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In general, buy a SMALL fuel tank and the LARGEST oxygen tank you can afford.  You will refill your oxygen tank far more often than your fuel gas.

Buy the best you can afford, Single stages are fine. Doubles are better for multiple torches.

Buy the "T" rated (All fuel gases) hoses. Standard "R" hoses at welding supply houses are for acetylene. They will decompose from the inside when used with natural gas, propane, butane, or Mapp gas. Don't use clear plastic or rubber hoses that are not designed for use with gases.

Natural gas, already plumbed into your house is often the "safest" choice. Its main disadvantage is lack of pressure. However, even standard street pressure is sufficient, when used with oxygen to do general jewelry repairs and fabrication. Casting is not impossible - but very, very difficult.

Propane, Mapp, and butane gases are heavier than air, they sink to the floor. Flipping on a light switch, or a little static electricity is enough to send you back to the "recycle bin"…

Acetylene is a pretty dirty gas, and eventually the soot will begin to show on your walls. It is lighter than air and floats upward. Burns hotter than any gas except hydrogen.

Hydrogen is not a gas commonly used by smiths or bench jewelers. It has its own set of hazards, and you will never be allowed to keep it inside a building. Some cities require permits just to have it around. The explosive power is more than that of acetylene when mixed with air.

ALL propane, Mapp, LP, and butane tanks come with a plain warning sticker - "DO NOT STORE INSIDE CLOSED BUILDINGS!"

If you absolutely must use propane, butane, Mapp, LP, or acetylene inside a building, limit it to the small disposable tanks - Coleman for example. This IS dangerous, but a lot less so than putting 20 lb. propane tank inside your house. Take the fuel tank back outdoors when not in use.

If you use the 20lb. (5 gal) tank that is standard for gas barbeques and RV's, and it should leak indoors - there might be a sufficiently explosive mixture made with the air - to take down an entire house. If you use the smallest (4lb.) tank, you might only take out one room….

Using the tank inside your retail store, shop, garage, your house, or worse yet your basement, and having an "accident" leaves your insurance company in the position of saying "Tough luck, the label on the tank warned you against using it inside your building." One acquaintance of mine lost his house this way. The insurance company refused to pay a dime…. He created the hazard.

TORCHES: Prestolite, Smith, Meco Midget, Little Torch… all are good tools. Some torches and tips are designed for jewelers, others are designed for silversmiths. The one I've found to be "best all around" is the Meco Midget… Use rosebud, multiple orifice, ventilated tips for smithing, and single orifice tips for general jewelry work.

Do not use butane cigarette lighters on your soldering bench. They are an extra hazard, and I've heard of people having them explode by accident. Use welder's strikers or an electronic igniter, or even matches if you have to. Keep the matches off the bench when not using them.

Do invest in flashback arrestors. In the case that your oxygen or propane tank pressure drops enough, one can mix with the other inside your torch body and explode when you light it. This is also what happens when you shut off your fuel first, while the torch is burning. The resulting mini-explosion can travel back up your hoses - wrecking them, and your regulator… There are two designs of flashback arrestors. One is designed to attach to the torch body, the other goes on your regulator. The ones for the torch body are too bulky and awkward for our uses. Get the kind that attach to the regulator. These will save you buying new regulators in the event of a flashback.

FIRE EXTINGUISHER: Bolt one (properly rated) to a leg of the soldering bench.

CHEMICALS: Know about the solder, flux, and pickle health hazards. Use eye protection

VENTILATION: Kitchen hoods and ventilator fans can get you by. Professional units are best. Find out how many cubic feet per minute you need to exhaust from your work area. Make sure you have a source of replacement air - preferably away from where your exhaust is vented:

ELECTRICAL & LIGHTING: Be able to turn it off, in order to see the dull red for annealing.
All of my soldering benches have a single power strip. That switch instantly turns on everything on the bench. Pickle pot and main bench lights come on and stay on. The exhaust fan, spot lighting, and other electrical appliances have secondary switches. This way when you shut down the bench, you know that everything is off.

GENERAL BENCH: Heat resistant surfaces, convenient layout of major components - pickle pot, baking soda, water, boric acid, anti-flux, soldering boards, electronic igniters, strikers, jigs, fixtures, screens, tweezers, and picks.

My personal setup: Propane (4lb.) tank, Oxygen (154 cu. ft.), outside of building in a little shed - with extra manifold and shut off valves, visible and accessible, mounted on the outside of the shed wall. You can tell at a glance whether the valves are open or shut. The gauges are two stage Victor brand. Both gauges have flashback arrestors. Use type "T" hoses. I use both Meco Midget and Smith Little torches at my personal soldering bench. I have, and use, all available tips for both torches, because I solder/braze so many different metals at so many different temperatures. There is another set of cutoff valves on the second manifold under the bench. Electronic torch igniters. There are two separate ventilation systems. An overhead, stationary 600 cu. ft. per minute commercial vent hood, and a moveable vent fan that can be placed directly in back of work. It's a two position bench, with the "clean" side dedicated to platinum work. All brazing, soldering, alloying, ingot casting, and annealing are performed on this bench. There is a spray booth for Prips flux and Cupronil. A loose, one foot square of Transite board can be placed on top of the bench for low temp. bismuth, lead, and Staybrite soldering. The drawers, and shelves are filled and covered with every known (and quite a few forgotten) soldering/brazing fluxes, jigs, holding devices, fixtures, ingot molds, shot tower, and screens known to man… On the floor underneath the bench is an electronic gas leak detector/alarm. The room also has a smoke detector within 10 feet of the soldering bench. The smoke detector should never go off, if you have - and use proper ventilation while working. Shopping at a professional welding supply is generally cheaper, and the salespeople have more safety and using knowledge than the average jewelry supply house salespeople.

(Copyright Brian P. Marshall - 2003)


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