By Patricia Dusman
A New Feature for ProWax Journal: Working in the Encaustic Studio
A new series will feature short articles by various writers on topics that provide useful information. The idea is that readers can easily reference details they may need at a later date.
The series begins with Patricia Dusman’s Safety Equipment for Your Studio, highlighting three types of equipment to make your studio a safer place to work.
— Nancy Natale, Featured Articles Editor
Perhaps you thought that the only type of safety equipment needed in your studio was for ventilation. This Q&A article focuses on three other types of safety equipment that most artists need, especially if they work with encaustic paint.
Do I need to have a fire extinguisher in my studio and if so, what type should I have?
Having at least one fire extinguisher in your studio is a safe practice, especially since you are using many electrical appliances, hot wax, and perhaps live flames. Keep appropriate working fire extinguishers handy near all exits of your studio. Place extinguishers near exits so that you know where one is at all times. If you mount them on the wall near exits, they won’t get knocked over or buried under something in your studio and can be found by anyone.
Types of fires are distinguished by types of materials burned. Types A, B, and C, as illustrated below, are the most common. Fire extinguishers are rated either specifically to fight one type of fire or are rated “multipurpose” for all three types.
Multipurpose fire extinguishers are best for use in the studio because they work on any type of fire that may occur, including solvent, grease or wax. You can purchase them at your local home improvement store or online, from Amazon, for example, for $20 to $50 depending on size.
How to choose a fire extinguisher
You should buy the largest fire extinguisher that you are comfortable using and that is within your budget. The larger the extinguisher, the more time and chemicals you will have on your side for fighting fires. Once the extinguisher has been used, it should be disposed of and you should purchase a new one. You will also need to purchase a new one when the dial on the extinguisher shows that the pressure within has decreased (the needle moves from the green zone to the red zone). It is possible to get a fire extinguisher refilled, but generally if you have an inexpensive one, it is probably not worth doing since it may cost as much as purchasing a new one. You can recycle your old extinguisher as metal waste at a recycling center.
SERIOUS FIRE NOTE: Trying to extinguish a wax fire with water will cause it to explode into the air as the water turns to gas. If you cannot quickly extinguish a small fire in a few seconds by using one of the following items you have set aside for such a purpose — a damp rag, a pot lid, a fire blanket, or a fire extinguisher— then call 911. A fire can get out of control in seconds. Call for help and leave the studio.
How do I safely store butane and propane cylinders? And what about solvents?
The safest practice is to have just one small propane canister in your studio at one time. Any extras should be stored in a garage space or a protected exterior space. Larger refillable propane tanks should be stored outside when not being used as they can leak and cause an explosion. Take care when handling gas cylinders that you don’t damage the nozzles.
Flammable solvents, such as turpentine, should also be kept in minimal amounts and in well-sealed containers. The safest practice is to store them in fire resistant metal cabinets, as shown in the example below. These cabinets offer fire resistance of at least 30 minutes, but are a more expensive investment.
If you do not have a safety cabinet, you should at minimum be sure to store flammable solvents well away from the area where you use your torches. Here is a link to a safety cabinet on Amazon.
What about safe disposal of rags and paper towels with oil, solvent, or pigment stick residue?
Pigment Sticks contain pigment, wax, and linseed oil. The linseed oil is combustible so the rags or paper towels used with pigment sticks as well as oil paint are a fire hazard. They can smolder and combust spontaneously into flames as heat is generated during the drying process. This is because oils on rags and paper towels do not dry like oil paint (through the evaporation of volatile compounds, also known as solvents, and the hardening of pigment and oil). Linseed oil and similar products dry by oxidation or exposure to air. Combustion occurs when heat from the oxidation process is trapped in a pile of rags or paper towels. Any oily rags or paper towels should be thrown into a closed metal safety can until they can be disposed of properly. A metal safety waste can with a tight lid prevents the rags from exposure to air, thus smothering combustion and containing any potential flames. (If you are interested, here’s a link for more information about how oil paintings dry.)
Link for how oil paintings dry: http://painting.about.com/od/oilpainting/f/how-oil-paint-dries.htm
The Justrite Safety Can is available from an industrial safety supply company or through Amazon ($50). It has a foot-operated cover so that it’s very easy to use. The can should be kept closed at all times and the waste emptied and taken outside on a daily basis. If you use gloves or any other solvents or oils they should be disposed of in the safety can as well. It might be a good idea to pour some water on the rags and paper towels after bagging them for disposal to cut down on the chances of combustion inside the bag until the trash can be picked up. This safety can is an investment well worth the money to save a studio fire.
Patricia Dusman, originally from New York City and now living in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, is an artist who works in encaustic and has presented talks on Safety Practices in the Encaustic Studio at two International Encaustic Conferences. She studied printmaking and photography at Bard College, where she obtained a degree in biology. She also has an MS in Biotechnology from William Paterson University. Patricia’s concern about safety began after she experienced physical reactions from working with darkroom chemicals. Her interest and research led her to writing her senior thesis on the “Possible Mutagenicity of Photographic Darkroom Chemicals.” Later, working professionally in medical labs and doing pharmaceutical research, she trained in all aspects of laboratory and workplace safety.