Jewelry Torches Guide with Kate Richbourg

What a treat! Kate Richbourg is back with great new videos and a look at her top six portable jewelry torches for soldering jewelry. Read on to find the torch (or jewelry torches!) best for you, your space and the kind of work you want to make. —Tammy

An Ode to Portable Jewelry Torches

By Kate Richbourg
Top 6 jewelry torches recommended by expert Kate Richbourg.
Oh Torch! You are alight with a flame divine!
Which, oh which, shall I choose to be mine?
The types are many.
And can cost a pretty penny.
Please help end this indecision and send me a sign.

Okay, seriously, bad poetry aside, the idea for my torch intro series originated from the number one question from my students, “What torch should I buy so I can solder at home?”

The answer to that question is complicated. There are so many jewelry torches on the market that it can be confusing to untangle which to use on what and when! Well, fret no more, I am here to help. I have put a variety of different torches through their paces and these are my top six. A jewelry torch is fueled by clean fuels such as butane, propane, or a mixture of propane and oxygen.

Kate’s Soldering Space

First, just so we are on the same page, I wanted to share my portable soldering set-up. Because the torches are portable, it’s ideal to have a portable solder station as well.

This is jewelry-making expert Kate Richbourg's setup for when she is soldering with jewelry torches. This articles discusses her top 6 torches she recommends.
Here’s the setup I use in my studio and in my classes on the road. I keep a jelly-roll pan with a short lip under all the items to prevent the transfer of heat to my work surface. The lip prevents any errant bits of hot metal from rolling onto my lap or the floor. Other items include a kiln brick to solder on (I also use a charcoal block), solder pick, quench bowl and tweezers, safety glasses, solder and a torch. Also included in the mix is Penny Brite, a citric acid-based phosphate-free metal cleaner to remove fire scale. No traditional pickle needed, just a bit of elbow grease.

Back to the jewelry torches. Let’s start with a few questions. Answering these will help point you in the right direction:

  • What does your workspace look like?
  • Small? (Like the kitchen table?)
  • Large? (A dedicated studio? Lucky you!)
  • Will you be working in a space that allows you to have bottled gas?
  • Do you take your equipment on the road? (Traveling in your RV or off to a class?)
  • What scale do you work in?
  • Small? (Smaller than 1″ in size, like delicate pendants, jump rings, headpins.)
  • Medium? (Getting bigger. 1-2″ in size. Setting stones in pendants, making rings.)
  • Large? (3-4″ and larger in size. Heavy-gauge metals. Cuffs, bigger and bolder pendants.)
  • Do you work with sterling silver or mixed metals?
  • How confident are you working with fire?

With those answers in mind, let’s check out my top six torches:

Kate’s Top 6 Portable Jewelry Torches

  1. Bernzomatic Pencil Torch
    • Price: $ at most hardware stores
    • Fuel: Butane
    • Flame size: Small
    • Ignite with striker.

    Uses: Great for a tiny workspace and small projects like jump rings, balling 20-gauge (and smaller) wire and small projects 1/2-inch to 1-inch in size. Perfect for those who might be fearful of flame or are using a torch to solder for the first time and want to try out a low-cost option. The torch features a fine tip and an adjustable flame control knob for a precision flame. The self-ignition makes it easy to turn on and it has an auto-stop function to provide safety. Its compact size makes it ideal for those who travel a lot and like to make jewelry away from home.
    Bernzomatic Pencil Torch for soldering jewelry, one of six recommended jewelry torches Kate recommends.bernzomatic pencil torch jewelry

  2. Blazer GB2001: Butane Micro Torch
    • Price: $$
    • Fuel: Butane
    • Flame size: Medium
    • Self Igniting.

    Uses: Perfect for use on sterling silver, as the medium-sized flame does not heat the piece too quickly resulting in melted metal as can happen with larger torches. See that earring stem on the back of the silver earring? That’s a perfect project for the Blazer. It can be used on mixed metals but restrict use to projects 1 ½ inches and smaller due to the flame size. The flame has pinpoint accuracy, and lighting the torch requires no electric connection making it easy to light, even for those who might have restricted hand strength. It features a gas flow adjustment lever that makes flame adjustments a breeze, and has a long burn time compared to other micro torch products. Solidly constructed, this jewelry soldering torch has a rubber, diamond-shaped outer body finish that provides a safe grip. My Blazers are all at least 10 years old and still work as well as the day I got them.

    Learn about the Blazer GB2001 micro torch in this informative article about soldering.Post-earrings soldered with Blazer butane micro torch.

  3. Iwatani Butane Torch
    • Price: $
    • Fuel: Butane
    • Flame Size: Large
    • Self Igniting

    Uses: The large flame and easy ignition of this torch makes it a winner in my book for best butane torch for soldering. I like making projects that use copper and brass metals, so sometimes I just want an easy click on and off torch with a larger flame (see below) to get the solder flowing on my mixed metals. The torch uses a specialty butane canister that attaches directly to the torch head. (It can be a bit tricky to find. Check restaurant supply stores and online suppliers). Very safe for travel since you can just pack the torch head without the fuel canister attached.

    Iwatani Butane Torch for soldering jewelry.Jewelry clasp made with Iwatani Butane Torch for soldering.Iwatani Butane Torch flame, one of six jewelry torches Kate recommends.

  4. Copperhead Propane Torch
    • Price: $$ from jewelry supply stores
    • Fuel: Propane
    • Flame size: 3 tips, S M L
    • Ignite with striker.

    Uses: Because this torch has three different tips, you can adjust the flame to work with all kinds of different projects from small to large. The torch head and hose attachment should be checked for leaks before use. I tighten all connections each time I use mine. It uses regular propane from the hardware store. I like the short/wide canisters with this torch; they are more stable on my worktable. It takes up a bit more workspace due to the size.
    Copperhead torch system for soldering jewelry.Chain jewelry made with Copperhead torch soldering.

  5. Bernzomatic Trigger Start Propane Torch
    • Price: $ at hardware stores
    • Fuel: Propane
    • Flame size: Jumbo
    • Self Igniting.

    Uses: Like to work on big projects with heavy-gauge metal? Need to anneal quickly? Want to try out a hotter torch with a bigger flame without spending a lot of cash? This is the torch for you. The flame burns hot and efficiently for maximum heat output, so you can get your soldering projects done faster. I use it on large projects like cuffs and bracelets made from heavy-gauge wire, and it heats like a dream. I always have this torch within reach on my worktable. Like the Copperhead, I use the short/wide canister with this one. The larger flame also needs a larger work area. Make sure to have a clear space all around, as the flame reach on this one is pretty big.

    Bernzomatic Pencil Torch and jewelry.

  6. Smith Portable Little Propane/Oxygen Torch
    • Price: $$
    • Fuel: Propane with Oxygen
    • Flame size: Small and HOT. Comes with a #5 tip. Accommodates #3-7 interchangeable tip.
    • Ignite with striker.

    Uses: The power of a traditional jeweler’s torch with the portability of small tanks (below). A pinpoint, hot flame solders lightning fast. If you are just starting out with this torch, I recommend doing a few practice runs on a variety of metals to get the hang of adjusting the flame and how quickly the solder flows with it. It’s easy to overheat and melt metals with this torch if you are used to working with butane torches. A little bit of practice and you’ll do great! If you are new to soldering, definitely give one of the simpler self-igniting torches a try to get the hang of it. Torch comes with the regulators already attached to the hoses and uses 14.1-ounce disposable propane and a 1.1 cu. foot disposable oxygen tank (they are the same size) found at your local hardware store. You use about five tanks of oxygen to one tank of propane. It’s great for intermittent use.

    Smith Portable Little Torch flame, one of six jewelry torches Kate recommends.soldered jewelryPortable Smith Little Torch for soldering jewelry.

Whatever torch you use, remember to be present and pay attention while the flame is on. Keep a fire extinguisher handy and work in a well-ventilated area with your hair tied back and don’t wear any long-hanging sleeves. Take a break if you are tired or frustrated. Other important tips to remember:

  • Read the instructions that come with your touch (top to bottom, back to front and all the fine print). As long as you follow the rules and instructions, soldering is a very safe and fun activity for pros and hobbyists.
  • Always work in a well-ventilated room.
  • Wear safety glasses.

Happy soldering!
—Kate

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