Safety in Torchville
Just a primer
Safety in the workplace is much more sophisticated today than when beadmakers toiled over oil lamps a few hundred years ago. We have introduced dangers which they did not face, with pressurized gas tanks, and more complex chemistry. This is intended as an overview only, to get you thinking of dangers you may not be aware of. The intent is not to scare you off from enjoying making beads, but to sober you up from thoughts that this is all just child’s play. This is not a kitchen table hobby.
The ABSOLUTE top priority in any safety program is eye protection. Damage to your eyes is very permanent, and it is so easy to prevent. Flying glass, both sharp and hot, are facts of lampworking!
*Wear eye protection at all times while working, even if you are just in the room with anyone else working!!!
Most old-time furnace glass workers developed cataracts. The intense light including infrared and ultraviolet rays generated by glass in a flame can be dangerous. The simple didymium filter glasses are intended to allow you to see what you are working on, through the yellow flare of the glass in flame. They were not designed to protect your eyes any more than typical safety glasses. More sophisticated filters are available. Our best advice to avoid eyestrain is to keep your face as far back as possible while working, and look around as much as you can. Avoid staring intently at the flame, and take breaks often. If you can afford them, buy the best glasses available, but at minimum use quality Rose Didymium safety glasses.
The second top priority in any safety program is ventilation. If you are breathing fumes while working, you are literally killing yourself.
*Use a Local Exhaust Ventilation fan with proper fresh air supply! An open window or a fan in the window will only dilute and NOT eliminate exposure to toxic fumes.
Remember that you are working with an open flame which is using up oxygen in the air you breath, and producing nitrous oxide and other pollutants. If you experience headaches, dizziness, or a funny smell while working or when returning to the workbench, you may be needing more ventilation.
*Use an exhaust fan and ensure proper ventilation.
* Do NOT wear a respirator while torching. Respirators lower your blood oxygen level, and are dangerous in an oxygen depleted environment. No filter can give you additional oxygen!
The makers of colored glass keep their ingredients as secret as Coca-Cola. We do not know for sure the exact materials added to each color of glass, and it is best to assume all glass will produce some fumes when heated which you do not want to breathe. The bead release produces fumes when it is burning off as well.
*Do what it takes to ventilate properly.
Airborne dust and particulate from vermiculite, dry bead release, and glass sanding or grinding must not be inhaled.
*Sanding, grinding, removing beads from mandrels etc., should be done wet to avoid dust. All other tasks at the torch using frit or powder must be done with proper ventilation running.
Perhaps the most obvious danger, is the close proximity you are working in with an intense flame, plus the retained heat in the glass. The mandrel and the glass rod do not conduct heat very well, which allows us to work within inches of the flame. Make no mistake, the flame will scorch your skin instantly, and the end of a glass rod will remain burning hot long after it appears to have cooled. Hot glass will be bouncing around your work area when it shatters from sudden heating. This is a fact of life when working glass with a torch. We can give you pointers on how to minimize this problem, but it will happen on occasion.
*The work table must be non flammable as well as the floor and walls.
*Your clothing must be heavy enough to prevent burns, and no baggy long sleeves which might catch fire easily. We recommend you wear old clothes, and wear a leather apron if you feel the need.
*You must be prepared mentally for the inevitable surprise of hot glass on the loose.
*Have water handy. Most burns will be very minor if you get cold water on it immediately.
*Keep a tin tray or can handy to toss unwanted hot glass bits, or bead disasters.
Fire and Explosion
Perhaps the greatest danger, is the unlikely possibility of a major gas leak resulting in a fire or explosion. The amount of propane in a small bottle is enough to fill a house and obliterate it if set off by spark. Oxygen can cause oil, grease, and other flammable items to spontaneously ignite if the concentration is high enough.
*Keep a fire extinguisher near your work bench and learn how to use it.
*Keep your bottles closed at the bottle valve at all times, except when you are using the torch.
*Keep in mind that you will want to turn off the bottle if a leak should happen while you are working. This means that the bottles are best kept outside of your workspace so that you will feel safe turning them off in an emergency. Only in the absolute worst case should you leave a gas system leaking and evacuate.
*Keep a cool head, and remember that safety was designed into the regulators on your tanks, and it takes time for dangerous levels to leak out. Leaving the gas on to leak out will create the means for a fire or worse. Don’t panic, just turn the gas off with the bottle valve.
Pressure bottle handling
*Use only current, certified bottles, filled at qualified filling stations. Ask for a copy of “Precautions & Safe Practices for Gas Welding” from your oxygen supplier, and read it. Have them demonstrate safe handling procedures to you.
*Keep bottles upright and secure with safety chains.
*Open oxygen bottles fully when in use. They have a dual seal valve that often leak while open partialy.
*Propane bottle valves are generaly safe to partialy open. I open mine fully, but some feel that if it is open just a quarter turn, it will be faster to shut off in an emergency.
*Keep bottle valves closed when not in active use.
*Safety cap must be fixed tight to oxygen bottles at all times when not in active use.
*DO NOT use oil or grease on any oxygen fittings, or anywhere nearby. It can cause a fire or an explosion.
*Use only high quality regulators in good repair, designed specifically for oxygen and propane. The oxygen regulator should be designed for 3000psi input, and 100psi or less output.
*Remove for repair any regulator which behaves at all unusual. They should operate with stable pressure, and adjust easily. All single stage regulators will increase outlet pressure as the tank pressure declines. This is normal, but may require some adjustment as the oxygen cylinder is depleted.
*Leak test with soapy water all connections, including valve stems.
*The lines should be vented through the torch at the end of each use, and after closing the bottle valves.
*Always reduce the control knob of the regulator to zero pressure when closing the bottle, and reset the pressure after each time the bottle is opened.
*Common welding hose (Type R) is designed for Acetylene / Oxygen service, and is NOT rated for propane!! Propane will eat through Type R lines! Flexible hose certified for use with propane is marked “Type T”. It is available at welding shops.
Please ask questions! The only stupid question is the one not asked!! Bead Happy!!!