I was 43 when I decided to master the blowtorch. I’d already self-taught a number of jewelry making techniques. Metalwork was my next thing, and that meant cutting with a saw and soldering with a torch.
I could already mimic the rhythm of firing-up from a lifetime of watching my father use his plumber’s torch –a turn of the knob, a gentle hiss of gas, a flick of the striker, and poof… a hot burning flame. He made it look easy.
Friendly vs Unfriendly Fires
Insurance claims training taught me that my father’s skill harnessed “friendly fire” –a controlled beneficial flame. Torches could also unleash “unfriendly” fires –defined by Ohio law as “…fire of a destructive nature.” I’d learned the inherent dangers of working with a blowtorch from investigating unfriendly building fires caused by guys trying to power-thaw frozen pipes and ice dams.
I Was Determined to Learn
My father knew a lot about soldering pipes and sheet metal, but he couldn’t teach me the art of fusing delicate silver to create jewelry. So I found a 10 week evening class 25 miles away at Middletown Fine Arts Center. I registered, paid my fees, and within a week I was learning from a seasoned lady metalwork instructor named Joy.
Before using the torch, I had to design a piece of jewelry and learn to cut it out with a jeweler’s saw. I had to review the basics: solder, flux, clean metal, gradual heat, and that glow solder gets when it’s ready to flow.
The instructor talked me through firing-up a really cool blowtorch fueled by industrial-sized tanks of propane and oxygen. I lit it, adjusted the gas for a hot blue flame, and got excited over my first blowtorch experience.
2 weeks into class my mom had a stroke, but I knew she wouldn’t want me to stop. I visited her each day, and kept making my Tuesday evening trek. I decided not to re-register and continue classes like most of the students; so I learned what skills I could, bought a simple torch, and practiced every day until it felt natural.
I’ve won art show awards for my metalwork jewelry, and I’ve taught torch skills to hundreds of women and men. I have a five torch collection now; but like a lot of jewelry artists, I still prefer my basic plumber’s torch.