Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Three Silversmithing Torches

There are many torches to choose from for silversmithing, and even more if you are soldering other metals such as platinum.  The choice of torch used is largely a personal choice, but can also be based on budget, and of course the metal you are soldering.

There are two torches I currently use when making jewelry.  The Smith Acetylene Torch, and the Micro Torch.  The various steps while creating a piece will dictate which torch I'll use at any given moment.

My Smith Acetylene/Air Torch

My Micro Torch
And the torch I am saving for.
The Smith Little Torch

You may wonder at the need for so many different types of torches.  Each one has it's own purpose, though the Little Torch would actually replace my Micro Torch, since it runs on Butane, has limited soldering abilities, and a much lower heat capacity than the Little Torch.

A little information about the melting points of sterling silver, fine silver, and silver solder (what seams ends together), which are the materials I use in my jewelry.  The melting point of sterling silver is 1640ºF; fine silver is 1761ºF; and hard silver solder is 1450ºF.  (More about the different types of solder in another post.)

A quick break down of each torch:
  • The Smith Acetylene Torch
    • Uses acetylene and atmospheric air
    • Has a maximum heat of 4770ºF
    • Good for most silversmithing projects and light casting projects
  • The Micro Torch
    • Uses butane fuel
    • Has a maximum heat of 2372ºF
    • Good for fusing small pieces of silver, depending on the actual torch, can be difficult to solder a piece larger than 10 gauge wire in a loop the size of a quarter (10 gauge wire is about the thickness of stirrer straws)
  • The Smith Little Torch (so named because of the size of the tips used)
    • Uses either Propane, Natural Gas, or Acetylene, with oxygen
    • Has maximum heat of of 6300ºF
    • Great for precision work
The higher the temperature capability of the torch, the faster you can solder.  Speed of soldering is relative to what you are actually soldering and the size of it.  For example, when making a ring band, using the Micro Torch takes a lot longer than using either the Smith Acetylene Torch or the Smith Little Torch.

None of the torches are "better" than the other, but depending on the piece you are creating, using the best torch for that project can mean the difference between wondering if the piece you are working on is ever going to solder, and getting on with it in a timely fashion.

If you're thinking of getting into jewelry making, I highly recommend finding a "beginning metalsmith" class in your area.  One, it will allow you to try it all out before you buy and set up your studio; and it will give you a nice base for future learning.  Of course, if you are so inclined, there are many art degree programs around the country where you can earn a BFA and MFA with a concentration in metalsmithing.

When you do buy your first torch, do not buy the set with the tanks!  I cannot stress this enough.  It is a waste of money because they come empty, and when you take them to be filled, they keep your nice shiny new tank and give you a filled one that looks like mine.  (I learned that the hard way, and could have saved a bunch on the shipping alone.)


  1. Wow, that was a very informative post Kirsten! The technical side of the art is very interesting to know not to manage the expertise you have to have to use those torches. I would definitely have to have someone show me how to use them before i tried. Especially do you anything more than just burn stuff let alone create art :)

  2. I do feel that soldering is an art form all itself! ;-)

  3. I don't know where you are from but in Tennessee if you go to a gas company, with a tank in tow, they will fill it for you on the spot. You then leave with your nice shiney tank full of whatever gas you needed.

    Every gas company should give you that option. As far as the torches if I were you I wouldn't waste time with a little torch. You already have a great torch and the little torch devours oxygen. The only way I would buy one is if I could get an oxygen machine.

    1. At the time, I lived in Bellingham, WA, and he told me for "safety reasons" and there was no guarantee when it would be filled. In retrospect, I should have picked up my nice shiny tank and left, but i was a newbie and it wad the only place near me to get a tank full.

      That's a very good point you being up about the little torch sucking oxygen....I never have bought one, and it increasingly falls lower on the list of tools I'd like in my studio.

      Thanks for commenting!!