Monday, October 27, 2014

Be Fire Wise in Your Studio

As a jeweler who works with torches and fuels I have a responsibility to my family, students, and neighbors to keep my studio safe, or fire wise.

I heard on the news a few years ago about a jeweler and his son being blown up in their home because of a propane leak. All of us who use torches must always think of safety and now that I live in a forest with a fifth season, wild fire, I must be extra careful. Here are some safety tips when you have tanks of oxygen and fuels in your studio.

Keep your tanks secure so that they cannot fall over and risk breaking the stem off the tank. Many tank systems have stands they can be kept in. If yours doesn’t, chain it to a wall or work bench.

When not in use keep the tank cap on the tank, if it has one. This protects the stem. If the tank will sit unused for long periods of time, remove the valves and attach the steel tank cap. If the stem were to be knocked off, the tank will become a flying missile.

Never use oil on an oxygen tank. I don’t care how rusty the threads may be, mixing oil and oxygen becomes explosive. If the threads look rusty, clean them with a brass or steel brush.

Before turning on your system and using it, check for leaks. Make sure the knobs on the handle are closed, open the gas valve a half turn, and then spray a mixture of soapy water over each connection. You will see small bubbles if there is a leak.

One place I have found the most leaks is on the stem valve. Tightening down the nut around the stem fixes this problem. If in doubt on how to fix a leak, turn off the gas and return the tank to your fuel supplier.

At the end of the work day, drain the pressure off the gauges. Keeping pressure on the system can cause malfunctions in the pressure valves. If a valve isn’t working correctly, have it repaired immediately. A symptom of a malfunctioning valve is that after setting the gauge for a correct psi pressure, the gauge slowly creeps up in pressure.

Check the hoses for cracking, fraying, or leaks.

Post a notice at the entrance of your studio including:  no smoking, oxygen is in use. I have bought signs from an industrial supply company. They list Oxygen is in use, Danger Acetylene, Fire Extinguisher Here, and No Smoking. I have some on the outside of my studio door, and others inside my studio. This not only informs the public, but also the fire department should there be a fire in the vicinity. Some towns request you to list your tanks and address with the fire department.

Last spring, during fire season, a friend in California had to evacuate her home. She didn’t know what to do with her tanks. I asked my Fire Marshal what I should do in case of a forest fire. He said, "Place them on the center of your driveway out in front of your house." He added that any flammable liquids like paint thinner, gasoline, etc. should also be placed there. They will see it and either pick them up or make sure they are out of the way of fire.

Take extra care if using propane tanks, make sure your insurance allows you to have one in your studio. There are many cities that require them to be located outside. The reason being is propane is a heavy gas. If there is a leak the gas settles to the lowest point in the room and collects. You can have a leak and never smell it because it stays low. This is what happened to the above mentioned jeweler.

Until next time, have fun claying around!

by Janet Alexander 
Technical Adviser

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