Need do-it-yourself science equipment

I am a big fan of science. I am working on making a homemade lab. I take all the safety precautions I can (btw, who knows how to build a blast shield?) and I am kind of tight on cash right now. However, I realize that a lot of things can be made with household items. Things like boiling flasks made from light bulbs with the bottoms screwed off, and ring stands with sturdy wire. I have a propane torch, so I don’t think I need an alcohol lamp.

Does anyone have ideas on things that can be made like that? Are there any books on it?

Mods: I hope this is in the right section. If not, please move it.

Dunno about the homemade stuff, but if you haven’t already you might like to check out American Science & Surplus. They’re on the Web – just Google them. The place where I used to work printed their catalogs. All kinds of weird sciency stuff. Looked fun.

By “science”, I assume you mean “chemistry”?

Yes Darwin, you are correct. Chemistry is basically my life. I divide my time inbetween when I am in the lab and when I am not. I plan on majoring in it. I also want to run a few harmless things when I can’t access the lab. Things like making esters and polyester (regarding the polyester, can someone point me to a place with instructions on making it?). No big booms or petrochemicals or psychadelics.

Please do consider using quality glassware and alcohol lamps wher appropriate. A high temp propane torch is not a subtitute for a low temp alcohol flame and bulbs are somewhat fragile after you’ve broken the bo ttom off.

Get to the library (public or university), and see if they have back issues of Scientific American. Read the old “Amateur Scientist” column. Every month, they’d feature an amateur science project (often chemistry) which could be built on a shoestring budget, using common household items.

I’ve been trying to locate a copy of a chemistry book my high school library had, which was written for young scientists who wanted to set up their own laboratories. It was written in the 1930’s, back when kids were still apparently encouraged to actual do stuff with chemistry, both practical and experimental. In my high school, we never learned to apply anything we did in chemistry class. This book had instructions on making fireworks.

These days, nobody would publish such a book, because they’d get their pants sued off. But it was a very different and many ways very exciting world back then. I’ve got a copy of a book called The Boy Mechanic which is full of articles on building such things as toy cannons (known in the modern parlance as zip guns) and fire them electronically. They book also features plans for a very old-fashioned looking hang glider. No one these days would encourage a child to build their own hang glider.

The book is like a grimoire. It’s like I’m looking into a magical past, in which technology wasn’t just something we were passively adapting to. It was something we got our hands dirty actually building. Kids were encouraged to go into their own garages and build scale-model combustion engines. Even today, when technology is better and cheaper, this stuff is no less amazing. If the workings of this miracle-making technology were alien and mysterious to people in the past, it is only more so to people now, because we are only more alienated from it – they don’t even try to teach it to children any more. The kid who can open up The Boy Mechanic and make use of its knowledge is a wizard, a wonder maker.

chronos- I loved that column! It was sad to see it go. I will have to dig up old copies of SciAm and look for things that I can do. Thanks for reminding me!

Beautifully said.

 I remember my first magnifying glass. With this I could uncover hidden truths and secret knowledge. I remember my chemistry set. I remember telling my mother I accidentally dropped a test-tube in the toilet. 
       I have currently forgotten almost everything I knew about electronics. But, I have a soldering iron, a multimeter, heaps of salvaged parts, and the hunger for science. 

    I will build a theremin, and make an instrument that is played without being touched.

I will build a bat detector, and render unheard voices audible.

I will build an ultralight from junk, and probably fall to a stupid and crunchy death.

My fellow Dopers, to science!

red_dragon60, check out Lindsay Publications they sell The Boy Mechanics Series, plus Simple Scientific Experiments, How to Use Tin Can Metal in Science Projects, and Procedures in Experimental Physics (which tells you how to make your own lab equipment) to name but a few of the books they offer that are probably what you’re looking for.

I’d have to recommend pretty strongly against the light bulb boiling flask rig. Especially if you’re going with a propane torch instead of an alcohol lamp, which pretty much ensures you’ll be within range of glass fragments when it fails from temperature stress.

An alcohol lamp will be cheaper to use over a fairly short period of time, compared to said propane torch. Plus, you can get bargain priced science equipment a variety of places around the net–LabX auctions, even ebay. Even Goodwill occassionally has a beaker set show up–I got one there myself.

Chemistry is one of those happy disciplines where it is actually possible to kill yourself and/or cause noticeable property damage if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’d recommend to sticking to well-documented literature experiments (not something cool-sounding you nab off the web), at least until you get through, say, college-level analytical chemistry or second semester organic. Even there, watch yourself; I once had to forcibly prevent a classmate from blowing the building sky-high (She wanted to use a bunsen burner to heat her solution. In a room full of ether fumes. She couldn’t understand why I pitched a fit when she was about to strike a match. :rolleyes: ) I’m not meaning to discourage you; scientific inquiry is a Good Thing. Just make sure you know all the little ins and outs of everything you deal with. (For example, in addition to never have an open flame around ether, why it should always be kept in the refrigerator. Stuff like that. Only well-planned explosions are fun.)

Ah, I know all about ether! I have a book called “The Organic Chem Lab Survival Manual”, which details, among other things, that you should never use open flame without really realy thinking through it. Good book. I’ll build an alcohol lamp then. I have a wick and a jar. Yes, chemistry is great in the ease in which you can kill yourself doing it. Thanks for all the help!

Use thick polycarbonate (lexan)?

For true explosions I wouldn’t trust a plastic shield. Better to use thick steel, and view things with a $50 video camera.

Some good links here on my site:

Science Hobbyist

Also, does everyone know that ALL of Scientific American’s THE AMATEUR SCIENTIST is out on CD for $50?

The Amateur Scientist: complete 20th century collection

Check out this site, full of Bizarre things you can make in your kitchen.

It’s always pretty fun.

Some of the posts got me to thinking about education in this country. Many of our greatest inventions/marketing achievements were basically some fellow in his garage. Case in point, young Arthur Collins, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was an amateur radio operator way back when, and for some reason was the only person able to communicate with the US Navy during polar expeditions, causing the Navy and others much embarrassment.

In any case, he went on to form Collins Radio Corporation, now Rockwell-Collins, etc etc…

I’m old enough to remember chemistry sets and other experiments, toys, and procedures that simply could not be marketed in todays “Cape does not enable user to fly” society. In some ways, our litigious society could be hurting our industrial creativity, so to speak. Yet another reason to thoroughly despise trial lawyers? Probably so.