Anyone still use the cap style carbide lights?

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Postby potholer » Mar 23, 2007 5:58 am

For many regular people, headtorches only get wet rarely. For a significant number of buyers, they carry one as insurance and hardly ever use it.

If even people as dissatisfied as you keep buying lights, and treat them as partly disposable, why should mass-market manufacturers change what they make?
Are there any *extra* customers out there walking around in the dark but who might buy a light if only it was durable enough, or is the best they can hope for to poach a few customers from other manufacturers or get a few existing customers to switch models by producing something more durable (and expensive) than the great bulk of customers seem to require.

Your LED may have soldiered on on THAT trip; but how many more trips of exposure to water until the connectors corrode?

In the headset, it'd be many trips - the switch has wiping contacts and is largely self-cleaning, the headset can be completely dismantled down to the last contact, contacts are screwed together rather than just glancing strips of brass. The race-pack connectors on my battery packs get damp on many trips, but don't seem to have a corrosion problem despite my never getting round to greasing them (until just now). Opening the box after a trip for the hour or so it takes to charge (and effectively dry) a battery pack seems to be enough to dry things out.
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Postby Seamus Decker » Mar 23, 2007 8:56 am

With respect to consumers accepting what they make, you are absolutely correct Potholer. This is at the heart of why I am fairly passionate about this topic. It is like the Hudsucker Proxy effect. Brass cap lamps represent an apex in engineering. If that trend could be replicated in eletric lights, I have no doubt that far better electric lights could be produced, or far better brass cap lamps for that matter.

But we consumers just keep buying what they offer :(
"Sittin' in a cave as black as midnight,
Cause I got a brand new plastic Justrite
Oozing off the front of my hard hat."
_Plastic Justrite_ Cave Ballad by Barb MacLeod (1973)
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Postby hunter » Mar 23, 2007 11:23 am

But stoves, etc., don't produce both heat and LIGHT to navigate by. With a carbide, you've got both capabilities in one device.

Yes, and when I work on my car I don't use a swiss army knife just because it has all the right tools in one package. If hypothermia is really an issue I'm going to carry something (probably a pellet or gas stove and maybe candles) that has the highest chance of keeping me alive. It will also remain protected in my pack until I need it.

All electrics are vulnerable to water one way or another.
So is carbide. Drop your spare carbide in a pool and you are SOL. At least electric doesn't (usually) go out when splashed.

I've had an electric beltpack battery catch fire
Just curious, what kind? I'm not saying that electric is unbreakable and all powerfull, it isn't. I do think though that electric has made major strides that make it better than carbide in many regards.
I personally agree with potholer that beltpacks are not that great for tight caving and this is where I think technology is making a difference since it's now possible to get a large amount of light without having a heavy backpack.

Canister? What canister? Caplamps don't have canisters,
Sorry, like potholer every carbide caver I've met uses a ceiling burner, guess I'm just missing the secret enclave of caplamp users.

That's great if you can afford a half a dozen spare lights. I can't. That just sounds like excess capacity to me.
Guess out east maybe you can get it cheaper but carbide is expensive enough for me (due to shipping) that over a 5 year period I can buy any number of electric lights with the money I'd spend on carbide. I'm not totally certain what you mean by capacity but on a long trip your cap lamp is going to burn through a larger volume of carbide than all my batteries and spares combined. (oh, I normally carry about 4 lights, six was an example).


But being too quick to dis old technology isn't necessarily a good idea either.

Ok, I agree here. Same thing for new technology though, don't discount it because you've had a bad experience years before.
I just wish LEDs weren't molded in a tilted position; light color of a tube fluorescent, but warmer, and such an irritation to my astigmatic eyes.

I also agree here, light quality and spread is one of my main reasons for still sometimes using carbide.

Oh, before I forget it is certainly true that TAG glop is nastier than most stuff in NM but drop the condescending "If you only do dry caving you probably don't have water issues". I've done a number of good spider sucking swims in and out of NM and I've flooded several headlamps this way (none failed though). I've also run across mud in Mexico bad enough the only way I could clean my lamp was by licking the mud off. (this is incidently one big problem with electric in my mind, it is impossible to clean the lens cover if you are totally covered with mud)
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Postby hunter » Mar 23, 2007 11:36 am

Seamus,
and station marking

Yeah, I've got to agree here. At the same time you could just carry paint(I like nail polish) and it wouldn't leave marks all over the ceiling as well. I once tried to find an old survey marking made with carbide and eventually gave up because there were carbide markings all over the place. I know good carbide cavers leave fewer marks but it's unavoidable in tighter areas.

I should NOT have to replace an electric light every 2 or 3 years simply because I do hard, wet, muddy caving! But I have! Consistently for 20 years had to do just that!

Hmm, I think your problem is that you are being followed by a bad cave genie, probably of Petzl origin. Seriously though I've seen one custom made light have problems and I've seen Tika type lights fail due to water (they just aren't made for it) but despite flooding all my lights have worked great although that might be somewhat due to my ability to dry them in NM level humidity.

Oh, I expect your already aware of this but have you ever looked at the trace metals present in carbide? I kind of winced when you said you dump it in your compost because there are several things in there I wouldn't put on my garden.

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Postby Seamus Decker » Mar 23, 2007 5:43 pm

I would love to try nail polish as a station marker in the drain crawl we surveyed last weekend! Started out as a 4ft-wide 2.5ft-high phreatic tube with about an inch of crisco-mud coating the upper part, and about 10" thick mud of varying consistency on the floor . . . periodic puddles in the 5ft-long x 6inch-deep x 1.5ft-wide variety and you've got yourself an excellent situation to paint! :)

Ended as a 1ft-wide by 1.5ft-high slot with about 3" thick mud on all walls. It is an overflow "collector" for water draining through off the domes in Pohl Avenue and (supposedly according to Richard Zopf) draining to Eyeless Fish Trail. Within a couple hours of surveying in wetsuits, everyone was cold, one set of instruments were kaput (mud and condensation) and one electric light had failed. Had it been a long series before it ended instead of just a couple hours worth of survey, the lack of carbide in the group may well have caused us to abort the trip prior to finishing the survey. In this instance, it would not have been a big deal cause it was only 1.5hours from an entrance, and nearly all easy walking to get to the beginning of the crawly bits. But if it were 5 hours from an entrance, and LOTS of crawling, etc., to get from an entrance, relying on electric only, and then having to abort surveying in a going virgin lead with air would be annoying. That combined with the station marking, and the versatility as a warmer is why many of us continue to use carbide cap lamps in surveying in the East.
"Sittin' in a cave as black as midnight,
Cause I got a brand new plastic Justrite
Oozing off the front of my hard hat."
_Plastic Justrite_ Cave Ballad by Barb MacLeod (1973)
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Carbide Cap Lamps

Postby Dangerjudy » Apr 16, 2007 6:27 pm

I used my Autolite last weekend in Tumbling Rock and really enjoyed it. I was with two other cap lamp users so I had plenty of help with the particulars.
In fact I enjoyed the light so much I have considered trying to find another bottom for the lamp to carry pre-loaded in my pack.

Carbide makes me a bit nervous still, but then again that's only the second time I've used the lamp. The nervous part for me is carrying the dump out safely, as it still off-gasses.
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Postby Adam Craig » Apr 16, 2007 6:51 pm

I only use carbide :kewl: It produces a light unequaled by any other form of illumination.

Back when I first started out with my $5 k-mart plasti-special headlamp, I thought I was pretty cool!! Then I upgraded, got a new light, then another, then another. I had quite the collection of electrics. I still have many of them. I remember the first time I saw someone using a caplamp, and I couldn't figure out why anyone would want one of those!! It wasn't bright, it had repeated problems, and it was "old"... :loser:

Then I used one, and now I know. I've got 5 fully operational Auto-Lites that I use. As far as outgassing??? Never had an issue with it, and I've run over 50 pounds of carbide through them, and carried everything back uneventfully. For those that know... :carbide: :cavingrocks:
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Postby Phil Winkler » Apr 17, 2007 8:49 am

As for outgassing I recall the end of a trip many, many years ago to Holloch in Switzerland. We were driving back to Germany very late at night and pulled into a military housing area near Heidelberg named Patrick Henry Village to drop Patty Mills off who lived there with her parents. Her father was an infantry Colonel.

Patty's duffel bag contained all her gear including the spent carbide bag and her lamp which probably had been still outgassing, too.

We quietly entered the house in a mud room and Patty threw her duffel on the floor and KA-BOOM! Something created a spark and it exploded like a cherry bomb.

Her father thought they had been mortared and yelled from the top of the stairs: "Anybody wounded?"
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Postby Dangerjudy » Apr 17, 2007 8:51 am

Outgassing: Dave H, who was one of the carbide cavers with me last weekend and (my estimate) a 30 year carbide vet, told me a story about a time he loaded too much carbide in the lamp bottom, and when he had to change out charges, the dump out gradually accumulated pressure and blew a hole in his cave pack the size of a softball. heh heh. It seems most carbide cavers have fun stories like that. In fact Dave's lamp started to flare out around the gasket during the trip last weekend, a situation he fixed by wetting the gasket. He has always exclusively caved carbide.
Also, Jason the other carbide caver with me last weekend had an 'event' I witnessed a few years ago where the bottom of his lamp cracked and made a fireball on his head. IIRC he slapped some duct tape on it and we went caving.
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Postby killian » Apr 17, 2007 2:20 pm

Adam Craig,
Totally agree with u. I have my share of electric lights but i started with a carbide cap lamp and now use a generator style. If i did not have that smell or that type of light that carbide puts off i don't think i would cave near as much... Carbide caving does rock..... :carbide: :cavingrocks:


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Postby potholer » Apr 17, 2007 2:40 pm

What is it about the type of light?
Is it just the colour? I find my eyes adjust pretty quickly to almost any 'white' light colour, within reason.
Apart from maybe a large carbide cranked right up, LEDs can compare well for brightness, and can effectively match them for spread as well, potentially giving a near-hemispherical spread, if desired.
If there was demand, it wouldn't be impossible to make an electric lamp with a basically spherical spread, though I'd guess few people actually would want one.
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Postby killian » Apr 17, 2007 3:05 pm

Its the warm Orange-yellow color as apposed to the cold blue-whit LED's.. :grin:
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Postby NZcaver » Apr 17, 2007 5:47 pm

potholer wrote:What is it about the type of light?
Is it just the colour?

killian wrote:Its the warm Orange-yellow color as apposed to the cold blue-whit LED's..

I remember having this same discussion a while back.

Some felt that for caving, the more natural type of light to use is fire - like the traditional cave man. Others felt that the close-to-daylight color temperature of most of today's LEDs (the less blue ones) gives the "more natural" light. Personally I lean more towards the latter, but I still have my original caplamp... somewhere. :wink:

To each their own. :grin:
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