When working with fire, it is important not to get burned – or worse. Premier steel fabricator LeJeune Steel focuses on welding safety, partnering with employees to keep the fire burning but employees safe. Hand torch use and safety are stressed by the company on construction project worksites and at the two facilities, in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where some 40,000 tons of steel is processed every year.
The ever-present hand torch is a basic tool for anyone who is welding, cutting, brazing or heating metals. You’re definitely playing with fire, when temperatures from oxygen and acetylene torches can reach more than 5,000 degrees. So hand torch safety is extremely important.
A Torch of Safety
Before we get started, let’s make sure you’re dressed and set to be successful:
- Use shaded face shield (to prevent eye fatigue).
- Check pockets. Dump all lighters, matches and flammable items.
- Make sure gas bottles are upright, and secure cylinder caps (when not using).
- Wear flame retardant welder jacket/welding gloves.
- Remove all accessories that conduct heat or could become entangled in equipment.
Also beware that stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, low blood sugar can affect your ability to work safely.
Torching Without Scorching
Let’s examine the Oxy-fuel hand torch, often used to flame cut materials. When using this tool start by:
- Checking the work surface (hover test) to make sure it is not hot.
- Inspecting hoses or electrical cables for leaks/wear/tear.
- Inspecting condition of tips.
- Making sure you are working with proper tip size (LeJeune Steel provides a size chart for this calculation).
Next, move to the pressure regulators, which are used to manage the pressure in a gas cylinder. Check how much gas is in the cylinder by opening it a bit and releasing dust/dirt. Before you install the pressure regulator, make sure the fittings match (liquid propane cylinder fitting have left-hand threads). Install the regulator on the cylinder, but don’t over-tighten the nut. This is critically important, in order to keep the regulator from becoming a missile. Before opening the cylinder valve:
- Make sure to release the pressure regulator screws.
- Do not remove them, just make sure they’re turned counter-clockwise.
Pressurized compressed gas generates a lot of friction, so don’t use oil or grease on the regulator, because it might ignite or cause the gas to explode.
Fire It Up
Now we’re ready use the hand torch. Stand to the side of the regulator opening as you turn the regulator screws clockwise to open the cylinder valves. Regulate the proper oxygen and fuel pressure settings. Turn the torch away from you toward ventilation as you open the propane valve on the torch barrel. Use an approved flint striker to light the torch – using a lighter or matches may cause an explosion and injuries. To work with the torch:
- Slowly open the oxygen valves on the torch barrel.
- Adjust propane and oxygen into a focused neutral flame (color=blueish/sound=quiet).
- Clamp a cutting guide to the material and preheat the cutting location.
- Apply oxygen to cut material – with tip ¼” from material during cutting (travel speed determined by material thickness and molten spray).
- Do not weld/cut closed containers.
Shut It Down
The finish is as big as the beginning when it comes to hand torch safety. Start by:
- Closing the oxygen valve, then the liquid propane valve at the torch barrel.
- Turn regulator screws counter-clockwise to slowly decrease regulator pressure.
- Close cylinder valves. Bleed both lines between regulator and torch barrel (to prevent injury and equipment damage).
A plasma torch can also be used for cutting, especially when working with thin materials and when you need to cut quickly. This torch transfers less heat and distortion. The same safety and use tips apply. However, look for corrosion on the tips and nozzles – especially oblong nozzle holes that could result in an irregular and messy plasma stream.
At Lejeune Steel, doing things right is as important as knowing what you’re doing, so hand torch safety are also part of what puts our fitter-welders at the top of the class.
For more than 70 years LeJeune Steel has been an industry leader in steel fabrication. Since 1944, we have grown to become one of the largest structural steel fabricators in the Midwest, with more than 40,000 tons of steel fabricated annually by our shops in Minnesota and Wisconsin.