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Carbide Lighting System

BBC - Rough Science

Beth Chapman Can We Run a Davey Lamp on Coke? OR a calcium carbide lamp

I'm researching a BBC series called 'Rough Science'. We are taking a team of scientists to the desert and setting them a series of challenges. One task is to make a portable light source and I thought a carbide lamp would be good.

I was thinking that a metal kettle would be a good container. The scientists have the use of a soldering iron so they can make adequate seals. They will need very high temperatures to make the calcium carbide and calcium oxide and i don't know how practical that is. They should also have the use of some sort of furnace.


This request has produced some very interesting responses

Jack Hallam. (Sherwood) - Boys in the Victorian age used to get a Shipstones beer bottle
Joe Henshaw - There are health and safety concerns
Dion Carbide Lighting System - It blew the whole side of the church away

Dear Fionn,
I suppose a simple light source could be made using Carbide as a fuel. The water container at the top could be something simple like a bean tin, but remember that a valve would be required to control the amount of water into the gas chamber. I don’t know if you have ever seen a carbide lamp, The container used to be a perforated cylinder (open topped) standing proud from the bottom of the gas container this was the carbide container, enclosed within a copper or brass larger container, usually with a screw thread (gas container). This item must be well made because of the gas pressure inside. The burner in day's past was a "Y" shaped burner of ceramic material. Gas went in by the bottom entrance of the "Y" and the pointed flame emitting from the upper two entrances. These burners were used on the Ilkeston Gas Works pipe work, instead the usual mantles. Before the day of the Idiots Lantern (Telly) people used to entertain themselves with games like table tennis (ping pong) Dad and I got through three mantles in one night. Out came the three legged burner.

Seriously, the gas container must be very well made, possibly by soldering etc.

Boys in the Victorian age used to get a Shipstones beer bottle, we used to have them with a spring wire top to hold the top on. They would place pebbles in the base of the bottle, enough to make it sink rapidly, insert some carbide rock, scoop a quantity of water into the bottle, flick the bottle top on and toss it into the canal, UNDERWATER FISHING..............When cycles and motor vehicles used carbide lamps, they should always remember if staying out late, to fill the tank with water. If the gas ran out through lack of water, it was usual to fill the container with bodily fluid. (Urine) it still gave a good light but the smell was Horrendous!!!!!!!!!.

Please remember that if they are to construct a lamp of this type. Safety comes first.

Jack Hallam. (Sherwood)

A suggestion would be for them to study the design of the miner's carbide lamp and see how to fashion a similar device out of suitable materials, e.g. old tins etc. There are health and safety concerns due to the nature of Calcium Carbide eg toxicity/caustic nature. The liberated actylene has an explosion risk, and a poorly designed item will get damned hot. They need to be very careful.

Joe Henshaw

Carbide Lighting System

Hello, My dad wrote a book last year about his life and growing up during the early part of this century. In the first couple chapters he wrote about his father's church (my grand dad and the minister) being lit by a carbide lighting system. My dad described this system as having a large hole dug in the ground beside the church where deliveries of "a granular substance" were dumped. He goes on to state "I think that is where the generator was placed". This system was piped into the church where the lamps were used for lighting.

I'm an ex-Coast Guardsman where I learned mechanics and physics so when I asked Dad how the system worked, he in his non-mechanical sense and jargon said "I really don't know. All we were told as kids was to stay away from the hole in the ground" but went on to reminisce how that same system described above blew the whole side of the church away. We laughed together over the story but I vowed to him to find out how this thing worked.

This was an old church to say the least in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Any help? We're going up to the region next weekend to do more research for an upcoming rewrite and release of Dad's book and I think the answer to this carbide system would make for good "road conversation".







Go 2 Carbon