The 9 Best Propane Torches
9. Lincoln Electric Inferno
8. Hot Max 100G
7. Bernzomatic Trigger-Start
6. Bernzomatic Outdoor
5. Red Dragon Vapor
4. Bernzomatic TS8000
3. Red Dragon VT 3-30
2. Greenwood Turbo
1. Goss Kit
A Beginner's Guide To Burning
It's generally accepted that humans began to exert control over fire sometime between 500,000 and 2 million years ago. This revolutionary discovery and its development led to better diets, safer settlements, and ultimately, guitars being passed around in circles. Some anthropologists even suggest that the adoption of cooked food led to our large frontal lobes and high-level thought.
Today, we can choose from a huge variety of devices that create a high-temperature flame at the touch of a button. They're readily available online and at any nearby hardware store, and some of them can slice right through metal with ease. What a time to be alive.
Aside from being hot, beautiful, and fun to play with (for professionals in a controlled environment), what is fire? The technical name for it is combustion, and it's the process of rapid oxidation in the presence of fuel, an oxidant, and a heat source. In the case of saturated hydrocarbons like propane, which consist solely of hydrogen and carbon atoms (in a 3 to 8 ratio, if you're keeping score), the molecular structure contains quite a lot of potential energy, with only relatively fragile (and oxidant-susceptible) bonds protecting the structure. As the name implies, oxygen itself is an ideal candidate for the reaction, which makes up over 20 percent of the Earth's atmosphere. The introduction of enough heat to this mixture causes the fuel molecule to break apart in an oxidation reaction, sending the different atoms flying to form strong bonds with the oxygen. The excess energy from this violent process creates a sudden spike in heat that, given the continued introduction of fuel, can trigger this reaction continuously. And that's how fire is made.
The Importance Of Blow Torches
Two million years of overall progress yields much incredible technological advancement, including within the realm of fire science. Considering energy production, locomotion, and even making tea, it's hard to find a layer of life not affected by this rapid process of oxidation. And for every engineer who designs a revised internal combustion engine, somewhere there's a chef hunched over a prime rib with the hottest handheld torch he could find, hoping to deliver a crispy skin that crunches, yet melts in the mouth.
That's the beauty of a torch: it takes us back to the basics. No heavy ovens or slow, radiant heating elements; there will be lots and lots of heat, and that's it. We wouldn't say the possible uses are endless, but it's a pretty long list.
Around the house, a handheld model is a no-brainer. These inexpensive and relatively safe tools can help with simple metalworking tasks, stubborn and hard-to-remove fasteners, and even stripping and finishing wooden furniture. The right tip coupled with the proper set of tools and a bit of experience can have any home repairman playing electrician and soldering back together old light fixtures or small appliances. And a bit of freehand flashing makes any sheet-metal sculpture shine with a unique blue-black glow.
Of course, there's no reason to always think small; there are some torches on the market that require more than a nimble wrist to operate; these work wonders on resilient, driveway-invading weeds, as well as sidewalk-destroying ice. In fact, we're told that the largest of these flaming devices are popular in certain art-oriented desert festivals. And don't forget the blow torch's big brother, the cutting torch. Many of these can utilize propane as an alternative to acetylene, and although it's a rather different technique, with enough skill it can work nearly as well. The fact is that propane and propane accessories are here to stay, because they're just so incredibly useful.
Things To Know Before Lighting Up
While they're generally not too difficult to use, torches do require a significant level of respect. As with anything combustion-based item, they should only be used with proper ventilation. Before operating any kind of flame-wielding appliance, you should visually check it for potential weak spots like punctures, creases, dents, and corrosion. And never light anything -- torch, stove, or cigarette -- if the area smells like gas. If anything ever smells off, look around immediately, find the source, and stop it right away.
For that matter, depending on where you get your fuel and what you use it for, it may not technically be pure propane. Some hydrocarbon fuels are blends of liquified petroleum gases, or LPG, which is a subset of several specific hydrocarbons that work well when used in concert. These are often marketed as camping fuel in addition to LP gas, and in may cases, they're interchangeable with propane, although some blends may not burn at the same temperature.
The specific shape and size of a unit's tip determines the nature of the flame it produces. Some are designed to create a large flame of low to medium heat a few centimeters from the aperture, while others focus all of the combustion on a tiny target, resulting in a precise and blazing-hot plasma. The success of each project depends very much on having the right accessories; busy welders and electricians will be well-served to invest in a range of different nozzles to suit various professional tasks. And although some of us have fond memories of burning hair off our arms trying to start the torch without producing a large and startling fireball, today's users rarely know this pleasure. With a multitude of convenient and apparently much safer starting mechanisms, the average DIY enthusiast can wield a blue flame with relatively little worry.
With so many choices on the market, it's important to go with a brand that's reliable, because safety is the most important aspect of anything hot and highly pressurized. As long as you respect the tool, use it responsibly, and don't burn the house down, owning the right blow torch can be a helpful and rewarding experience.