’t be teaching. Go somewehere else. Good luck with your


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Vicki - I recently finished 3 years of university level jewelry
design after 35 years owning my own business (not jewelry related).
When I began school I too was afraid of the torch but found that
using the natural gas/oxy was safer in the school setting than the
other setups I have used at the craft guild, etc.

My best investment has been the electronic torch lighter. I found
the frustration and lack of reliability of the spark flint type of
lighter caused me more anxiety than anything else. I highly
recommend the Torch Mate or any of the numerous type of electronic
lighters on the market through Roseco, Rio Grande or other supply
houses. Keep trying…practice makes perfect!



Lighting a torch is a serious matter. Any teacher who ‘likes to
scare students with the torch’ should be sacked, tarred and feathered
at the same time! I hope the allegations are not true.

I find at least one student out of 10 is afraid of lighting a torch.
My way of handling it (others probably have their way) and de-mystify
the process, is to demonstrate everything about the torch system
first. From the tank to the tip…explain it all, what it does, how
it does it and why. Then explain the electronic lighter (i.e., its a
mini-taser essentially). Then I light the torch and explain different
types of flames, how to adjust to get the flame you want, and what
each is used for. At that point, each student must light the torch
and adjust it. No one is exempt. If someone is hesitant, I hold their
hand while lighting, several times if necessary. Then they do it

That usually resolves their immediate fears, however, some continue
to flinch for some time until they become completely at ease.

The moral of this little story is, practice in a controlled
environment is the best teacher.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry!

@Vgw417 Im in the same boat. It took me forever to light the new benzomatic copy of smiths that uses mapp gas, and now im on to the smitjs oxy/Propane. Our home burned down 3 years ago and not long sgo a guy came into the ER after his propane tank blew uo and it has me terrified. Not to mention tonight as i was setting it up i tripped over my hose and both hut the floor putting a dent into the bottom of my ixygen so now im really scared to light it.

It’s both OK and natural to be scared. Just don’t let the fear own you.
When I teach both privately and publicly in the first class I spend most of it on tools, machinery, and how to use them safely.
It’s normal for students to be afraid of fire, tools, and machinery. And I do tell my students that there are in fact things in the studio that can maim, kill and explode.
I feel that it’s my job to keep my students safe and to get them over the fear of fire as soon as possible.
Unlike most jewelry teachers I do not start off with saw piercing, filing etc. I first make them melt metal and pour an ingot. Then forge the ingot and make sheet and wire out of it. My observation is that not only having them learn how metal works and it’s strengths and limitations, but most importantly it is a real confidence booster. My students come away with increased confidence and a respect and knowledge of the materials and tools. And yes every one ends up popping the torch when lighting or turning it off. And yes every one just about jumps out of their skin. I then congratulate them on learning from their first mistake.
I find that natural gass/oxy torches are a superior way of soldering and melting metal. Because you can control just how hot or cool you can make the flame. When I dial in a reducing flame and keep it moving rapidly all over the piece. When I see by the flux that soldering temp is really close I then use the fingers on my torch hand to increase the oxygen to a tighter flame. When done right the flame can be like a paintbrush moving the metal to just where you want it.
Oh, and FYI I suffered 3rd degree burns as a small child and spent a lot of the first decade of my life enduring painful surgeries. The burns were not only disfiguring but also diabiling with the contracted scars that couldn’t stretch with my bone and muscle growth.
So my first introduction to a torch was very nerve racking. I had a great teacher who never knew about my past as I kept my scars hidden by both clothing and using body body postures.
I came out of my first torch lessons feeling both empowered and so strong. I can’t begin to tell you how much it changed my self confidence and sense of self. It made me stand up straighter and embrace my scars as a badge of honor. To this day I tell folks that I am my happiest when I have a torch and hammer in hands.
So go to class become a bad ass and make a lot of beautiful things.


i went to a continuing ed day class at a community college…i was amazed…the teacher had the students lighting up prestolite acetylene/ air the first day…she was a well known respwcted teacher…it was great.



I couldn’t tell any better. When we introduced our tiny centrifugal caster we used to offer basic training on casting, melting the metal with the flame of a torch.

We did the same approach by taking fear out of the variables and demonstrate the tool type nature of a quiet or hissing flame. One of the best lucid explanations was to locate the hot spot of the flame by moving the palm of a hand alongside the flame (in a safe distance, of course). Then we went to the real thing:

Hazards have to be addressed in order to handle them properly.


The one thing that I would recommend to you about your “fear of being around beginning students lighting torches”, is to think back and remember how you were when you were first learning how to use a Torch…

Being self-taught, I’m sure that you made many mistakes, had many instances where your Torch popped from being turned off incorrectly or accidentally setting your Fire Coat Wash on fire while not paying attention or having too much pressure and blowing your solder off the solder pick, etc., etc., etc…

Just remember that ALL of us started as a beginner, we ALL made mistakes, we ALL did something stupid, we ALL set things on fire accidentally and hopefully, we ALL learned from those mistakes and improved our Torch handling skills because of them. Will someone in your class do something stupid, Yes, they most likely will, probably several of them, but they will learn from it. Will someone do something stupid and get hurt, Yes, it will probably happen at some point, most especially when you are working with a Torch with hot metals, unfortunately accidents do happen, but hopefully nothing too horribly bad and hopefully they and the rest of your class will learn from it. Just keep this in mind at all times, that your fellow students are beginners and they are there to learn and no one can truly learn without making mistakes…

Who knows, since you already have (15) years of experience with using a Torch, maybe you will be one of the people that your fellow classmates come to for advice and guidance, you will provide them with an example of what to do and what not to do, thus helping them to progress in their Torch Handling Skills much faster than they would normally. You have nothing to fear, you have already learned how to use a Torch, you just have to learn how to use this new Gas and once you have, you will be able to help your fellow students to overcome their own fears and maybe make fewer mistakes along the way! Good Luck!

Lots of great advice here! This is one of those topics where there are multiple approaches and they all can be correct.

At most of the schools that I’ve either been a student or a teacher at, atmospheric torches (air/acetylene) are what are used in beginning jewelry classes. Those torches work pretty well and because there’s no mixing of oxygen and fuel, they’re easier for most folks to learn on. Students learn mixing of oxygen and fuel torches after they’ve had a bit of experience. Nothing wrong with learning oxygen/fuel torches right from the beginning, but that’s not how most schools that I’ve been part of start their beginning classes.

I make sure that when new students light any torch for the first time that they don’t do it alone and that they get any & all questions answered. If it’s not possible for me to individually mentor someone for their first torch lighting because the class is too big, then after a through demonstration, I put students in teams of three to anneal a square of copper. Then I run back and forth between the teams to make sure that everyone gets it. (I’ve taught many semester length community college jewelry classes with 34 students.)

The other thing that I think is very important is to discuss how torches work. An atmospheric torch and a gas stove top operate with fairly similar technology. It’s just with the torch, you’re holding the fire in your hand. I often joke that if you can fry an egg, you can solder a ring.

I also think that it’s important to talk about fire safety. Long hair always has to be tied back. Sometimes bobby pins are necessary. Safety glasses must be worn. Cotton or wool clothing is preferred. No synthetic fabrics. Cotton or wool smolders and doesn’t ignite easily. Synthetic fabrics not only can ignite, they melt. Absolutely nothing flammable can be in the soldering area. It’s amazing to me how often used paper towels can end up in the soldering area.

We also talk about worst case scenarios. How to turn off the torch in an unlikely emergency. Stop, drop and roll. How to use a fire blanket. Where fire extinguishers and fire alarms are.

If students are wearing cotton clothing, hair is tied back, safety glasses are on, there’s nothing flammable in the soldering area, then the chance of an accident is remote. Not impossible, but improbable.

I can’t count the number of jewelry students that I’ve taught at multiple schools & art centers across the USA over the last 30+ years without a single torch related accident. (knock on my soldering block!)

A teacher should create an atmosphere of respect for torches, not fear. Jo said it well, “So go to class become a bad ass and make a lot of beautiful things.”



Your cautions are great advice, but given the possibility of an accident, I’d not give a class without some kind of relevant insurance, a waiver of liability and some advice from an attorney on whether liability can actually be waived. I don’t teach, and probably won’t and the extent of my exposure to liability suits is probably just my front stoop and one rental property, so I sometimes get annoyed that my wife decided to take out an umbrella policy in the millions of dollars (we’re not worth that much), but when I hear of what can happen, I think that the umbrella might be a good idea. -royjohn

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royjohn, I definitely miss the days when lawsuits weren’t so common! Good for you and your wife for protecting yourselves!!


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Do you guys use the rugs that go under wood stoves around your soldering area? I thought of those or even the panels they put behind fireplaces to protect a house.


I’ve got a concrete floor below my torch in my studio, so I don’t have a fireplace rug (or anything) on the floor beneath my torch area.