The Science Notebook
Working Safely with Fire

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On this page...
Making an Alcohol Lamp
Making a Safety Candle Holder
Making a Tripod for the Alcohol Lamp or Candle
Making a More Permanent Alcohol Lamp or Candle Stand


Many of the experiments on this site call for you to use some type of flame as a source of heat.    At the beginning of every experiment on this site which requires an open flame, you will see this warning or something similar: 

CAUTION!  Always be careful to follow all safety precautions when using fire, and use with adult supervision only!  Keep your alcohol lamp or candle in an aluminum pie pan, and keep the flame at least three feet away from anything that can burn, unless otherwise instructed. 

You should always heed this warning.  You only need a small flame to do the experiments, and if you follow all safety precautions and work with fire only when an adult is around and can supervise, you should have no problems.  But make no mistake about it.  Fire can burn you seriously, and if it gets out of control, it can destroy your home, or even kill.  Always be extremely careful when working with fire! 

On this page, you will learn how to make an alcohol lamp and a safe candle holder, as well as several types of stands for them.  You will also learn how to safely use each.

CAUTION!  About 1 cm ( in) of water should always be placed in the pie pan as explained in each experiment below.  The water was omitted from the photographs below only so you could better see the construction details.


Making an Alcohol Lamp

 

CAUTION!  Always be careful to follow all safety precautions when using fire, and use with adult supervision only!  Keep your alcohol lamp in an aluminum pie pan, and keep the flame at least three feet away from anything that can burn, unless otherwise instructed. 

An alcohol lamp, if properly constructed, will provide one of the safest sources of flame for the experiments on this site.

Materials Needed: Small glass jar such as a baby food jar with a tight fitting metal lid; piece of cotton cloth or rope; large nail; isopropyl rubbing alcohol from the pharmacy (about 90% is best); disposable aluminum pie pan; water.  

When selecting a jar, you should decide what kind of stand you want to use with it and pick a size that will fit underneath the stand.  (See below.)

Procedure:  Using the nail, punch a hole in the underside of the metal lid.  Cut a piece of the cotton cloth (a handkerchief or cloth from a cotton t-shirt works well) about 7 cm (3 in) square and roll it into a tight roll.  Or, cut a piece of thin cotton rope about 7 cm (3 in) long. Push the rope or rolled cloth up through the bottom of the lid so that about 1 cm (1/4 in) sticks out above the top of the lid.  This is the wick.  Next, fill the jar about full of alcohol and screw the lid down onto the jar tightly.  Pour about 1 cm ( in) of water into the bottom of the pan, and place the jar and lid in the middle of the pie pan.  Allow the alcohol to soak up into the rope or cloth.

The aluminum pie pan serves as a safety pan.  If your alcohol lamp should tip over or you should drop a lighted match, the water will put out flame.  You should always make sure that you use a pan with water, and that the alcohol lamp is far away from anything that could catch fire. 

Carefully place a lighted match to the rope or cloth wick.

What To Look For: The alcohol lamp should light and burn with a pale blue flame.

Going Further: Alcohol is drawn up into the cloth wick by a process called "capillary action."  (You can learn more about capillary action on the Liquids - Part 2 page on this site.)  As the alcohol burns, more alcohol is drawn up to replace that which has burned.  If you need a smaller flame for an experiment, shorten the wick.  If you need a larger flame, lengthen the wick.  Obviously, you should not touch the wick while it is hot!


Making A Safety Candle Holder  


CAUTION!  Always use sharp objects such as knives or scissors with adult supervision only!  Hold any sharp point away from your body, particularly your eyes.

CAUTION!  Always be careful to follow all safety precautions when using fire, and use with adult supervision only!  Keep your candle in an aluminum pie pan, and keep the flame at least three feet away from anything that can burn, unless otherwise instructed.

The following experiment will show you how to safely use a candle in your experiments.

Materials Needed: Candle; aluminum pie pan; water; sharp knife; matches; modeling clay.

Procedure: Cut your candle down to less than the radius of the bottom of the pie pan  -  about 7 cm (3 in) will work well for a typical pie pan.  (The radius is 1/2 of the width of a circle.)  Get an adult to help you do this with a sharp knife, and be careful!  Next, roll a small piece of modeling clay into a small "snake" and wrap it around the bottom of the candle.  Place the candle in the center of the pie pan and press the clay onto the pan to so that it holds the candle securely.  Make sure that the candle is straight and steady in the pan.  Place about 1 cm ( in) of water in the bottom of the pan.  The candle is now ready to use.

What To Look For: By cutting the candle down to the size directed, if the lighted candle tips over, it will fall safely inside the pan, and the flame will be put out by the water.  Also, by keeping the candle short, it will work well with the homemade tripod or stand described in the following experiments.

Going Further:
 If you want to be extra safe, you can use a "tea candle" in the aluminum pie pan.  They are very short and are enclosed in metal.  You can usually find these in the camping or outdoor section, or with the other candles at your favorite store.  You probably won't need quite as much water with these, either.
Making a Tripod for the Alcohol Lamp or Candle  

 

CAUTION!  Always use sharp objects such as knives or scissors with adult supervision only!  Hold any sharp point away from your body, particularly your eyes.

CAUTION!  Always be careful to follow all safety precautions when using fire, and use with adult supervision only!  Keep your alcohol lamp or candle in an aluminum pie pan, and keep the flame at least three feet away from anything that can burn, unless otherwise instructed.

This experiment will help you construct a small stand to use with your alcohol lamp or candle for heating.

Materials Needed: Home canning jar ring; three wooden clothespins (Don't use plastic!); a small piece of wire screen or mesh (metal only, available from the hardware store); alcohol lamp or candle with safety pan; matches.

Procedure: Clip the three clothespins to the underside of the jar ring as shown.  Have an adult to help you to cut about a 9 cm (3 in) square piece of wire mesh or screen.  Place the screen on top of the tripod.  Your stand is ready to use with your alcohol lamp or candle stand.  Always use the pie pan and water with either one. 

IMPORTANT!  This stand will only work with an alcohol lamp or candle that is shorter than the clothespins.  If you plan on using an alcohol lamp with this stand, you should select a jar that is small enough to fit under the stand with about an inch or so to spare.  If you are using a candle, you will need to cut it down to size.  Get an adult to help you do this!

What To Look For: The stand should be steady and located in the center of the pan. 


Making a More Permanent Alcohol Lamp or Candle Stand
  


CAUTION!  Always use sharp objects such as knives or scissors with adult supervision only!  Hold any sharp point away from your body, particularly your eyes.

CAUTION!  Always be careful to follow all safety precautions when using fire, and use with adult supervision only!  Keep your alcohol lamp or candle in an aluminum pie pan, and keep the flame at least three feet away from anything that can burn, unless otherwise instructed.

The small tripod described in the last experiment may be used for most experiments, but with a little more wire mesh, you can make a stand which is much steadier and which will support more weight.

Materials Needed: Home canning jar ring; wire screen or mesh (metal only); alcohol lamp or candle with safety pan; matches.

Procedure: Have an adult help you to cut a rectangular piece of wire mesh about 9 cm (3 in) by 22 cm (8 in).  IMPORTANT!  If your alcohol lamp is a bit larger, you can cut the width of the wire so that the lamp fits underneath with about 3 cm (1 in) to spare. If you are using a candle, you will need to get an adult to cut the candle so that it will fit underneath with about 3 cm (1 in) to spare. 

When the wire mesh is rolled up on the long side, it should fit snugly inside the canning ring as shown.  Bend the wire ends around each other to hold the wire in place so that it fits snugly under the ring. Also, be careful to bend the wire ends under so that they won't scratch you later.

Cut another piece about 9 cm (3 in) square. 

Place the mesh cylinder and jar ring over your candle or alcohol lamp and light. Then place the square piece on top.  Your improved stand is now ready to use.

What To Look For: Like the tripod, this stand should be steady and located in the center of the pie pan.   However, this one is a little more secure than the tripod.


Now that you have learned a bit about fire safety, check out some of the great experiments on this site!



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