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Thread: calcium carbide headlamps

  1. #1
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    Default calcium carbide headlamps

    does anyone still make the old-style brass carbide miners headlamps? looking around for one, but all i can find in current production models is the new fangled petzls and other that costs close to $100.

    most of the ones on ebay are old rusted junkers, made to put on a shelf in the smithsonian, not fit for use caving or as an emergancy lamp.

    how much light and for how long should i expect to get from one of te small headlamp units? am i wasting my time/money? should i just stick with electric?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Nobody makes the small cap lamps any more, and any that show up on e-bay, etc are instantly snatched by collectors for way too much money (or they don't work)

    There are also good brands and bad brands and I don't know which is which. I've bought two on ebay and neither worked. (they had small cracks which leaked the flamable gas [img]images/icons/shocked.gif[/img] ) It's also hard to get ahold of calcium carbide (it can't be shipped)

    Still, there are cavers who swear by them. They produce a wide soft yellow beam which is easy on the eyes. They also produce heat which can be valuble in emergancy situations.

    But they smell bad, and you have to change carbide every 2-3 hrs, and then you have to carry spare carbide (which can be explosive)
    and you have to pack out the spent carbide which is poisonous (and still flamable). And they are heavy on the helmet.

    You decide!

  3. #3
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    i didn't know that they smell bad or that the waste was still combustable. and i thought they lasted more than 2-3 hours. perhaps i'll just stick with electric.

    do the lamps or reflectors get hot to the touch? does the flame go out easily?

  4. #4
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Carbide lanterns satisfied a need when batteries were less dependable and didn't pack enough amps to last. While neat, they just aren't very practical for most cavers anymore.

    The lamps drip water from the top section onto carbide in the lower section and the carbide releases acetylene. Yes, those lanterns stink when you're adding the carbide and cleaning out the residue, but there's no smell when the lantern is sealed and burning.

    Not to dispute cave dave's comments ... that's some great information! Perhaps my experiences with carbide lamps are just a little different?

    Back in the dark ages when I used my lantern in caves, I remember the light being significantly whiter than incandescent bulbs. Doesn't acetylene burn a blueish-white when compared to, say, propane? Anyway, the light is surely less white than LEDs.

    My reflector got fairly warm, but could still be handled, and the lantern body stays near ambient temp. The flame isn't in contact with the jet or reflector.

    I never had a problem keeping it lit, but then I never used it in a windy place.

    cave dave's absolutely right about how hard it is to get carbide! Something I learned a couple months ago when I was thinking about getting some for my lantern just for fun was that just recently one supplier has started shipping carbide direct. Carbide isn't cheap to begin with ... and to get delivery you have to order a large amount ... and then, the shipping costs are horrendous! It's a very hazardous substance and you pay dearly for transportation. I don't remember the supplier, but found it with a Google search.

    No one I know uses carbide anymore. A couple places I talked to suggested I check with local caving groups as they sometimes do a group buy or have another local source. Getting carbide became more work than it was worth.

    For me, batteries are easier to get, cost less and are easier/safer to carry, so my carbide lamp sits idle in a display case.

  5. #5

    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    lots of carbide headlamps, one discontinued model for $85..
    and other latest high tech designs: http://www.caves.org/imo/frames1.htm
    (if this doesn't go to the exact page, go to 'headlamps', and scroll down..)

  6. #6
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    That's interesting about the carbide waste product. I didn't know it was still flammable.

    Calcium carbide is also the powder used for those small flash cannons which have a small dispenser which drops the powder into water. Then it makes acetylene. Then there's a spark plug that ignites it and causes a pretty solid boom.

    You might be able to get a few tubes of that powder instead of cans of Calcium Carbide.
    The acetylene it releases is pretty interesting. Acetylene torches burn white hot compred to most other torches which are blue. Anyway I'm just rambling...

  7. #7
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    In my admittedly limited experience with acetylene, the gas burns with a yellow, sooty flame unless at least some pure oxygen (such as from a balloon or a tank) is mixed with it before it reaches the burner. Never tried a carbide lantern before, so I can't tell you how their light looks.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    $85 is still pretty steep imho for a piece of turn of the century hardware. i was thinking more like $20.

    anyhow, with all the minuses of carbide i think i'll stick with electric for now. it does have some interesting benefits, especially for caving where hypothermia is your main concern, but it's got too much of the pain-in-the-a$$ factor.

    btw, i have seen 2 different places to get calcium carbide through the mail, one is that IMO place wich does 2 pounds for $60 and one will ship 4oz. baggies for about $10. there are a couple places fairly local to me (IMO is about 1.5 hours away) that sell it also. and i haven't been looking very much =).

    wonder why the 'old-school' cavers still do carbide?

  9. #9

    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    I used one once in summer camp...iirc it didn't stink or get sooty -- it's this inch and a half unprotected flame shooting out of your fore head..advantages? well, indefinate shelf life of the dry carbide, and full brightness for the duration, which is all day at least, I think,obviously depends on how much carbide you dump into it..'course there's always the possibility of igniting a pocket of gas while underground -- that's why miners carried canaries into the mines; hopefully the bird would die and thereby alert the miners before any humans got asphyxiated..
    maybe IMO should sell canaries with those lamps? ..I kid..

  10. #10
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by The LED Museum:
    In my admittedly limited experience with acetylene, the gas burns with a yellow, sooty flame unless at least some pure oxygen (such as from a balloon or a tank) is mixed with it before it reaches the burner. Never tried a carbide lantern before, so I can't tell you how their light looks.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

    acetylene is used in industrial torches (cutting torches, not english flashlights), in my experience with this is burns very hot and not at all sooty. if memory serves it's also used as a flux for mig welding, and as such must be clean burning to function.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Gas pockets really only exist in coal mines, limestone caves don't have gas pockets( though there can be bad air, not enough O2).

    [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img] [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img] Papasan, I sent you PM! [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img]

    Used carbide shouldn't be flamable, but if it isn't completed used up it usually is still releasing a small amount of gas.

    BTW the Petzl carbide lamp is simply amazing it produces 3-4 times as much light as a typical cap lamp. It like sombody turned on a 100 w bulb or something.

    Back in the old days cavers would mark their initials etc on the walls with the soot from their lamps, you can still see them in almost every cave.

    PS There are all sorts of funny stories about people burning themselves or their buddies with their lamps. There are also some not funny stories about burning through the ropes they are rappelling on. [img]images/icons/shocked.gif[/img]

  12. #12
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    I have fond memories of lots of playing with a carbide coon hunter's lamp for HOURS as a boy. They make a yellow-white flame.

    If you misadjust them they can put a LOT of soot into the air. I got burned surprisingly infrequently for a dumb kid with a flame (I did not know I had a "torch"!! ha ha). You could get LOTS of minutes of cheap light our of a can of carbide. The big, belt-mounted tanks could hold around a half-cup of carbide, while the little hat/helmet-mounted tank/light jobs could hold much less.

    The calcium carbide came in a can as little pea-size chunks. Had a peculiar smell, fizzes a bit with water drops, makes a messy paste in the bottom of the tank.

    The 'paste' is probably quite harmless after it is spent.

    Quaint lights. Electrics lamps easily killed and buried them, though.


    Pat

  13. #13

    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    The light from a carbide lamp is a pale yellow, very "luminous" glow that I find very pleasant. It creates less glare in humid, misty, or dusty air than electric headlamps. You can also heat food with it or use it to warm yourself near(VERY carefully). I still use one for caving about 50% of the time.
    The expended carbide is calcium hydroxide, which is alkaline and somewhat caustic (it's an ingredient in drain cleaner), so it must be disposed of properly. It's only flammable if it's not completely "used".
    Most of the old ones can be fixed, if you're handy with soldering and fabricating or scrounging small metal parts.
    The ones with belt-mounted canisters (like the Petzl) are called "generator" lamps - cavers call them "ceiling burners" because of their vertical flame. The self-contained ones are "caplamps". New caplamps are still being made by Minex in India, but I have never actually seen one of them.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    I searched Google today and found my favorite cave supplier (Inner Mountain) in southwest Virginia has found a supplier in India for a brass carbide lamp they like. I trust their judgment.

    http://www.caves.org/imo/

  15. #15
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    there are a couple reviews of this lamp on alt.caving. while not glowing reviews, it sounds like a usable lamp.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Glowing in review content, or in favour of the light?

  17. #17
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    I think carbide lamps were around before batteries existed. Miners required both hands to be free for work, so the carbide headlamp was invented. It filled a need rather superbly for a long time. Now, miners use heavy duty rechargable headlamps (at least in more tech oriented countries). With the advances in LED technology, I would expect miners to move in this direction by replacing the incandescant lamp heads with LED based heads, likely Luxeon based.

    Amazing that carbide is still used. Well, even your old fashioned lamp oil/kerosene lantern w/wick is a good old standby.

    My dad told me stories of how he and his grandfather used to go coon hunting, using carbide headlamps. I would venture to say that modern engineering has improved the carbide lamp in reliability.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Originally posted by Charles Bradshaw:
    I think carbide lamps were around before batteries existed.
    <font size="2" face="Verdana, Arial">Not true. The carbide lamp is a more modern invention than the incandescent lamp and batteries long predated the incandescent lamp. The very first calcium carbide produced was made with an electric furnace.

  19. #19
    Flashaholic* hank's Avatar
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    The LED light is finally beginning to catch up to the benefits of the carbide lamp -- long lasting light, long term storage, works after being submerged, keeps your hands or head warm when working, and when cranked up serves as a flamethrower.

    Come to think of it, I hear it's even possible to crank some LED lights up, like the carbide lamp, to where they get incredibly bright, make a whistling noise, and blow the light-emitting bits out the front with a popping noise and small fireball.

    But when you do that with a carbide lamp, it keeps working, emitting a sooty big orange flame out from where the pinhole tip used to be seated --- but the LED light just dies at that point and it's a lot harder to stuff the ejected pieces back in and relight it.

    Well, the LED light is _almost_ caught up (grin).

  20. #20
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    The reactant is not poisonous at all.
    The result is called slaked lime. Its a close cousin to limestone if I am correct. The reaction is as follows.
    Calcium Carbide + Water --&gt; Acetylene + Calcium Hydroxide
    CaC2 + 2H20 --&gt; C2H2 + Ca(OH)2
    Info on scaled lime can be found at http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/sci/A0809855.html

    I was told the following. Believe it or not, calcium carbide is still the way that acetylene is manufactured for welding supply. The companies do not want to distribute acetylene in bulk because of the handling problems (must be dissolved in clay or at certain pressures its self explosive). So calcium carbide is shipped to much more local houses that react it and bottle it.

    This brings us to how you can get calcium carbide cheap. I ordered some from my local welding supply store (where the above info came from). I had to buy quite a bit (~15 lbs), but it wasn't very expensive. This also cuts out any shipping cost. I was also required to give the size that I wanted, since it comes from pebbles down to powder. I packaged it in quart paint cans and I work from one can at a time.

    I loved the light that came from my rig when I would go caving. Its so much of a flood light. You can see anywhere!

    Edit: Formula fixed. Never was any good at chemistry. The big point was that its not poisonous.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Originally posted by Floating Spots:
    The reactant is not poisonous at all.
    The result is called scaled lime. Its a close cousin to limestone if I am correct. The reaction is as follows.
    Calcium Carbide + Water --&gt; Acetylene + Calcium Hydroxide
    CaC2 + H2 --&gt; C2H2 + Ca(OH)2
    <font size="2" face="Verdana, Arial">I believe you mean slaked lime not scaled lime.
    The correct balanced equation is:
    CaC2 + 2H2O --&gt; C2H2 + Ca(OH)2

  22. #22
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Originally posted by Saaby:
    Glowing in review content, or in favour of the light?
    <font size="2" face="Verdana, Arial">not glowing in that the reviewer found several flaws in the design of the lamp. no chain to secure the cap to the body of the light (the cap can be lost) and thin metal in important places, stuff like that.

    here's the article...

    &gt; I'm REALLY glad Alex contracted to have these lamps made, but
    &gt; they do have some problems. Although, I did buy two, one for the
    &gt; collection and one to burn. Unfortunately, now that I've got it, I've
    &gt; only had the chance to use it twice. So far, it seems to have no
    &gt; "personality" at all. Light it and once adjusted it doesn't need
    &gt; fiddling with. OTOH. my Premiers have WAAYYY too much personality and
    &gt; I'm messing with them constantly.
    &gt; I imagine that if ALL the bugs were worked out we'd be looking at
    &gt; a $80 lamp.
    &gt;
    &gt; } No striker, either carry a lighter close at hand or drill a hole in the reflector and mount the striker from a junk caplamp
    &gt; } Fine thread for the bottom makes it easy to foul the threads with dirt. Use a toothbrush on them at every carbide change.
    &gt; } The drip adjusting screw is a bit loose and easily bumped out of
    &gt; adjustment. A spring twisted onto the shaft underneath the knob
    &gt; "stiffens" the adjustment quite nicely. I sorta wonder if the thin
    &gt; shaft is going to be easily bent by ceiling collisions.
    &gt; } It seems to be heavier than my old Premiers, although I haven't
    &gt; actually weighed them. This could be a plus, as I've trashed a number
    &gt; of Premier bottoms because of the thin brass.
    &gt; } The waterdoor really needs to be captive to the lamp with a beaded
    &gt; chain or something. I've already fumbled the thing into a stream once
    &gt; while filling the lamp.
    &gt; } The tip is a bit odd, both lamps had the hole entirely plugged
    &gt; right from the box and had to be reamed before lighting.
    <font size="2" face="Verdana, Arial">

  23. #23
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    btw, i have seen 2 different places to get calcium carbide through the mail, one is that IMO place wich does 2 pounds for $60 and one will ship 4oz. baggies for about $10. there are a couple places fairly local to me (IMO is about 1.5 hours away) that sell it also. and i haven't been looking very much =).

    wonder why the 'old-school' cavers still do carbide?[/QB][/QUOTE]

    I have about two pounds of this stuff but don't know if it can be shipped???

  24. #24
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Hi all. Just thought I would mention that my local ACE Hardware used to sell calcium carbide and also the headlamps. I bought my lamp really cheap a few years back out of some novelty catalog (can't remember which one at the moment). The lamp ran about $20.00 and was solid brass with a chrome plated reflector. If I recall correctly, the calcium carbide came in a big metal can that held almost a gallon for like $30.00. Of course all of this info is from about 8-10 years ago so things might have changed in the mean time. Also you if you canít find any other place to buy calcium carbide locally, you should try your local high school or college because the chemistry departments can easily obtain it. I used to have a lot of fun playing with the stuff in my high school chemistry class.

    About 15 years ago before the market fell out of the fur industry (dang animal rights protestors) my dad and I used to go coon hunting by carbide lamp. All of the best coon hunters always used carbide lamps because the light it produced was sufficient to see how to shoot a coon by but the type of light that it produces does not sting the eyes as badly as an incandescent light does. This would cause the coon to look directly at the light instead of turning his head away from it (as with an incandescent light) and thereby you could see his eyes glowing in the light so that you would have an easy target. My dad was such an expert shot that he could shoot the coon right between his glowing eyes and not mess up the meat nor the fur on the body of the animal. *Sigh* I miss the old days. Also, the fact that the produced light is less stinging to the eyes is probably why cavers like carbide lamps as much as they do.

  25. #25
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Just out of couriousity: A few days ago I bought a new Minex 115C .....

  26. #26

    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    Those of you interested in a new carbide lamp, check with Gil Hebard Guns; its either in Missouri or Illinois, can't remember.&lt;&lt;Knoxville, IL (309) 289-2700... no web site that I copuld find&gt;&gt;

    Competitive shooters use the soot from carbide lamps to blacken pistol &amp; rifle sights with. When I was actively competing back in the 80s and early 90s, there were two basic kinds; a simple, cheap one that most of us used, and a pretty brass one with a reflector and large carbide reservoir. I remember that Gil Hebard, a long-time supplier of stuff to competitive shooters, was one of the few places where one could find the large brass lamp.

    Carbide could be purchased at any large hardware store, for about five bucks per quart can.

    The enviro-nazis won't rest until we're back to burning coal, I imagine... [img]/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/jpshakehead.gif[/img]

  27. #27
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    carbide lamp http://www.caving-supplies.co.uk/

    £12.95 not including shipping woner how much that is in dollars ?

    calcium carbide 13.80 per pound shipped

    http://www.calcium-carbide.com/

    how long does a pound last ?

  28. #28
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    carbide lamp http://www.caving-supplies.co.uk/

    £12.95 not including shipping I wonder how much that is in dollars ?

    calcium carbide 13.80 per pound shipped

    http://www.calcium-carbide.com/

    how long does a pound last ?

  29. #29
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    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    [ QUOTE ]
    markdi said:
    carbide lamp http://www.caving-supplies.co.uk/
    £12.95 not including shipping woner how much that is in dollars ?

    [/ QUOTE ]

    It is only the headpiece. a GBP is about two bucks.

    [ QUOTE ]
    how long does a pound last ?

    [/ QUOTE ]

    Until it's finsihed .-)
    for small caplamps: maybe 10 fillings
    For handlamps: maybe 2-3 fillings.

    We buy it in 100kg drums, usually 2 or 3 at a time. This lasts for some two years.

    And I know that it is used to blacken gun sights, as shooters asked me for carbide .-)

  30. #30

    Default Re: calcium carbide headlamps

    calcium carbide.
    Dennis, who later graduated cum laude from Harvard University is on his hands and knees pressing on my foot, saying "STEP ON IT I JUST HIT SOME GUY". The guy had just left church but I couldn't step on it because there was a cop behind me. I told him that just as the red lights came on.
    The back seat being full of water balloons made it hard to deny we were responsible for the guys wet coat.
    Not a good start.
    Then they found the road marker saw horse in the trunk. (I wanted the blinking light)
    A step down the slope but still, boys will be boys.

    Then they found the carbide cannon. We knew what it was and that it was harmless, but it was home made. Home made carbide cannons look a lot like a pipe with one end wielded shut and a hole near the closed end.
    There are other things that look like this.
    They were not happy and neither were our parents who picked us up.
    Dennis went to law school at Berkeley.

    Calcium carbide...

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