19 Most frequently asked questions about Non-Sparking Tools
Updated: Feb 15
1. What is the meaning of non-sparking?
Non-sparking in the context of hand tools is defined as metals/tools that do not generate sparks (or cold sparks) when the tool hits or strikes another metal or concrete. They are commonly Copper-based alloys and are used to manufacture tools that do not generate sparks and are hence commonly referred to as non sparking.
2. What are non-sparking tools?
To begin, non-sparking tools, as their name implies, do not produce (hot) sparks. As a result, they are ideal for jobs involving flammable materials. When working in facilities/areas containing flammable solids, liquids, or gases regular steel tools cannot be used. If a steel tool slips/strikes equipment it will generate a hot spark – which can lead to a fire. Therefore, hand tools commonly made of copper-based alloy like Copper Titanium, Aluminum Bronze, Beryllium Copper or Copper-Nickel Alloys are referred to as non sparking tools.
3. Is brass considered non sparking material?
Brass is primarily a copper-based alloy, for any material or alloy to be classified as non-sparking – it has to be tested and certified as per relevant testing Standards (Read more about IS4595 safety standard). Fundamentally, brass may be non-sparking depending on the composition. However, if it is not certified or tested - It should not be used. Secondly Brass is a soft material, making hand tools of brass will not serve the desired purpose of Non-Sparking Hand Tools – they will bend or wear out very quickly thereby defeating the purpose.
4. Non sparking tools are made up from which material?
Non sparking tools are made up from copper based alloys like copper-titanium alloys, copper-nickel alloys, copper-aluminum alloys (or Aluminum Bronze), bronze or brass. The tools made from these materials are softer than conventional steel tools since they are made of non-ferrous metals (primarily Copper). However, they have one advantage that no other tool can match i.e., they produce cold sparks with little heat and thus do not ignite any flammable material present in the environment.
5. Why is aluminum non sparking?
Pure Aluminum or an aluminum-based alloy (where primary metal is Al) are NOT classified under Non Sparking materials. Whereas Copper-based alloys containing aluminum commonly known as Aluminum Bronze, Aluminum Copper is Non-Sparking. Aluminum Bronze contains about ~ 11% Aluminum, ~ 5% Iron, 10% Nickel, and Remaining Copper.
6. Does stainless steel come under non-sparking?
Any material that produces frictional sparks when struck against a hard metal surface or concrete/stone cannot be classified as Non Sparking or suitable for use in flammable environments. Stainless Steel if a ferrous-based alloy and will produce sparking when struck and hence cannot be classified as Non-Sparking. Test certificates for any alloy should be validated before classifying them as non-sparking.
7. Who should use tools that are non-sparking?
Industries, where there is a high risk of explosion or fire, should use non-sparking tools. Industries that process, manufacture, store or transport flammable solids (propellants, explosives, ammonium perchlorate etc.), liquids (MSD, ethane etc) or gases (LPG, Hydrogen etc) have to take additional safety precautions as they are working in a high-risk environment. Non-Sparking hand tools are one such important safety measure that reduces the possibility of spark and therefore fire. Thus, industries like Oil & Gas, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, Paint Manufacturing, Power Plants, Explosives should make use of non-sparking tools. (Read how an Oil depot caught fire because of use of steel tools)
8. Why use non sparking tools?
Non-sparking tools exhibit unique property which makes them ideal for using in a flammable environment. Sparks created by iron and steel hand tools are a dangerous source of ignition when used near flammable materials. Non sparking tools made of Copper-based alloys like Copper Titanium, Aluminum Bronze or Copper Beryllium (Hazards of Beryllium) will keep you safe where this threat exists.
9. Can copper generate a spark?
The Spark is being referred to here as a mechanical or frictional spark. Copper - because of its excellent thermal and electrical properties does not produce frictional spark, whereas copper can produce electrical sparks. Non-Sparking Hand Tools should not be confused with Insulated Tools.
10. Is galvanized steel considered non sparking material?
No. Galvanized steel is not considered as non sparking material or alloy. It will produce frictional sparks when stuck with another metal/hard surface.
11. Why are Non Sparking tools sometimes referred to as Non magnetic?
Non Sparking Tools are also sometimes referred to as non magnetic because they allow magnetic fields to pass through them without being affected by them. Copper Titanium and Copper Beryllium allow complete magnetic fields to pass through them and can be classified as non magnetic. However, Aluminum Bronze contains two metals Iron and Nickel both of which demonstrate magnetic properties, therefore, when it comes to using non sparking tools in non magnetic applications use only copper titanium or beryllium copper tools. Aluminum bronze is not completely non-magnetic and can interfere with the magnetic field (Video of Copper titanium and Aluminum Bronze subjected to a magnetic field).
12. Which standard is used for non-sparking tools?
There are three major standards defined globally that test and determine whether an alloy can be categorized non-sparking or not. First is the Indian Standard i.e. IS 4595-1969(2006) which was constituted on January 29, 1969 and later re-affirmed in 2006. The second is FM Approval (USA) i.e. FM 7190. Third is BAM Certification by an institute in Germany. All three standards primarily check the spark generation capability of the material/alloy. The certification of any one or more of the standards should be acceptable. (Read how an alloy is tested for Non Sparking properties as per IS 4595 Standard)
13. When working with flammable gases or explosive chemicals, what kind of tools should be used?
Hand tools made of iron or steel can emit sparks and therefore should NOT be used. Only certified or tested alloys for Non-Sparking properties should be used. Common Hand tools like spanners, wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, slogging spanners should be used based on the torque range and type of Nuts, bolts etc. (download a catalog of over 2500 standard Non-sparking Hand Tools). If standards tools do not do the job, you can get customized Non-Sparking Hand Tools designed and manufactured based on your needs. Never use fabricated or ‘jugaad’ tools when working with flammable gases or explosives because safety is paramount.
14. What factors contribute to a metal to be non-sparking?
The primary factor that contributes for a metal to be non sparking is the fundamental property of Copper. Copper has excellent thermal and electrical properties and can therefore transfer heat quickly. When a friction spark occurs between copper and a hard surface the energy generated at the point of friction is quickly absorbed by copper allowing only cold sparks to be generated – thus making the alloy non sparking. Alloying elements like Titanium, Beryllium are added to strengthen copper.
15. Why non sparking tools are considered as safety tools?
Non Sparking Tools as the name suggests do not produce sparks (or cold sparks) that are recommended to be used in flammable environments this helps protect the safety of the plant, equipment and most importantly – human life. Hence, they are called safety tools. Earlier, many companies used to buy non-sparking to complete a safety audit point, but used steel tools in the field. The increase in fire accidents and with loss of life, companies are now mandating the use of Non-sparking hand tools.
16. What is the correct way to use non sparking tools?
There, certain recommended practices for use of Non-Sparking Hand Tools which are as follows:
1. Follow the DO and DONTs.
Non-Sparking Hand Tools do not exhibit the strength characteristics of steel tools because they are primarily copper based tools. While Non-Sparking tools are strong and durable they cannot take the abuse that a steel tool can take. When tools are used as per recommended practices then they can give very good life. For example, a qualifying torque of a steel wrench of 25 mm has a torque rating of 496 Nm (as per IS 6131 Standards). A Copper Titanium Non-Sparking tool will pass that standard and will probably break at 900~1200 Nm with is ~50% more than the qualifying torque, whereas a steel tool can take up ~2400 Nm (~200%). Overloading of Non-Sparking tools should not be done at any cost. It can not only lead to the failure of tools but can injure the operator or damage the equipment. Watch a video of how copper titanium non-sparking tools are torque tested.
2. Check for damages, chipping or wear and tear
Over time the tools will undergo wear and tear. Always inspect your tools before use for any chipping, damages etc. Do not use such tools as they can break during use.
3. Keep Tools Clean and Dry
After you have used the tools, there is a chance that chemicals, solvents, powders etc which are flammable in nature have got stuck to the tools – this is not safe. Always clean your tools with dry cotton cloth to remove anything that may be stuck, this will also increase the longevity of the tools.
4. Maintain a tools box or a bag:
After use, keep the tools properly is a dedicated toolbox or a tool bag so that they are not lost among other steel tools or equipment. It is highly recommended that heavier tools like pipe wrenches, or hammers be kept at the bottom and light duty tools like screwdrivers, pliers etc be kept on the top, this will not damage the tools and give long life.
5. Dispose of your tools properly.
Dispose of worn-out tools properly to an authorized recycle agent. For example, where beryllium copper tools are being used, after the end of life, the worn out tools should be given someone who is authorized or has the necessary safety equipment and technology to process beryllium alloys. Beryllium is carcinogen and can cause cancer. Copper titanium which is a safer one-to-one replacement to Beryllium Copper
17. Which are the countries that manufacture Non-Sparking Tools?
Non-Sparking Hand Tools were first developed in the United States over 75 years ago, where they manufactured Copper Beryllium and Aluminum Bronze Non Sparking and tools. As the demand for Non-Sparking Tools increase a few companies in Europe started manufacturing and marketing these tools.
With the world recognizing the hazards and dangers of dealing with beryllium. Companies in the USA and Europe shifed to manufacturing only AlBr tools in their country. While there was a demand for Beryllium Copper tools and therefore all manufacturing of Beryllium Copper Non-Sparking tools shifted majorly to China.
Over the last two decades and with a shift of major manufacturing to China. Non-Sparking hand tools manufacturing also shifted to China. Majority of the companies get Non-Sparking tools manufactured under their brand name in China. Over the last decade, India has been added to the list as a manufacturer of Non-Sparking Hand Tools, with the launch a new alloy i.e. Copper Titanium. Non-Sparking hand tools of Copper Titanium are only made in India.
18. Can we use non-sparking tools for acetylene?
According to U.S. Department of Labor , Mine Safety and Health Administration “Acetylene forms explosive compounds with copper, brass, copper salts, mercury/mercury salts, silver/silver salts and nitric acid. Under no circumstances should acetylene gas come in contact with unalloyed copper, except in a torch. Any contact of acetylene with high-alloyed copper piping will generate copper acetylide, which is very reactive and may result in a violent explosion” All commonly know non-Sparking Hand tools i.e., Copper Titanium, Copper Beryllium and Aluminum Bronze have high copper content >85% which can be dangerous while working in environment containing acetylene. It is recommended to use Non-Sparking Tools with copper content less than 65% to avoid a reaction in case there is a leakage of acetylene gas.
19. Can we use non-sparking tools for electrical equipment maintenance?
No, you cannot use Non-Sparking Hand Tools with electrical equipment. Commonly misunderstood Non-Sparking Hand tools are used to prevent any frictional or mechanical sparks. Non Sparking tools are made of copper will conduct electricity. With electrical equipment you need Insulated tools to protect the user from electrical shocks.