By now I would hope you all had heard about the new weekly blog post here on the EtsyMetal blog. Ann Hartley of Hartleystudio and, Sue Szabo of lsueszabo , will be answering YOUR questions in a weekly post we are calling "Ask Auntie EM". EtsyMetal has over 100 members with vast amounts of knowledge and far reaching interests and capabilities. We figured if we couldn't answer your questions...someone on the team could! "What can we ask?" Great question! Ask anything! Metalsmithing, enameling, raising, stone setting, cooking, childcare, travel...you got a question, we probably have an answer! To ask a question, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Who knows, you may get it answered next week!
So, last week I talked about fuel and fuel safety and storage. This week I'm going to talk about torches. This will NOT be a comprehensive discussion on every different type of torch. I have done some research but most of this information is from personal experience and will only include the larger, more expensive types of torches. If you're here reading this, you probably already have some type of heat source to solder with, be it a disposable hardware store torch or the ever popular creme brulee torch. This is the post for you if you're looking to trade up to a bigger source of heat.
I think when you're trying to decide what kind of torch to buy you first need to consider what type of fuel you want to use. We talked about fuel last week so you should have been able to make an informed decision after reading that and calling your local gas supplier. Now you need to think about what you make. If you make huge teapots you are going to want a big torch that can solder large pieces and anneal. If you make teeny rings and do a lot of really fine work, a smaller torch is perfect for you. Here is a post where I wrote about torch size and what to do when your torch might be too small for the job:
Anyway,...I'm going to start with the torches I have and then delve into more unfamiliar territory.
The first torch I ever bought was the Smith acetylene and air torch.
This kit is here.
This is the exact kit I bought and I bought all the tips as well, which are sold separately. I was making pretty big work at the time and needed it's ability to anneal and solder large pieces. I find that the smallest tip is perfect for small work as well. Soldering really delicate pieces is tricky with this torch, the smallest flame is small but wide and it doesn't come to a point like some of the smaller torches. It works with acetylene and atmospheric air so you will only need a tank of acetylene, very nice if you're worried about having compressed oxygen in your studio. I have found this to be an excellent, all around torch for almost everything I want to do. I reach for it 85% of the time.
The second torch I acquired from my husband's grandfather. He was somewhat of a hoarder and we found this in his massive stash of really great stuff. This is the Smith Little Torch.
This torch and all it's many accessories can be found here.
I love this torch. It won't do everything and it's not for big pieces (although I know I'll get a comment that someone made some huge behemoth piece for their BFA show with this torch) but for "pinning" and closing jump rings and doing really fine soldering, this is your tool. The hoses are really supple and the torch itself is very light, making this torch a pleasure to use. I wouldn't have it as my only torch but that's just me. I got it for free so I totally understand that I'm lucky to have both. You will need a fuel (I believe this torch with work with all fuels, I have used it with natural gas and acetylene) and compressed oxygen. You will need to do some experimentation with the tips, I found some to be useful with natural gas and others useful with acetylene. The tiny tips I use with acetylene have synthetic ruby imbedded in them to keep the aperture super small, which didn't work well for natural gas. Experimentation with pressure and tip size is very helpful with this torch. Rio has an excellent tech department that can also answer all your questions about this torch.
Another torch I have used is a Hoke torch. I used this torch at the jewelry store and, I have to say, it takes some getting used to.
The Hoke torch can be found here.
I have to admit I found this torch to be a bit clunky and heavy. It is not light or lithe like the Little Torch but it is very sturdy and precise. It does about the same job as the Smith but I would say it's a little more versatile, although I wouldn't use it for huge pieces. It's a jeweler's torch, able to handle the many smallish jobs a goldsmith would do in a given day. This torch has many devotees who wouldn't switch and have come to love the stability and mid range flame of this torch. It will work with many different gasses and requires compressed oxygen as well. This tip comes with a few tips but, honestly, in my years as a goldsmith I never once even thought to switch out tips, nor were any laying around to use that I ever saw. I'm sure I used the standard tip that came with the torch.
Because my kids are getting antsy, I'm going to wrap this up with the last torch on my list. This is a torch I had never even heard of until recently and it's a very interesting option for those of you in apartments or in places where the danger of having flammable fuels makes other torches not an option. Meet the water torch.
The water torch seems to be available here.
This is a totally unfamiliar option to me so I asked some other EM members what they thought of theirs. This is what one member had to say about their water torch:
I began using it because my current workspace does not allow gas, and will not allow me to tap into the natural gas lines...
it uses distilled water and sodium hydroxide, runs on electricity, and creates gas on demand, so it is sorta like a piece of furniture when not in use....
It most definitely has a learning curve, and kinda blows around solder, so if you are not good at pick soldering or soldering off the stick, you will have a harder time learning to use it....
It gets super hot...so hot it does not burn you if you miss, but will cut right thru skin and cauterize ( ak! )
The tips are like hypodermic needles....I love how tiny they are and you can do all kinds of things with them but they break easily and it takes nothing to ruin one....
Cons, I suppose is this machine is PRICEY and there is not a 'less expensive' version
also though you can use it on metals like platinum , as it gets hot enough, you cannot anneal larger pieces and things like that ...no big bushy flame ....I could never use this to melt for casting, and have trouble using it for things like belt buckles and larger pendants....I sometimes have to run over to a friends to use his oxy air.....I really wish I could have BOTH...that would be my perfect set up!
The solution has to be drained yearly and all remixed and new gaskets and stuff and its a PITA
Also she is 'touchy'...if I don't solder for a week or more it will get 'clogged' and not work right, or sometimes it just doesn't wanna mix the gas properly and I cannot get the flame I want....one year I sent it to the repair place 3 x to the price of 60 bucks ( its heavy!) a shipment....
I kind of have a love/hate relationship w/ her....! when she works and does what I want, I don't ever think I could live without her, I am so used to her ( yeah, her name is Penenlope!) and when she fritzes out and doesn't wanna work or I am having a hard time because I need a bigger flame, I wanna throw her out the window!
Caveat is, that my soldering style is I like go super hot, and get in and out fast, and this machine is perfect for me if the piece is within the size range that it works best on...
Let me conclude by saying that there are MANY different torches and there is no one perfect torch because we all make so many different things. Many of our members love propane and love disposable tanks. Some have even found recycling centers in their areas that take them. Everyone agrees these disposable tanks run out of fuel VERY fast and this makes them extremely expensive to use. Many members make amazing work with tiny torches that cost less than $30 so you definitely don't have to have a full size torch to make good work. In future weeks I'll post about more torch options so keep checking back!
Keep asking those questions! We love them! Email email@example.com with your questions and we will try our best to answer!
Have a great week!