Getting Started with an Oxy-Acetylene Torch
Taking the Next Step When the Propane Torch Just Isn’t Enough
The oxy-acetylene torch is one tool I can’t live without. Working on old trucks and farm implements alike, you’re bound to find yourself in need of a heat source above and beyond what a propane torch can offer. The solution to your problem can be found in the oxy acetylene torch.
What is Oxy-Acetylene?
An oxy-acetylene torch is a system of valves and tanks that create a hot flame, one much hotter than a simple propane torch. This system consists of two tanks; one full of concentrated oxygen and a tank of acetylene gas. Acetylene gas is flammable, but will not reach temperatures hot enough to turn metal into molten material alone, so oxygen is added as an oxidizer to intensify the heat of the resulting flame.
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What it Can Do
Oxy-acetylene torches are versatile, and in many opinions, an indispensable part of the farm tools and equipment we use on the homestead. The primary use of an oxy-acetylene torch set is to cut metal. It does this well, but it also lets us superheat rusty bolts and parts that can’t be freed with a good old dose of torque.
If you have a full complement of torch tips, you can also weld with an oxy-acetylene torch. Brazing, or gas welding, is an excellent skill to have, and in some situations, works the best compared to ARC, TIG or MIG welding. That being said, I seldom use that feature of my torch set.
What It’s Not so Good at Doing
Oxy-Acetylene sets are not simple, nor are they exceptionally portable. There are small kits and tank caddies available that hold plumber’s B-sized tanks, but these tanks don’t last long when cutting metal. These plumber’s sets are meant for lower temperature torch tips for brazing (or “sweating”) copper pipes. These kits work well for that, but because the small tanks burn out so fast, they don’t usually make it onto many people’s farm tools list.
What Size to Buy
Like I’ve said, the B-size tanks don’t suit our needs very well, despite how easy they are to find in tool stores. This is a “bigger is better” situation, so consider getting a taller tank such as a K-size oxygen and a #4 acetylene tank. If you can afford to, I suggest buying two of each, so you can swap out and keep working instead of putting the project on hold until you can get to the dealer for a refill.
Buy or Lease?
Be aware that some gas dealers will try to sell you on leased cylinders. If you’re a busy automotive shop or fabrication facility, this typically works out in your favor. For those of us who use our oxy-acetylene sets sparingly, be forewarned; you want to buy your tanks outright. Unless you want to pay a perpetual lease agreement for something that you use a few times a year, I highly suggest you find a dealer that will sell you the tank outright.
Once you buy a tank and deplete it, you have two options at most gas dealers; wait a week for them to fill it, or trade them for an already loaded tank. I’ve always swapped out for a full tank, just understand that the cylinder you’ll receive in return is not as new and not as clean as your brand new tank. Most gas dealers call these owner tanks, so be sure you mention that when you go to exchange them.
There are laws about how you transport pressurized vessels that you should know. All tanks that feature that classic-necked design you’ve likely seen before, require a screw-on safety cap when in transit. Don’t show up to a gas dealer without one because they get very cranky if you don’t have one.
Never transport pressurized gas cylinders in the trunk of a car! I know people do it all the time with propane tanks, but it’s not legal and not safe. Cylinders should be transported standing up in the bed of a truck and fully secured. That is the preferred method of transportation and the safest. The last thing you want is to have a tank slide around in your truck, have it impact the neck of the cylinder and turn it into a deadly rocket.
Torch kits are available in many tool and farm stores, but the best parts and kits you can find are found at your local welding supply shop. An oxy-acetylene torch is a tool you should buy once if you buy the right one. Buying the cheapest kit seldom ends well for the end user, and replacement parts may be non-standard. Be sure to consult your local welding shop for their recommendation, and be prepared to pay a little more for quality.
Parts of a Kit
A full oxy-acetylene torch set should include two regulators, four pressure gauges, a length of double line hose, blowback valves, a torch body, and several torch tips. Each regulator gets two gauges; one to tell you how much pressure is in the tank, and how much pressure you’re allowing to go up the hose and to the torch body. The torch body is where the gas mixing happens, where the high flow trigger for the oxygen is, and where the mix control knobs are. On top of the body is where you screw on your desired torch head.
Moving it All
These tanks are heavy, and so is the oxy-acetylene kit. There are caddies available, but a sturdy hand truck and a ratchet strap also work well. Be sure they are secured well!
Do you use an oxy-acetylene kit at home or on the farm? What tanks do you use, and what tips do you have to share? Let us know in the comments below!