Micro Torches 101, Part 1: The Which, What & Why of a Butane Micro Torch
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 a butane micro torch can be intimidating to the novice (or even to the jewelry maker that uses a traditional jeweler’s 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 Micro Torches, Blazer and Max Flame
I have two torches that belong to the butane micro 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 micro 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 Micro Torch: 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)
- 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 Micro Torch
A butane micro 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.
- Grab your micro 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 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 micro 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 Micro 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 soldering jewelry will take longer.
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 conquered the first steps using butane torches for soldering jewelry and other tasks. 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! And don’t miss Micro Torches 101, Part Two: Micro Torch in Action and Simple Soldering Setup. —Kate
What a great introduction to working with butane torches! 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 through micro torch soldering jewelry projects. In the end, you’ll have 20 unique pieces that you can use in jewelry or art!