Micro Torches 101, Part 1: The Which, What, and Why of Butane Torches

6 Apr 2012

by Kate Richbourg

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.

 
Blazer and Max Flame micro torches
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)

Max Flame micro torch (also 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
    • 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 my experience.

    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.

    1. Grab your torch and butane canister and go outside (You want to have adequate ventilation when you are filling the torch).
    2. If your torch has a stand at the bottom that can be removed, go ahead and take it off and put it aside.
    3. Remove the cap from the butane.
    4. 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 firmly.

    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 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 metal. 

     

    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

    What a great introduction to working with a micro torch! When a fun and knowledgeable expert like Kate Richbourg explains how micro torches work and how easy they are to use, there's no room left for fear of the flame! Kate's expertise and personality shines through on every page of her five-star-rated book, Simple Soldering: A Beginner's Guide to Jewelry Making (which comes with a free bonus DVD). Through a series of tutorials using easily accessible materials and your micro torch, you'll make 20 sampler projects building your skills as you go. In the end, you'll have 20 unique pieces that you can use in jewelry or art! You can learn even more about soldering with a micro torch with Kate in her on-demand web seminar, Simple Soldering: Adding the Perfect Touch to Your Metal Designs.

    Ready for part two? Check out Kate's next installment, Micro Torches 101, Part Two: Torch in Action and Simple Soldering Setup.


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    Comments

    maymbs wrote
    on 6 Apr 2012 9:51 AM

    Anyone know anything about fumes produced by these torches.  How much do I need to worry about ventilation?

    krichbourg wrote
    on 6 Apr 2012 10:31 AM

    Hi maymbs-

    That is a great question! I recommend using these torches in a well ventilated area, but no special ventilation is needed. The butane burns very cleanly so there is not an issue with fumes, especially when you are just turning them on and off to get the feel of the torch as I outline in the article above.

    I have a post coming up that addresses using the torches for an actual project and I discuss safety concerns in greater detail there. You'll see it on JMD soon!

    foxchaser wrote
    on 6 Apr 2012 11:21 AM

    Regarding Micro Torches 101;

    I have found that butane produces a low temperature flame (yes I know they are rated at 2400 degrees) and are good only for low temp soldering such as easy low temp silver solder or plumbing type solders.

    As with any flame producing torch, one should always be in a well ventilated work area, and have a Carbon Monoxide alarm in the area also.

    Foxchaser

    krichbourg wrote
    on 6 Apr 2012 11:45 AM

    Hi Foxchaser-

    Thanks so much for your comments. I use micro torches quite frequently for jewelry soldering. I agree that they aren't the answer to every soldering project, but for the novice home crafter or even the experienced fabricator they can be a wonderful addition to your tool arsenal.  I find when matched up with the right soldering surface they do the job quite nicely for simple projects.

    Your tip about the carbon monoxide alarm is a good one. Every well equipped studio should have one.

    gla0623 wrote
    on 6 Apr 2012 11:58 AM

    Great article on butane torches! I was wondering if you can tell me where I might be able to purchase a Max Flame micro torch, as I would like to do some annealing. Thanks so much!

    krichbourg wrote
    on 6 Apr 2012 3:12 PM

    Hi Gia-

    My suggestion for the Max Flame and and Blazer torches is Beaducation. com> Here is the link to the Max Flame for you www.beaducation.com/.../max-flame-jewelers-torch-p-2335.html.

    Have fun annealing!

    beadbytes wrote
    on 7 Apr 2012 10:52 AM

    Thanks for reviewing these two torches.  I was considering which one of these torches to buy for soldering bezel wire to silver sheet on pendants and also rings and will now purchase the Max Flame.  One of my pendants that I need to solder is 3 inches across.  Thanks again for sharing your experience with these torches!

    krichbourg wrote
    on 7 Apr 2012 11:51 AM

    Hi Beadbytes-

    So glad that it helped! The Max Flame is going to be perfect for your project.Good luck on your pieces!

    swani wrote
    on 11 Apr 2012 1:22 PM

    Thanks so much, Kate, for the review and the video - you're just in time for my next decision!

    I notice you mentioned torch-firing enamel with the Max - I'm curious about that.

    I used my Blazer in Steven's class up at Legendary a couple years ago - it worked great for our pennies and I've used it with much success to enamel lots of small copper pieces.

    Since I've "moved up" to larger pieces, however, it's much more difficult and takes WAY too long - and WAY too much fuel. I've been trying to decide whether to go to MAPP gas or trying to find small fittings for my husband's "monster" oxy/acetylene tanks.

    I've done lots of research and keep hearing that butane (and propane alone) make "muddy" enamel colors - I thought my butane colors were pretty - but since I've only done butane so far, I can't compare the difference. Ha!

    I assume you, also, are happy with your butane colors - have you compared the Max butane with other torches/fuels?

    Thanks for any and all help!

    krichbourg wrote
    on 11 Apr 2012 2:02 PM

    Hi Swani-

    Glad the article helped!

    The Blazer does work nicely for enameling smaller pieces. My personal experience with the Max Flame for Soldering is that I can enamel copper pieces that are up to 2" or so in size.

    I think that torch enameling has its limitations (as in not really effective on pieces larger than a 2" solid square) and the direct firing (underneath the piece with the torch flame touching the piece) does muddy the enamel so I always use black on the back of my pieces. And I never let the flame touch the top of my piece.

    For larger pieces or pieces that I want the color to stay absolutely true, I do enameling in my kiln. I have a PMC kiln that works perfectly. (That how-to is a great subject for a future blog post)

    When I use my kiln, the colors come out perfectly as they are not touched by flame and subject to burning.

    Hope that helps!

    swani wrote
    on 11 Apr 2012 2:55 PM

    Yes, Kate - that does help a lot. Steven had us counter-enamel everything w/black, also, and I've continued that. I occasionally run "hot air" over the tops of pieces with success, but direct flame only in those few cases where I want that "rustic, destroyed" look. Ha!

    I've also considered a kiln, but only have space for one - is there one that could do enamel, PMC, glass fusing, as well as pottery (beads, pendants), etc.?

    Again, thanks so much!

    krichbourg wrote
    on 11 Apr 2012 3:43 PM

    This is the model that I have: www.wholelottawhimsy.com/.../product.

    I have had it over 10 years and it is a workhorse.I use it for PMC as well as fusing. I am sure you could fire small batches of pottery, like beads, but I have not had experience with that.

    You could contact Whole Lotta Whimsy directly fore more info on kilns. Tonya is a wealth of information, and I am sure she will be happy to help!

    swani wrote
    on 11 Apr 2012 5:03 PM

    Kate, thank you SO much!

    I'm glad to know that my kiln "research" had this model in the top 3 of my "most-likely-can-do-everything-I-need-in-my-budget" list.  I'll definitely be getting in touch with Tonya!

    Thanks again - and looking forward to your next article...

    lured444 wrote
    on 12 Apr 2012 10:55 AM

    Hi Kate...   which of these would you recommend for the finest flame? I need to get into a tight spot and ball 16g silver wire.  Thanks, gail

    jenajena wrote
    on 14 May 2012 2:40 PM

    Kate, thanks for this great tutorial.  I have been using micro torches and both paste and regular solder for years now and love the results.  However, I am very concerned about the fumes produced by solder, particularly paste solder, and as such do all of my soldering in my well-ventilated garage AND I use a fume extractor.  I read once that if you feel you need to use a respirator, then you really should be doing a better job of fume extraction because although the respirator will protect you from inhaling the fumes, particles from the vapors produced can fall on/around the surfaces where you work and you can pick them up that way.  What is your opinion on this?  Is it overkill?   I have been asked to teach soldering in places where there is only window ventilation (at best) but have refused due to safety concerns.  Again, what do you think?  I would really value and appreciate what you have to say.  Thanks!!  Jena M.

    krichbourg wrote
    on 15 May 2012 12:27 AM

    Hi Jena-

    Thanks for your questions. Using your micro torch in a well ventilated area like your garage is just fine. An exhaust system is great for fume extraction, but honestly in my opinion, the micro torches are used for such small projects and for such short periods of time that I think an open window and cross ventilation is sufficient.

    Some of my students bring masks to class, and that is fine with me. Some may just be more sensitive to the fumes. In a class setting I think that using micro torches is safe.

    To address the residue issue, I try and keep my workspace as clean as possible. There are all types of particulate matter in the air (dust, etc) so it is a good idea to wipe things down periodically.  

    During class time, I encourage my students to take frequent breaks. I also do not have a soldering set up for each person in class. Usually two students share one torch set up. This reduces the amount of fumes, and brings a measure of control to the class environment without a torching free-for-all.

    I always urge metalworkers to gauge their level of comfort when working with torches. Add some fans to the classroom to help vent and encourage your students to take breaks in the fresh air. Also, don't forget safety glasses! Good Luck!

    dragontrap wrote
    on 22 May 2012 11:10 AM

    Can you also use Micro Torches to smooth the edges of cut glass?

    krichbourg wrote
    on 22 May 2012 11:45 AM

    Hi Dragontrap-

    This torch would not be the right thing to smooth glass. Most glass is easily thermal-shocked when heated quickly, so using a micro torch to try and smooth the edges would resulted in a shattered piece. You could explore the world of small kilns to slump (melt) your glass pieces to smooth them out. I recommend the wonderful kiln expertise of www.wholelottawhimsy.com. I'll bet they can help you choose a small kiln for glass. Good luck!

    mcoates wrote
    on 21 Jul 2012 8:53 AM

    Just getting started in soldering, which metals are best for beginner to start with before moving on to the real stuff like sterling silver and gold.

    Please any help will do and thank you.

    mcoates wrote
    on 21 Jul 2012 10:27 AM

    I am wanting to make a tiny tube bezel and i have know idea what to use or how to start.  Would someone send me in the right directions.  Thanks so much!

    lbecker99 wrote
    on 13 Aug 2012 11:35 PM

    Great article on the use of the torches.  Thanks very useful.

    brucerv wrote
    on 29 May 2013 1:17 PM

    Haven't used a propane torch since 1970, but I now crave a microtorch....maybe its just the creme brulee idea...

    on 16 Sep 2013 6:22 PM

    Does anyone know where I can purchase replacement ignition parts for these types of Torches?  I have an M.A. MT-51 and the small electronic igniter is dead.  The torch works fine when I light it manually with a lighter, but the electronic ignition is busted.  I took the torch apart and the I can see that it's easy enough to replace the tiny igniter, I just can't find them online.  There's no visible part number on it either.

    Any info would be great appreciated.

    Thanks!

    on 16 Sep 2013 6:37 PM

    Actually, never-mind: found them!

    Here are links for anyone who's interested:

    www.toolsource.com/electronic-igniter-power-probe-p-127420.html

    www.jbtoolsales.com/power-probe-ppmt12-electronic-igniter

    on 23 Jan 2014 10:11 AM

    Is it possible or safe to solder "trinity brass" charms onto copper or silver?

    I didn't know if it would ruling the piece or if the fumes are toxic.  I wrote to the company but haven't heard back.

    Thanks in advance

    urbangipsy wrote
    on 8 Feb 2014 10:11 AM

    Thank you so much - !!

    Anna_H wrote
    on 20 Jul 2014 10:42 AM

    Hi Kate,

    Thank you so much for your post. I was just about to give up and buy another torch, until I saw it. I bought a Blazer torch and was wondering if you had any issues with soldering copper and silver pieces with it? I am used to using a gas tank setup, but cant use one where my studio is.

    The product info say it will get hot enough to solder. What type of silver solder do you use with it?