Admittedly from a kid’s perspective, I can still remember the fun (?) and excitement of getting the old-style paraffin blowtorches going. The smell of the paraffin and the inevitable mild swearing from my dad somehow gave the event the significance of a scientific experiment that might go wrong. If it worked, then the job would go ahead. If not, then there was a lot of clearing the jet with a fine wire and other disassembly and probably more bad language. Even if all went well, firing up the blowtorch was a job that took at least twenty minutes.
Step forward in time to the advent of gas in cartridges, and we now have concentrated heat quickly and safely delivered to where we want it - and with no reasons for swearing. The two gas torches I was sent to try out are from Campingaz’s HYPERTORCH range and both are eminently suitable for skilled DIY and trade use, as they use a mixture of butane and propane gas to deliver enough heat for soldering copper pipes, removing paint and lighting charcoal barbecues – and a whole lot of other jobs too. Campingaz claims that the mixture gives an extra 35% of heat energy compared to a single gas, so you get to work faster – not something that I can test directly without a laboratory, but I didn’t have any trouble doing some sample soldering of copper pipes.
Both of the torches come in a simple and PZ version. The PZ version is lit by simply flicking the piezo switch that provides the spark to light the gas, while the simple version will require a lighter or a match to get it going.
I started by looking closely at the pistol grip version – the HYPERTORCH A2000 PZ. From my work running focus groups with plumbers I know that they often use a pistol grip torch because they are smaller and are easier to put down safely due to their lower centre of gravity. The A2000PZ stands roughly 20cm high and is roughly 27cm long with a brass nozzle that stands out far enough to direct a flame onto the work area. The whole body of the tool is made from a solid plastic that is robust enough to withstand some serious site use. Areas of “manual use” are picked out in red – like the piezo switch and nozzle retainer. The handle itself is large enough, and shaped to fit even a large, gloved hand. It has some grippy checkering and finger grips and the piezo switch is placed just above where it can be easily flicked by a thumb. Just behind the switch is the flame adjustment wheel marked with a clear + and – to indicate on and off for the gas stream. Users need to be able to reach this control quickly and easily because it is often safest to turn the gas off when the torch is put down.
Just a quick comment on the instructions and safety guidance provided with both torches – of course they come in many European languages but the English versions are clear and explicit on how to use the torches safely, how to mount the gas cartridge and how to deal with some of the safety issues that might occur. The simple line diagrams are clear and referred to in the text so users can ensure they are doing the right thing.
Using the torch does not need a degree in engineering – all it requires is that the gas cartridge is mounted correctly, the piezo works properly, and you can adjust the flame to the required heat by using the thumbwheel. All the above are easy to do, even by a first time user who has read the instructions carefully.
When I used the torch for the first time it took literally a matter of minutes to get it going. The gas cartridge has a plastic base that is simply clicked onto the bottom of it and this is wide enough to provide a very stable base for the torch when not in use. And, of course, it can be removed when the gas cartridge needs to be replaced. After making sure that the wheel valve is in the closed position, the gas cartridge is simply screwed on slightly more than finger tight, making sure that the threads bite correctly and it is sealed against the O-ring on the valve assembly. Then open the valve wheel and flick the piezo switch until the flame is lit. Plumbers will be happy to know that this torch can be used in a full 360 degrees without losing power, after only 5 seconds' pre-heat time, allowing you to flip it upside down and quickly get to work on those hard-to-reach jobs.
The HYPERTORCH A3000 PZ has a layout that is more commonly used by plumbers because it has a longer (and therefore longer lasting) gas cartridge - and I guess the long slim shape helps reach into spots where the A2000PZ cannot. Fortunately, the plastic base provided for the gas cartridge means that it can be put down safely.
The torch head of the A3000PZ is again made of a solid plastic with working parts picked out in red and the piezo switch doubles as the gas valve – making one-handed use a possibility for those with strong fingers. Ergonomically shaped bulges and bumps allow the user to hold the nozzle accurately onto the work area while keeping fingers clear of the heat. There is also a strong metal loop that acts as a stand to hold the torch flat when needed. It could also be a storage hook for the back of a van so that the torch is not kept in the usual crush of a plumbers’ toolbag.
Again, it took only a few minutes to get this torch operational and with a flame adjusted for work. It too can work in 360 degrees so the user can get the best angle of the flame to present.
Campingaz offers these torches with a limited 2-year guarantee, and from my experience of them, I think they are professional quality tools with enough toughness to withstand professional use and the kinds of bumps they would get on a worksite. They follow classic designs that have proved popular with the trades, and are simple to use – there is just no excuse for bad language!