I teach with the $13.00 propane torch from the hardware stores. I has good flame for Silversmithing up to fairly large pieces. I will make you a lot of pieces and even more profit on what it can do. You just need to make it behave! It is the best torch for beginners, except, maybe, the Jumbo Silversmiths Butane Torch from Euro-Tool. You can not buy from them, but they can give you some places to purchase them. Several of the shops that I teach with handle them and will ship. If interested, contact me and I will give the information to you. I like it for beginners because it is only around $50.00 to $70.00 and it will do larger pieces than the Smith Little Torch and everything it will do for less money, no hose. You will pay more for the gas though.
Some will say the propane torch is not hot enough for Silversmithing, that is nonsense. Some will say it is so hot it is easy to melt projects, that is just stupid. Some will say that it is hard to control because it fluctuates and it does, so you just have to learn to make it behave after lighting and turning it over. Some will say it is heavy, it is not. I taught many seven grade girls to use it and they never complained, once! I pick on seven grade girls because they are tiny little critters, that have not got their growth spurt yet, unlike the boys. Some will say that they are not "professional" and I do not know what to say to that, but stupid, but if you care more about what your tools look like than the profit they will make you, then do not buy a propane torch. Every student project on my web site was made with one these $13.00 torch by my two day Beginning Silversmithing Class students. The larger projects were also made using this torch by my Advanced Silversmithing Students. So please do not listen to anyone that tell you they do not work for Silversmithing. My web site is learnsilver.com.
After that torch, I recommend the best torch, the Smith Handi-heat or Silversmithing torch from Rio Grande. It is an acetylene/atmospheric air torch, no oxygen. No oxygen is important if you are do Silversmithing. Oxygen is the biggest problem and concern when working with Silver, and copper too. I do not like to had more oxygen to the mix when soldering either one. Most people that use the Little Torch are the ones that have problems polishing, fire scale, and tarnishing. All may be the result of using oxygen, instead of the atmospheric air torches that get the oxygen from the air around the piece. i like the Smith over the Presto-lite because I like their their range of tips from 00, 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4. You can do the smallest of jobs to the largest and for melting easily up to 5 ounces. With the 00 or 0 tip you can do anything that the Little Torch can do and you only have to have one torch. The Presto-lite will not do some of what the Little Torch will do. The Smith Silversmithing Torch is around $120-130 plus the tank. The gas is cheap, but explosive, not dangerous because of the tanks, and the three shut off valves for safety. However, most fire departments do not let or want them in your home and most insurance companies, if not all, will raise your rates or drop your home owners insurance. The same is true with the Little Torch. It is the acetylene tank that is the problem, not the torch. Be sure to purchase your tanks locally at welding supply stores. They are heavy and cost a lot to ship them.
The Little Torch is a good torch for small things, but so is the cheap butane torches that will do the same jobs if you learn to use them. Almost any butane torch will do the same thing that a Little Torch will do when it come to Silver work and copper. it is a good torch for gold work, and I use it a lot for pewter. Again you need to consider the fire department and your insurance. Most people use the B tank for the acetylene, and a larger one for the oxygen. They do make smaller tanks for the acetylene call an MC tank. They are easier to smuggle into your house or apartment, so you are reported to the fire department if you are going to use oxygen anyway. However, they are just as expensive to fill as a B tank, and you get only about 1/10 the gas. They even make a Little Torch from the hardware stores. They use small disposable oxygen tanks and propane cylinders. you can put them all it a small tool box. However, the oxygen can be very expensive when using those small tanks. They will not last long. Again, why have two torches when one will do everything. I use my Little Torch for pewter which is one thing it does better than the others, however the 00 tip for the Smith torch will almost do that too. Oh, if you start to work with Silver a lot you will learn that to solder it, it is always important to heat the whole piece, not just one small area of it. Take too long to explain this, but it is important which makes the Little Torch one of the worst torches for Silversmithing.
Some people will also recommend fancier torches with great names, come from Italy and other far away places. This impresses some, and they look good, pretty, professional, and none do as good a job as the $13.00 propane torch. I have most of them and I would not trade my propane torch for any of them. You will find them at schools because they look good to students and that is all. I guess to make the students feel they are getting more for their money.
So in short, for a beginner, I recommend the propane torch first, or the butane torch if your not worried about the extra cost of gas, and need the smaller, lighter, easier to use torch. Then if you are going to do large things, but I would not make less profitable large pieces for your time, then go to the Smith Silversmithing Torch. I taught my employees to use this torch in about 15 minutes and told them it was the best torch for our Silver work. However, when I came back from a long teaching tour, I found that they were using the propane torch. I asked them to tell me why they went back to it instead of the Smith torch, and they could not give me an answer. I boiled it down to the fact that it did the job and it was just more convenient to use. You may find it to be too. And, you will only spend less than $20.00 to find out.
The Smith Little Torch is an a gas, usually acetylene, but can be propane, and oxygen torch. So the green line is to be connected to an oxygen cylinder. The torch that you may of wanted is the Smith "Handi Heat" or what Rio Grande sells as the Smith Silversmithing Torch. It is an acetylene/atmospheric air torch, with no oxygen. I and most teachers that I know, or have voiced their opinion on torches, agree with me that this is the best torch for Silversmithing, solder Fine and Sterling Silver. However, with the smaller tips I have used it for years for gold and even pewter. With the larger tips I can melt 5 ounces of Sterling easily. You must also be aware that using acetylene in your home and even in some shops may be violating your local fire codes, and your insurance company my not like it either. So you may want to check with both. Be sure to follow the instructions on hooking it up to the tank, or tanks, and use some soapy water to test all connections. I would suggest testing every fitting, including the fittings on the tank. Do not trust the gas company to have them tight on the shut off valve.
Another thing that I teach every one that gets an acetylene torch to shut it off properly when finished with it. I turn of the acetylene tank first while the torch is still burning. If you have oxygen hooked up leave it on, it will not hurt anything, and the flame will burn cleaner as it goes out. When the flame is out, and the regulator goes down to zero, then turn it off at the regulator, usually by screwing the knob, or t-handle out until it is loose. Then turn off the torch handle. This is why acetylene is safe to use, because of these three valves. Something else to remember is if you shut your torch down as I say, and then come back to it the next day, or whenever, and the regulator shows any pressure, then the valve on the tank is leaking, or you did not shut it completely. If it is leaking take it back to you gas company immediately.
Another thing to note, and do, is to only turn on the tank valve about a 1/4 of a turn when starting to open it to work each time. This is so that if there is an emergency, you can turn all the gas off with a twist of the wrist, only a quarter of a turn, and the gas is off. There will be gas in the hose, but it will not be under pressure and it is not much, so you torch will go out fairly quickly and you can turn your attention to the emergency.
I should have clarified that the number 3 tip is large enough with the Little Torch, but the larger the flame the better. For Silversmithing, the size of the flame is more important than how hot it is. Oxygen only increases the temperature, and you do not need that hot for Silversmithing. The extra heat, and oxygen will increase the problems with oxidization, fire coat, and eventually more tarnishing of your pieces.
I also do not want beginners to think they need two or three torches for Silversmithing. One will do if it is the right torch, either the propane torch that I suggest for beginners will do everything from the small wires to fairly large pieces, large enough to still be most profitable. The Jumbo Silversmithing, or Soldering Butane Torch from Euro-Tool will even be better for most people, but it is $50.00 instead of $15.00 and the gas will be more expensive to use. Very few, if any will need the Smith Acetylene/air Torch, $250 to $300.00 with a full tank, and insurance and fire department problems for most people. I do say it is the best torch for Silversmithing, especially for large pieces, but with those problems. With that said, I always tell my students that larger pieces, buckles, bracelets, art pieces, master pieces, are not has profitable for the same amount to time as small profitable, easy to sell pieces.
Almost any kitchen butane torch can do almost everything a Little Torch can do for 1/10 the cost. If you want, maybe, I can find the time to take some challenges on this. If anyone has something they think only a Little Torch can do, let me know and I will try it with a butane torch, a cheap one. If it is a larger piece I will use the Euro-Tool butane jumbo torch with a larger flame, and more gas storage capacity than most butane torches. It might be fun. I will only take challenges that will make a piece of jewelry that can be sold, so please, no off the wall, can I solder teapot onto a ring to win an art contest, or even make a teapot! I may do the same challenge using the acetylene/air torch to show that it will do anything a little torch will do when it comes to Silversmithing, jewelry making.
Anyway if you have the Smith Acetylene/atmospheric air torch, you would not need the Smith Little Torch for anything. Most my students can do any thing with the 00 tip on it, or a propane torch, or the butane torch, that can be done with a Little Torch, including most gold work, and even some pewter soldering.
With a little practice, the $15.00 propane torch can do everything too!
"Maybe the issue isn't so much the torch, but how they are using it Don? I
use my Smith Little Torch exclusively for all of my metalsmithing, and love
it! I don't have any problems with it..I don't make super large pieces, so
maybe that would be a challenge, but for rings, bangles, necklaces etc. I
find it works great."
Well, maybe, I just do not know how to use it, that is a possible for sure. I will let my experience, the thousands of pieces I have made, and the thousands of students I have taught in person, their beginning projects on my site, and that have learned by my CD books and DVD videos, speak to that. The experiences of students that come to me after using them during other classes, is enough for me to not teach with them for sure. My experience with using them for Silversmithing is that they are at the bottom of the list. They will work as all torches will, just at the bottom of my list.
But, I am open to the idea that I do not know how to use it. If you have the time, could you let me, and others on the list, know how to use it properly?
Would I change any of the soldering steps that I listed, except for lighting it of course?
How do you light yours?
What size of tank do you use for your oxygen supply?
What size of tank, or source, do you use for your propane supply?
They are more expensive. Why pay more for a beginner when other torches do as well or better?
They need two tanks or gas sources. Why keep filling or buy two tanks when it is not needed?
Can they do anything, or anything better, than any other torch? Especially the cheaper, $15.00 hardware store propane torch.
If you know how to use both, can one do something the other one can not?
They can cause more fire coat, which most people do not know anything about, therefore, all the complaining about Sterling Silver tarnishing.
With that being said, I have had two of them for over 40 years now, most likely have made more things with them than most people and will stand by what I teach.
I have never found a torch yet, including butane cigar lighters that I can not use to make most necklaces, rings, bangles, jump rings, and things with wire, sheet, bezels. Every torch will work, if you have one that you are happy with, fine with me. Check out my web site for the April Fools day MIghty Mini Torch. I soldered a bangle with it with no problems, but would not recommend it to anyone, especially a beginner. After all before torches, Silversmiths had to use blow pipes, but I would not recommend them. I am sure there were, or still are, many people that used a blow pipe, then torches came along, and they said, "I am still going to use my blow pipe, I don't have any problems with it, I never run out of oxygen, and find it works great!" I am just trying to let people know there are better torches, and at cheaper prices.
I agree with Beth, the best advice, if you can try them all, take classes from others, borrow torches, buy the cheap ones, they will pay for themselves, borrow the expensive ones, and try them for at least several projects, then decide for yourself. Many schools, colleges, individuals use torches in their classrooms because they look professional, expensive, and just plain cool, but it does not make them the best torch for most people.
If you do get fire coat then you may want to consider not using oxygen.
That's all I am saying.
I find that most people that like the Little Torch were taught to use it in a class, and have not tried any other torch. I am not saying that those that have commented here fall into that, I am talking about those I meet in person.
I have given many reasons why I do not recommend it, and many reasons why I recommend the torches that i do. I would like to hear some specifics of why anyone would choose a little torch over another torch. It is not enough to say: "I use it and like it", I would like to know why you like it over the others, and I am sure others would too.
The propane torch that I teach with is only $15.00 why not try it first, if you do not like it, use it to scrape paint, burn weeds, or start a campfire, but a Little Torch won't do as good job of those things either. I can send you at least 5 to 10 emails from my students taught by my books and videos that have sold their Little Torch, or just put it way and opted for the propane torch.
One thing I did not discuss about using torches, is that I have had many people with wrist problems, arthritis, one that was only three days out of a cast for carpal tunnel syndrome. Everyone was more that able to use the propane torch, through out the class. I also taught 7th grade girls to use this torch. I only pick on 7th grade girls, because they had not gotten their growth spurt yet and the boys had.
Anyway the reason is that this torch and the butane torch that I spoke of will both do the job so quick you should not have it in your hand for more than 30 to 90 seconds at a time. If the solder has not flowed in that time you must do something else. Usually turn up the torch or get closer. So the bulk and the weight of a torch really is not a problem if you know how to use it, heat the whole piece, them move to the solder joint while backing up the torch slightly.
That's the other problem with the wrong torches they take too long to heat a piece. You have them in your hands too long, even if they are lighter, can start to be heavy. More important the longer it takes to solder, the more the flux "fails", puddles up, exposes the metal, and cause oxidizing of all metals. Especially important when soldering Sterling Silver because this will cause fire coat (fire scale, fire stain) and this will cause more time in polishing, and if not polished off will causes pieces to tarnish quickly.
Hi Don, Why is the EZ Torch not good for silver? I'm pretty sure the jeweler who recommended it to me is a silversmith. She's been using it for 10 years and a spanish jeweler told me it was the most used torch in Spain. I asked around in metalsmith facebook groups about torch. Other suggestions were Hoke, Meco Midget, Little Smith but I didn't really like how they use 2 types of fuels.
Is the hardware store torch Bernzomatic? I think I saw that in Home Depot. If Bernzomatic and EZ Torch both use propane, what are the difference between them? I work mainly with copper, brass, and argentium silver.
Thanks for the insight.
Usually the torches used in Europe are chosen because they have limited choices, both on the torches and the gases available. Most people that recommend a torch, I would even say over 95% of them never have used any other torch than the one they are using and recommending. If asked why they recommend it they have no reason at all. I try to give everyone at least 5 good reasons to use any method, tool, torch, chemical or methods, and 5 why the other ones are not as good. Most people giving the advice or even teaching do not have any reason to teach the way they do, or the equipment they use, other than that is what they were taught. I had to get off one metal smith list because there was so much misinformation being passed on, and I just did not have time to respond to them. Rarely do people ask "why" do you recommend this or that. Some do recommend things because they are selling them. I try not to sell anything to my students, except for my DVDs and CDs of course. I have a Hoke torch too (one of the worst and expensive torches I have ever tried for Silversmithing) and two Little Torches (Acetylene). There is so much miss information on the web now, and so many people that teach metal smithing that have no, or very little knowledge of metals that everyone has to start asking more questions of those that are teaching and making recommendations on the web. Most do not have a clue what fire scale is and how it is created. Then we hear everyone complaining about their Sterling Silver pieces tarnishing quickly. There is a strong correlation between those that use the wrong torches and those that use argentium. Then they turn to other alloys that may ruin our industry. I do not have a Meco Midget torch but will research it and try to get one, but anything with "midget" in it's name is most likely not very good for Silver work. Another reason that I have found for people to recommend a torch is that it is more sophisticated, more expensive, more professionally looking, and makes the teacher or the person recommending it feel more superior than those using a $13 to $15.00 Bernzomatic. I once had a student, after I asked her to give one good reason to buy a $30.00 rawhide hammer and use it, instead of a $5.00 plastic headed hammer for Silversmithing. I gave her these reasons for a plastic head hammer: Lighter, Smaller (larger is just not needed for Silver work), Cheaper, Last Longer. After 10 minutes she finally came up with one reason to use a rawhide hammer: "Because it is prettier!" I started to laugh, but contained my initial emotion, and responded, "Well if it makes you happier during the day, why not spend the extra money, just don't tell me that you can not afford a Foredom, which I do list as one of the tools that everyone serious about Silversmithing should eventually get, and she could not afford. I buy tools to make beautiful profitable jewelry. I personally do not need pretty, or professionally looking tools, including torches.
The most important reason is that when soldering Silver it is a must to heat the whole piece, especially the farthest point from the solder joint, then back up the torch just enough to maintain the heat and spread it out over a larger area, and go to the solder joint so that you can control the heat. All these small flame torch use more oxygen, or even an oxygen tank, to get a hotter flame that is just not needed to work with silver. The shape of the flame is the most important requirement of a torch for soldering, especially Silver. Silver conducts heat faster than any other metal. It is important to understand that all metals conduct and transfer heat differently, oxidize differently, and react differently to heat, chemicals and oxygen. I do teach to use the Bernzomatic propane torch for beginnings. It does have a sharp smaller blue flame (usually rated at about 2.300 degrees) surround by a almost invisible large flame that helps heat more area. So it is easy to direct the smaller sharper flame exactly where you need it, and the larger outer flame keeps the piece hot.
No one ever melts whole piece while soldering. They always over heat one small area while trying to get the piece hot enough, it melts and ruins the piece. Again this is usually due to having too small of a hot flame. Now when soldering gold, just the opposite is true. A small hotter flame is good, because gold does not conduct heat as fast as Silver. I will send the "30 Steps for Soldering Silver" in a separate email. With Silver and copper it is important to heat the whole piece and it does not take a hot flame to do that. The Bernzomatic burns at about 2,300 degrees, plenty hot enough to melt the whole piece, so, good enough for soldering. Almost all other torches are hotter, smaller flames that burn at over 3,000 degrees and up to 4,500. F not C of course, I talking about the US.
So, here are the reasons I like the hand held propane torch from a hardware store. (Most can be used for the larger capacity, large flame butane torch Jumbo Butane Silversmithing Torch too. It is a kitchen torch on steroids).
1. Cheap enough for everyone to get started with, or at least to try first.
2. One of the best flames for Silversmithing.
3. No problems with insurance or fire departments.
4. No special plumbing as with natural gas torches (however, natural gas with atmospheric air torches are a great way to go, especially a Smith brand.)
6. Easy to light.
7. I taught 7th grade girls to use this torch with no problems or whining that they were heavy, too big to hold, or hard to hold at the right angle. I pick on 7th grade girls because they had not gotten their "growth spurt" like the boys. The boys did not complain either. Of course, I taught them to light the torch and get the solder to flow and set it back down down in about 30 to 60 seconds. Most people use too small of flame, don't heat the whole piece and take way too long to do each solder joint.
8. Available everywhere in the US.
9. Gas is cheap.
10. Gas is available everywhere in the US.
11. Easy to make any more profitable pieces that I every want to make. Not so good for larger bracelets, buckles and "master pieces" that I do not waste my time on anyway. They will make them though, check out my web site and look at the "Hard Solder Challenges" that were all done with this cheap propane torch.
12. No oxygen tank and gets it oxygen from the atmosphere, so less oxidizing of the metal, less, or no, fire scale, reducing, or eliminating tarnishing.
13. Can be used just fine for most all other metals, gold, copper, brass, Fine Silver, Sterling Silver and the mixing of all them.
14. No hose to deal with, but some would rather deal with the hose than the weight and bulkiness of this torch.
15. No gauges, one fitting, the torch to the tank, simple, safer.
16. Good enough to make pieces that will pay for any other tools and equipment, including a different torch.
Of course there are negatives of all torches. For this cheap torch:
1. Bulky, but again it can be managed.
3. Disposing of the empty tanks. (I take them back to the store's that I purchase them and tell them to deal with it. They can not be recycled.
4. Does not look professional enough.
Anyway, I hope that give you some things to consider and think about.
This falls into the Dumb Question That Isn't a Dumb Question category. I
want to start learning soldering, and I was given a used Benzomatic propane
torch and canister. But the canister is empty. Can it be refilled or do I
need to buy a new one? And if it's refillable, where?
They can be refilled, but no one should. It use to be a $10,000 fine for refilling them. That now has been replaced by warnings not to refill because of the danger of an explosion. There was a kit to refill them from your bar-b-que tank. I bought one, tried it once and through away the kit. Many people that bought that emailed me to give their kit to me, because they tried it and found it just too dangerous. They have small rubber seals in them that also will leak. This is why I never take the torch head off the tank once I put it on. You will not find anyone to fill it. We had a place here in Colorado that tried, but there most likely less than 20 cents worth of gas in each one. The cost is really in the tank, so there just isn't any profit in filling them.
The tanks are $4.00 so it is just too cheap to try to fill them anyway. Lowes, Home Depot, Ace and some Wal-Marts have them for less. I just finished burning a tank to see how long they will burn on one tank and it burned for over 17 hours continuous burning with soldering temperature flame. This would add up to around 100 to 300 hours of actual soldering time. It just adds up to: too cheap to worry about.
If you have take the time to read this information about torches it shows me that you are somewhat serious about learning soldering, Silversmithing and jewelry making. if so, please do your self a favor and consider some of the tutorials on my Tutorial Web Site. Please consider downloading "Beginning Silversmithing" first, it will help you take a giant step forward, and answer mot of your questions concerning Silversmithing.