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Torch recommendations


#1

I need recommendations on a torch. Oxy-Acetylene,
oxy-propane, MAPP, can anyone give me some insight? Of course it has
to get hot enough to liquefy silver, but how about maintenance, gas
cost, setup cost, etc, any arguments that could help me make a
decision. The torch itself doesn’t have to be large, or have long
runtime between refills, as the only customer I currently work for is
myself. Also, cost is king, but if it doesn’t work, or it might as
well not work, then it’s just wasted money.

Dave, in little Rolla Missouri, where it was just turning warm
enough to ride a bike, when the rain came.


#2

Dave, Unfortunately, no one torch will do all the things you might
want to do. Following is a portion of an article I have been
researching and writing for some time on just this subject. It is a
bit long but might be of some use to you and perhaps other Orchidians
as well.

Many of my students have asked me, “What torch should I buy so I can
solder at home?” I believe this question should be modified slightly
to, “What equipment do I need to solder at home?” Why? Because, a
torch is just one part of the suite of equipment and tools necessary
to successfully solder.

The torch

A torch is crucial to the soldering process and usually the first
item on a purchase list. Buying a torch can be complicated based on
many variables such as; the kind of work to be done - large or small
pieces, repair work or new creations, kind of metal - brass, copper,
gold/silver or platinum, will the torch be used on a daily basis or
just periodically, will it be used for fabrication and/or casting,
inside the house, the garage, a shop or on the patio, and possibly
the most important to the beginning craftsperson, how much can you
spend for your torch.

If you have limited funds, you may have to back off some of the
other factors and sacrifice the ‘wish I hads’ just to get a working
torch. You may also have to develop some unique techniques to
accomplish the jobs you want to do. So, let’s start by thinking
small…and cheap.

Probably the cheapest and basic torch that will do 80% of your jobs
is the good old, single gas propane (aka ‘plumber’s’) torch. This
consists of a 14.1 ounce propane tank with a rigid torch head screwed
onto the top and lit with a scratch igniter. The tank is good for
about 2 hours of continuous use and will produce heat up to about
1700 degrees F. That is plenty hot enough to solder medium to large
sized jobs in copper, brass, silver and gold. It will not solder
platinum. It will also melt up to about an ounce of gold or silver
for casting though it may take 5 to 10 minutes to achieve casting
temperature. This torch can be used virtually anywhere by following
reasonable safety practices.

The draw back to this torch is the fairly large tip. The orifice is
about =BD inch in diameter and the resulting flame is anything but
pencil lead size. Thus, it cannot easily be used to solder small
items such as prongs, or chains. On the other hand, ring shanks,
bezels, bezel backs (even fairly large ones), annealing, and other
general jobs are well within its capability. Another draw back is
you will have to learn either how to handle the entire tank or leave
it secured to a bench and move the piece being soldered into or out
of the flame. The best aspect of this torch is the cost.about $20.00
at your local Ace hardware store, Home Depot or Lowes. A new propane
tank costs about $3.00.

The second torch is called the ‘gas/propane hose torch’. It has a
torch head similar to the one above but it is at the end of a
three-foot hose and on the other end a fitting and valve that will
screw onto the top of the throw away tanks. When using this torch
with propane, its capability is the same as above. The advantage is
the hose, which makes it easy to handle the torch head while the tank
can be secured away from your working area. An even more important
advantage is that this torch can be interchanged with Mapp gas
cylinders. Mapp gas burns about 500 degrees F hotter than propane
(about 2200 degrees F) and thus will not only silver/gold solder but
also do simple brazing and welding jobs. The orifice of the torch tip
is about the same as the propane torch however, Sears makes (made) a
Mapp torch that has two tips.a large one for big jobs and a smaller
one for small jobs. The small and large tips both produce the same
heat but are still probably too large for doing prongs and chains.
The small tip does use less gas however. This torch can also be used
anywhere whether using propane or Mapp following reasonable safety
practices. Mapp torches are available at most hardware stores, Home
Depot, Lowes, Sears, auto shops, etc. The cost of this torch is also
very reasonable at $25.00 and the throw away Mapp tanks cost about
$8.00.

There is another version of the Mapp torch head that screws onto the
top of the gas tank and comes with an electronic igniter. This would
be very handy when doing work requiring one hand manipulation of the
torch and tank. Otherwise, its capabilities are the same as the
torches above. The cost of this torch with a throw-away tank is
about $40.00 at Home Depot.

Yet another version of the Mapp torch includes a 1.4 ounce oxygen
tank, double hoses and regulators. This system costs about $60 but
is NOT recommended for jewelry use because there is only enough
oxygen for about 5 minutes of work. By the time the flame is
adjusted and applied to your work, the tank will be nearly empty and
tanks cost 4 or 5 dollars each

A few words about the micro-torches and pencil torches. There are
many of these small refillable propane/butane torches on the market
priced from $5.00 to $35.00. Some of them will produce flames from
1200 to 2000 degrees F for a few minutes. These torches are not meant
to burn for more than 4 or 5 minutes at a time after which they may
become quite hot and dangerous. Many of them also have variable tips
that produce both wide or pin-point flames and even special soft
(lead) soldering tips. In what they do they are very versatile but
they are also very limited in silver soldering functions. I have
several in my shop and have used them while traveling or for
emergency jobs such as ring sizing or for small soldering jobs when
I have run out of gas/oxygen for my larger torch. However, do not
count on them as a primary torch!

Now, lets think a bit bigger! But before we talk about specific
torches, you need to know what kinds of gas are available. Propane,
acetylene, and natural gas are the three most commonly used but as
natural gas is not readily available in many areas, we will not
consider it here. Hydrogen is also an excellent soldering gas and is
discussed below. Each can be used as a single gas or with oxygen.

Propane is easily available at a reasonable price. A clean burning
fuel with a relative low-pressure, propane is excellent for general
applications such as brazing, soldering, melting and casting. With
oxygen, propane can reach temperatures of over 4000* degrees F or
with air, around 3000* degrees F.

Acetylene is also very accessible at any welding supply shop at a
reasonable price but when it burns it creates a sooty carbon
by-product and can contaminate metals such as platinum. Otherwise it
is very hot-burning and supports multiple applications including,
metal cutting, welding, brazing, melting and casting. With oxygen,
acetylene can reach 6000* degrees F, or with air, around 4000*
degrees F.

Hydrogen is a very hot, clean, high-pressure gas that is excellent
for all brazing, and welding jobs but especially useful for
soldering, melting, and casting platinum. It is more expensive than
the other gases and is not readily available. Hydrogen also requires
special handling and storage procedures. There are hydrogen generator
torches available but they are expensive, around $1000 or more, and
require special procedures for use. On the other hand, they are very
safe to use, and are approved for public areas such as malls etc.,
where other gases may not be permitted. Hydrogen will burn at around
5000 degrees* with oxygen and 4000 degrees* with air.

There are also torches that use gasoline but they can be dangerous
and are not recommended, especially for home use.

  • While the temperatures shown are the highest possible given the
    most efficient conditions, in reality, tip temperatures using various
    torch heads under shop conditions will amount to about half of the
    rates shown. Any torch that can produce around 1500 degrees F will
    be adequate for silver/gold soldering or annealing jobs.
    Temperatures over1700 degrees F are best for casting.

There are many types of torches that use the above gases. We will
consider the two most popular and useful.

The Smith ‘Little Torch’ is very popular with jewelers because it is
small but performs a gamut of functions. With five tips (#3 through
#7) this torch will handle any small to medium solder job including
fine chains, prongs, bezels, bezel backs, etc. It will anneal or
solder 18 gauge silver/gold up to about 2 inches square and, with a
special multi-orifice melting tip, is reported to melt up to 3 ounces
of gold for casting. It can be used with either propane or acetylene
with oxygen for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. In its
smallest iteration, the ‘Little Torch’ can be purchased for use with
the disposable propane/oxygen tanks. These are not recommended for
the same reasons given above. The larger propane/oxygen set up is
the most economical because a12 lb propane tank can last for years
and be refilled at your local propane dealer for about $20. The 10
cu ft acetylene tank should last about a year and the 40 cu ft tank
up to5 years but the latter is heavy and cumbersome. The 20 cu ft
oxygen tank will last about 6 months, depending on your workload and
habits while the 40 cu ft tank about double that and more. The
actual differences between the propane and acetylene models are; the
acetylene will produce a hotter flame but is dirty (not good for in
the home). The propane burns at a slightly lower temperature but it
is cleaner (good for indoors). Another feature between the two
should be considered as well. Acetylene is lighter than air and will
rise while propane is heavier than air and will sink to the floor if
there is a leak. These factors may be important to where you want
to work. Cost for a ‘Little Torch’ propane/oxygen outfit with a 12 lb
propane tank, a 20 cu ft oxygen tank, the torch, 6 feet of hose, two
regulators and 5 tips is about $500. Cost for the 'Little Torch’
acetylene/oxygen outfit with a 10 cu ft acetylene tank, 20 cu ft
oxygen tank and the same equipment as the propane unit is also about
$500.

The other torch system is the Silver Smith, which uses propane or
acetylene with air.a single gas torch.

The propane version comes with a single regulator, torch handle,
fittings, hose, #00 tip, leak detector fluid and a striker (no tank)
for $179. A propane tank can be purchased locally for about $30.
This system is reported to produce about1400 degrees F, which limits
it usefulness somewhat.

The acetylene version comes with the same items as the propane but
includes a 40 cu ft tank (empty) for $260. The acetylene torch will
give temperatures around 4000 degrees F, sufficient for most
soldering and casting needs, however - the smaller tips are not as
easy to use on small jobs as the ‘Little Torch’! Extra tips and
accessories are available for both systems. Like the 'Little Torch’
however, the Silver Smith propane version is cleaner while the
acetylene version creates soot and is dirtier!

Unfortunately, the best overall system you can have is the
propane/oxygen ‘Little Torch’ AND the acetylene Silver Smith.

As you can see, purchasing a torch system can be a complicated
matter. No one system satisfies all your needs and the cost can be
quite high. If you are starting out, consider the gas/propane hose
torch. When you have sold enough jewelry and saved a few dollars, get
a Silver Smith acetylene system and then, a propane/oxygen ‘Little
Torch’!

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegence IS fine jewelry! @coralnut1


#3

Don, that was a great listing of characteristics of various torches.
I have a question about one remark (which I have seen at other times
on Orchid), viz., that an acetylene torch produces a sooty flame. I
have been using my acetylene torch for some years and have never
gotten any soot or carbon from the flame. The only time that happens
is on the very rare occasions when I use oxygen with it, to get a
flame which is really too hot to use for anything but casting. I
find oxy-acetylene inconvenient altogether, because I have to do it
outside (the soot is not nice inside) and have to get all suited up
with gloves, heavy apron, dark glasses, etc. I don’t do any of that
(except for the apron) with my acetylene.

I lucked out once, and bought a second-hand Mapp gas torch head that
produces a small flame – it had been made by Sears, long ago, and
of course is no longer made. Judy Bjorkman


#4

Hi Judy,

I have been using my acetylene torch for some years and have never
gotten any soot or carbon from the flame.  

The soot problem usually shows up when using an oxy/acet torch.

The soot generated is the result of unburned carbon from the acet.
The reason this occurs is the oxy/acet mixture contains too much
acet for the oxy & the unburned acet shows up as soot. This usually
shows up when lighting the torch but can show up after the torch is
lighted by changing the oxy/acet mixture so its proportionally
heavier in acet than oxy.

Generally the soot problem isn’t apparent with the acet/air torch
(Prestolite type). This is because the torch is designed to provide
the correct mixture of acet & air for complete combustion of the
acet. Soot can be generated with an acet/air torch by obstructing
the air inlet of the torch.

Dave


#5

Many thanks to both Andy and Dave (and others) for the follow-ups on
torch recommendations. Many of my students ask the question, “What
do I need to solder at home?” As I mentioned in my first post…this
is an article in preparation and was aimed for the most part at the
very basics of torch selection…mostly at the novice/student
level. It does not cover all the myriad of torches available or go
into the details nor reasons why one torch is better than another -
just the generalities. Of course there is a lot more to consider as
one’s situation becomes more complicated. Your inputs should be a
great help to those in such situations.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry! @coralnut1