Carbide lamp

Helmet from Matewan Historical Society

Carbide lamps, properly known as acetylene gas lamps, are simple lamps that produce and burn acetylene (C2H2) which is created by the reaction of calcium carbide (CaC2) with water. Acetylene gas lamps were used to illuminate buildings, as lighthouse beacons, and as headlights on motor-cars and bicycles. Portable carbide lamps, worn on the hat or carried by hand, were widely used in mining in the early twentieth century.

The conventional process of producing acetylene in a lamp involves putting the calcium carbide in the lower chamber (the generator). The upper reservoir is then filled with water. A threaded valve or other mechanism is used to control the rate at which the water is allowed to drip onto the chamber containing the calcium carbide. By controlling the rate of water flow, the production of acetylene gas is controlled. This, in turn, controls the flow rate of the gas and the size of the flame at the burner, and thus the amount of light it produces.

This type of lamp generally has a reflector behind the flame to help project the light forward. An acetylene gas powered lamp produces a surprisingly bright, broad light. This unfocused light helps improves peripheral vision in the complete dark. This also causes a small amount of heat to be given off; so it was often used to keep warm during cool nights in the mines.

When all of the carbide in a lamp has been reacted, the carbide chamber contains a wet paste of slaked lime (calcium hydroxide). This is emptied into a waste bag and the chamber can be refilled.

Published in: on April 17, 2011 at 9:09 pm  Comments Off on Carbide lamp  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: