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Oxyacetylene Torches: Tips and Operation
Everyone in the HVAC/R trade uses some type of torch to braze or solder alloys together. So, what is the proper way to handle an oxyacetylene torch? It turns out that there’s more than one right answer. Depending on which torch rig you use, the manufacturer’s manuals for operation may vary.
Everyone (hopefully) knows that a neutral flame on a torch tip is suitable for most applications. Sometimes, a carburizing flame is useful for reducing oxidation. The only flame we all should avoid is the oxidizing flame. However, to achieve the correct flame, a technician must fully understand the type of torch tip they are using and the application for which the torch is being used.
For example, a “rosebud” tip is (often) a large high BTU tip, and it may be too large for most residential applications. Many technicians will attempt to lower the fuel and oxygen pressures feeding the tip to reduce the temperature. However, the tip begins to starve due to a lack of adequate fuel/oxygen mixing, and the flame will back into the torch tip and coat the inside with a carbon coating, which can damage the tip and torch over time. On the other hand, a torch that is too small will never get hot enough for an application outside its design parameters.
So, which tips are best? At what pressures must tips be set? There are many answers to these questions. However, they all depend on the brand of equipment you use and the application in which you work.
I had the opportunity to speak to Tim Thibodeaux from the Service Dept. at Victor Technologies and with Matt Foster from Uniweld Products, Inc. Both confirmed that pressures are tip-specific and operating procedures are brand-dependent. For example, many technicians have learned to shut off the FUEL first when shutting down the torch, but this contradicts manufacturer instructions.
Uniweld states in their operation manual to shut off the OXYGEN first at the torch when following proper shutdown procedures. We do that to prevent flashback or backfire.
Uniweld Shut-down Procedure
Victor Shut-Down Procedure
Victor, too, requires the operator to shut off the OXYGEN first at the tip, and then the operator may shut off the fuel valve. The reasoning remains the same: to prevent backfire/flashback. So, where does this “Shut off the fuel first” myth come from? It turns out that it’s been taught that way for decades, but not without reason.
I had the opportunity to speak with HVAC/R Training Legend Bill Johnson, one of the original authors of the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technologies (RACT) Manual, and we spoke extensively on the topic. The RACT Manual offers an alternative method of shutting down the torch rig. The textbook teaches to shut the FUEL off at the torch first.
“Shut off the fuel gas (acetylene) valve at the torch first”
Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technologies (8th Edition)
I asked Bill Johnson why that was, and he explained it was a way of protecting the technician over the tool. Starve the flame of its fuel first, and eliminate the flame right away. Also, this was the way he had been taught many years ago, and the first edition of the RACT Manual was published in 1987. Perhaps there was once a manufacturer operation manual that specified the “fuel off first” method, but the procedures have since changed. This method is not without merit, as its intentions are pure.
With the proper PPE and setup procedures, following the manufacturers’ approved operation instructions should be standard across the trade. Some would argue that shutting the oxygen off first can cause the little carbon “bunnies” that are created when the acetylene pressure is low enough. This is easily rectified by changing the way you set up the torch in the first place, keeping acetylene pressure at the tip-specified level.
Uniweld Tip 17-1
Matt Foster from Uniweld mentioned several operating tips for torch tips and setting a flame. The most common torch tip he finds most technicians use is the Type 17-1, and it's good for pipes with an inside diameter of up to 1”. The manufacturer’s design operating pressure for this tip is 5 acetylene/5 oxygen. Another common tip is the Rosebud Type 28-2; its operating pressures are 5-7 acetylene/5-8 oxygen, and it is good for pipes with an inside diameter of up to 1-5/8”. (Caveat: According to Matt, these published operating pressures may be even higher, as torch tip engineering changes over time and the current catalog has not yet been updated. Therefore, when in doubt, take a look at the spec sheet that comes with the torch tip, or call the manufacturer to clear things up).
You can find the Uniweld welding/brazing tip-rated operating pressures in their catalog HERE. You can also find the Victor welding/brazing tip-rated operating pressure HERE. As you can see, there is no one right answer when it comes to setting regulator pressure at the tanks. In schools, it is often taught to set fuel to 5 PSIG at the regulator and oxygen at 10 PSIG at the regulator. Some say the pressures should be the same at the regulator. The purpose of the pressure specifications is to ensure proper mixing of the gases for the best quality flame and protect the torch rig from damage and compromised safety functions. So, the answer to how to set your oxyacetylene regulator pressures is: it depends!
In other words, RTFM! (Read the FANTASTIC Manual!) Hopefully, this clears up any confusion about torch rig operation and setup/shutdown procedures. Remember ALWAYS to wear proper PPE when dealing with any flame (eye protection, gloves, etc., and avoid polyester clothing) and follow industry best practices regarding safety.