BLOWPIPE, in the arts and chemistry, a tube for directing a jet of air into a fire or into the flame of a lamp or gas jet, for the purpose of producing a high temperature by accelerating the combustion. The blowpipe has been in common use from the earliest times for soldering metals and working glass, but its introduction into systematic chemical analysis is to be ascribed to A.F. Cronstedt, and not to Anton Swab, as has been maintained (see J. Landauer, Ber. 26, p. 898). The first work on this application of the blowpipe was by G. v. Engeström, and was published in 1770 as an appendix to a treatise on mineralogy. Its application has been variously improved at the hands of T.O. Bergman, J.G. Gahn, J.J. Berzelius, C.F. Plattner and others, but more especially by the two last-named chemists.
The simplest and oldest form of blowpipe is a conical brass tube, about 7 in. in length, curved at the small end into a right angle, and terminating in a small round orifice, which is applied to the flame, while the larger end is applied to the mouth. Where the blast has to be kept up for only a few seconds, this instrument is quite serviceable, but in longer chemical operations inconvenience arises from the condensation of moisture exhaled by the lungs in the tube. Hence most blowpipes are now made with a cavity for retaining the moisture. Cronstedt placed a bulb in the centre of his blowpipe. Dr Joseph Black's instrument consists of a conical tube of tin plate, with a small brass tube, supporting the nozzle, inserted near the wider end, and a mouth-piece at the narrow end.
The sizes of orifice recommended by Plattner are 0.4 and 0.5 mm. A trumpet mouth-piece is recommended from the support it gives to the cheeks when inflated. The mode of blowing is peculiar, and requires some practice; an uninterrupted blast is kept up by the muscular action of the cheeks, while the ordinary respiration goes on through the nostrils.
If the flame of a candle or lamp be closely examined, it will be seen to consist of four parts - (a) a deep blue ring at the base, (b) a dark cone in the centre, (c) a luminous portion round this, and (d) an exterior pale blue envelope (see Flame). In blowpipe work only two of these four parts are made use of, viz. the pale envelope, for oxidation, and the luminous portion, for reduction. To obtain a good oxidizing flame, the blowpipe is held with its nozzle inserted in the edge of the flame close over the level of the wick, and blown into gently and evenly. A conical jet is thus produced, consisting of an inner cone, with an outer one commencing near its apex - the former, corresponding to (a) in the free flame, blue and well defined; the latter corresponding to (d), pale blue and vague. The heat is greatest just beyond the point of the inner cone, combustion being there most complete. Oxidation is better effected (if a very high temperature be not required) the farther the substance is from the apex of the inner cone, for the air has thus freer access. To obtain a good reducing flame (in which the combustible matter, very hot, but not yet burned, is disposed to take oxygen from any compound containing it), the nozzle, with smaller orifice, should just touch the flame at a point higher above the wick, and a somewhat weaker current of air should be blown. The flame then appears as a long, narrow, luminous cone, the end being enveloped by a dimly visible portion of flame corresponding to that which surrounds the free flame, while there is also a dark nucleus about the wick. The substance to be reduced is brought into the luminous portion, where the reducing power is strongest.
Various materials are used as supports for substances in the blowpipe flame; the principal are charcoal, platinum and glass or porcelain. Charcoal is valuable for its infusibility and low conductivity for heat (allowing substances to be strongly heated upon it), and for its powerful reducing properties; so that it is chiefly employed in testing the fusibility of minerals and in reduction. The best kind of charcoal is that of close-grained pine or alder; it is cut in short prisms, having a flat smooth surface at right angles to the rings of growth. In this a shallow hole is made for receiving the substance to be held in the flame. Gas-carbon is sometimes used, since it is more permanent in the flame than wood charcoal. Platinum is employed in oxidizing processes, and in the fusion of substances with fluxes; also in observing the colouring effect of substances on the blowpipe flame (which effect is apt to be somewhat masked by charcoal). Most commonly it is used in the form of wire, with a small bend or loop at the end.
The mouth blowpipe is unsuitable for the production of a large flame, and cannot be used for any lengthy operations; hence recourse must be made to types in which the air-blast is occasioned by mechanical means. The laboratory form in common use consists of a bellows worked by either hand or foot, and a special type of gas burner formed of two concentric tubes, one conveying the blast, the other the gas; the supply of air and gas being regulated by stopcocks. The hot blast blowpipe of T. Fletcher, in which the blast is heated by passing through a copper coil heated by a separate burner, is only of service when a pointed flame of a fairly high temperature is required. Blowpipes in which oxygen is used as the blast have been manufactured by Fletcher, Russell & Co., and have proved of great service in conducting fusions which require a temperature above that yielded by the air-blowpipe.
For the applications of the blowpipe in chemical analysis see Chemistry: Analytical.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)