Using a Blowpipe for Goldsmithing and Mineral Analysis
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Using a Blowpipe for Goldsmithing and Mineral Analysis

A blowpipe has been used for goldsmithing work and mineral analysis for thousands of years. Its history goes back into antiquity and has survived until modern times when its use was supplanted by bunsen burners and spectroscopes.

Using the blowpipe for goldsmithing and mineral analysis is almost a lost art at this point but it is something you should become familiar with if you are prospecting for gold, being a jewelry maker, or just a plain rockhound.

Although it is relegated to the distant past by the use of modern methods the blow pipe has largely been forgotten. Aat one time it was on the cutting edge of mineral analysis giving the prospector an analysis tool for use on his findings in the field. It was and is capable of giving you a qualitative analysis, and is responsible for finding many mineral deposits besides gold.

A case in point was the discovery of borax in Death Valley during the 1800s giving rise to the Twenty Mule Team Borax Company of today. In its heyday the blowpipe was responsible for the discovery of 15 different elements. It was the invention of the Bunsen burner along with the spectroscope that ended this role and mineral analysis during the 19th century.

The use of the blowpipe dates back to the land of Khem an ancient name for North Africa this same land lent its name to the word “Alchemist,” and chemistry. Because of its association with alchemy it fell into disfavor for centuries being resurrected in the late 1600s. It was instrumental in giving us the modern science of Chemistry. It reigned supreme as an analytical instrument until the 1860s when it was replaced with the Bunsen burner and the spectroscope. Because it made a small intensely hot flame it also had wide use in glassblowing and jewelry making it possible to solder small components on the piece being worked on.

A laboratory blowpipe is an instrument slightly less then a foot long usually made of brass tubing that is tapered down from a quarter inch opening at its rear to a pinhole opening at its front end. The pipe is usually bent at right angles 2 inches from its front. In use the blowpipe is used to blow an intensely hot flame from an alcohol lamp to ignite a place on a charcoal block. The analysis takes place usually on the charcoal block although for certain analyses the operator uses a plaster of Paris block instead, impinging on it with an intense stream of fire that is blown from an alcohol or kerosene lamp by blowing through the flame. This technique will create an intensely hot flame.

By blowing on a small specimen of the material being tested that is no larger then a BB. The blowpipe is able to reduce it to a small sized shot of the metal in the specimen and a colored halo around the sample that precipitates onto the charcoal or Plaster of Paris as the case may be.

The accompanying references give a good detailed explanation of using the blowpipe for field analysis.


Burchard, Ulrich, The History and Apparatus of Blowpipe Analysis, The Mineralogical Record,

A Brief History of Blowpipe Analysis,

Dana, James Dwight, Manual of Mineralogy, 1865, New Haven Ct.,

This is a reproduction of James Dwight Dana's monumental “Manual of Mineralogy” and is well worth reading. The description of blowpipe analysis in its hay day is on pages 67 to 71.

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Comments (1)

John I HOPE you are writing a novel woven around these articles - there is a WEALTH (good pun hey:-) of material lurking there!