Understanding Jewelry Torches
One of the most challenging things to learn when creating jewelry is how to use a torch to solder metal. Soldering is an intricate part of creating jewelry. It is one of the most important tasks that has to be mastered to produce professional looking handmade jewelry.
The first time I used a torch I was really nervous. It takes time and experience to feel comfortable working with fire. The best way to learn to solder correctly is from an experienced instructor who also covers the precautions that should be taken when working with torches.
Once I understood how to handle a torch correctly and even enjoyed working with it, I wanted to purchase one that I could use at home. There are several torches available in various sizes and fuel requirements.
Before I could make a decision on what torch I wanted for my home, I had to find a room to put it in with enough space for not only the torch but also the accessories required to use it. There is much more to soldering than just the torch.
When I decided to have a jewelry studio in my home, I never realized how much equipment I would need and how many rooms it would take up. Creating a soldering studio was going to add the basement to the two rooms I already occupied, because the basement was the safest and largest space I had available for this purpose. It was also close to a sink, an absolute necessity.
Photo by the author.
Choosing a Torch
Not an Easy Task
Torches come in a variety of sizes, some with tanks some hand-held. In my jewelry classes they use an acetylene tank that can support four torch stations. No way was I going to have a highly explosive tank in my soldering studio.
I could purchase a smaller propane tank with a torch from a hardware store. Some propane tanks have to be returned to the store for refill or for a replacement tank when the propane runs out. The propane tank is also awkward to move around, especially when it is attached to the torch or the tube is not long enough.
Torches with separate tanks were just not going to work for me. They required too many safety precautions, higher insurance costs and sleepless nights.
There was only one torch for me and that was a butane hand-held micro torch, which I could use to solder silver and other metals. The temperature for some of the micro torches can reach 2600F, high enough to solder medium or not too large metal pieces. Since a micro torch uses butane lighter fluid, I would not have to worry about running out of fuel, taking a tank back to the store or figuring how the gauges work on separate tanks.
Micro Torch - Works Great for Metal and Precious Metal Clay Jewelry
There are numerous micro torches, which run on butane lighter fluid. They are also known as creme brulee torches, because they can be used in the kitchen for various flaming dishes. Micro torches do almost any jewelry soldering job without difficulty and last a long time.
This is a great torch for soldering all types of metal jewelry. It can reach a temperature of 2450F, which is high enough to do a great job on some fairly good size pieces of metal.
The torch is easy to hold, controls are simple to work, even with one hand, and the flame is adjustable from low to high. The small attached tank is very simple to fill with butane lighter fluid. Micro torches are much less expensive than acetylene or propane torches.
This particular micro torch has a removable stand that offers great support.. The stand allows the torch to sit solidly on the table even with the flame on. This is great if both hands are needed to quickly move the metal without turning off the torch.
The best part about micro torches is their light weight makes them so easy to maneuver around a piece of metal. This torch also has a safety lock so it cannot be accidentally turned on.
The torch tip is metal, which is important since high flame can quickly melt plastic parts. It holds up extremely well under high heat and long use. These torches are portable and can be easily carried from place to place without taking up much room.
I purchased two of these torches, so I would not run out of fuel while soldering. I just pick up the completely filled second torch and continue heating without interruption.
Additional Micro Torches on Amazon
Precautions When Using a Torch
Ventilate the Room
Remove Anything Flammable
Keep Children Away
Tie Hair Back
Protective Goggles Recommended
Keep Clothing Away from Flame
Keep a Fire Extinguisher Nearby
What Torch Do You Use - Including Your Creme Brulee Torch
There are so many different types of jewelry torches, each one has its own benefits and drawbacks. I am curious to know if you have ever used a torch, which one do you use?
Image by Andrew Dehner
What Type of Torch Do You Use?
Supplies Needed to Use a Torch
The Necessities for Soldering Metal
In order to use any torch, it is important to have the right equipment. The first item is a table, one that is not likely to catch fire. I use a six foot metal folding table. Metal tables are not easy to find, because many have padded or plastic tops. It is almost impossible to buy one at a local store, so internet shopping is a must for this one.
Also needed is something to put the metal pieces to be soldered on that is fireproof, such as a charcoal block, a solderite board, or a magnesium block. I have all three. I prefer the magnesium block because it allows me to place pins in it to hold my pieces in place. The solderite board is solid and the charcoal block is messy and breaks easily.
Flux is another item that is essential for soldering. It makes the solder flow and keeps the metal from forming too much oxidation, so it is easier to clean after it is soldered. Flux comes in liquid or paste and both can be used for a variety of soldering techniques.
Solder, which is usually silver, comes in easy, medium and hard. The reason for this is to solder several metal pieces on to the same base, it is necessary to use solder that melts at different temperatures The three types of solder allow for a lower temperature to be used with subsequent soldering so the heat will not melt the previous solder joint.
Other essentials are long tweezers, a metal pick in case solder chips move around, and a turntable to allow soldering around the piece without having to move it. Turntables usually come with stone chips. These chips won't burn so the metal can be placed on them while soldering.
A tripod is useful to bring the metal close to the torch. This eliminates the need to bend over to solder. Eventually, bending over can become very uncomfortable and hard on the back.
Torching and Oxidation
The final step in soldering is the pickle. Not the kind you eat but the liquid kind used to remove oxidation on metal. There are specially made products for this purpose, such a Sparex or sodium bi-sulphate, which can also be found among swimming pool supplies in hardware stores where it is much cheaper.
An inexpensive crock pot is used to heat the pickle solution. The pickle should be hot to do the best job of removing oxidation left on metal after soldering.
A less caustic and more environmentally friendly approach to create a pickle solution is to mix vinegar with water, one cup to one tablespoon ratio with a little added salt. The vinegar and water solution is heated in the crock pot just like any other pickle solution. This combination does not work as fast, but it does work as well if the piece is left in it for about ten minutes. Don't forget to turn the crock pot off after pickling.
I have two crock pots, one for silver and one for copper. Silver cannot be placed in a pickle that has cleaned copper or it will plate the silver with a copper finish. I am not fond of copper plated silver.
Photo taken by author.
Crock Pot for Pickling - Do Not Pay A Lot for your Pot
I would never use an expensive crock pot for pickling purposes. There is no need to spend the money to get the job done correctly. This Rival crock pot has just the right amount of settings to do the job needed to clean the oxidation off soldered metal.
Never use a crock pot that has served as a pickle pot for cooking. I know no one would ever think of doing that, but I just wanted to mention it.
This Rival crock pot can program the time, which means more freedom from watching the clock. If the pot is not shut off as soon as the cleaning is completed, the heat turns lower making it less likely to dry up as quickly as a pot that stays hot. I still do not recommend leaving the pot unattended for longer than needed, but it is a safety device that helps if the pot is accidentally left on too long.
This crock pot has a surface that resists sticking. Even though sticking is not usually a problem, there is a film that develops around the top of the water that is hard to clean if the pot doesn't have some resistance to sticking.
The pot is light weight, easy to move around,and has a removable inner pot for cleaning. It also has a clear glass lid, to view what is happening to the metal.
Best of all this crock pot is inexpensive and is eligible for free Amazon shipping.
I've used this crock pot and thought it worked very well. My current Rival crock pots do not have the programmable option. Although they work fine for pickling, I once forgot to turn one off. Since it remained hot, the water dried out and a crust formed on the inside of the pot, which was very hard to remove. I would rather not repeat the experience. A programmable crock pot could help avoid this situation.
My Soldering Studio - It Takes More Than a Torch to Make a Studio
This is my soldering studio in the basement of my home. It is on a vinyl floor, so no worries about a spark setting the floor on fire. It is also near windows, just in case there are any problems that require ventilating the area. I have lights set up beside the soldering table, since it helps to see what I am doing when soldering small pieces together. There is a bowl for water, which is needed to cool the metal after soldering and, of course, my two micro torches and a can of butane lighter fluid. Notice the paper towels. In the photo they are closer than I like them to be when I am soldering, so I move them to the back of the table next to the bowl of water.
Photo by author.
Soldering Supplies on Amazon - Getting Started
Here are few of the items needed to begin soldering. Solder is used in many professions. Make sure when purchasing solder or flux that it is the kind used for making jewelry.
This Lens Won Lens of the Day
And My First Purple Star
I hope you enjoyed learning about torches. Give them a try to you won't be disappointed.
Thanks so much for making this lens a Lens of the Day. May 4, 2012
And a Purple Star
Soldering is essential to making unique and professional looking jewelry. There are other ways of attaching pieces to metal, but soldering is the most rewarding and most professional way of doing it. Once you learn, you will enjoy creating jewelry and feel like a true metalsmith at your soldering station. Happy soldering!!