How to Work a Carbide Lamp

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The carbide lamp is unique amongst fuel-operated lamps, mainly because this type of lamp makes its own fuel on an as-needed basis, using a combination of water and powdered calcium carbide. To operate such a lamp, you must be familiar with the two reservoirs and the water regulator valve. You must fill the reservoirs for the lamp to operate properly, and you must also understand how to dispose of the waste produced when the calcium carbide has been spent.

Things You'll Need

  • Water
  • Pure calcium carbide powder
  • Wooden stick matches
  • Plastic zippered freezer bag

General Operation

  • Fill the lower chamber, also called the generator chamber, with calcium carbide powder. Depending on the size of the lamp you possess, the reservoir should be able to handle one-and-a-half to two cups of calcium carbide powder. Fill only to within three-fourths-inch from the top of the chamber so there is room for the water to pour down on top of the calcium carbide powder. Screw the lower reservoir lid on tightly.

  • Locate the water flow control valve on your specific lamp. The flow control valve handle will be the only adjustment on such a lamp, and it may appear as a long-handled blade lever or a threaded turn valve. Turn the valve until it is turned to the "OFF" position.

  • Fill the upper chamber, also called the water tank, with water until full and screw the lid on tightly.

  • Turn the water supply valve until it is only one-fourth of the way toward the "ON" position and allow the lamp to sit for about five minutes to begin generating acetylene gas. The gas will automatically begin exiting the nozzle which may, or may not, be at the center of a bowl-shaped reflector.

  • Light a wooden stick match and slowly move the flame near the gas nozzle, placing it closer until the flame nozzle ignites. With the water control valve only turned on one-fourth of the way, the flame should be small yet noticeable.

  • Adjust the water supply valve to generate the size and the brightness of the flame until satisfactory for your lighting requirements.

Disposal of Spent Calcium Carbide

  • Dispose of the spent calcium carbide after the flame has gone out on it's own. Remove the water reservoir cap and pour out any water remaining in the water chamber and then replace the cap.

  • Remove the lid on the calcium carbide reservoir and tip the lamp to pour the thin paste into a large plastic zippered freezer bag. The thickness of this type of plastic bag will be adequate to prevent leakage.

  • Set the bag containing the waste material in a cool dark location, leaving the top of the bag unsealed so it is exposed to oxygen. The waste is hazardous to people and animals for several days, but over a period of one week, the paste reacts with oxygen which transforms the material into calcium carbonate. As calcium carbonate is non-toxic, the material may then be discarded safely.

References

  • American Miner's Carbide Lamps; Clemmer, Gregg S.; Westernlore Press; 1987
  • Caving Basics Third Edition; Rea, Thomas. [Ed.]; National Speleological Society; 1993
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