The International Guild of Lamp Researchers (www.lampguild.org)
1491. Petromax explosion: A CAUTION TO PETROMAX OWNERS by John Kluksdal (****@aol.com)
Posted: Nov. 21, 2001 @ 16:52.
I recently purchased a Petromax nickel plated brass lantern. The light was fantastic, but about four hours after turning it on, flames started shooting out the sides and about 12 inches above the lantern. Just before I picked it up, intending to throw it outside our cooking tent, it exploded. Has anyone had a similar problem or do you have an explanation for why this happened? Thank you for your responses.
o On Nov. 21, 2001 @ 18:28, Neil A McRae (****@nmcrae.freeserve.co.uk) wrote:
John: Yours is the first exploding Petromax I have heard of. This is a serious business as these lanterns are supposed to be near fool proof and a catastrophic failure is almost unheard of. Before I comment, can you answer a few questions please. Was this a purchase of a new lamp or a second hand one? Where was it purchased? Just the country will do, not the actual supplier for now. What fuel were you using at the time and had you ever used any other fuels in it? What fuel were you recommended to use? Was the pressure gauge working and what pressure was the lantern operating at? I also need the precise model number as stamped on the lantern, in fact I would like details of all the information on the lantern. At this stage I will not give a public comment as there could be legal implications and I cannot give an opinion without some more facts. I suspect I do know why but I need more information first please. ::Neil::
+ On Nov. 23, 2001 @ 07:13, Cav (****@yahoo.fr) wrote:
RE: "I suspect I do know why but I need more information first please." --- If it may happen with other pressure lamps, could you tell us the problem, in order to avoid any other accident with our old lanterns? Thanks!
o On Nov. 23, 2001 @ 13:25, Wim van der Velden (****@wxs.nl) wrote:
Hello, Without having more "facts" I will tell my story. I assume the lantern in this case was filled with gasoline. One BIG problem can occur in the following case: A little hole in the bottom of the mantle will give a very hot (spike) flame, almost not visible. If the safety-plate [the metal plate that serves as a base plate on this design] (part number 126, on the britelyte site) isn’t used, this jet of flame can de-solder the main bolt or burn a hole in the generator or tank. Loosing pressure with gasoline as fuel and an open flame can or will result in the mentioned dangerous situation.
I don’t say this is what happened here, only that is IS a possibliity reported before in Europe!! Only more details or pictures of the remains will tell us what happened. All the best, and take care. Wim
o On Nov. 23, 2001 @ 19:12, Neil A McRae (****@nmcrae.freeserve.co.uk) wrote:
Cav: OK I guess you are entitled to my thoughts, although I still would like some answers. Until Wim contacted me off this page yesterday I was not aware that any Petromax lanterns in Germany had suffered this problem he mentions. I have been advocating for some time that Petromax type lanterns should only be run on kerosene unless they were specifically constructed for the use of gasoline. It is true that Petromax lanterns from the 30s up to at least the 60s WERE made that used gasoline but these were not the same models as the kero burners. ALL the gasoline burners had the letter B after the model number. So the 500 cp rapid lantern for gasoline was model 829B instead of the 829 model which was always for kerosene only. The B is for Benzine, German for Gasoline or Petrol. As far as I know the modern 500 cp Petromax lantern being sold in the US is model 829 and therefore to my mind a kerosene ONLY lantern. The German army for some years used model 829B lanterns and these are now coming on to the German second hand market in quantity. I suspect it is these gasoline lanterns that have failed in Germany, but Wim will know better than I the truth of that. I very much share your concern here but exploding pressure lanterns are rare. Very rare in fact. In general it is not good marketing practice to blow up your customers, so most manufacturers make sure their products are safe to use. Therefore if one brand of lantern fails it is not reasonable to assume all the others are suspect. I find it odd, and perhaps significant, that America is the only country I know of where Petromax lanterns are advertised as capable of burning fuels like gasoline, Coleman fuel, kerosene and even diesel. This type of lantern is sold all over the world and I know of nowhere else where retailers suggest anything other than kerosene as a fuel. I am most concerned to know why this one failed. I suspect the use of gasoline may be a contributing factor but I do not know that until we hear again from John Kluksdal. I have no doubt that there was a catastrophic failure of the pressurised part of the lamp somewhere at the top of the fount, at the valve unit, or in the generator tube. From the information we have, of flames to the side and above the lantern, there had to be liquid fuel burning in quantity. In a lantern that had been burning for four hours that can only be either a metal failure of the fount or the generator tubing, or a melted solder joint. If the lantern in question was bought new in the US then John was probably following the instructions if he used gasoline. The lantern would have been supplied with Petromax mantles and that is probably what was fitted. These mantles are made from a tube and are stitched at the bottom in such a way that it is possible to get a small jet of flame straight down. Coleman mantles do not have the same construction and will not do this. In this case I don�t know why the lantern failed and I very much want to. Finally, pressure lanterns are safe. They are used in huge numbers world wide and failure is extremely rare. Modern lanterns made by companies like Coleman and Vapalux are very solid and as safe as it gets. Even the cheaper Far East imports have to meet strict safety standards. Incidentally it is interesting to note that Petromax lanterns are not sold in the UK because they do not meet the British Standard specifications and the trading standards offices will not permit an import licence. All pressure lamps, lanterns, and stoves have the potential for such catastrophic failure. They are all constructed not to fail and generally it is only operator error that causes problems. With a new lantern, when the instructions are followed, there should be no problem. A failed new product, used in accordance with those instructions, that causes damage is the start of litigation. Most of us collectors and researchers are aware of this potential for disaster and are careful to test the old stuff we find before firing them up. If I have a 40 year old lantern fail then it will likely be my fault not the manufacturers. In this case at the moment I just don�t know what happened and, like you, I very much want to know because I want to be able to make reasonable recommendations to people who are not as familiar as I am with these things. ::Neil::
o On Nov. 24, 2001 @ 11:28, Bart J. Meijer (****@worldonline.nl) wrote:
Hi All This is my first time posting here, i read the post at Stuga-Cabana and saw this question. There can be two things in my opinion that could have occured: 1 The previously mentiont flames through a hole in the mantle wenn not using the protectionshield especially made for Petromaxes that use Gasoline/petrol. That could cause the Tank to overheat and and start leaking fuel through soldering places or the lead gasket rings. 2 The Tank of a Petromax is pumped up with normal air, so in the case of using Petrol/gasoline, you might get and mixture of air and vaporized fuel on top of the fuel. That as you all know can explode very easely. So if there is a leak and the fuel has all come out, it starts leaking the air and fuel gasses and that mixture can explode. It has worried me before to use the BW Petromax on Gasoline/petrol just for the simple reason that if the tank gets empty just by using it normaly you also can get the situation that the combustable mixture in the tank comes out at the nozzle and the whole thing might explode. So i always keep the tank full enough that this cant happen. What i also noticed is that the German army has forbidden to use Petrol/gasoline in theire laterns since 1960 and maybe this is the reason. Hope you are ok John Regards Bart J. Meijer
+ On Nov. 24, 2001 @ 17:08, Neil A McRae (****@nmcrae.freeserve.co.uk) wrote:
Bart: I am sorry but I cannot agree with some of that. Your #1 possibility is quite correct and is more or less what Wim and I have said. However the second part of #2 is not right and is just creating an unnecessary worry to people using perfectly good and safe gasoline lanterns. I agree that if there is a leak with fuel still under pressure there is a serious risk of explosion but that is the situation covered in your first suggestion. However in a sound lantern in normal use, if the fuel is gone, it is gone, and if the lantern still has pressure and the valves are open with the lantern burning normally I assure you it will just go out. There may be some of the lighter vapours in the pressurised air but it will not burn at the mantles for the good and simple reason that there is far too much air for those lighter vapours to ignite. You must remember that the vapour stream issuing from the generator is diluted with approximately 95% air. It might smell of fuel but the smell is about all there is. It will not even burn much less explode. This vapour inside the fount will explode if you put a lighted match to the open filler hole but we are not talking of anything other than normal use so that is not at issue. It is most definitely not necessary to keep the lantern full when not in use. Besides unless you expel all the air you are not achieving your objective anyway. In fact with a lot of lanterns it is actually detrimental to the metal base plate to keep it full and the fuel will also deteriorate in the fount. We would do well to remember we are discussing the failure of one lantern here. In fact the first such failure I know of for certain in over 40 years. So we are not discussing the possible decimation of the worlds campers. I have not had the opportunity to examine either the 829B lanterns as used by the German army, or the modern Petromax lanterns as sold in the US. However if they both have the same shut off valve arrangement as the 1960s and earlier kero burning 829 models, then in my opinion gasoline is most definitely not safe to use. I would still think that even in a lantern advertised by the manufacturer as suitable for gasoline. However we are talking a single Petromax here and in fact at this moment we do not know the reason for the failure. For all we know this failed lantern could have been pumped up to an excessive pressure and the cause may therefore have been a failure of the fount due to over pressure. If that was the case it is operator error not the fault of the lantern. I deplore the modern trend to install valves on these lanterns in order to use a foot pump. The pressure gauges fitted to these lanterns are not an accurate instrument and a foot pump can insert far too much pressure very quickly. I know the pump on a Petromax can be a trial but it is designed so you almost cannot over pressurise the fount. I suspect we will never know. Since his first posting of this question John has been silent. I am beginning to think his silence may be because of instruction from a lawyer. If that is the case we will never know the truth and all we are doing is frightening people without good cause. ::Neil::
# On Nov. 26, 2001 @ 14:52, John Kluksdal (****@aol.com) wrote:
Neil: I do not have the lantern with me, so I cannot identify the precise model number, but can answer most of your other questions regarding the lantern. The lamp was brand new, purchased in the United States on October 11, 2001. The lamp was used twice, with the accident occurring on the second occasion, on October 27, 2001, after burning for about four hours. The retailer indicated any fuel was appropriate, but white gas was used on this lamp. The pressure gauge was not read immediately prior to the accident. By "exploded" I mean there was a loud "Whooomp" sound and the entire tent (a large tent) was temporarily consumed in a large ball of fire. We have not noted any cracks in the fount, although this is something that may have been overlooked. I appreciate everyone's feedback. Thank you, John
* On Nov. 29, 2001 @ 04:14, Anders Willman (****@surfeu.fi) wrote:
Hi John! I have to check one thing out here as BriteLyt informed me that this wasn't a Petromax but a Butterfly lantern. So was it a Petromax or a Butterfly lantern? As you know these are complete different brands from different factories, and the Butterfly is made out of steel not brass.
o On Nov. 26, 2001 @ 17:54, Neil A McRae (****@nmcrae.freeserve.co.uk) wrote:
John: Thank you for the reply. Now we know it was a Petromax bought in the US new last month and therefore most likely made by Santromax in Hong Cong. As you may have gathered I do not consider Gasoline of any sort to be an appropriate fuel for a Petromax. However that may actually have little bearing on the reason for your catastrophic failure. It may have made the explosion occur earlier than if kerosene was used but the failure could have happened anyway. When kerosene gets hot enough there is little difference between the two fuels. I would dearly like to examine the remains but I guess that will be impossible. There were no cracks in the lantern before it failed as it would not have run for four hours. The loss of pressure would have made it go out long before that. There had to have been a sudden failure of the pressurised system somewhere. Without examination I can only guess at the cause. I do hope this lantern is to be examined by some responsible and independent engineer, and independent is vital here. It is important that we understand what happened as there are many lantern users who will be worried about using gasoline lanterns, and we can only learn truth from examination of failure. If the retailer gets the lantern back it will possibly end up with the manufacturer and I would not trust either a retailer or a manufacturer to publish the result of any examination. They would probably have to be ordered by a court to do so. So we are still in the speculation game here. It seems to me that you have been using this lantern quite normally and in accordance with the instructions you were given. I may deplore the use of gasoline but if the retailer told you it was OK then you were only following those instructions. If you were using the lantern correctly then there is no doubt in my mind this lantern was not fit for the purpose form which it was made and further was actually dangerous to the point where lives could have been at risk. My conclusion is that one of two things happened. 1, A metal failure occurred in the fuel supply system between the top of the fount and below the gas tip or jet, which caused a leak of liquid fuel at a point where that liquid was ignited by the heat from the mantle. This burning fuel then so heated the fount that either the seals failed and the contents of the fount were opened to atmosphere at which point the whole of the contents of the fount ignited, or the air/vapour above the fuel in the fount reached ignition temperature. 2, A faulty mantle caused a flame jet to heat the top of the fount to the point where the solder or lead seals failed and therefore also opened the fount to atmosphere. Of the two I prefer 1, as that is perhaps more likely to have resulted in quantities of liquid fuel to be discharged into the upper part of the lantern. You say the lantern was producing yellow flames both around and above it before it exploded and I suspect therefore that the fault was in the generator tube. ::Neil::
o On Nov. 29, 2001 @ 20:33, Fil Graff, Guild Secretary (****@epix.net) wrote:
CAUTIONARY NOTE TO PETROMAX USERS: THE PROBLEMS OUTLINED IN THE ABOVE QUESTION SHOULD AT LEAST PROMPT A CAUTION TO OWNERS AND USERS OF RECENT PETROMAX (AND OTHER CHINESE-MADE) PRESSURE LANTERNS. THESE LANTERNS LACK A POSITIVE FUEL SHUT OFF VALVE, AND HAVE A PRESSURE RELEASE VALVE THAT VENTS THE FOUNT; THE USE OF GASOLINE/WHITE GAS/COLEMAN FUEL/NAPHTHA IN THESE LANTERNS CAN PRESENT A MAJOR HAZARD SHOULD THE LANTERN RUN AWAY (FROM ANY NUMBER OF CAUSES RANGING FROM OPERATOR ERROR TO STRUCTURAL OR COMPONENT FAILURE OF THE LANTERN ITSELF). IT IS OUR CONSIDERED OPINION THAT GASOLINE AND SIMILAR FUELS SHOULD NOT BE USED IN THESE LANTERNS, WHICH WERE DESIGNED IN THE 1930'S FOR THE BURNING OF KEROSENE. THEY ARE FINE PRODUCTS, AND QUITE SAFE WHEN KEROSENE (A MUCH LESS VOLATILE FUEL) IS USED. THE GERMAN ARMY HAS BANNED THE USE OF GASOLINE ("BENZIN") IN THEIR ISSUE LANTERNS SINCE THE 1960'S. IF YOU WON'T BELIEVE US, THEN PLEASE LISTEN TO THEM!