Archive for the ‘Chemistry’ Category

Discount Glassware

I recently purchased a lab’s worth of glassware from Ginsberg Scientific on Amazon for about $70. The individual pieces are as follows: Griffin beakers, one 50ml, two 250ml and one 600ml — Erlenmeyer flasks; one 50ml, two 250ml and one 500ml –six medicine droppers — six stir rods 6″ — one graduated cylinder 10ml — one graduated cylinder 100ml — one serological pipet — twelve test tubes 16x150mm — one short stem funnel 75mm x 75mm. All (with the possible exception of the eyedroppers) are of Bomex borosilicate glass and are resistant to thermal shock. I hope to be using these soon.


Car Battery Salvage

As a follow up to my Lantern Battery Salvage, I thought I’d do an article on car batteries and the useful things that can be found in them. Car batteries are a little hard to come by; I got mine from a lawn mower that was being scrapped, but you could also check your local dump for one. Keep your eyes open though, because they can be almost as useful in pieces as they are whole. From a good battery you can get lead, lead dioxide, and sulfuric acid. Each of these is useful in some way.

1. The first thing I did was charge the battery to its full capacity, as a dead battery contains no sulfuric acid, lead, or lead dioxide, only lead sulfate. Old batteries should be avoided too, for the reason that as they get older less and less of the lead sulfate converts back into its components.

2.Once it was charged I drilled a hole into the base of each cell and drained the sulfuric acid into a glass jar. I dripped a little onto the wooden deck I was working on which didn’t worry me until I noticed that the screws were fizzing. After washing it off with baking soda water there was a white mark where the acid had bleached it back to it’s original color. I decided it might be a good idea to continue on the gravel driveway.

3.  Next, I used a Dremel Tool to cut off the top and reveal the plates. If the battery is charged then the positive terminal is connected to lead dioxide and the negative terminal to lead. In my battery the lead dioxide was a powder pressed onto a grid and the lead was in a plastic bag. If the battery is uncharged then all of the plates will be lead sulfate.

4. It took about an hour to pull the plates out and separate the chemicals from the battery. I didn’t use gloves for this because my leather gloves tore open, and the acid stung like hell and stained my fingers for a couple days.

5. To purify the sulfuric acid I let the lead settle and filtered it. I will probably boil it later to concentrate it.

So to sum up, I got two jars of sulfuric acid, lead, and lead dioxide, all of dubious purity. I had planned of making a lead dioxide anode but electroplating is more trouble than it’s worth and the other method I’d heard of – mixing lead dioxide with epoxy- gives too much resistance to be viable.

Just as a demonstration of the sulfuric acid, these are the gloves and pants that I was wearing during all of this.

Categories: Chemicals, Chemistry

Lantern Battery Salvage

March 25, 2010 2 comments

The other day I found a six-volt lantern battery and decided to see what I could salvage from it. After doing some research, I learned that lantern batteries are made of four long F-cells that are individually composed of a carbon core, a large quantity of manganese dioxide mixed with either ammonium chloride or zinc chloride, and lastly a paper sheath. Sometimes each battery will be individually cased in zinc but this was not the case for me.

1. I first cut off the top with a Dremel Tool to reveal the F-cells. They were fit in pretty tightly, so I had to do four more cuts down the sides in order to slip them out.

2. I then pulled out the carbon rods and peeled back the paper cover to reveal the manganese dioxide.

3.  Finally I added water to the manganese dioxide to dissolve the electrolyte and decanted into a filter to dispose of the separate them. You could keep the electrolyte, but I don’t know what it could be used for.

From this I got four black carbon electrodes and a large quantity of manganese dioxide. Any zinc collected might be worth saving as an electrode.

How to Make Thermite

January 18, 2010 2 comments

Thermite is an incendiary reaction that can burn as hot as 2500°C or more. That means that if you lit a pound of thermite on top of your car it would melt through your hood, through your engine, through your driveway, and make a hole in the ground. Thermite is a reaction between a metal (aluminum, magnesium) and a metal oxide (iron oxide, copper oxide, manganese oxide…) this reaction has a high ignition temperature, but once its ignited it supplies it’s own oxygen. This allows for some interesting applications, for example thermite is still used today for underwater welding.

Safety Precautions

Before you get started, you must realize that what you are about to do is a dangerous and energetic reaction that should only be performed with the utmost care. Besides its ridiculously high temperature, thermite also emits UV radiation that can do permanent damage to your eyes and if you don’t want to wear a welding mask, at least put on a pair of good quality sun glasses. Also, metals with a low melting point (zinc, lead) will vaporize and explode if near the thermite reaction.


There are many kinds of thermite, but the most common uses iron oxide and aluminum powder, both of which can be made at home (see my instructions for How to Make Iron Oxide and How to Make Aluminum Powder). You also need a way to ignite the thermite. Most people use magnesium ribbon, but I haven’t had much luck with that and usually use potassium permanganate and glycerine. Potassium permanganate is a filter cleaner and a dye sold at hardware stores or online at e-Bay. Glycerine is a skin care produce and can be found at any drug store like CVS and once again at e-Bay. When mixed they spurt flames like my mother’s cooking. Additional things that you might want include a flowerpot to contain the mixture while it’s burning, bricks to hold it up, and something to melt. If you don’t have anything to destroy, at the very least just put some sand under it to keep it from ruining your driveway. What ever you do, don’t use water to catch the drops. Water will instantly vaporize, explode, and spray you with molten iron- generally something to avoid. If you’re interested, this is an example of what happens when you have even the slightest amount of moisture.

1. By weight the ratio of iron oxide to aluminum powder is 8-3. Both should be powdered as fine as possible as this will make it burn hotter and ignite easier. Measure them out, and mix as thoroughly as possible- this will make it burn faster and hotter and is well worth your time.

2. Pour the thermite into your container. Flower pots are most commonly used, but almost anything will work. Flower pots are used because clay is one of the only materials that will still be there after hell has reigned. If you do use a flower pot, you should consider using two. The second pot will contain the shards of the first and reduce the risk of it breaking halfway through. The only thing that I would advise against is glass as it might shatter before it melts.

3. If you’re using magnesium, stick it in, fray the top to make it easier to light, and light it. If you’re using potassium permanganate, then pour it in, mix it in a little bit with the thermite, and add the glycerine. Rule of thumb is two to three parts glycerine to one part potassium permanganate. It usually helps to stir the ingredients after you add the glycerine. If it still won’t light, adding powdered magnesium or powder rubbed off of a sparkler makes it easier to ignite. Whatever you do, stand way back.

4. If it lights, then yell, cheer, and behold the awesome power of thermite. If it doesn’t light, then re-evaluate and try something different.

Thermite can also be bought online from e-Bay or Skylighter. If you buy from e-Bay then you can sometimes buy it as a kit, but you will have to buy the chemicals individually from Skylighter.

If you have any success with this and feel like more of a challenge, or just want to try something different, then this website has good instructions for silicon dioxide thermite and other more exotic recipes.

How to Make Aluminum Powder

January 10, 2010 3 comments

Aluminum  Powder is an ingredient in thermite and when ground fine enough becomes a flash powder that could demolish a building in seconds. Photographers use it to create a bright light for a picture, wood workers use it to fill joints, and aluminum powder was even what the tin man used as makeup.


The supplies for this one are easy, just aluminum and something to grind it in. The most common source of aluminum is foil, but this isn’t always the cheapest. Other sources include drink cans, aluminum pots and pans or even heat syncs off of computers; it doesn’t really matter what alloy of aluminum. If you’re out of ideas, try taking a trip to the dump. The blender is usually more expensive and difficult to find. Whether you use a two-hundred dollar blender or a ten-dollar coffee grinder, it doesn’t really matter. Keep in mind that you get what you paid for and you will have to be a lot nicer to a cheaper blender and it will probably break sooner. There are alternatives to a blender like using a bench grinder or a fine grit power sander. Here are plans for one such alternative. The result from this may be finer or coarser and you should decide for yourself what works best.

1. No matter what size blender you got, the blades are usually small and you will have to make your aluminum fit. For foil, this means tearing it into ribbons, but for something thicker you will probably have to get out some tin snips. If the blades jam up, it puts stress on the joint and the motor-both of which will eventually break. Don’t take the chance and use small pieces of aluminum. Only use something thicker than an aluminum can if you’re very confident- foil isn’t expensive, but blenders are and replacing them gets old fast.

2. The longer you blend it, the finer the powder will be. You will need to continually add more, especially at the beginning, because the volume decreases and the powder won’t reach the bottom of the blades. A blender won’t ever give you particles smaller than that of fine sand. If you intend to use it for anything other than rough thermite then you will have to ball mill it.

3. Aluminum oxidizes on contact with oxygen and blending it uncovers new surfaces. When you open the lid, oxygen pours in, and if the powder oxidizes fast enough, then it will get hot enough to ignite. To avoid this, open the lid at least every ten to fifteen minutes. Make sure you mill your aluminum in a well-ventilates area and let the powder settle before you open the lid; aluminum is poisonous and breathing it in is not a good idea.

4. Store in a cool dry place; I personally suggest glass jars of some kind.

If you are lazy, and or have the money for it, you can also buy aluminum powder at Skylighter, or on e-Bay. e-Bay will be cheaper, but you won’t always find powder of the same size or purity, also make sure that you’re buying from a trusted vendor.

Also, here is an interesting video demonstration of thermite, and if you’re interested in trying a different type of thermite, try here.

How to Make Iron Oxide (Rust)

January 1, 2010 1 comment

Rust is a valuable ingredient in many pyrotechnic recipes, mainly thermite, but it can also be added to other mixtures as an oxidizer. In any case it might be useful to have a jar on hand, if you can’t think of anything more interesting to do with it; you can always paint with it.


First, you need DC current. You can get this from car battery chargers, toy car chargers, batteries, or you can buy one. The higher the amps, the faster the process will work, but be careful, you don’t want that current going through you. Next you need some iron or steel. This is easy enough to come by, but the local dump is an especially good source of stock metal. The final supplies are salt water a tub and a location outside with an outlet.

  1. Put the pieces of iron on opposite sides of the tube and make sure that they’re not touching. The iron will only rust on one side, so it is advisable to put most of it on that side.
  2. Add water as high as you can and still leave some metal exposed (if the leads are underwater then they’ll rust just as fast as the iron).
  3. Add a couple tablespoons of salt to the water and stir it in (more salt will work better, but it will also contaminate your rust more).
  4. Put the negative lead on the side with less metal. If you’re not sure which lead is negative, turn on the electricity. The negative lead should bubble more.
  5. Leave it running in a well ventilated area because it gives off chlorine gas. The longer you leave it running the more rust you will get, be patient. If the temperature is higher then it will rust faster, but heating it is too impractical for most people.
  6. When you are done, pour off excess liquid. This will get rid of some of the dissolved salt; to further purify: add water, let settle, and repeat. After this, heat it gently until dry.
  7. Use a mortar and pestle or a bowl and spoon to grind up you’re newly made iron oxide. It shouldn’t be very difficult, rust is quite soft. Put the iron oxide through a sieve to pull out the larger chunks of un-oxidized iron that flaked off.
  8. Once you are finished you can store it in a cool dry place-I prefer cleaned out tomato sauce jars. Congratulate yourself on a job well done, you just became more self-reliant.

What you are essentially doing is electrolysis-using electricity to break the covalent bonds of the H2O into Hydrogen and Oxygen. If you wish, you can collect the resulting gasses. Hydrogen will form at the negative lead and oxygen at the positive. Hydrogen will be the lead that bubbles more since there are twice as many hydrogen atoms in a molecule of H2O. Since you used sodium chloride (salt) as an electrolyte the oxygen will be contaminated with chlorine, but the hydrogen will be pure.

If you don’t have the patience to wait for iron to rust, than there are alternative methods. This doesn’t have a high yield, but it’s faster than buying your own if you have some steel wool around. Just pass a flame over your steel wool and you will have a black powder. This will work just as well, although you will have to burn a lot in order to get enough. You can also buy iron oxide at e-Bay or skylighter.