Torches are handy devices for a multitude of reasons, primarily to turn dark nights into slightly less dark nights, but the word torch is actually quite versatile. You can set something alight (to torch a cigarette), you can burn something down (the Satanists torched the church), you can heat chemicals with propane torches, you can use torches in demonstration marches (7000 lit torches marching down a street is quite a sight), as garden lights when you are having guests. Special torches are used for juggling. Oh, and torches have been known to be part of Magic: The Gathering cards (1, 2)
Types of torches:
Oil torch or Water torch: This is a container (often a glass flacon) with a wick sticking out. The oil goes up through the wick, and is then set alight. The wick will get burned up over time, but (depending on the quality of the wick and of the oil) good oil lamps can use as little as 2-3 cm of wicking per month, when burning constantly.
Drip Torch: Used by firefighting personnel to start a controlled fire.
Blowtorch or propane torch: Similar to the Bunsen burner, a device to heat substances to high temperature. Frequently used in science experiments.
Electrical torch: You might know this as a battery driven portable personal illuminatin device.
Wax torch: This is a pipe-formed piece of wax with wicking interweaved, placed on a wooden or metal grip. These are commonly used in protest marches, because they are cheap to make, and – not containing any expensive or dangerous parts – can be tossed in any garbage bin after use.
Juggling torch: These are specially balanced torches for juggling – they are balanced so that the spin of the torch will be similar to the spin of a radical fish juggling cone when they are burning (note that when not burning, the balance and movement behaviour is very different). Juggling torches are constructed from a wooden stick with metal around it (usually aluminium), a wooden block around the middle of the torch, which is the base to which the handles are connected. The handles themselves are usually of shock-absorbing plastic, so you can catch a fast-spinning torch without hurting your hand. The burning element of the juggling torch is a 5-6 cm band of wicking fixed to the end of the torch. More on this later in the node.
Tiki torch: A type of torch used for chasing away mosquitos.
Olympic torch: The nature of the Olympic torch has varied through times, but the nobility and symbolism of the torch has hardly passed anyone by. See also: The Mystery of the Olympic Torch, Watching the torch go by.
Infernal Torch (well, famous if you ever played Diabolo II)
Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, you can sing about torches (Bring a Torch, After, In the Dark ~ Torch Song, Human Torch),
How to make a torch:
Considering all the different types of torches out there, is is actually a bit difficult to give a general guide. Here are a few recipes for regular wicking torches though, in advancing level of difficulty:
1 – The branch
This one hardly takes any explaining. Find a dry branch, and set it on fire. It doesn’t work too well, and can not really be said to be wind-proof
2 – Simple wicked torch
Get some cotton, and cut it into long streaks. Wrap it around the end of a round wooden stick, use nails or staples to fix the cotton to the stick, dip in paraffin, and set alight. This torch is reasonably wind proof, and lasts a good while. If you make sure not to let your torch burn out (rather extinguish it, dip in paraffin, and light it again)
3 – The Ultimate Torch and how to change juggling torch wicking
The Ultimate Torch™ is – incidentally – the same as a juggling torch, but not as well balanced. You will need a metal (preferably aluminium) pipe about 3-4 cm in inner diameter, between 50 and 100 cm long, and about 0,5 - 1 mm thick. You will also need a stick of wood that will fit snugly inside your pipe, and about 20cm of proper Kevlar juggling wicking, which can be bought from all major juggling stores.
Put your wood in the pipe (oh, get your mind out of the bloody gutter and stop snickering, will you?) and hit the pipe a few times with a hammer. This will ensure that the wood will not go anywhere.
Now for the fun part – the wicking. This is quite tricky, because the aluminium is quite hard. This is a procedure that you have to do every 6 months or so if you have (and use) juggling torches, so after you have tried (and failed) a few times, you get to know the business.. Which is what I will try to share with you:
First off, grab some sturdy tape, and put some on one end of your wick like this:
| tape |
(obviously, same on both ends)
Now, align the wick so it is EXACTLY straight compared to your torch. Then tape it on, and wrap the wick 3 times firmly around the top of the torch:
----------------------------| o o | <- screws
pipe with wood in it |___________| <- Folded back upwards
----------------------------| wick |
Sweet. Now for the tricky part. The wicking is quite thick (about 1mm), and you will want to get it around the torch EXACTLY three times. Why three times? Well, if you do it four times, you waste a lot of wicking (it will stay wet, and not really do any good. Besides, when you change it, you will have to dispose of it, and Kevlar wicking can be quite expensive). Two times is not enough.
Anyway - fold the end 7-10 mm if the wick back under the wicking, so that the fold that appears ends where you can see you started the wick at the metal of the torch. The reason for folding this back, is that the kevlar wicking has copper threads in it for reinforcement, and these can be sharp. Also, the wicking might unravel if you don't, which is a bit of a waste.
Now that the wick is in place, you might want to tape it securely, to make the next step easier. Now, take some short (about 2-3 cm), sharp screws, and screw them into the wicking. You will find that it is easiest to aim the screw against the end of the wicking, because this will actually tighten the wick, while the screw will end up in a 90° angle on the metal (to illustrate this further, see the illustration with the screws above. You will want to enter the screws from below and sligntly upwards. It seems illogical, but it works). When you reach the metal, take a hammer, and with a short, firm blow, drive the screw through the aluminium. You should be able to screw the screw in the rest of the way with some force.
Repeat this one more time with the second screw, and voila, you have wicked your first torch!
How to take care of The Ultimate Torch
The reason for going through all the trouble of putting wood inside the pipe, is that the metal will prevent the wood from catching fire. But you need the wood for durability (the metal pipe would bend too easily, and you would get trouble with the screws otherwise).
If you have done everything correctly, you have an extremely durable torch. If you want to be able to use it as long as possible without having to change the wicking, you have to use the right fluid. Have a look at the how to spit fire node, where I have noded a discussion on fluids suitable for breathing fire. you should use the same fluid (lamp oil / paraffin) on your torch.
Try to avoid your torch burning out by itself, as more and more of the wick will start smoldering or burning when the torch runs out of fuel. Despite it being Kevlar, it is still affected by the heat, but as long as the torch is burning the fuel, there is no real problem.
The good thing about this type of torch is that you have a very stable, predictable and near-windproof flame until it actually runs low;
When you want to extinguish your torch, wait until the flame becomes notably weaker, and then blow at it from below. hold your torch up, and blow forcefully upwards while slowly rotating the torch. This should put it out effectively, upon which you can leave it to cool down and dry, so you can store it properly. Alternatively, if you are using the right fuel (and ONLY then), you can dip the torch in the lamp oil, and it will extinguish. The best way to
If you are using the right fuel, you can also safely pour more fuel on an already burning torch, as there is no danger of the flame moving across the fuel and into the bottle.