TORCH & TANK SET UP
In general, buy a SMALL fuel tank and the LARGEST oxygen tank you can
afford. You will refill your oxygen tank far more often than your
Buy the best you can afford, Single stages are fine. Doubles are better
for multiple torches.
Buy the "T" rated (All fuel gases) hoses. Standard "R" hoses at welding
supply houses are for acetylene. They will decompose from the inside when
used with natural gas, propane, butane, or Mapp gas. Don't use clear
plastic or rubber hoses that are not designed for use with gases.
Natural gas, already plumbed into your house is often the "safest" choice.
Its main disadvantage is lack of pressure. However, even standard street
pressure is sufficient, when used with oxygen to do general jewelry
repairs and fabrication. Casting is not impossible - but very, very
Propane, Mapp, and butane gases are heavier than air, they sink to the
floor. Flipping on a light switch, or a little static electricity is
enough to send you back to the "recycle bin"…
Acetylene is a pretty dirty gas, and eventually the soot will begin to
show on your walls. It is lighter than air and floats upward. Burns hotter
than any gas except hydrogen.
Hydrogen is not a gas commonly used by smiths or bench jewelers. It has
its own set of hazards, and you will never be allowed to keep it inside a
building. Some cities require permits just to have it around. The
explosive power is more than that of acetylene when mixed with air.
ALL propane, Mapp, LP, and butane tanks come with a plain warning sticker
- "DO NOT STORE INSIDE CLOSED BUILDINGS!"
If you absolutely must use propane, butane, Mapp, LP, or acetylene inside
a building, limit it to the small disposable tanks - Coleman for example.
This IS dangerous, but a lot less so than putting 20 lb. propane tank
inside your house. Take the fuel tank back outdoors when not in use.
If you use the 20lb. (5 gal) tank that is standard for gas barbeques and
RV's, and it should leak indoors - there might be a sufficiently explosive
mixture made with the air - to take down an entire house. If you use the
smallest (4lb.) tank, you might only take out one room….
Using the tank inside your retail store, shop, garage, your house, or
worse yet your basement, and having an "accident" leaves your insurance
company in the position of saying "Tough luck, the label on the tank
warned you against using it inside your building." One acquaintance of
mine lost his house this way. The insurance company refused to pay a
dime…. He created the hazard.
TORCHES: Prestolite, Smith, Meco Midget, Little Torch… all are good tools.
Some torches and tips are designed for jewelers, others are designed for
silversmiths. The one I've found to be "best all around" is the Meco
Midget… Use rosebud, multiple orifice, ventilated tips for smithing, and
single orifice tips for general jewelry work.
Do not use butane cigarette lighters on your soldering bench. They are an
extra hazard, and I've heard of people having them explode by accident.
Use welder's strikers or an electronic igniter, or even matches if you
have to. Keep the matches off the bench when not using them.
Do invest in flashback arrestors. In the case that your oxygen or propane
tank pressure drops enough, one can mix with the other inside your torch
body and explode when you light it. This is also what happens when you
shut off your fuel first, while the torch is burning. The resulting
mini-explosion can travel back up your hoses - wrecking them, and your
regulator… There are two designs of flashback arrestors. One is designed
to attach to the torch body, the other goes on your regulator. The ones
for the torch body are too bulky and awkward for our uses. Get the kind
that attach to the regulator. These will save you buying new regulators in
the event of a flashback.
FIRE EXTINGUISHER: Bolt one (properly rated) to a leg of the soldering
CHEMICALS: Know about the solder, flux, and pickle health hazards. Use eye
VENTILATION: Kitchen hoods and ventilator fans can get you by.
Professional units are best. Find out how many cubic feet per minute you
need to exhaust from your work area. Make sure you have a source of
replacement air - preferably away from where your exhaust is vented:
ELECTRICAL & LIGHTING: Be able to turn it off, in order to see the dull
red for annealing.
All of my soldering benches have a single power strip. That switch
instantly turns on everything on the bench. Pickle pot and main bench
lights come on and stay on. The exhaust fan, spot lighting, and other
electrical appliances have secondary switches. This way when you shut down
the bench, you know that everything is off.
GENERAL BENCH: Heat resistant surfaces, convenient layout of major
components - pickle pot, baking soda, water, boric acid, anti-flux,
soldering boards, electronic igniters, strikers, jigs, fixtures, screens,
tweezers, and picks.
My personal setup: Propane (4lb.) tank, Oxygen (154 cu. ft.), outside of
building in a little shed - with extra manifold and shut off valves,
visible and accessible, mounted on the outside of the shed wall. You can
tell at a glance whether the valves are open or shut. The gauges are two
stage Victor brand. Both gauges have flashback arrestors. Use type "T"
hoses. I use both Meco Midget and Smith Little torches at my personal
soldering bench. I have, and use, all available tips for both torches,
because I solder/braze so many different metals at so many different
temperatures. There is another set of cutoff valves on the second manifold
under the bench. Electronic torch igniters. There are two separate
ventilation systems. An overhead, stationary 600 cu. ft. per minute
commercial vent hood, and a moveable vent fan that can be placed directly
in back of work. It's a two position bench, with the "clean" side
dedicated to platinum work. All brazing, soldering, alloying, ingot
casting, and annealing are performed on this bench. There is a spray booth
for Prips flux and Cupronil. A loose, one foot square of Transite board
can be placed on top of the bench for low temp. bismuth, lead, and
Staybrite soldering. The drawers, and shelves are filled and covered with
every known (and quite a few forgotten) soldering/brazing fluxes, jigs,
holding devices, fixtures, ingot molds, shot tower, and screens known to
man… On the floor underneath the bench is an electronic gas leak
detector/alarm. The room also has a smoke detector within 10 feet of the
soldering bench. The smoke detector should never go off, if you have - and
use proper ventilation while working. Shopping at a professional welding
supply is generally cheaper, and the salespeople have more safety and
using knowledge than the average jewelry supply house salespeople.
(Copyright Brian P. Marshall - 2003)