What is a Thermal Lance?

Michael Anissimov

A thermal lance, also known as a burning bar or thermic lance, is an industrial tool that uses the oxidization of iron to generate very high temperatures (7000 to 8000°F, or 3,871 to 4,426°C) for cutting through just about anything, including rock. The temperature generated is greater than the melting point of any known substance - with diamond having the highest at 3,547°C or 6,416°F.

An oxyacetylene torch is often used to light a thermal lance.
An oxyacetylene torch is often used to light a thermal lance.

Thermal lances are hollow bars filled with iron wires. High purity oxygen is pumped throughout the interior of the lance, and the end must be lit by a high-temperature source, such as an oxyacetylene torch.

The thermal lance has many uses — it can be used whenever some metallic or non-metallic material must be removed from an area, or cut in half, and there is no other way. In industrial spillage incidents, when molten material is spilled, it can be allowed to solidify and then cleaned up with this tool. For coastal buildings, interior concrete sometimes breaks down to produce what is called "concrete cancer." A thermal lance can be used to remove this degrading concrete so that replacement material can be packed in.

In emergency situations where rubble must be cleared to reach trapped people, a thermal lance may be used to break apart the biggest pieces of rubble so that other machinery can remove it. For large earth moving machines that have pins which can get stuck or bent, the lance can remove faulty pins. In high-temperature furnaces, reflective tiles or spouts can be damaged by the molten material, requiring removal via thermal lance.

More applications including cutting apart objects for scrap and removing awkward parts of buildings, like statues or bank vaults.

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Discussion Comments


The tubes are made out of a variety of metals (e.g., copper, magnesium, iron). The hollow tube *is* the lance itself and is consumed while being used.


What is the hollow tube of a thermal lance made from? Surely this will burn away.


Thermal lances are not that hard to build, either. It has its dangerous part and bits, but more so when you actually try and use them. I am in the process of documenting the steps I have actually gone through to build several different sizes.


Will aluminum oxidize quicker in different climates? e.g. Philadelphia, PA vs Bangkok, Thailand what is the reason?

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