Close call with a Fire in my Shop


Roger T
 Share

Recommended Posts

Howdy all,

Started the day of yesterday cleaning up the 2 days worth of shavings that had accumulated from roughing out all the ash wood I got last week. Took out 7 bags of chips/shavings didn't bother to sweep up, just used the shovel to kinda scrape up the heavy stuff. I knew I was going to be turning a bowl or two and a good cleaning was really not necessary.

So bowl one was finish turned and set off to the side to be sanded, and I started in on bowl 2. Both were soft maple about 12" in diameter. Outside is done, and am now working on the inside. I use 2 Moffet lights that are mounted on my lathe, they both have 100 watt bulbs in them, and also a metal wire cage snaps over the end of the light heads.

I am about halfway done with the inside I start smelling smoke! I wear a Trend, and am really getting a nose full of smoke! I rip my Trend off, and find a fire burning inside the light housing. I holler for the wife to come quick, all the while I am trying to find something to keep the fire contained and not falling into the chips that are on the lathe and floor. The closest thing I had on hand was my big 20oz coffee mug. Still had a 1/4 cup in it. Luckily I was able to swivel the light out over the ways and into a little cleaner floor space, but still covered by shavings. Dumped the burning mess into my coffee cup and luckily got it extinguished. Had any of the embers fallen into the mess under the lathe, I honestly do not know what I would have done.

As a just in case, I scooped up all the chips under the lathe and dumped a bucket of water over them just to make sure an ember did not get away. First time I have ever had this happen in all the years I have been turning.

Honestly, it really shook me up for a bit. My shop is in the basement of my home. This morning I am very grateful to have both my shop and my home.

Something to think about guys and gals. Apparently the chips were coming straight off the gouge and right into the light fixture.

Hope this never happens to anyone else. Its a terrible feeling.

Roger

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for sharing.. Might be a good time to look at upgrading to something like an equivalent lumens (sp) rated LED based light, or something else with less heat buildup (I've thought of using CFLs, but don't like the breakage possibilities).. Others out there with other/better options?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was watching you cast yesterday when this happened and either I stepped away or missed it. I do recall you showing the light bulb. I didn't realize the severity of the situation at the time. I've used a large halogen light at the lathe and have noticed chips getting caught on the wire mesh. They never got to the point of ignition but was enough for me to pay attention to the build up. I'm just glad you were able to contain it when you did. We wouldn't be getting any more turning lessons for a while had you not . :(

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On the rare occasions that I've managed to set fire to something (in the Kitchen, classic frying pan slip up) I've always used a wet tea towel, as a sort of fire blanket. I've seen many discussions about extinguishers, but rarely blankets. I'd have thought that the blowing action of an extinguisher could cause sparks to fly - not what you'd really want.

Perhaps the firefighters on the forum will elucidate. Anyway, it's better than a coffee cup, me thinks. Good job you don't drink Italian coffee, because those cups would hardly put out a burning match!

Glad you suffered nothing worse than a fright,

John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Small fires like that are pretty scary, they can get out of control if they happen when you're not there. I'd look into some florescent or LED bulbs to replace those incandescent bulbs. Pouring coffee on a small smoldering fire works, but it's nicer if you remember to unplug the fixture first. While small fires like that can be controlled with liquid, or smothered with something (not sawdust please), it's still a good idea to have an ABC rated extinguisher in the shop for the little fires that start getting bigger.

John, you're correct, the pressure of an extinguisher can spread sparks if used haphazardly, but if you spray the base of the fire, it will extinguish rather than spread. Of course you'll end up with dry chemical powder everywhere, but given the alternative it's a good trade off. There are other kinds of extinguishers, foam/water pressurized and carbon dioxide, but both have their own cons as well as pros. A general purpose ABC, is the best choice for shop where finishes are present and least expensive.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Glad everything turned out ok in your shop, but this thread is a good reminder that every shop should have at least two of these mounted in prominent locations!

41P83BC0inL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

When picking out extinguishers for the shop, you want to look for ABC ratings. A is for wood, paper, and other common combustibles, B is for oily liquids like gas and varnish, and C is for electrical fires. Every extinguisher is rated on a numerical scale for how well it puts out each type of fire; larger number means better firefighting. Get a good multipurpose dry-chem extinguisher or separate ones to cover each of the fire hazards in the shop.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

wow roger that would have sucked big time. maybe its time to take a weekend and reavaluate how you have your shop set up. what do in case of fire, exploding piece of wood, first aid kit ect.... reorganizing and cleaning can make a big difference when it come to shop safety. when we do a unit on safety i ask the kids what they would change about the shop to make it safer and one kid had a great idea that the fire extinguishers should be lower so that he can reach them(he is shorter then usual). let me know if you need a extra set of hands one of these days i still owe you a favor for that day of one on one. so just say the word and ill come help you move and stack lumber or just push a broom.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like the BC co2 extinguishers. I'd have a co2 unit and an abc unit hanging on the wall by the exit door. Co2 wont make a mess and if it doesnt get the job done then you have the chem unit as a back up.

Don

This is exactly what I have. I've only had a couple of chances to use a fire extinguisher, and in both cases a small BC worked fine (1. tiki torch oil, and 2. paper on a roll of fiberglass). But the larger ABC was there if I had needed it.

Also, fire detectors don't work so well in a dusty environment or one that isn't climate controlled, but I strongly recommend a heat detector for the wood shop. It wouldn't have mattered in this case, but it sure could make a life or death difference if things had gotten out of hand.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for all the concern and advise guys, I appreciate it. The area around my lathe was cleaned up fairly well prior to starting to finish turn the 2 bowls that I was working on. In this situation, I do not feel that an ABC, or even a BC extinguisher would have gotten the job done, and with reflection, would have probably made the situation much worse had this small fire gotten out of control. With what I was doing, finish turning, the shavings were very small, and light as feathers. Had they ignited on the lathe, or under the lathe, I feel that the force of discharging an ABC, or BC extinguisher would have created a cloud of burning embers spreading into a much greater area in my shop. These extinguishers have quite a bit of force behind them.

I believe the proper extinguisher for this would have been an "A" extinguisher. Plain old water. Even though, with a water ext. there is a lot of force behind the stream of water, once the chips/embers are wet they would stay in place better and not tend to become airborne.

So, I will be changing out my incandescent bulbs to CFL bulbs as soon as I can pick some up. And I will be more diligent on the placement of the light heads when turning. This is something that I do not want to go thru again.

Roger

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

In the old shop (basement), I had three sources of light going at all times when I was turning. One was the main light, which was a large halogen floodlight. Not certain of the wattage, but I do remember it being warm when I would walk by. This was thirty feet away and to the right, and was partially blocked by quite a bit. I used it primarily to see what was in the way to the lathe. (side story, I'll get back to it.)

the second was a 100 watt incandescent, on a pull chain fixture. This was five feet away and over my left shoulder. It illuminated the headstock nicely, and the selection of rags (and other things in the way) by the shop can. (your standard metal garbage can.)

The third, which I only turned on when I was doing any sort of wood working, dangled directly over the tool table, where the lathe was virtually constantly in residence (I have a mid size model; I probably could permanently mount it to the bench, but I do use the bench for other things...) This was your standard cheap plastic work drop light. And, contrary to the instructions, I put a 23 watt Compact Flourescent Bulb in it. This was a foot over my head, directly over the lathe.

While the instructions on the drop light state to not put anything more than 60 watts in it (which is one reason why I picked the 23 watt; the other was it's approximate value of 100 watts after it has warmed up), it also states to not use flourescent bulbs. Not being an electrician or lighting guy, I can only guess it's because the CFB has a different power consumption requirement. Again, only a guess.

and the first tool I purchased this calendar year was actually a small fire extinguisher. I needed to, because in the old shop, the lathe was against one wall, and three feet away and behind me (just off my right shoulder, actually) was the water heater. Not being a fan of trying to be a flaming stuntman without a fire retardant suit, I decided to get an extinguisher small enough to keep by the foot of the bench, and large enough to handle most of the mistakes... er... dust I might make. Fortunately, I haven't needed it yet; the closest I came was putting a hot tool after sharpening on the grinder onto the bed of the lathe while I unplugged the grinder, not noticing the sawdust underneath the tool. No smoke, but definitely some charred sawdust.

the new shop is almost solely dedicated to the lathe. (If I could get rid of the storage around it, it would be.) But I haven't run the lathe, because of two reasons. First, I don't have power out there. Everything runs on extension cord. The second is the gas lines and electrical for the air conditioner are right behind the lathe bed. I'm trying to get some funds scraped together to make a "dust shield" out of 1x2, plexiglass, and 10 mil plastic sheeting (think drop cloth) to go behind the lathe and funnel the dust down to some sort of dust collection.

So, Roger, I feel your worry. The good news is you kept your head about you and didn't panic. That's the first thing we've been trying to teach our Scouts about any emergency situation.

The only thing I can say is to make sure your lighting is above the centerline of your lathe, but even that isn't proof against something happening. It's only added insurance it won't be easy to happen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Glad everything turned out ok in your shop, but this thread is a good reminder that every shop should have at least two of these mounted in prominent locations!

41P83BC0inL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

When picking out extinguishers for the shop, you want to look for ABC ratings. A is for wood, paper, and other common combustibles, B is for oily liquids like gas and varnish, and C is for electrical fires. Every extinguisher is rated on a numerical scale for how well it puts out each type of fire; larger number means better firefighting. Get a good multipurpose dry-chem extinguisher or separate ones to cover each of the fire hazards in the shop.

Thanks for the information about the ratings. I didn't know what they meant. I'm going shopping for some.

SQ

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the information about the ratings. I didn't know what they meant. I'm going shopping for some.

SQ

The ratings are different fire types. Class A is nomal combustibles (wood, paper, plastics). Class B is flammable liquids and gases (oil based finishes, gasoline, ect.) And class C fires are energized objects like machinery if it has a power supply. Class D is flammable metals, and is not normally encountered, they tend to have powdered extinguishing agents that smother the fire. The extinguishers are rated according to class and the amount of fire it can extinguish, measured in square feet. For instance, a Kidde Garage/Shop extinguisher is rated 3A; 40BC.

Most people can meet their needs with an ABC extinguisher (monoammonium phosphate or some other dry chemical agent, generally with nitrogen as the propelling agent), they're cheap and easy to find. The main drawbacks are they are a one shot deal, after you use one, they leak powder from the orifice, and they make a godawful mess to clean up. Also some of the agents are corrosive. Not as bad a mess as a fire, so there's a trade off. Can be recharged by a company, but might be cheaper to replace.

CO2 extinguishers are more expensive to purchase and recharge, but multiple use, and they don't make a mess. They're rated for BC fires.

Finally, the Class A extinguisher (water can) is easy to use and recharge. You put in a class A foam, dishwashing liquid will do, fill it up to a line with water, then air it up with your compressor. But you don't want to use it on a Class C fire as the water stream can connect you to the current, and it might actually spread a Class B liquid fire by splashing it around.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The ratings are different fire types. Class A is nomal combustibles (wood, paper, plastics). Class B is flammable liquids and gases (oil based finishes, gasoline, ect.) And class C fires are energized objects like machinery if it has a power supply. Class D is flammable metals, and is not normally encountered, they tend to have powdered extinguishing agents that smother the fire. The extinguishers are rated according to class and the amount of fire it can extinguish, measured in square feet. For instance, a Kidde Garage/Shop extinguisher is rated 3A; 40BC.

Most people can meet their needs with an ABC extinguisher (monoammonium phosphate or some other dry chemical agent, generally with nitrogen as the propelling agent), they're cheap and easy to find. The main drawbacks are they are a one shot deal, after you use one, they leak powder from the orifice, and they make a godawful mess to clean up. Also some of the agents are corrosive. Not as bad a mess as a fire, so there's a trade off. Can be recharged by a company, but might be cheaper to replace.

CO2 extinguishers are more expensive to purchase and recharge, but multiple use, and they don't make a mess. They're rated for BC fires.

Finally, the Class A extinguisher (water can) is easy to use and recharge. You put in a class A foam, dishwashing liquid will do, fill it up to a line with water, then air it up with your compressor. But you don't want to use it on a Class C fire as the water stream can connect you to the current, and it might actually spread a Class B liquid fire by splashing it around.

Really appreciate the information. Wouldn't fire extinguishers make wonderful holiday gifts! Granted perhaps not everyone would appreciate them, but I certainly would.

SQ

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How long do they last? I have had mine since we moved into this house 13 years ago, one large ABC in the kitchen and another smaller ABC in the shop.

Fire inspector told me the ones you by at the Lowes or HD replace every three years but inspect yearly. Mark the reading on the pressure gauge when you buy it with a sharpy. Yearly take it off the wall and shake it and beat on it with a rubber mallet. The stuff inside gets compacted. If the gauge is not in the same spot as it was on date of purchase buy a new one. Shake it and make sure you hear the powder moving, if not buy a new one.

Don

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share