It's true: if you've never used any kind of a torch, the idea of holding something in your hand that's capable of spitting out more flame than a barbecue lighter can be a little intimidating. For years, I used a single fuel torch for making my own lampwork glass beads, but the idea of using a butane torch (also called a micro torch) for jewelry making was something that scared the pants off of me.
My first experience using a micro torch was for firing precious metal clay (PMC) in a small workshop, and it really wasn't as scary as I had thought it would be. Part of feeling comfortable using a micro torch was understanding what it was for, and how to set it up. If you're curious about what the micro torch is all about, we'll learn about micro torch basics from Jewelry Making Daily contributor Kate Richbourgh!
Welcome to the world of butane torches (also known as micro torches
or even crème brûlée torches)! Micro torches make creating simple
soldered jewelry a breeze. I am really excited to share my favorite
jewelry tool with you. Using butane micro torches can be intimidating to
the novice (or even to the jewelry maker that uses a traditional torch
and tank setup), so my goal is to share some tips and tricks to banish
those "scary moments" and get you up and torching in no time.
Now, let's begin at the beginning.
Meet My Torches, Blazer and Max Flame
I have two
torches that belong to the butane torch family. Both are durable, high
powered, and specifically geared for jewelry making. I have put both of
these torches "through the wringer" so to speak. They have been in
constant use in the classroom and on my workbench for more than five
years and are still as good as new.
My Blazer torch is the first butane torch I ever purchased that
actually worked well for jewelry. I found out the hard way that with
butane torches, you really get what you pay for. When you are shopping
for a butane torch, take a good look at it. Is it mostly plastic with a
minimum of metal parts? If so, put it back on the shelf, regardless of
the great bargain it might seem. Torches that are kept on for an
extended length of time (during the soldering process) get hot. That
heat centers around the top of the torch and torch head. Too much
plastic and you may find that your torch head may melt slightly, and
that will affect the delivery of the butane to the torch tip, making the
torch impossible to light. (Ask me how I know!) Torches that are mostly
metal can be used for extended periods of time without fear of damage
in this way.
My other micro torch is my Max Flame torch. The flame on my Max Flame
torch is wider and longer; that means that I can solder bigger pieces
with the Max Flame torch than with the Blazer.
Blazer vs Max Flame Torches: When to Use Each One
So you may be wondering, "What exactly do I use each torch for?" Here is the breakdown:
Blazer micro torch (up to 2400° F)
- soldering jump rings closed (14g and thinner)
- soldering thin (4mm and smaller) ring bands
- soldering bezels closed
- drawing a bead on a wire to make head pins
- making a heat patina on a metal surface
- soldering a small element or charm on a metal pendant (1" and smaller)
- torch firing some types of metal clay
Max Flame micro torch (also up to 2400° F)
- soldering jump rings closed (12g and larger)
- soldering wide ring bands (5mm and larger)
- soldering a large object together, like joining a bezel component to a ring band or a large pendant (1" up to 2-1/2")
- annealing metal
- torch firing enamel
Filling a Butane Torch
A butane torch isn't much good unless it is filled with fuel. I use
regular butane fuel that I get from the hardware store. You may have
heard that it is best to use "triple-refined" fuel to keep your torch
head clean, but honestly most of the time I use regular fuel right off
the shelf, and my torches work great. This is not an endorsement, just
Filling the torch can be one of the "scary moments" with a butane
torch, but trust me--with a little know-how, it's a walk in the park.
- Grab your torch and butane canister and go outside (You want to have adequate ventilation when you are filling the torch).
- If your torch has a stand at the bottom that can be removed, go ahead and take it off and put it aside.
- Remove the cap from the butane.
- Turn the torch upside down. You'll see a filling point on the bottom
of the torch. Insert the tip of the butane canister and press down
The butane will flow from the canister into the torch. If you hear
fuel escaping out the torch head during filling, stop and tighten the
knob that regulates the butane flow. I fill the torch until the butane
makes a slight spitting noise at the filling point (about a 10 count).
Then I replace the stand on the torch, stand it upright, and let the
butane settle for about 30 seconds or so. I store my butane canister out
of the way, and I am ready to go!
Turning On the Butane Torch
Consult the directions that came with your particular torch for
directions on how to turn on your exact torch, but there are some basic
concepts that apply to all micro butane torches:
Cover your workspace with a fireproof surface (a jelly-roll pan works
well) and put on a pair of safety glasses before turning on your torch.
Point the head of the torch about 8 to 10 inches above that surface at a
45-degree angle and turn on the torch by starting the butane flow and
clicking the ignition button. Adjust the flame to its highest point then
to its lowest (usually a lever or knob) to get the feel of the size of
the flame. I usually keep my flame at the highest point.
Understanding the Flame
Now examine the flame
itself. (Sometimes it's best to view it under dimmed light.) You'll see
an inner and outer flame. The outer flame is a dark transparent blue.
The inner flame is lighter and more opaque in color and comes to a sharp
tip inside the outer flame. Just in front of that lighter flame is the
"sweet spot" or the hottest part of the flame and the point to quickly
heat metal and flow solder. You'll move this tip up close or farther
away from the surface of the metal to control the rate of heat on the
If you move the flame too close to the surface though, you'll hear a
sound that resembles wind or a slight hiss and see a dark spot in the
middle of the heated metal. You have gone beyond the sweet spot of the
flame. The inside part of the inner flame is cooler, which means it will
take longer to solder your pieces.
After you're done examining the flame, turn the torch off. Place the
torch upright on the fireproof surface. Remember that the tip will be
hot, so point it away from you.
Congratulations! You have conquered the first steps using a butane
torch. Let me also recommend, as with any complex jewelry tool, to get
out the instructions that came with your torch and read them. I'll bet
there is a wealth of information on that piece of paper! Stay tuned for
Micro Torches, Part 2: Torch in Action and Simple Soldering Setup. --Kate
Is 2013 the year that you told yourself you'd learn something new? Learning how to use a micro torch for jewelry making can open up a whole new world of possibilities -- from soldered jump rings to handmade decorative head pins, you can easily find new ways to create custom jewelry findings and components for your beading projects.
If you're ready to jump into the world of using a micro torch, you'll definitely want to check out the Soldering With a Micro-torch Ultimate Collection. With over 100 minutes of video instruction and more than 190 pages of essential how-tos, this is all you need to get started with your micro torch. Learn from some of the jewelry making world's best-known experts as you fuse and solder your way into new territory. And if you're ready to get started right now, you can also get the Soldering With a Micro-torch Ultimate Collection as digital download, including all of the same great content from the DVD and print bundle, but ready to view on your favorite desktop or laptop computer in just minutes!
P.S. If you're ready to move on and see the micro torch in action, you can read Part 2 of Kate's blog over on Jewelry Making Daily!
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