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Playing Safe

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It's been an eventful month for the members of the ATIS Stationary Engine Mailing List. One of our American List friends has been staying with us here in England, in for his third annual Industrial Heritage Tour of Britain. The tour has included three weekend engine shows in as many weeks, plus a varied selection of historic visits, engine sheds the length and breadth of the country, a hop across the Channel to Belgium and five days experiencing the total relaxation of travel at 3 mph on the canal system.

Other members of our group, however, have not been storing such pleasant memories, and someone suggested the warning tales be shared in GEM for the benefit of those who don't own computers - Listers are not afraid to share their mishaps if it helps someone else to avoid the same mistake.

The first close call took place in Australia as two members of our group were visiting with a collector. Names have been left out, as it is one thing to let 300 or so close friends know of your mistakes, yet another to share them with the entire readership of GEM.

Our host decided to give a demonstration of many of his models, full-sized engines and hot air stuff. Well, everything was going along great until we got to the Heinrici model hot air engine. He bends down and fires it up, and it ran perfectly for about three minutes and then stopped - unbeknownst to anybody. Someone noticed it had stopped, and with that our host raced across to the engine, bent down for a look and said, 'No wonder, the flame is out.' So guess what happened next? He picked up his flint gun, bent down to see what he was doing and pulled the trigger. WHOOOOOMPHA!

I know I shouldn't have laughed, but I couldn't help it. There he stood with very little eye lashes and no eyebrows at all and, I kid you not, smoke still rising from his hair on the top of his head.

Lesson #1: Be extra careful with flames around engines.

Yesterday I was trying to get my eight-ton 'Tampo' roller going. It didn't want to start so I cheated with a little ether. It still was un-cooperative, so I grabbed the coil wire and held it close to the vented oil filler cap. Yup, ether had gotten into the crankcase and all it was waiting for was a spark. Another lesson well learned.

On the same note, I took a pretty tired 12-volt battery and connected it to the stock 6-volt battery. It boiled a little bit, but spun the engine a lot faster. Now, I knew the 6-volt was producing lots of gas, but for some dumb reason I still disconnected the jumper cable from the 6-volt first. It didn't blow, but produced a real nice flame out of the middle cell cap. This could have been really ugly, and I consider myself darn lucky.

Lesson #2: Take care when starting engines. Don't take dangerous shortcuts with starting procedures.

I learned a lesson yesterday: Always wear a mask when sandblasting, even when you are blasting in a cabinet. I ended up in the emergency room - I couldn't breathe.

What kind of media were you blasting with? Doesn't the dust collection work very well? Fill us in on the particulars.

I am thinking the same thing as you - what went wrong with the dust collection system? Maybe there was not one. I have an exhaust blower hooked up to the inside of my bead blast cabinet and it expels all of the dust from inside of the cabinet when I am blasting. In fact, it creates a negative pressure inside the cabinet, and rather that dust coming out of the cabinet it will pull outside air into the cabinet - there is no way you can breathe dust

So I am curious to know if you have a dust collection system, or an exhaust blower, hooked up to your cabinet. And if so, does it work?

No, I did not have a dust collector on it but I'm going to get one. I was using silica sand. It was just a stupid mistake.

I use mostly glass beads in my blaster now. Expensive, but it lasts much longer than other media. I also bought the hard, expensive nozzle. One gentleman on the list uses aluminum oxide, but I haven't tried that yet. Shipping kills you on blasting media. Check with local heavy equipment dealers or rental shops. I'm using a dust collector that will eventually go outside or into the storage building next to the shop.

Several months ago on the tractor list, a guy said he just goes out in the back 40 where there's a nice deposit of natural sand. Big time silicosis here. We couldn't talk him out of it. Silicosis doesn't strike until your later years. Bottom line: Use only approved blasting media, and then be careful.

Silica is the prime culprit of silicosis of the lungs - the reason you should never use sand in a sand blast cabinet. You should switch to aluminum oxide. You'll be able to use is over and over as it does not break down nearly as fast as sand. Buy 60 or 80 grit for longevity, and it should cost about 70 cents a pound if you are getting a good price. You still need to get a dust removal system going.

I use copper slag for abrasive blasting. It doesn't pose any silicosis hazard.

I have just blasted a couple of engines with bicarb soda. The people I buy my blasting gear from told me that it was good for the application.

Might check the used equipment market for a dust collector. Lots of this kind of machinery out there. Work and breathe safe.

Or, you could just go out and get a nice big shop vac and use the good filter on it.

Your cabinet should either exhaust to the outside or you should have a very efficient vacuum taking a constant suction on it.

Lesson #3: Use only the correct media for blasting and be sure to have a reliable extraction system.

Some time ago a thread on spontaneous combustion was kicked around on the List, and today I had my first experience with the subject.

Three of us were oil-base staining parts of the house. A lot of rags were being used as this was the old stain-running-down-the-handle-of-the-paint-brush-trick - really messy.

When we got done it was time to create some shim stock, so we sat down behind the house. A couple of beers later I commented on a smell. First thought: Barbecue? Nope. Neighbor burning? Nope. And then the thread on spontaneous combustion flashed in my brain. I ran around the house onto the wood deck just in time to see a rag flash into flames. No harm done, but had we gone down to the local bar after the stain job ... well, we know what the outcome would have been.

A little research showed a big warning label on the lid of the can of stain regarding disposal of rags, etc. When was the last time you read the labels on a can of stain? I don't think I ever have, but then again I'm not too good on labels.

Thanks for the thread and thanks to the ATIS. I could very well have blown this off and chalked it up to the neighbor burning trash.

Absolutely! This is a bit of a coincidence. After I finished putting some more linseed oil on my tractor the other day, I thought I'd do a little experiment with the oil soaked rags. After all I am a fireman, so playing with fire comes naturally. I took one of the rags, balled it up and put it in a metal bucket. Half an hour later it was burning. Chemical reaction at it's finest.

Lesson #4: Read and heed instructions on any products you use.

A linseed oil soaked rag seems harmless, but linseed oil generates heat as it dries, which can cause the spontaneous combustion of oil soaked rags. Before storing or disposing of soaked rags you should spread them out to dry thoroughly or wash them with warm water and detergent until all traces of oil have been removed.

Safety is a constant issue with this hobby, and the potentially serious accidents people have experienced over the last month show just how easy it is for things to go wrong in unexpected areas. Take care, and be safe.

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via e-mail at: Helen@insulate.co.uk You can join the Stationary Engine List on the Internet at: www.atis.net

'I knew the 6-volt was producing lots of gas, but for some dumb reason I still disconnected the jumper cable from the 6-volt first.'

'Bottom line: Use only approved blasting media/ and then be careful.'