Butane canister torches are an inexpensive and easy way to bring a heat source into your jewelry studio. This is a great stepping stone before making the leap to a standard acetylene torch, which can be pretty intimidating. Butane jewelry torches are perfectly adequate for many annealing, soldering and enameling projects but they can be temperamental, especially at higher altitudes. Here are some troubleshooting tips.
Anatomy of a torch
It is easy to find butane canisters at hardware stores. I recommend starting with one of these inexpensive and easily available brands. If they work well for you then stick with them. If not, you may need to upgrade. Some users swear by “triple refined” butane that you can order online or get at cigar shops. It is definitely more expensive but it can yield more consistent and efficient heat.
The trickiest thing about hand torches is getting them to ignite. At our elevation, we have to make sure the flame size adjuster is all the way towards the (-) symbol indicating smallest flame size before igniting the torch. This setting will vary depending on your altitude. Try experimenting with the flame adjuster to determine the setting where your torch will ignite most easily. Lighting also takes some practice since you need to hold the safety while simultaneously pushing the ignition button. For people with small hands you may actually need two hands to light the torch and set the flame lock before moving the torch to your working hand.
Flame size inconsistency
If your flame seems to dwindle after you have had the torch running for a few minutes your first check should always be whether your fuel canister is full. However, the flame can still behave like it is burning out if you have air trapped in your canister. As you fill and refill your butane you may add excessive air to the canister which can interfere with the torch. Go outside and vent your torch before refilling. Use a screwdriver to depress the refill valve to vent out extra air in the canister. When you add fuel to the filling hole make sure you have the refill canister straight up and down and you apply steady even pressure as you insert fuel.
Just a few reminders to make sure you stay safe when using a hand torch:
- Always tie your hair back and be aware of long bangs or stray strands that may fall into your torch zone
- Use fireproof bricks or ceramic tiles to create a completely fireproof work area. Make sure it is clear of any and all flammable materials.
- Ventilation matters, even when you are just using a butane torch. Go outdoors if possible or make sure you are in a room with a cross breeze. Be especially careful when you are filling and venting your fuel canister. Fumes are toxic. If you are using the torch on a daily or weekly basis you need to consider a more professional ventilation set up with a hood unit or fume extractor.
- Use goggles. Moisture and contaminants can make things pop when you apply heat. Protect your eyes every time.
- Always use a soldering pick. I have a soldering pick in my dominant hand every time I turn on the torch. I know that instinct will make me grab for a piece of hot metal if it suddenly shifts or falls. The soldering pick prevents me from touching hot metal in the heat of the moment (yuk, yuk, yuk) .
Halstead, is one of North America’s leading distributors of jewelry supplies. The firm is celebrating their 42nd anniversary this year. Halstead specializes in wholesale findings, chain, tools and metals for jewelry artists.