Because miners have been using carbide lamps for over a century to light their way, the lamp has become known as "The Miner’s Shiner”.


The carbide lamp is versatile, simple and strong in construction, and relatively inexpensive to run. A carbide lamp operates through a process of producing flammable gas, acetylene, by combining water and calcium carbide. The unit has two chambers: a lower chamber that houses  approximately a quarter cup (about 2 oz.) of crushed carbide, and an upper chamber that holds an equal amount of plain water. The water is measured by dripping into the lower chamber when turning a valve that is positioned on top of the lamp. As the water drips onto the crystalline carbide substance, the action produces the acetylene gas, which then travels through a tube and a felt filter, escaping through a small jet. The jet is located in the center of a reflector which is usually a slightly curved round metal disk. The gas emitted from the jet is ignited by a flint wheel, which then provides a spark to ignite the gas, which burns brightly,thus providing light.

   The light intensity is easily adjusted by turning the valve and letting more or less water drip into the carbide chamber. The more water, the more gas up to a point. If an excessive amount of gas is produced, it may blow out the flame or be forced out of the air vent in the water cap by the pressure. When the gas comes out through the cap a bubbling sound may warn you that gas is escaping.

   Advantages of carbide lamps: they light quickly, and may be quickly stopped by turning the adjusting lever to “off”. The light’s glow is more easily adjusted than many gas lanterns, from a soft candle-like glow up to a bright light. Carbide lamps also provide dual-lighting beams: a narrow concentrated beam that reaches far ahead, and a softer diffused light that spreads out and lights up a wide area. A battery operated flashlight may need to be swung around more that a carbide lamp, because a flashlight has a much more narrow beam of light. Carbides do not require a “mantle” such as the typical gas lantern. The acetylene fuel in a carbide lantern can be less explosive than some other gas lights because it makes just enough gas to burn the flame, not holding a large quantity of compressed gas in reserve.

   Carbide lamps are also fairly lightweight and compact. This suits them well to miners and cave explorers who need to carry as little weight as possible. The light weight makes for convenience when camping, and the lights usually have a wire bail or handle arrangement to allow them to be hung from a helmet, belt, or a convenient tree branch.

  Maybe the best feature of all when using a carbide lamp is the economy and lighting efficiency. The have an very low cost-per-hour to burn. A two-pound can of carbide allows them to burn for 3-12 hours, depending on the intensity of the light setting. Carbide in cans may be found at many camping, outdoor, and mining stores. An extra supply of this fuel can be carried in old medicine containers, film canisters, or sturdy zip-lock bags.

The carbide lamp is is also use by others such as cave explorers, known by the term "spelunkers".

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