Micro Torches, 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, butane torches make creating simple soldered jewelry a breeze. I am excited to share my favorite jewelry tool with you. Using a butane micro torch can be intimidating to the novice. My goal is to share tips and tricks to banish those ‘scary moments’ and get you torching in no time.
Let’s begin at the beginning, and learn about choosing the right torch for your needs.
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 put both of these torches “through the wringer” so to speak. They are constantly being used in different settings for over five years and are still as good as new.
My Blazer torch (above) is the first butane micro torch I ever purchased that worked well for jewelry. I found out the hard way that you get what you pay for with butane torches. When 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. Torches 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 slightly melt. That will affect the delivery of the butane to the torch tip, which makes the torch impossible to light. Torches that are mostly metal can be used for extended periods of time without fear of damage.
My other micro torch is the Max Flame torch, above. The flame on my Max Flame torch is wider and longer. That means I can solder bigger pieces with the Max Flame torch than with the Blazer. It’s helpful to have two torches to choose from when working on jewelry. I outlined what each type of torch can be used for in the jewelry-making process.
Blazer vs Max Flame Micro Torch: When to Use Each One
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)
- thin (4mm and smaller) ring bands
- 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)
- jump rings closed (12g and larger)
- wide ring bands (5mm and larger)
- 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 use unless it is filled with fuel. I use regular butane fuel from the hardware store for refills. Although you may think it is best to use “triple-refined” fuel to keep your torch head clean, 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. With a little know-how, it’s a walk in the park.
How to fill the torch easily and safely
- 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, 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 from 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 with your particular torch on how to turn it on. In addition, keep these basic concepts that apply to all micro butane torches in mind.Cover your workspace with a fireproof surface, 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
Different soldering torch flame temperatures can be achieved using different parts of the flame. Next, examine the flame itself. Note that there is an inner and outer flame. The outer flame is a dark transparent blue. The inner flame is lighter, 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. Use this point to quickly heat metal and flow solder. You’ll move this tip closer or farther away from the metal surface to control the rate of heat.
If you move the flame too close to the surface, you’ll hear a sound that resembles wind or a slight hiss. You may also see a dark spot in the middle of the heated metal. The inside part of the inner flame is cooler, which means soldering jewelry will take longer.
After you 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 of 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, Part Two: Micro Torch in Action and Simple Soldering Setup.
Master Soldering with 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! Master making metal jewelry and soldering with a micro torch with Kate’s always-popular jewelry classes at Bead Fest.
If you can’t make it to Bead Fest, Kate’s expertise and personality also shine 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 accessible materials and your micro torch, you’ll make 20 sampler projects that will build your skills! In the end, you’ll have 20 unique pieces that you can use in jewelry or art!
And don’t miss all the great soldering information shared through our “Solder Like a Lady” campaign. These fierce females may be ladylike and use good manners, but when they create jewelry, they know how to get the job done!