Transporting Acetylene Tanks

Q: I’ve got a tank of acetylene that hasn’t been used in a long time. I think it’s about half full, and I don’t plan to use it. But I’ve heard scary stories about people blowing themselves up by transporting acetylene in their cars. How can I trade it in safely?

A: Turn the question around. Suppose you did use this torch, and now the tank was empty. You’d go to the gas supplier, exchange it for a newly filled tank, and then you’d put that full tank in your car and take it home, right? While you probably have to empty the tank if you plan to actually package and ship the thing, you say this place is local. So put the half filled tank in your car and drive it over. No big deal. You don’t need to empty the tank. Just be careful in handling it. Acetylene tanks are actually pretty safe to handle. The gas is dissolved in a liquid, rather than being highly compressed. Pressures in the tank are not that high, so the tank, unlike a full oxygen tank, for example, is not a bomb waiting to go off if you drop it and damage the valve. I’d recommend putting the tank in the passenger’s seat, rather than the car trunk, since leaning against the seat you can strap it down and it won’t be rolling around in a horizontal position. Keep it as vertical as possible, with the valve pointed up, and tie or strap it in. That’s safer than just loose in the trunk. Even a full oxygen tank is handled in much the same way. It needs to be secured in position so it won’t roll and bang around, and like the acetylene tank, needs its cap securely on to protect the valve. The passenger’s seat is also better than the trunk for another reason: the trunk’s enclosed space can build up an explosive concentration of vapors needing only a spark to ignite them. That’s likely to be the cause of the catastrophes you heard about.

But before getting rid of it, you might want to try it out for a bit of silver soldering with an air/acetylene torch, like a Prestolite or Goss. These torches have a wonderfully gentle flame that’s ideal for silver fabrication. While they won’t do some of the more pinpoint tasks that are done with smaller tips on a gas/oxygen torch, it really has few limits, and handles the larger work much more gracefully with silver. Try it. You might like it a lot.

by Peter W. Rowe M.F.A., G.G.