How and When to Use Torches, Heat Guns, and Soldering Irons

 How and When to Use Torches, Heat Guns, and Soldering Irons

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You only need a little heat to burn right through some repairs.

A little heat burns right through some thorny home fix-up problems. At the low end, 200 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, heat softens old paint and putty. At the higher end, 400 to 800 degrees, it can thaw frozen locks and rusted nuts and solder electrical and plumbing connections. Still, more firepower, up to 3,000 degrees, will braze metals (a stronger form of soldering that uses harder filler materials) and cut or weld iron and mild steel.

High heat for home use is created with electricity or by igniting a gas such as propane, MAPP (methylacetylene-propadiene), or acetylene, each of which burns hotter than the last. While these gases will burn on their own using the oxygen in the air, to generate the most heat they need to be burned together with pure oxygen from a separate tank.

The important thing is to match a tool’s heat output to the task at hand. A $245 oxy-acetylene torch can weld steel; it can also sweat copper pipes or caramelize, but that would be overkill. For about $50 each, a handheld propane torch and an oxygen-fuel combo if you do a lot of fence or pipe repair should give you the heat you need in a manageable package.

Types of Torches

Oxygen-fuel torch (MAPP or propane)

Good For: Cutting and welding iron and steel, as in fence repairs. These gases don’t make as sharp and efficient a flame as an oxy-acetylene torch.

Oxygen-acetylene

Good For: Brazing, cutting, and welding iron and steel. Caution: Acetylene is harder to control and more dangerous than other fuels. Visit a welding supply store for the goggles and other protective gear — and welding classes — you’ll need to use it safely.

Pictured: A compact oxy-acetylene combo kit, typical of the way these torches are sold.

Propane torch


Illustration by Jennifer Thermes

Good For: Soldering copper pipes, brazing, and heating frozen pipes and rusted nuts.

Pictured: A torch with an electronic ignition, which is safer and more reliable than a spark, and a flame-spreading tip that lowers the heat for softening paint and caramelizing foods.

Types of Heat Guns and Soldering Irons

Electric heat gun

Good For: Softening old paint, putty, and asphalt tile; heat-shrinking plastic films and electrical tubing; soldering (requires special attachment).

Pictured: A pistol-style gun with variable controls, which is safer than a single-temperature wand-style one.

Electric soldering tools


Photo by Peter Meretsky

Good For: Soldering electrical connections.

Pictured: A pencil-style iron and a soldering gun. The iron takes longer to heat up but is less expensive.

The Hot Spots

A torch flame has many parts, all with different temperatures. While different gases produce different flames, the hottest point of any flame is at the tip of the inner cone, where the pale flame meets the deeper-colored outer flame.

Where to Find It

Electric heat gun:

Heavy-duty variable temperature heat gun Model #8977-20
Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation
Brookfield, WI
800-729-3878
Milwaukee

Electric soldering tools:

Weller universal multipurpose soldering gun with dual heat (140/100 watts) and Weller 25-watt lighted soldering iron
Cooper Tools, Barrie
Ontario, Canada
Cooper Tools

Trigger-start cast-aluminum torch head:

Model #TS4000T
Bernz-Omatic
Newell Company
Medina, NY
800-654-9011
Bernz-Omatic

Oxygen/ MAPP gas brazing/ welding/ cutting torch kit:

Model #OX2550KC
BernzOmatic

Torch gases:

Propane, MAPP, and oxygen all from BernzOmatic.

Oxygen-acetylene torch:

Model #WT5000
Campbell Hausfeld
Harrison, OH
800-543-6400
Campbell Hausfeld

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