The concern over soldering gases comes up quite often on Orchid, and
it is a subject that deserves a lot of attention. As with most
controversial topics, there are lots of opinions.
I’ll give you my opinion and then at the end of this post, I’ve
listed some soldering gas facts. I have some background with these
gases as I have worked as a professional engineer for a multinational
oil company for the last 24 years. Propane, natural gas and many of
the other soldering gases are products of the petroleum industry.
I have been making jewellery as a hobby for the last 10 yrs and have
soldered exclusively with 1 pound disposable propane tanks. I
currently have a little torch set up with oxy propane. I started out
with disposable oxy tanks, but found that they ran out way to fast,
so I switched over to a small (forgot the exact size) oxygen tank
which lasts forever for my needs. The reason that I use a one pound
propane tank (the kind the plumbers use) is that it is the smallest
size of propane tank that I can buy. The size of a propane fire or
explosion is reduced if the amount of propane (or any other gas)
available to burn is reduced.
I personally would not bring a 20 lb propane storage tank or an
acetylene B tank into my home. I believe that it exposes me and my
family to an unacceptable level of risk. A large leak ( it has to be
a large leak, tiny leaks of gas from threaded connections will
usually dissipate by themselves and are highly unlikely to explode)
of either one of these gases in a confined and unventilated space
such as a basement workshop can cause an explosion large enough to
seriously damage your house and injure its occupants.
I do believe that jewellers can safely handle these gases at home
and in their studios, but it is much easier to be safe if you are
Below that I have cut an pasted a number of soldering gas facts from
a couple of posts that I sent into Orchid in 1997.
SOME FACTS TO HELP YOU MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS ABOUT SOLDERING
GASES; 1) Propane, acetylene, butane, 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.
Propane and butane are heavier than air and will sink or pool on
the ground. Acetylene weighs about the same as air, and is referred
to as neutrally buoyant, but still behaves a bit like propane and
butane and usually wants to sink or just hang around. Natural gas and
hydrogen are lighter than air and will rise.
Whether a gas pools or rises makes little difference in a confined
space such as a basement studio or a back bedroom. One of these gases
leaking in a room with little or no ventilation is can form an
explosive mixture with air. Once it finds an open flame it will
All propane tanks are equipped with a spring loaded pressure
relief valve. This is required by law to prevent a propane tank from
over pressuring and ripping open. When a propane tank is overfilled
(especially in cold weather) and brought inside into a heated home,
or left in the sunshine by a window, the liquid propane in the tank
expands and vapourizes and pressure starts to build up in the tank.
The relief valve pops open and lets some of the propane out of the
tank to lower the pressure inside the tank. Once the pressure in the
tank drops to a safe level, a spring on the valve pops it shut. This
works just fine if the tank is located outside as the tank
manufacturer intended, since the propane gas will disperse
harmlessly, but not so OK inside your home.
When transporting propane tanks in your car, ALWAYS transport them
upright and leave your trunk slightly open. Transporting or storing a
propane tank on its side could affect the ability of the relief valve
to work, and if the hot sun warms up the propane in your trunk it can
cause the propane tank to rip open. Also, it is a good idea to leave
your trunk open a bit just in case the propane relieves out of an
Oxygen tanks have a 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 ruptures and allows all of the oxygen
to escape. It does not reclose and has to be replaced by a qualified
person. An oxygen tank will generally only overpressure if it is
exposed to extreme heat, such as a large fire. Leaving it out in the
sun can NOT cause an overpressure as with propane.
Acetylene tanks are equipped with a different device called a
fusible plug. This is a plug that is set into a threaded hole in the
tank. The plug is designed to melt when exposed to high heat from a
fire. The plugs melt at somewhere between 205 to 240 F depending on
the age and style of the tank. Once the plug melts it does not
reseal, therefore the entire contents of the tank are emptied.
Leaving an acetylene tank out in the sun, or in a hot room will NOT
cause the fusible plug to open.
You might wonder if its a good idea to empty an entire acetylene
tank into a fire. The bottom line is that it is better to feed the
fire than to have the tank explode and the pieces fly hundreds of
The reason that different tanks have different relief devices is
a function of the properties of the gasses that are stored in these
tanks. (by the way I am referring to B tanks, and other typical
welding/soldering sized tanks) Propane is mostly liquid at its
storage conditions, and vapourizes as it is drawn from its storage
tank Oxygen is a gas at 2200 pounds storage pressure Acetylene is
unstable and likes to explode under pressure, so it is actually
dissolved in acetone at low pressures and comes out of the acetone
solution as you use it.
If you plan to bring these gasses into your home or studio you should
consult the local fire department so that you know if it is legal and
also to get some professional advice on how to safely handle the gas.
You should also consult your insurer, to make sure that they will
cover you in the event of an incident.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada