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The Truth about Water Torches?


#1

Many questions, few answers. I hope the group will indulge my
rambling query:

So, water torches. They’re getting mentioned more frequently in the
trade publications and one certainly sees more advertisements for
them but what’s the real story? There seems to be precious little
in-depth, hands-on to be found.

Can a jewelry maker get enough mileage out of one to make it a
viable torch option? Obviously you can’t use them to cast or work
"large" pieces but are they really only good for soldering jumprings
and claw tips? Is a man’s 18kyg wedding band, for example, too big a
job? How about the same in sterling? How about butt soldering the
ends of a heavy gauge twisted wire sterling bracelet? Wouldn’t the
"fast heat, less dispersion" issue come in? Where does that cease to
be relevant, assuming we’re talking about fabrication work?

What about the larger litre-per-hour units with larger tips, do they
not extend the range of pieces one can work on, perhaps even allowing
small melt and reticulation jobs?

And brands --Hydromat, Hydrozon, “Aqua Torch”, Elma HotFlame–
what’s the difference? Aside from different liter-per-hour
capabilities and electrolytes used are they all basically the same?
Are some less noisy than others? Less prone to require servicing?
Safer? Which ones? Is it too early to know this yet? Are we still on
the “bleeding edge” with this technology?

It appears that some use more benign electrolyte chemicals than
others. Is that the major distinguishing factors between the brands?

Some offer an auxiliary “Platinum” torch. Is this really an issue?
In other words, isn’t the flame temperature somewhat adjustable by
changing the “booster” one introduces mid-stream? How much can the
"booster" effect the flame temperature?

If one had, say, US$2000-3000 to spend which brand would be “the
best” choice for a single jeweler doing a wide range of fabrication
work, mostly in sterling and high karat gold, in an apartment studio
where noise and safety where key considerations? What would said
jeweler love about his/her new water torch? hate about it?

Inquiring minds want to know! Prospective customers want to know!
Frustrated “I hate this propane blowtorch” artisans want to know!

Any contributions to the topic are welcome and appreciated.

Regards,
Trevor F.


#2

Hi Trevor

Watertorch -

I have a Hydrozon torch (German) 3 litre capacity

Have used this torch daily since 1979 and is an extension of my hand
by now - use the oxy/propane only for castig and larger pieces ( I
make sculptural pieces now that I am retired? - and teach).

As mentioned heat temp can be varied using different mixes - however
on daily basis for most work - 750 ml meth alcohol, 250 ml acetone,
and 1 1/2 teaspoons boric acid work well.

Upkeep means cleaning out lines to wash out accumulated boric - with
hot water - very easy - and topping up distilled water and of course
flux tank.

No running around after oxy/propane tanks!!

Excellent for fine work - retipping, fine chains, findings etc.

Cheers Michael


#3

The truth is: water torches are excellent tools to add to your
bench! I purchased a Stan Rubenstein Associates model SR250 about 6
months ago and it has become my main torch. It allows me to solder
more delicate pieces that used to require kiln soldering. Filigree
repair is a snap. I use it for soldering bezels, making small shot,
soldering bails, etc. It can be used for annealing small pieces as
well. The flame size is controlled by tip size and adjustable
electrical current. The smaller tips produce a tiny pinpoint flame.
The largest tip produces a flame about 1-1/2 inch in length @ 5000
degrees. The user has no adjustable control of the oxygen and
hydrogen. It is delivered to the tip about 50/50 mix. There are no
regulators to mess with. I was concerned about this initially but
with use I realized the mix is just fine the way it is. The
principles of gas generation works like this: The torch has a water
tank with a potassium hydroxide electolyte. You add distilled or
deionized water to the fill line. It has an external methanol
"bubbler" tank. The raw hydrogen/oxygen gas bubbles through the
methanol then travels up the hose to the tip. The coolest thing
about the water torch is you can add boric acid to the methanol and
have a fluxing flame. It burns Star Wars light saber green. The
fluxed flame reduces fire scale and has a fluxing effect on the
piece being soldered. You can run the torch about 4 hours continuous
before topping off the tanks. I usually fire it up, wait 30 seconds,
light the torch, use it, turn it off. In 6 months I haven’t had to
add any water. Some people allow the torch to run continuous and
light it for a soldering operation, then extinguish it but keep it
on generating gas. There isn’t a safety issue because it produces
such a low volume of gas. It is much cheaper to operate than
conventional torches. The water torch is extremely portable and can
be used at remote sites like shopping malls and craft shows. I am a
fabricator, so this isn’t the only torch I use. It will pay for
itself quite rapidly if you mainly do repair work, though. My torch
retails about $1000 but I bought it new on eBay for $600. I have
seen similar torches in the Rio catalog and they operate with the
same principles mentioned above. Tips are inexpensive hypodermic
needles and easily replaced, even with glue applicator tips of the
right gauge. You can see my torch at the following link:
http://www.sra-solder.com/ww.htm

Hope this helps,
John Bozeman


#4

John gave a very good tutorial on the water torches and I only have
a couple of small comments. Some of you may remember that our Gem
and Mineral Society had obtained two old Krohn torches through a
donation. I subsequently sent them to Krohn in NJ for refurbishing.
I must say that Alex, in the customer service department was very
helpful and got them back to us quickly in great shape. As these
generators are no longer produced, he was able to provide some
reconditioned fluxers and other items to keep the costs down.

One machine was traded for another piece of equipment but the other
has been on our bench at the Society now for about a month. It is
great and one of our members uses it all the time for repair work and
soldering bezels. It is so clean, easy to use, and dependable I wish
they were less expensive as I would love to have one in my own shop.
Perhaps as time goes on and more people use them, the price may come
down a bit.

According to the Krohn manual, some heat control can be attained
through the kind of flux used. The borax, methanol, and acetone mix
provides a steady temperature around 4000 deg but by using only
acetone the temp can go as high as 6000 deg. Otherwise, there is no
adjusting or guessing. Just turn it on and work!

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut2