Using a Propane Torch Around the Homestead

Not your father’s plumber’s torch, today’s handy propane torch helps you melt ice, free rusted bolts and even make a classic crème brûlée.

| January/February 2007

Learn about the many ways a propane torch can be useful around the homestead.

Fire may be the closest thing to a silver bullet for all those really tough jobs around the country homestead. Whether you're melting ice, freeing a hopelessly rusted bolt or waging war on noxious weeds, absolutely nothing can hold out for long against a few thousand degrees of flame.

Maybe that's why so many folks these days are as wildly enthusiastic about "propane and propane accessories" as Hank Hill, the lovable redneck propane peddler on Fox TV's King of the Hill.

The propane torch was first introduced in the 1950s. Back then it was known simply as the lowly "plumber's torch," a nozzle screwed onto a disposable fuel cylinder. Today, the propane torch is a mega-million dollar industry of its own. Torches of the early 21st century range from sleek, brushed stainless steel butane mini-torches used by chefs in fancy restaurants to tractor-drawn propane burners that cost thousands of dollars and incinerate weeds and bugs by the acre. The field-sized flamers look like a fast-moving wildfire and sound like a jet taking off. Between those extremes are mid-sized torches that serve as patio heaters and lights, often called "outdoor living products."

You can also carry propane tanks on your back or tow them along on a dolly to fry weeds. The business end of those flame-weeders can be a hand-held nozzle or a metal hood mounted on one or two wheels with up to five burners inside. They kick out up to 400,000 BTUs an hour, as much heat as many modest furnaces produce.

Using a modern propane torch has never been easier — or safer. Gone are the days of opening the valve on the fuel tank and frantically flicking a hand-held striker to ignite the escaping gas before it went ka-BOOM in your face. You can still buy those no-frills work horses, of course, but more and more of today's propane torches come with what manufacturers call "automatic igniters." Just pull the built-in trigger, and — poof  — you've lit your fire, Baby. Even when turned completely upside down, the better torches will keep right on burning now, thanks to built-in pressure regulators. Some, in fact, are made specifically to be used upside down to destroy weeds in patios, pavement and gardens.

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