Author: Kelly Conner
One of my favorite parts of metalsmithing is the fire! Here is a super basic overview of what you need to consider when buying a torch to create all the fire you need.
First lets talk anatomy:
Torch: This is just the part the the flame comes out of that you hold in your hand. You will want something that has multiple tip sizes that you can change out. These additional tips will greatly increase the scenarios that your torch can be used in by changing the size of the flame.
Hoses: Make sure your torch comes with the necessary hose or hoses. Green hoses are for oxygen and red hoses are for flammable gas.
Regulator: This is the thing that screws directly onto the tank and connects your hose to the tank. It is important to buy the right regulator for the type of tank that it is attaching to. For example a regulator needed for a propane tank is different then one needed for an acetylene tank.
Tanks: Depending on the torch you pick you may need 1 or 2 tanks. Every torch needs a mix of "air" and gas. The gas is what is burning, and the air is what controls the flame. The torch and regulators will also determine what type of "air" and gas you will use. Air can either come in through a vent or through a hose from an oxygen tank. (Oxygen will make everything hotter. Acetylene + Air = HOT vs Acetylene + Oxygen = SUPER HOT) In the jewelry world, gas is typically acetylene or propane. There are many others, but it is what you see jewelers using 90% of the time.
My recommendations & what I use:
My main torch is sometimes called a "plumbers torch". The brand is Prest-O-Lite, and it uses an acetylene b tank. It came with 4 different tips that I can change out to adjust the size of he flame. One of the main benefits of this torch is that it only requires 1 tank (not 2) and it can solder in a wide variety of scenarios. The one negative of this torch is that it doesn't solder super teeny tiny things well. Even using the smallest tip, the flame is a bit too big for the super teen tiny things. You can likely buy this torch at a welding supply shop.
If I was buying my first torch all over again, I would get the Smith® SilverSmith™ Acetylene and Air Torch(pictured above). Its basically the same as the Prest-O-Lite but has a wider range of tips for soldering super tiny things. Just like the Prest-O-Lite it only needs 1 tank, an acetylene b tank. If you go this route, order some additional/larger tips too. You can get the acetylene b tank from your local welding supply shop.
I also use a small torch, the Smith® Little Torch™. The little torch is a beautiful little guy and most jewelers use it as their only torch. However, if you plan to make anything larger in sterling silver (3"+ and solid) this might not provide a broad enough flame. To reiterate though, most jewelers don't do that. I'm a bit weird :) This torch, despite it's small size, gets super hot. That is because it is a combination of gas and oxygen This combination also offers greater control of your flame size and gas/air mix, since you can adjust how much of each you want. You can buy this torch as either propane/oxygen or acetylene/oxygen (I went with the propane (want to know more about the difference between propane and acetylene - click here)). Like the other Smith torch you will want to buy this one online. You can then buy the tanks at the welding supply shop.
If you would like more information, check out this super detailed post from ganoskin.
I will also point out that a lot of jewelers starting out like to use butane torches. These are inexpensive, compact, and don't require a trip to the welding supply shop. That said, they really don't have the range needed for more complex and larger scale work (anything over 2 1/2 inches). If you want to learn more about butane torches you can check out THIS LINK to a video by rio grande and THIS LINK for a well written article on butane torches and their limitations.
Don't hesitate to reach out to me with questions. I know this can be an intimidating and scary descision.