Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We’ve selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands-on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day.
There’s always room for a flame in the workshop… or the kitchen. Here’s the run-down on blow torches and how they can be extremely useful on your next project.
A bit of portable heat can be a godsend in the shop. A focused flame can soften, melt, shrink, loosen, char, and solder your projects right where they’re needed for professional results. While it can be a bit daunting to know where to start working with direct flame, the set-up is pretty straightforward. Here’s what you need to get going:
General Use: I bought my first torch to sweat copper joints in my bathroom plumbing, so the basic propane kit was all I needed for that project. The kit consists of a small propane tank, and a torch head. The small head is simple and easy to use, but doesn’t have a trigger start and won’t handle MAP gas. This means it’s just slightly inconvenient but performs well for overall shop use. I recommend springing for a bit better model with a trigger ignition to keep from hunting around for a lighter.
Note: MAP gas is a blend of propylene with a small mix of propane. It burns a bit hotter (about 130 f higher than propane) which means faster heat to for soldering pipes, but won’t make much difference in most projects. MAP is also about 3x as expensive so don’t go that route unless you really need a boost.
What do you do with it? Well, lots. Anytime you need to heat something generally, but not make it hot enough to 1) catch on fire or 2) weld or fuse to the areas around it. Some uses are:
- soldering copper pipe joints
- starting a charcoal or wood fire for grilling
- loosening stuck bolts
- create smoking wood chunk for smoked cocktails or food
- softening paint for removal
- brazing to join metal
- charring wood for visual effect
- softening roof tar and materials
- browning a steak or chop
- toasting sugar, marshmallows, or desserts
- softening sheet metal for bending
Special Use (Soldering, precision heat, shrink wrap tape) – For more precise work, a pencil torch or micro torch is more in order. I bought a small butane kit a few years ago, and it has been a faithful tool on many projects where a small, focused flame is needed. Here’s the difference between the pencil torch attachment and a butane micro-torch:
- The pencil torch is a small attachment for the standard propane bottle. It provides a smaller, more focused flame that is perfect when the surrounding area can’t get burned. The smaller head works well to heat small pieces or shrink wrap tape, but takes quite a while to heat a copper joint for plumbing or brazing.
- The micro torch is ultra-portable with a small butane reservoir instead of a bulky propane tank. While butane burns about 2000° F cooler than propane, its small size makes it ideal for portable jobs where precision heat is needed. Most micro-torch kits also have small attachments for electrical soldering work, wood burning, or nylon rope cutting.
- Mag-Torch Propane Pencil Flame Torch $14
- Dremel Versa Flame Butane Micro-Torch $35
- Bernzomatic Micro-Torch $22
So, however you like your flame, there’s a torch for you. Take a look around and I’m sure you’ll find a need in the shop for a bit of precision fire.