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Oxy-Propane setups: does size impact safety in intermittently used studios?

Hello all! Long time lurker, first-time poster.

After years of being blocked by a lovely but wary studio mate, the studio mate has moved on and I joyously decided on expanding my studio operations with a Little Smith oxy-propane setup (the 5lb propane tank kit). I’m now second-guessing myself (residual studio-mate side eye?) because I’m wondering if I’m behaving irresponsibly in getting a larger tank when I only make it into my studio on weekends at best. Logically, I know that a well-set-up and secured tank won’t pose any leakage threats despite only being used intermittently, but I wanted to hear from more experienced smiths in the community.

For context, I want the larger tank because the smaller setups with disposable tanks aren’t intended for use with rosebud tips, and I have been wanting to explore raising large vessels and forging larger body jewellery, and would like the additional power/size – and wouldn’t mind one day being able to do sand casting in the studio, either. Am I making assumptions? Is it smarter to just get a really weenie propane setup and supplement with a weed burner and/or melting furnace one day? Am I overthinking this and/or being irrational?

Thanks in advance! -IV

I do all that you describe, with the exception of raising large vessels using a Meco Midget and Little Torch both sharing propane from 1 lb. refillable cylinders and O2 from a medical O2 generator. I have rosebud tips for my meco and have used them on occasion, but the larger regular tips work fine for any annealing, soldering and delft clay casting that I do. Look at my website www.robmeixner.com to see the size work that I do. I work almost everyday and get 1.5 - 2.5 months out of a propane tank refill. Look at flameking.com for refillable cylinders and refilling setups. If we leave the house overnight for any period of time, I just remove the tank and put it into an unattached shed in the back yard. Good luck…Rob

I have my tank (10 gallons) outside the wall of the soldering station. I have it piped in. That is probably the safest bet. Stay safe. Vince LaRochelle

Not sure where you live or if the pipe is buried, but up here in the frozen north we worry about ice sliding off our roofs cutting gas pipes off.

You cannot have 5# tanks indoors, your insurance company will go ape. Propane is heavier than air, it does not disperse and it will pool along the ground until it finds an ignition source. Besides, you don’t want to be melting silver with Ox/Pro anyway. Good for soldering, not so much melting.

Thanks for sharing, Rob! I live in the most temperate (second-most temperate?) part of Canada (Vancouver), and I have a studio in the industrial district because my strata would lose their minds if they thought I was soldering in our apartment. So the big concern on my end is not being close by to check on the tank regularly, or to have a place to store it outside.

Some other locals I’ve asked are suggesting to simply sidestep the Little Smith and get an Orca instead (with one-litre propane tanks) if I’m so concerned about safety. Certainly a lot to think about!

Please look at the past post on this subject. There are many. About 10 years ago now I went through the process of trying to make my shop safe and still be able to do the work that I do. At the time I had just transitioned from a single stage acetylene presto-lite torch ( I had used it for over thirty years), to an acetylene/O2 torch with all the tanks, regulators, back flash arrestors, check valves and on and on . They scared the hell out of me. Not using them but having high pressure tanks in my cellar shop. After a lot of research, I settled on a Meco on a 1 lb. tank with a non-adjustable regulator and O2 from a medical O2 generator. It does all I need to do from the finest solder joint to melting 50 grams of silver to cast. The Orca (EZ Torch ) will not give you the heat you need to solder larger pieces and cast more than a couple of grams. It is great for annealing and I use one to anneal every day. That is my experience. If others have otherwise great…Rob

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I use oxygen propane for everything. Including melting and pouring ingots of sterling, bronze, white, rose and yellow golds. Not sure why it would be a problem with sterling… I have used this fuel for 35 years, and cast with it also for years…

I have made the transition from Prestolite to propane and Oxygen as well. Mine was not due to worry over pressurized tanks in the house. I worked with C and D tanks on a daily basis for a number of years building steel fishing boats. I was more afraid of tipping something pretty heavy on my foot than I was blowing up the house.

I changed over because I could generate my own oxygen and buy propane at the grocery if I ran out of gas on the the week end. I use a Smith Little Torch and an Orca EZ-Torch in my shop. I still have the presto set up but I haven’t found a need for it except for a little plumbing repair.

Google “how many propane tanks explode a year” and get ready for opinions from the insurance industry and the propane industry.

Safety in the shop is a state of mind and a method of practice while you work. If you know your tools and your job, safety is easy to achieve. But you have to have your mind on it all the time. I am more concerned about spinning motors than I am lighting a torch.

Don Meixner

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Have to disagree with the statement about bringing a 5 lb tank indoors. I called my insurance agent (State Farm) to inquire and was told no problem with bringing a propane tank (5 lb) into my home. Before calling I read my policy. There was nothing in it forbidding bringing propane in. That’s why I called to verify what I had read.

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Greetings,

Like my brother I am using one pound green cans of propane. I bought mine at the grocery. Rob refills his. I think you will find that different states, counties, and even townships have different laws regarding everything. My last 40 years dealing with the vagaries of the Code Gods from one town to another in New York State have shown me that. The fire chief who lives up the road from me says, “Chain the tank so it can’t fall over.” Asking your insurance person what they prefer is wise. But ultimately it falls on the smith to take care.

Don

Thank you again to everyone who’s taken the time to share their thoughts so far. I’m beginning to conclude that it really just comes down to being responsible, and systematically diligent with frequent checks and the usual and obvious safety protocols like shutting off all valves and bleeding the lines after each use.

I think you will find that different states, counties, and even townships have different laws regarding everything. My last 40 years dealing with the vagaries of the Code Gods from one town to another in New York State have shown me that.

Just so. In Vancouver, where I live, the maximum permitted for indoor propane use in industrial areas is one 5lb propane canister, or two 1lb canisters for food operations. I spoke to our local fire prevention people and found the propane bylaw so in the eyes of the law at least I’m covered. On the insurance end… we’ll see.

You cannot have 5# tanks indoors, your insurance company will go ape.

That is of some concern to me, yes. Not so much for myself so much as for my landlord, since I’m hunting for a new provider and policy separate from my home insurance. I may ask you all more about this in a separate thread. There doesn’t appear to be as much information on that as I’d like, because everyone’s circumstances are so different.

My studio is in my garage and I have my gas tanks on carts outside the garage door. I use a Smith Silversmith air/acetylene torch which I have on one cart, and a Smith Little Torch with oxy/propane (5# propane tank) on the other cart. I just roll which ever one I want to use into the garage when I need it. My oxygen regulator blew a few months ago and was spewing O2 into my studio when I stepped out for a break. I’m so glad it wasn’t a fuel gas. That spooked my about storing gases inside. I’m considering getting a larger propane tank and having it plumbed through the wall. I’m just a hobbyist so don’t work in there a lot.

It’s a problem for sterling because sterling absorbs ox like crazy. It is difficult to melt with a proper reducing flame with propane. It requires too much more ox than acetylene.

I was told by my insurance agent that I could only use the small disposable tanks indoors. Problem is that the oxygen disposables don’t last and are expensive in the long run and have to be disposed of with hazardous waste which is a pain. All that to say that it depends on individual insurance policies and location regulations. I get around the oxygen cost by using a butane torch for small jobs.

Use a medical O2 generator. I and others on this discussion board have for years and they work fine. My current model is a 5 LPM generator that I bought used from a local medical device supplier. They overhaul them first. They are made to run 24/7 for months. 10,000 hours it not an unusual duty service for them. How long would it take for you to run a torch for 10,000 hours. Actually, they have to run a few hours each week to keep the separator beds happy. I run a Meco Midget and Little Torch in tandem of the O2 generator and 1 lb. camp stove cylinders that I refill from a 20 lb. tank. (See flameking.com). I regularly solder large cuff bracelets and do up to 50 gram melts. Lots of discussion in the archives about this type of setup. I have also passed it by my insurance people and they are OK with it. Try to find a local source for these generators. They are horribly expensive from the usual sources that we use. My two cents…Rob

Hmmm… never had a problem…. Been doing it for 30 years.

I don’t find the 1lb cans particularly expensive for what you get out of them…and they can be refilled from a 20lb tank easily with an adapter. You can even do small melts with them if you make sure to start with a full tank so you don’t run out during a melt. If you refill you’ll have little hazardous waste. A two pack of 1lb cans is currently $7.37 at my local Wally and the adapter to refill them is about $8 on ebay. With a 20lb refill being less than $20, I think your cost would be under a dollar a can, which would be pennies per solder joint. It’s probably cheaper to refill your 20lb tank at a refill station than it would be to do an exchange at the local grocery. When you consider the increase in safety and the ability to comply with any home insurance regulations, I think it’s well worth it.

I feel a little dense, but Don and Rob along with others on this thread referenced refillable oxygen tanks and disposable propane ones, which I hadn’t seen as an option, but I now see Rio Grande sells them as kits.

I think that fits my needs perfectly: 1) propane safety and 2) not having to be subjected to an absurdly short burn time and 3) sidestepping expense of the smaller disposable oxygen tanks. It would also give me time to become accustomed to the new rig before I eventually switch over to the larger refillable propane tank – at which point I could very easily just purchase the regulator and tank locally at significantly reduced cost when compared to shipping a big honking tank over our border: shipping even that kit with just one of the heavy tanks to Vancouver is over US$100 alone!

Then I’ll install a carbon monoxide and natural gas detector close to the floor and huzzah I think I’m good!

You are very lucky. I pay almost $20 per small disposable tank and it hardly lasts me anytime. I cannot get the 20 lb tank without a permit and we aren’t allowed to refill disposable tanks, thereby nullifying the insurance.