I alternate regularly between propane and MAP/Pro gas torches in the studio, and I've got two (why two, Tam? who knows) butane micro torches in my stash for occasionally fusing fine silver rings or teaching friends introductory soldering and silver jewelry making. Four torches are not enough, surely, and I've had my eye on the Miniflam torch system since I first saw it in Tucson a couple of years ago. Here's a great report on it from Helen Driggs, Senior Editor of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.
|Photos by Jim Lawson.|
An innovative system for jewelry makers
By Helen Driggs
(Originally published in the March 2011 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.)
It's just perverse. Most jewelers are notorious Traditionalists–me included. We often choose to do something that same old predictable way we learned long ago, because it is familiar and comfortable and reliable. Predictable matters when you are working with expensive materials on the cusp of disaster using fire or force.
But every now and then, an innovative tool comes along to shake up the status quo. Something worth breaking out of the routine and trying–just to see if it's worth a change of deeply entrenched habit. This torch might just be one of those tools.
I was skeptical. I've been burned–actually, unburned–before by the hollow promise of fire from a tiny canister hot enough to anneal 14-gauge sterling or melt hard solder. I've watched really accomplished metalsmiths sweat and struggle with portable propane tanks, butane thingies, elaborate structures of firebrick created to contain and reflect heat, and all manner of micro torches–and then run home to smoking hot and reliable Mr. Acetylene. Until now. Don't tell him, please.
The Miniflam System
The best things about this torch system are its portability and interchangeability. Everything works with everything else. There is one type of proprietary-formula, clean-burning fuel, and oxygen in lightweight, small canisters–and get this, no need for Hazmat or tank certification. The tanks are portable, generally safer than standard O2 and gas systems, and for the most part, about the same cost as several other well-known two-gas torch systems. You can use the bench torch at home and the portable torches while traveling, using the same exact fuel and accessories.
I had three teeny issues. The first was inconsistent color coding in the product line for the fuel and oxygen hoses and regulators–orange or red for fuel, and blue or green for air or O2–which for me was hard to remember because I am used to red for fuel, green for O2, period. The second was that the instructions were very brief, and had obviously been translated from French. If you are reasonably confident about torch use, the graphics do all the explaining anyway. The third was that the fuel smells yucky to me and the fumes gave me a bit of a headache a few of the times I used it.
Other than that, I can't find anything I don't like here. The pen torch for the bench can be hooked up along with special line adaptors for standard propane or natural gas–not acetylene–and O2 from traditional tanks you get at the welder supply, although I haven't tried that. Miniflam O2 and gas canisters are refillable, and there are usually special offers for reduced-price refills from the manufacturer.
Interested? I thought so. But first, you need a synopsis of the different components of the Miniflam line.
Portable Bench Torch
The Portable Bench Torch (PBT) includes the pen torch, the hoses needed to connect it to the fuel and oxygen, the valve assembly with built-in check valves, two needle tips for the torch, and a wire torch stand. If you purchase the kit, you get one O2 tank and one self-sealing GP40 gas canister. If you opt for the PRO add on, you also get a Tri-oxy adaptor which allows you to hook up three O2 tanks to the fuel, four more torch tips, and the torch bench clamp.
This is packaged 6 liquid ounces to a tank. Tanks are also available in cases of 3, 12, or 96. These tanks are designed to be safer than standard O2 tanks; their smaller size means much less gas is held under pressure. They are easy to maneuver because they are very light, and the manufacturer recommends disconnecting the system when it's not in use. Miniflam's O2 empties are recyclable and refillable. No Hazmat shipping charges and no tank certification are required for them.
The GP 40 gram gas comes in canisters designed to convert liquid fuel into vapor in any orientation. It is a mixture of butane and propane that has been filtered to eliminate clogging. To use them, you can mount the gas canisters on either the standard adaptor or the Tri Oxy adaptor and clamp them to the bench upright, or lay them on their sides. The gas cans are self sealing when detached from the system to reserve fuel for transit or to store for a later date. A 223-gram gas refill canister is also available.
Rechargeable S Canister
This canister is interchangeable with the 40-gram gas canister, and can be refilled from the 223-gram fuel canister as needed. The rechargeable canister is compatible with the bench torch and the portable torches.
Workshop teachers/attendees take note: Miniflam has two options for very portable torches roughly comparable to a typical butane or micro torch. The GP torch is regulated by two bands on the nozzle: red for gas and green for air, a bit confusing given the orange and blue color coding for the other components of the line. It works with the S canister or directly connected to the 40-gram gas canister.
The newest unit, the SA, is filled from the 223-gram gas and comes with the S canister. It is regulated by two bands as well: red for gas, blue for air. It comes completely assembled in the box. All you need to do is fill the gas canister and go. It has a hands-free "kick stand" to allow you to use both hands to manipulate work during soldering. Both of the portable torches work with any of the Miniflam interchangeable torch heads: a wide annealing fan head, a soldering iron, three different Piezo heads for larger flame sizes, or an adaptor to allow the unit to connect to an O2 tank for a hotter flame. —Helen
To learn more from Helen's "Cool Tools and Hip Tips" articles as well as projects and features from her and other industry experts, subscribe to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine.
And if you're wondering what the Miniflam torch can do, read on for part two of Helen's article.