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Fire Safety in the Encaustic Studio - Hands using a butane torch to fuse a painting

Fire Safety in the Encaustic Studio

Do your own research, I am not a fire safety expert. Carefully review the manufacturer’s operational and safety procedures for all equipment and art materials. Ruth Maude (allthingsencaustic.com) expressly disclaims any liability resulting from reliance upon the views or opinions expressed in this blog article and makes no representations, warranties, or claims of any kind concerning the accuracy or completeness of the information presented here.

When working with encaustic tools, fire safety precautions should be in place and all artists in the studio need to be aware of what these precautions are.

Wax Fire

If wax is heated at high temperatures it can spontaneously ignite causing a wax fire. When melting encaustic medium you want to keep it as low as you can, between 150°F and 200°F. You don’t want to get to a point where the wax medium is starting to smoke. A griddle thermometer can help you keep an accurate check on the temperature. Do not throw water on a wax fire!

Water & Wax!
Be careful when using water around molten wax. “A wax fire is created when melted or boiling wax is doused in water. The ensuing reaction creates a large fireball or enlarges the flame of the already existing fire incredibly. Only a small amount of wax and water is needed to create a wax fire.” [source].

Wax Fire Prevention

  • Never overheat your wax.
  • Don’t leave melting wax unattended.
  • Keep tools clean of wax buildup.
  • Keep water away from molten wax.

Torch Fire

Torch Safety Guidelines

Butane or propane torch canisters contain gas under pressure; they may explode if heated. The following torch safety guidelines are from Bernzomatic:

  • Read and follow important safety warnings included with fuel cylinders and hand torches.
  • Check cylinder and appliance seals before using. Never use cylinders with damaged or missing seals. Discard cylinders if dirt or rust particles are present in valve areas.
  • Make sure your torch head is turned off before attaching a fuel cylinder.
  • Be sure to hold the cylinder upright while attaching hoses or appliances. Hand tighten only – never use tools to tighten – as over-tightening can damage seals.
  • Check for leaks once appliances are attached, put soapy water on connections and look for bubbles. Also, listen for the hiss of escaping gas; feel for extreme cold; and smell for rotten egg odours. Do not use if you detect fuel is leaking.
  • If appliance sputters or flares up, turn cylinder upright and turn unit off. Vent area to remove unburned gas.
  • Allow hand torches to cool after use. Detach the fuel cylinder for the hand torch when not in use and replace caps to keep valves clean.
  • Never drop, throw or puncture fuel cylinders.
  • Store fuel cylinders away from living spaces, out of reach of children and away from ignition sources. Do not leave in direct sunlight. Never store at temperatures above 120°F (49°C).

Use common sense with open flames. Ensure that collage materials, paper towels, masking tape and other flammable materials do not ignite.

Butane/Propane Storage

From what I’ve read online:

  • Butane must be stored indoors at all times.
  • Propane, because of its lower boiling point and higher pressure point than butane, should be stored outside.
  • Ensure any tank being used to store or dispense a flammable gas is in a listed container (CSA/ ULC etc). And ensure that containers are labelled appropriately for whatever fuel they contain. This helps firefighters know what they are up against in the event of a fire. You can purchase a flammables safety cabinet for storing your gases and solvents, either directly from an industrial supply company or online from Amazon.

Equipment Fire

  1. Don’t overload power circuits. Plug tools into a power bar that will automatically shut off if you are drawing too much power.
  2. Keep your equipment in good working order, regularly check for signs of wear on electrical cords. Stop using these tools until you can replace the worn cord or plugs.

Spontaneous combustion of oily towels

Oily rags can spontaneously ignite, even without any help from a separate ignition source. This includes any paper towels or cloths that have been in contact with oil paints, pigment sticks, linseed oil, and any other solvents. Any oily rags or paper towels should be thrown into a closed metal safety can until they can be disposed of properly.

Treating a Burn

Molten wax can cause severe burns. Care needs to also be used around all hot tools including torches, irons, heat guns, and heated palettes. Most minor burns can be self-treated. The first course of action is to cool the burn. “Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water or apply a cool, wet compress until the pain eases. Don’t use ice. Putting ice directly on a burn can cause further damage to the tissue.” You can read more about burn treatment from the Mayo Clinic Website.

Have a Fire Safety Plan

Safety Equipment for your art studio

  • Fire Extinguisher(s)
  • Fire Blanket
  • Smoke detector
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector
  • Listed container/cabinet for storing tanks
  • A Burn Kit
  • A Metal Safety Waste Can with a tight lid

Be Prepared

In addition to equipping your studio with fire safety equipment, as an encaustic instructor consider professional training in how to use a fire extinguisher and how to treat a minor burn. If you are teaching a workshop, it’s your responsibility to make sure that your students know how to use all tools safely.

Fire Escape Plan

  • Know how to escape. If a studio is part of a larger building, ensure that you are familiar with the building’s exits.
  • If the building has an approved fire safety plan, ensure you know the emergency procedures. If the building doesn’t have a fire safety plan, it’s good to have your own plan for what to do in an emergency.
  • Does the studio have a sprinkler system? Something to consider if you use open flame and you’re moving to a new studio.
  • Always know two ways out and ensure that your path of travel to an exit is clear and never obstructed. 
  • To help contain a fire, close all doors behind you where you can.
  • If the building has a fire alarm system, pull the alarm to notify other tenants of the fire. 

When you leave your art studio…

At the end of your time in your studio always go through this checklist.

  • Make sure that all torch heads are removed, and tanks closed tightly with caps back on,
  • Store tanks away in an appropriate listed container/cabinet,
  • Turn off power bars and unplug pallets and all hot tools,
  • Clean up any clutter of papers and collage materials,
  • Clean off the griddle so it is ready to use next time you enter the studio,
  • Don’t leave oily paper towels or rags lying around the studio,
  • Empty the waste can and dispose of the contents properly,
  • Turn off your ventilation system,
  • Switch off the lights,
  • Close windows and doors behind you.

About Ruth Maude

I enjoy experimenting with a variety of encaustic materials, techniques and tools. Everything I learn pushes my creative journey in new directions. I share what I've learned with other artists through my blog All Things Encaustic.

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4 thoughts on “Fire Safety in the Encaustic Studio”

  1. Thanks for sharing this! Your advice looks spot on. I would liken the water/wax fire to a grease fire. You should never throw water on flaming grease or wax. This essentially causes an “eruption” and then spreads flaming product everywhere. And, as with a grease fire, never try to pick up the flaming container to take it outside or to a sink. Turn off the heat source (without reaching over the pot/container), and put a lid on it. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Remember, the acronym PASS if you need to use it. PASS stands for pull the pin, aim the extinguisher, squeeze the handle, and gently sweep it across the fire.

    Retired Fire Chief

  2. Hello Ruth
    What an excellent article – it has really made me stop and think about my own practices. Perfect resource – thank you!


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