The Nitty Gritty: What Can a Miniflam Torch Do For You?

30 Sep 2013

A continuation of Helen's introduction to the Miniflam torch, here's what the Miniflam can do! 

The Nitty Gritty
By Helen Driggs
Senior Editor of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine (first published in the March 2011 issue)

 
Okay, so now you are probably wondering what this torch system can do. Maybe you are skeptical like I was. Maybe you, too, scoff at torches that don't throw out a big fat hissy 10-inch flame when you need to do some hardcore annealing.

Well, over the course of a few days, I tested both the bench torch and the portable torches with, shall we say, an axe to grind. I decided to progress through the four basic solder joins first. I started with soldering a thin wire jump ring closed, tried some sweat soldering on mixed metals in the 20-gauge range, did a T-join on 12-gauge copper, and I soldered some brass wire to copper sheet. Then, I decided to be harder on this little torch and make some sterling shot from scrap. I then soldered closed a heavy 14-gauge ring band. Oh, and some annealing on copper fold formed samples. The real acid test was to see if I could reticulate with it. Here are the results of those tests. For all of these samples, I used a brand new firebrick, Rio's solder, a fresh batch of pickle, and Prip's flux. I am normally an acetylene/air torch user, though I have logged lots of flight time on oxy/gas systems with all 3 different types of fuel. And, don't bust me on the finish of these pieces--this was just a test. Here are the results.

 

Jump Rings, Granules, Shot and Bezel Joins

1.       I used easy solder and the hand-held portable torch with the S canister to close these 20-gauge copper jump rings with no problem whatsoever. The rings came to solder temperature very fast. For making shot and granules, the hand-held torch impressed me again. The scrap I used for these pieces of shot was about 14-gauge sterling. The balls went totally black on the brick, and despite a long soak in the pickle, I couldn't get the red surface oxides off the silver. They did sand off easily, though. To be fair, this scrap had been annealed and soldered a few times before being thrown in the "dead soldiers" scrap box, so it probably had lurking fire scale. The granules were new 16-gauge sterling wire--they fared much better in the surface oxides department, and were pristine when they came out of the pickle.

2.       This fine silver bezel was also a piece of cake to solder with hard, using the same hand-held torch and canister. In fact, the flame melted down the first bezel I tried because it was set too hot.

Sweat Soldering

3.       With the hand held, I sweat-soldered 26-gauge textured copper circles to a pendant-sized 24-gauge textured brass back plate with easy solder in a flash. I was impressed at how quickly the back plate came up to soldering temperature. But, getting a precise hit with the flame on the hand held was hard for me--I couldn't use my usual tricks to push and pull solder like I was used to, due to the size of the flame.

Fabricating a Basic Ring

4.       This was completely fabricated using the hand held. Boy, am I amazed! It is 14-gauge low dome sterling and annealed like a dream. I annealed three times to get the join flush, and I used hard solder to close it without a hitch. The bezels went together in a snap, and sweat soldering them to the band was easy with EZ. And, I couldn't help myself so I went ahead and set the stones--because we have only one life.

The Hard Stuff

5.       For this part of the test, I used the hand held torch to raise the fine silver to the surface in five successive annealings. I used the portable bench torch (PBT) to reticulate. I did play a lot with the PBT to get the right flame and to be honest, I still am having a hard time with that. This is also not my chosen brand of reticulation silver--which is why I had some lying around--but I still was amazed to get any rippling on it. My only issue was that I had a hard time controlling the flame size and gas/O2 flow--it seemed to be inconsistent and ebb and flow from the tiny nozzle. That really isn't desirable with reticulation, but I tried anyway. Again, this brand of retic has always been less than friendly to me, even with a perfect torch and an expert teacher at my side, so that is a factor to consider.

Conclusions

Even if you are a staunch traditionalist, I think this torch is worth a try. The only thing I would suggest is playing with it a bit before going to an important job. The gauges and knobs can be a little persnickety, and I wouldn't use a charcoal block. It gets hot. I mean, really hot. My second retic sample hovered right at liquidus for at least 3 minutes while I tried to coax some ripples to form. Getting flame control takes practice, as does lighting the torch. I didn't do any gold tests, but that metal would probably work well with this system because of the better heat conductivity of gold. If you travel and need a portable torch for basic joins, bezel making and annealing, this torch system would keep you, students, and the fire marshal very happy--as long as there is good ventilation! 

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.


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Comments

on 30 Sep 2013 1:07 PM

Who carries this torch?   It looks like something I would like to try.   Thank you for the review!                                              

                                                                                      Thank you in advance.

                                                                                  Sincerely Valorie Speakman

TammyJones wrote
on 30 Sep 2013 3:16 PM

Hi Valorie, glad you found Helen's review helpful. If you visit Miniflam.com, you'll see how to contact them about how to purchase one.

Thank you for being part of JMD!

Tammy