Sunday, March 28, 2010

Studio Tour Part 5: Does Love for Torches make me a Pyromaniac?

This is my trusty little workhorse. We have a relationship. I mean, you have to really. At first he was a little wishy-washy...afraid of the commitment, you know. But now, we are so steady and happy together.

Ok, so all kidding aside, I had to wrangle this one. I know it sounds funny, but setting up a torch is a big deal, especially when your roomate is watching you hook up a propane tank in the corner of your bedroom in a tiny second floor Philadelphia apartment. "Is that safe?" She'll ask. Probably not, you think while wrenching away at the thing.

The thing is, I knew that I was taking this jewelry thing seriously from early on, so I didn't waste any time or money on the smaller, hobby version of a torch, and I can't tell you much about them. I went straight for the trusty standby that was the do-it-all tool in the busy shop of my first apprenticeship: Hoke, oxy-propane.

Hoke is the brand name of this torch, quickly recognizable by the front facing dual knobs and the quick change tips: The brass ones come standard, but require a wrench to change out. A set of quick change adapters giving the flame a quick and versatile range of size.
It was a clear choice, but not an easy one. I had to buy hoses, fuel valve regulators and an oxygen tank at a welding shop. I then had to go to a hardware store for a propane grill tank and an over-sized wrench.

As you picture me taking a wrench to a propane tank in my apartment bedroom, you may be asking the same question as my roommate. Is that safe? My answer is that no, it probably isn't safe to put a propane tank in your bedroom. It is not advised to keep a flammable fuel tank indoors. Why, then? because I was bound and determined to gain the skills of a serious jeweler. How did I avoid getting kicked out of my apartment? I may have put the laundry pile over the tanks when the landlord was around. Is that safe? definitely not.

After successfully tightening the hose to the regulators and the regulators to the tanks with a temendous wrench, I was feeling like Rosie the Riviter. After checking for leaks by applying soapy water and looking for air bubbles, it was the moment of truth. Time to light this thing.

It worked....kind of. the flame would light, but the knobs seemed almost squishy. They didn't stay in place. It wasn't that they were uber-sensitive. They would slowly fall back after being carefully placed. The trouble here is pretty serious. When too much oxygen is present, the flame becomes intense, hissing, and eventually blows out the flame with a startling pop of pressure in the torch tip.

Oh, What to do! the manufacturer says it's fine, just loosen the knob really far and put it back. A few metal-head friends took a look and had no bright ideas. I was resigned to the thought that it needed to be "broken in" All torches that I have used have seemed finicky at first. They are difficult to light and control. Fire is difficult to light and control.

And so it was. I may have had nightmares about leaving a tank on or a line unbled, but I learned by living with my torch about respecting its danger, and standing up to it. I never spoke much about the trouble it gave me, just kept on trying, trusted myself to take care of it properly, and remember always to shut down all parts.

Now, 6 years later, it works like a charm. I don't know if I broke it in, or if it broke me in, but we live in harmony, my torch and I. You'll be happy to know that we have a studio together now.
It has accomplished the promised versatility. It holds a flame that can melt a hunk of metal in a crucible to pour into an ingot. >>>>>>
Or a flame of less than an inch in length for joining tiny, delicate, gold parts.
Now, I am in torch-love and I would never trade it in for another, but that's not to say I wouldn't buy a bigger one just to have fun with.

Please research thoroughly any decisions to setup for a torch in your workspace. Follow manufacturer's instructions. This is not intended as an instructional guide for torches.

1 comment:

  1. I remember really loving to use the torches in high school, so much better then the soldering irons I had to use in college. I had no idea how tricky they could be to break in though...that's fascinating and in a way a bit scary