The Carbide Lamp



In the early days the miner used a candle for light. He stuck a lump of yellow clay to the wall of the mine and stuck his candle in the clay.

A great invention was the carbide lamp. This lamp was clipped to the front of the miners helmet and afforded "hands free" light. It was an ingenious little contraption made up of two chambers. The lower chamber which screwed off from the upper one contained the small cubes of carbide which were like cubes of sugar. A pocket full of these would keep a miner going for a shift.

The upper chamber had a little lid on it and was filled with water. A tap protruded into the lower chamber from here. On top of the lid was a small handle for the tap which when turned on allowed a small flow of water into the lower chamber and on to the carbide. This fusion of water and carbide produced a gas which traveled up through the upper chamber and out through a nozzle on the front of the lamp.

The front of the lamp consisted of  a shiny reflector, the nozzle and a small flint (similar to a cigarette lighter).

When the miner wanted light he turned on the tap and flicked the flint and out shot a burst of flame like a mini blow lamp.


The diagram above shows a cut-away view of the carbide lamp. The terms that are defined can be matched with the diagram. The order represents the reaction occurring inside the lamp when it is used. Note: parts with an asterisk by them are not visible when the lamp is properly assembled.

Carbide Lamp Parts

Water Door
has small hinge, lifts up
Water Chamber
holds water
Valve Control
moves along grooves (control slots), sets rate of water flow
Valve Stem 
tube that water flows down
Water Valve 
hole where water drips onto carbide rocks
Carbide Chamber
holds carbide rocks, when mixed with water an acetylene gas is produced
Felt Spring 
holds felt in place
allows gas to pass up from carbide chamber, keeps used (spent) carbide in chamber
Felt Plate 
directs acetylene gas to...
Gas Pipe
tube that gas blows out of
Burner Tip
where flame is when lamp is in use
Striker Assembly
has flint rock inside, creates a spark, is attached to...
magnifies amount of light, is held on by...
Wing Nut
holds on burner tip also
rubber seal, prevents gas from leaking when lamp is assembled
holds lamp on helmet

Example of a Carbide Lamp and the box that it came in

Mine Home Page