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.

Safety: What are you hearing?

That's not a Princess Leia hairdo, honest!
Someone at work made a comment that in a lot of my remodeling action photos, I'm wearing hearing protection. It's not just because I think I look so darn manly / macho in my bad-ass, bright-yellow 'muffs. (and I certainly do!) It's because I truly think hearing loss is serious business. You loose it and you don't get it back. Some of our saws, nail-guns, and the sort are just stupid loud. Plus, I like to hear my tunes while I'm working, rather than that ringing in my ears following the savage aural ripping fury of a circular saw.

Listen, you smell something?
   - Dr. Ray Stantz, Ghostbuster

The earliest I recall being exposed to potential hearing damage was when I won tickets to a Lynyrd Skynyrd  concert at my High School graduation party. Mind you, I was not the Classic Rock aficionado that you find before you today; being from suburban Detroit, I had no idea who these guys were. After arriving at the show, we were: A.) the only teenagers, B.) in the only 4 wheeled (non-Harley) vehicle, and C.) not wearing black leather, we were greeted by the unfurling of the largest Confederate flag I'd ever seen at the back of the stage, "uhhhhhhhh...ohhhhh" ( remember - we were in suburban Detroit, waaaay before I lived in the deep South). What followed was actually an awesome concert, but LOUD! I remember my buddies and I having to yell our conversation afterwards; the other late night denizens of Denny's, (breakfast served 24 hours, were not pleased). My ears were still ringing the next morning. A couple years later, I think an Edgar Winter concert may have actually made my ears bleed with his outstanding Frankenstein.

"Nah - Nah! I'm not listening to Daddy!"

"Still not listening!!!"
My sweet wife's hearing is damaged, permanently, most likely due to getting horribly sick while traveling, in her mid-twenties. She does fine, but hearing aids are not fun or cheap, and they don't give you anywhere near 100% of your hearing back. I know that when we become shriveled, little old people, together in our old age, eating applesauce and peas, I'm going to be the ears; she's going to be the eyes. So, I wear the dorky ear-lids. It's not too bad, I just wear them when working around the house on my projects, not jogging around the neighborhood,... or posting pictures of myself wearing them,... on the internet,... for thousands to see me look like a gump...

Both of our kids have always seem to be extra sensitive to loud noises. Gracie started grabbing my earmuffs from the garage when we vacuumed, ran the stand mixer in the kitchen, or anytime I used power tools. I ended up wearing those pain-in-the-butt, little foam inserts so she could have them. She never put them away. Jack started wearing them when he got old enough to run the popcorn air-popper. He'd leave them out on the kitchen counter.

There's several stories here.
I finally bought a couple of those cheap red ones from Habor Freight, specifically for the kids. They probably won't last too long, but they are inexpensive enough at $2.99, that I can replace them, no sweat. They love each having their own pair when we're all working out in the shop together.

I slip on the ol' earmuffs with the table saw, the circular saw, the framing nailer, and the air compressor, especially if I'm working with the garage door closed when it just seems louder. The tool that really got me in the habit was my first table saw, a direct drive Delta, that was louder than a heartbroken banshee. I finally sold it after I bought the Shopsmith, because I didn't use it all that much and I simply hated that horrendous scream.

I've not been abusive to my ears, but like almost everyone, I been around loud stuff throughout my life: power tools, aircraft, racecars, concerts, etc. Still, when it's quiet I hear that ringing. It's enough.