Hello everyone. The question of torch comes up every now and then when
a beginner asks which torch we recommend for silversmithing. The
following is my response to this question on one of my lists. I offer
it here for your discussion. The following is just my feelings based
on my experiences with all the torches that I know that are available.
I own every torch available except the natural gas torch and the water
torch. However, I have used both extensively, so I feel my opinions of
both are still correct.
Discussing torch with silversmiths is almost as bad a discussing
religion or politics. Every one has there special torch they like, or
learned with and have stuck with. Over the thirty years that I have
taught I have collected every kind of torch that is made. I have also
tried them on silversmithing, goldsmithing, and casting of silver,
gold, and pewter for jewelry. Below is what I think of each torch and
why I recommend it or not. My second choice (the Smith Handi Heat), in
this list, is a lesson that I sent to my fee based list for
Silversmiths and Jewelry Makers (
The problem with recommending a torch is that it really depends on
so many factors. No one torch is just perfect for everyone. Some
variables are Where your shop is. (if is in your house, more safety
issues come up, that’s why I like the $10.00 propane torch.) Safety
concerns? (again nothing safer than the $10 propane torch.) Are you
going to use it for just silversmithing or just gold smithing or do you
want to do both? Do you want to use it for casting too? Are you going
to do large pieces? (the $10 torch just can not do large solid
bracelets and buckles.) Are you going to do repairs on silver? (DO NOT
DO REPAIRS!) Are you going to do repairs on gold? Do you want to have
the capability of traveling with you torch? (Leaves natural gas out for
the most part.) How much can you afford to spend?
With all that said, I recommend only one other torch if you are going
to do nothing but silversmithing. I will begin with the torch that I
recommend first and go down hill from there. Oh, and remember, I teach
all my students in my two classrooms and my 300 plus students on the
Internet to only use hard solder for every solder joint. If you want to
know why visit:
http://silversmithing.homestead.com/SilverClasses1.html and take the
"Hard Solder Challenge" it could make you $100.00.
Another note: I do not sell any equipment or supplies, so I have no
reason for this post but to help silversmiths choose a torch, and to
promote my online classes.
My first choice for everyone first torch! $10.00 Propane Photo at:
http://www.frii.com/~dnorris/implements/tool8.jpg Where to buy: Ace
Hardware or any other good hardware store. Why I like it: 1. Everyone
can afford it. 2. It can do every silver project, except large, solid
backed bracelets, buckles and large boxes. 3. It can make you
thousands of dollars of jewelry to sell, so that you can buy all the
rest of your equipment, including (almost the last thing I recommend)
is the Smith Handi Heat torch. 4. Safest torch that I know of that can
do the job. The entire tank could leak out and no harm to any thing, no
chance of an explosion, according to firefighters that I have talked
to. Propane needs just the right amount of oxygen to ignite. Too much
gas, no flame, too much oxygen, no flame. 5. It can travel with you if
you wish. 6. You can buy refills any where. 7. Check out this “really
stupid experiment piece” that I am doing to prove that this torch can
do every silver project that you might want to do, and with all hard
solder. http://silversmithing.homestead.com/solder5.html Very few
torches could make this project in silver. The only other torch I
would even try this with is the Smith Handi Heat. 8. No oxygen. Oxygen
is not recommended for use with sterling silver. It oxidizes the
sterling silver, causes fire coat, and makes soldering more difficult.
Sterling silver is not a metal that should be “spot soldered”, it
conducts heat so fast the entire piece should be heated before pointing
the torch at the solder joint, so a real hot flame is not necessary for
sterling silver. 9. Cheap (about $3.00) to always have a back up tank
ready. 10. Cheap to operate, a $3.00 tank will easily make 20 to 100
projects. I always laugh when someone suggests that purchasing a $3.00
tank is expensive and that refilling an acetylene �B� tank, saves you a
lot of money. Yes, the acetylene will save you money, but this is not
a reason to buy one torch or another. Both are so cheap that �the cost
of gas� should never be of any concern. Add an addition 10 cents to
your projects and it will pay for any gas you use. 11. No plumbing as
with Natural Gas.
Why I do not like it: 1. Because of the price, and it’s size, the
adjustment is very temperamental. It is also made to be used standing
upright, so when you turn it over, the liquid runs to the other end of
the bottle and causes the flame to fluctuate. But I have never had a
student from 10 years old to 82 years old not master this torch.
A little heavy and bulky, But I have never had a student from 10
years old to 82 years old have any problems using it.
I have to argue with nearly every other teacher, author, and just
plain snob silver and goldsmiths that are more interested in �tools�
than allowing everyone to learn silversmithing.
By the way do not purchase the one with the hose. It does not give
the same pinpointed flame as the one in the photo.
My second choice is the Smith Handi Heat Once again, if you are going
to do nothing but silversmithing, and casting, and an occasional simple
goldsmithing project. It is the Smith Torch on page 404 of the Rio
catalog 2000. (500-105). It comes with a #00 which is nearly worthless,
of course, that’s why they give it to you. It can be use for some gold
work and gold repairs. So also get tips #0, #1, and # 2 for
silversmithing, and a #4 for casting larger amounts, 3 ounces or more.
Do not buy the tank from Rio if you can get them locally where you
have to get it filled any way. The shipping is costly! And, beware, you
will buy a pretty new tank, and when you go to fill it, unless you
just put a real stink, they will just trade it out, and you will get
back the ugliest old tank. This never bothers me, but you can insist
that you want that one filled and returned. They will just take their
sweet time to do it for you.
I also use my Smith acetylene/air torch to cast sterling silver. I use
a #4 tip and it works great for up to about 6 ounces (186.6 grams) of
sterling. I have a rose bud tip and have been very under impressed
with it. The #4 tip actually gives me a better flame for melting
silver. I always cast with 100 grams, sometimes 120 (about four ounces)
and this torch will melt that much in less than 60 to 90 seconds.
However, I always preheat my sterling and the crucible in the kiln,
taking it out just before I begin to melt the silver. My average cast
is 8 to 10 flasks, 2 1/2 inches in diameter x 3 1/2 inches tall, and
load the flasks with 10 to 20 pieces. I cast them with the 100+ grams of
sterling preheated. I have four crucibles, so I rotate them during the
cast. This way I cast all 8 to 10 flasks in less than a hour, and
have 100 to 200 pieces. For some on how I sprue 10, 20 even
30 waxes in one 2 /12 x 3 1/2 inch flask, please visit:
These are the reasons why I like this torch. 1. Gets it’s oxygen from
the air so less oxidizing and fire scale on silver. 2. Great assortment
of tip sizes. I use the #00 for most small silver jobs, the #1 for
almost all jobs, #2 for largest buckles and bracelets. 3. Easy to move
around 4. Fairly safe if you always follow instructions and keep it
shut off unless using it. 5. Flame stays consistent after adjusting to
the length you wish. 6. No plumbing necessary. 7. Relative cheap
compared to most torches. 8. Better flame for silver than a Prestolite
(I do have both, so I know!) 9. The acetylene is inexpensive. (b tanks
cost about $22 to $25 to refill.) 10, With the #4 tip you can cast
nearly any amount of gold or silver, most other torches will not do
this for you. 11. It is just the best all around torch. 12. I have had
many students make enough money with the $10 torch to pay for all
their equipment and then purchase the Smith torch as their last upgrade
in their shop. Now and then they call me and tell me that they
gravitate back to the $10 torch now and then and find it almost as easy
to use. Old habits just die hard!
Why I do not like this torch: 1. Safety, acetylene can be explosive. A
�B� tank could leak out, and blow off a room or the entire house. 2.
Heavy to move around. 3. Tanks must be filled at welding supply
companies. 4. Expensive to have a back up tank (about $80.00) 5. If I
smell this gas before it is burned, it almost �turns my stomach� and I
almost loose my lunch! 6. Insurance companies can have a problem with
oxygen and any gas in your shop, especially acetylene.
My third choice of a torch for silversmithing. There is no third
choice, do not purchase any other torch for silversmith other than one
of the first two choices.
However here is list of other torches available.
The Little Torch If you are going to do a lot of gold I recommend the
�Little Torch�. Rio Grande Tools and Equipment Catalog 2000, page 402,
number 500-027 or 500-090 with disposable tanks. This torch uses oxygen
and acetylene gases. This torch is great for gold work and for
soldering pewter. Very hot small concentrated flame is great for both,
but not for sterling silver.
Why I like this torch: 1. Best torch for goldsmithing and pewter
soldering, unless you can afford a water torch. 2. Make you look like a
goldsmith. 3. Many different sizes of tips for very close soldering of
gold and pewter.
Why I do not like this torch. 1. Cost nearly $300.00 plus the tanks.
($150.00 for the disposable set.)
- Most all the reasons I do not like the second choice torch of the
Smith Handy Heat.
Propane/oxygen torch. Again I do not recommend the use of oxygen with
sterling silver. You just do not need that much heat. I also have a
very small unit that can be purchased at hardware and Walmart stores
for about $40.00. It uses both disposable oxygen and propane tanks.
$3.00 for the propane and $8.00 for the oxygen. The oxygen will run out
quickly and can become expensive. I used it for Pine Needle Casting
during the summer at Guest Ranches and Campgrounds around Estes Park,
Colorado. So I loved it for that. It made it easy to make an extra
$100 to $300 per day for the summer. What is Pine Needle Casting? Go
Some things I like about this torch. 1. Different sizes of tips makes
it useful for gold work. 2. Gas is cheap, but not enough to make a
difference unless you like saving pennies per piece. 3. Back up tank of
propane is cheap.
Why I do not like this torch. 1. Oxygen 2. Oxygen tanks can be
expensive for back ups. Disposable tanks can really become expensive.
3. Larger tanks of propane are illegal to have in your home shop in
most states. 4. Insurance companies can have a problem with oxygen and
any gas in your shop.
Oxygen/Acetylene Torch Regular welding size torches are just too
large, and hot, for jewelry making, and the oxygen just should not be
used around sterling silver.
Why I like this torch. 1. I like to weld. 2. I like to sculpt with
brass and bronze rod with it. 3. Gas is really cheap when I fill my
larger oxygen and acetylene tanks. (B tanks cost about $18 to $25 to
fill, but a 45 pounder of acetylene is only about $40 for 5 times the
about of gas.)
Why I do not like this torch for jewelry work. 1. To hot and large for
most jewelry work, other than the Little Torch. 2. Oxygen 3. Almost all
the reason with the Smith Handi Heat. 4. Insurance and building codes.
Mapp Gas Mapp gas torches are worthless in my opinion. I had an art
teacher that just had to have 30 of them for her classes. I tried to
tell her, but she just knew more than me about torches. So I also gave
her one $10 propane torch. One month later she wanted to return the
used Mapp gas torches. “They just do not seem to work with silver!”. I
loved saying, “Tough!”. Why I like this torch. 1. I do not like it for
Why I do not like this torch: 1. They are also over rated as to just
how much hotter they are compared to propane. I have not found them to
be that much hotter, a little yes, but not enough to make any
difference. 2. The flame is just not acceptable for jewelry work, just
Water Torch The water torch is great for gold only, but costs about
$1,000 to $2,000, so Why I do not like this torch: 1. Cost 2.
Cost 3. Cost does not warrant it use, especially for silversmithing.
Butane torches: Yes they all could be used for silversmithing. Check
out our Aprils Fools Joke �Torch Selection� at:
It is a joke, but the torch can to small silversmithing projects. I
know of a couple of teacher that teach with butane torches of a larger
size. I have one of these but have not taken photos of it. Again you
can find a photo of it in Rio�s catalog on page 410, F, number
Why I like this torch: 1. Fun to play with, a real man�s toy!
Why I do not like this torch: 1. Runs out of gas just as the silver
reaches the solder temperature! 2. It is just a toy.
Natural Gas/Oxygen A great torch for goldsmithing, but you can reread
Oxygen/propane and oxygen/acetylene torches for all the pros and cons.
Why I like this torch for silversmithing. 1. I do not, again the
problems with too much heat and oxygen.
Why I do not like this torch. 1. Must be plumbed into the natural gas
line. 2. All the reasons for oxygen/propane torch.
If you have tried any other torch that I have not mentioned here,
please let me know. I look forward to your comments, but remember the
question was: �What torch do I recommend for Silver work?�.
Thanks, Don Norris http://www.frii.com/~dnorris