Tips for Using a Handheld Torch Safely

I've been doing a bunch of posts about projects using handheld torches this year and I have a lot more to share in the coming months. Torches are sweet, fire-spitting tools that really aren't scary to work with. Like any tool, they just have to be treated with respect and they are perfectly safe. I've going to share some safety tips and one ferociously close call that could have burned our house down.

My first rule for using a torch, is to stay mindful of my surroundings. Combustible materials inadvertently set ablaze could lead to disaster. I avoid or protect flammable stuff. I always do this. In fact, in the past, you've seen me use window cleaner to wet a wooden area, then add a flame proof mat, like when I plumbed to replace a hose bib on the back of  our wooden-sided, very flammable house.

Flame-proof mat in action.

Pictured Torch: TS4000-Trigger-Start Torch Head  (with propane)

Like I said, I always do this. Unless, of course, I'm being a moron...

Recently, you may recall me weeding the yard with a Bernzomatic Lawn and Garden torch. Trust me, it's pure joy to incinerate and kill weeds this way, plus there's no nasty chemicals to deal with. In order to share this pure joy with you on this blog, I puttered merrily about the yard, flaming weeds. I moved my camera tripod around with me to capture the hard-core, flame-throwing action.

Good bye.

All was going well with this marvelous, photo-journalistic endeavour. I walked from the front yard to the side, sending weeds to their smoking doom and snapping pictures. I set the camera down over a particularly leafy little weed to get a close-up, before-and-after shot (all for you, dear reader), I leaned over to squint through the viewfinder and set the focal point, which of course was...

Mistake #1.

A particularly leafy weed.

With my face pressed against the camera, I heard a single, sharp cracking sound that made me think perhaps someone coming up behind me stepped on a dry stick. When I turned around, the sound instantly transformed into a fast, frying-bacon crackle and a sickening "whoosh!" I took a leisurely full second to stand, slack-jawed, with a burning torch in my hand, wondering how in the world I had managed to set a huge pile of dried palm fronds on fire. Flames exploded upwards, rapidly climbing the pile. The heap was stacked and waiting politely for bulk trash pickup a couple weeks later. Now it was rapidly and rudely turning into a flaming hell, just a few feet away from the house.

I clearly remember saying, "Uughhhtt!!!"

Sometimes in life, situations occur where curse words just don't do it. In the moment, I couldn't recall any actual words, curse or otherwise.

I shut off the torch, set it down, and ran at the pile. I knocked the biggest of the burning pieces off the stack with the sort of Kung-fu, whiptail kick maneuver that comes naturally to a person in fight-or-flight situations like this. Trust me, you would do it too, instant Kung-fu master style. I began to stomp my work boots on those flames, crushing them into submission.

Thank the heavens I hadn't been a complete idiot wearing sandals; boots were perfect. Oh, how I wished the camera had been facing the pile to see that bad-ass, action hero kick and stomp action. I even had the remote trigger in my hand the whole time, but the camera was pointed at that dang, particularly leafy weed. I was sure my Kung-fu firefighting moves looked cool.

No, they weren't cool at all, nor were they effective. The action hero bit evaporated away instantly. I had scattered glowing embers in my initial kicking and stomping assault that each latched hungrily onto fresh, bone-dry fronds. I continued to kick and stomp as fires continued to flare.

It was a loooong time that I leapt around in an insane hybrid dance. I was getting exhausted. The initial shock had worn off. I realized I wasn't losing the battle, but I clearly wasn't winning either. I was going to burn out before the fire would. I didn't think it would get to the house about 6 feet away, but I couldn't be sure. Even if it didn't, I really  didn't want to have a neighbor call the fire department when they noticed the smoke. They'd probably present me with a nice, big fine.

As I furiously danced and singed my leg hair off, my first thought was the garden hose. Could I unwind it from its hook in the front yard, turn it on, and run it all the way back around before the entire pile was engulfed? As I got ready to run for it, I noticed the pool remodeling contractor had left it in a tangle, about 5 feet away from the place I was furiously doing the crazy stomp dance. There was absolutely no way I'd get that mess working in time.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

How about the fire extinguisher?!!! Of course goofball! I had brought it out of the garage when I started torching.

Unfortunately, I had also left it in the furthest side of the front yard when I walked around the house, which of course was...

Mistake #2

I got a second burst adrenaline-fueled energy and ran faster than I had run 20 years, sliding in the gravel and spinning narrowly past the treacherous, spiked Saguaro cactus to grab that little red cylinder. I was back to the inferno in seconds, ripping the pull ring, and blasting the conflagration. The world disappeared in a massive cloud of yellow powder. Ever your devoted blogger, I spun the camera around for you to see the second, smaller blast.

Good times, eh? In the end, I know I was super lucky. What if I had rounded the corner and not heard that first crackle? The truth is, five solitary minutes of this pile blazing without any defensive fight could have cost us the house.

Scary, but easily avoidable. In this one, rare occasion, I didn't give my tool proper respect and it bit me. Moron.


Basic Torch Safety


Bernzomatic provides excellent documentation with their torches, plus they have some great resources on their general safety information page. Work safe. Don't be a moron

Here are their basics a nutshell:

  • Read the safety warnings and instructions
  • Use gloves and safety glasses

Blog Post: 

Removing Rusted Bolts with a Torch - Fire it up!

  • Check the seals. Don't use cylinders with damaged or missing seals. Get rid of cylinders with dirt or rust in the valve areas.

Blog Post: 

Yard Cleanup - buckets, a pole saw, and a torch!

  • Turn off a torch before attaching fuel. Hold the cylinder vertically when attaching it. 
  • Do not use tools to tighten, hand pressure only to avoid over-tightening.
  • Check for leaks. Use soapy water on the connections and look for bubbles. Listen for hissing of gas. Feel for coldness. Smell for a rotten egg odor. Do not use if a leak is detected.
  • Keep torches upright to prevent flare-ups or flashes. If it sputters or flares up, turn cylinder upright and turn it off. Vent unburned gas from the area.

Facebook Gallery: 

Torch Lighting the Grill and Spiral Dogs!

  • Allow torches to cool off. Remove fuel and replace caps.

Blog Post: 

Re-Plumbing an Exterior Hose Bib - Fun with Fire!

  • Don't drop, throw, or puncture the cylinders. Store them away from living spaces, children's access, ignition sources, and direct sunlight. Do not store fuel at temperatures above 120 degrees F (49 degrees C)

Just be smart. Think about what could happen and takes steps to prevent it. Keep an extinguisher nearby.

The easiest thing to remember is to look for ways for you or your stuff to get burned before you start. It's not just the flame, it's also the stuff you are applying the heat to and the stuff close to it. Think about where that drip of molten solder might go when you choose your footwear and where to put your arms and legs. Could an item you are heating or something nearby melt, drip, catch fire, spatter, spark, or explode?

Blog Post: 

Burned Pallet Wood Pirate Flag

Work smart. You'll be fine. You'll have fun!


Cylinder Disposal

A great question that I heard asked by another Bernzomatic Torchbearer, in the early stages of the program was about what to do with the spent fuel cylinders. They last a good long time, even at the rate I've been torching, but they do eventually give their last hiss of gas as the flame slowly dwindles and winks out.

 So what do you do with these non-refillable cylinders?

Since localities have different rules and regulations on how to properly handle these materials, Bernzomatic launched a great informational  program called Cylinder Safe . This is a launching pad to get the details needed to safely use, transport, store, and dispose of the used gas cylinders.

I visited Cylinder Safe, at and typed in my zip code. It gave me a website and phone number to my county's solid waste authority.

I got a call back from a really nice lady from Maricopa County (actually from the Solid Waste Program, part of the Water and Waste Management Division of the Environmental Services Department of Maricopa County). She gave some great information. Unfortunately, their static collection sites are on the fringes of the county, with the closest being a 40 minute drive. She gave me info for the City of Phoenix. Since we pay a residential waste collection fee with my utility bill, I could drop them off for free. It turns out they had a collection event at a local park, really close to us. Lots of cities have these events where you can hand off your hazardous household  waste. My local event even took car tires, auto fluids, paint, batteries, appliances, electronics, pool chemicals, and yes,...

fire extinguishers.

CoincidentallyI just so happened to have one of those to drop off too. 

Have fun torching my friends, and remember, don't be a moron.

Stay safe.

Bernzomatic Torch Bearers

This is a sponsored post. I am a proud to be a Bernzomatic Torch Bearer, though all opinions expressed are 100% my own. I won't recommend products I don't believe in.

The Torch Bearers are a group of tradespeople, DIYers, culinarians, adventurers and artists brought together to create projects using Bernzomatic torches and share their knowledge and ideas with you. Check them out here and get inspired to create with fire.

Visit the other awesome Torchbearers and see what they are up to on the Bernzomatic Torch Bearer Site.

How to Quickly Break Down a Pallet - For FREE wood

I got my hands on some free wood the other day, three glorious shipping pallets worth of it. Of course they are stuck together with tenacious, power driven spiral nails.

In my experience, prying boards off a pallet with a crowbar and hammer is a horribly difficult endeavour that takes forever. The time I tried it, I ended up damaging wood that wasn't in the best shape to begin with.

Another method I'd tried in the past was to run a circular saw alongside all three stringers, slicing the planks into short pieces. It worked fine, but I was only left with stubby planks of wood to play with.

The method I use now is to cut behind the planks with a reciprocating saw. I can speedily rip an entire pallet down in about 5 minutes.

(There is a full-contact, action-packed, 5 minute challenge video at the end of this post.)

How to break down a pallet

I like to to use an aggressive blade instead of a fine toothed bi-metal one. My favorite so far is a demolition blade with carbide tipped teeth. I'd picked up a Diablo 6-in Wood Cutting Blade a couple years back when I'd torn down our bizarre tunnel / front porch overhang. I ripped through nails, shingles, and wood, no problem.

The Diablo Demo Blade

Next time I buy a blade, I think I'm going to buy the 9 inch for a better reach. For now, this beast is still ripping through stuff and I don't need to buy another yet. The only thing that's worn down is the paint. It really makes quick work of the nails. Plus, if the board is on super tight, it has no problem shaving the wood down enough to slide through and get those tightly gripping meanies. 

Reciprocating it's heart out. 

Pallets are designed for a long life, carrying heavy loads while bouncing on trucks and getting thrown around on forklifts. They are tough.  The problem with breaking them down is that they are put together with spiral nails that do not want to back out.  Furthermore, the nails are power driven deep into the slats. They are an absolute bugger to pull. Slicing through the nails is the speedy solution to that problem.

I chuck the stringers (side pieces). They are oddly-shaped, usually horrible wood, and will be absolutely riddled with buried nail pieces

     Buried Nail Pieces

     [ber-eed] + [nayl] + [pees-ez]


  1. Fragments of cylindrical fasteners embedded sub-surface in a material, specifically designed to damage, ruin, and / or destroy cutting blades in finishing tools.

Dammit! These buried nail pieces tore the hell out of my brand-new $75 table saw blade!

A fine example of Buriedis  Nailuss Piecicus, in its natural habitat

Once both the side stringers are loose, I drive into the more difficult center section. I'm confident that a longer blade would speed up my method. The 6 inch one gets pinched a little in this section, but it can still do the deed.

In no time, I have a heap of delightfully free wood. Not all of it is usable for projects, but there are usually a few tasty bits, ripe for building something. 

I lop the stingers in half to make it easy to get rid of them in the weekly trash. Again, I do not use a nice circular saw blade on this, with buried nail pieces lurking. The demo blade does the trick.

I don't need no stinkin' sawhorse 

The spoils of war.

The nail heads are easy to remove from the planks. I just line up a nail set on the underside and whack it with a hammer. Most fly right out. The rest can be easily popped out with the hammer claw.

I don't know of a project that requires a bunch of rusty, cut-off nail heads, but I am the proud owner quite a collection.  Don't be jealous; get your own.

Don't be jealous

That's it. I have some nice, rustic planks to use in an upcoming pallet wood project. (Stay tuned)

I tore down a couple pallets before I decided to shoot a video of the action. I slipped a fresh battery in the camera and challenged myself to rip one down in 5 minutes or less. 

Yeah. I didn't exactly remember to charge up my old, 18 volt batteries before I started. I missed the 5 minute mark by 30 seconds or so.  Still, it was a fun video to shoot, my first talking directly into the camera. I may do more of these in the future. Maybe,... just maybe, I'll actually fit my entire, giant head in the frame.