Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Hobby chemistry

Chiron - 26-3-2016 at 10:31

Hey everyone :)

I'm new here and I have some basic questions.

I took chemistry in high school all the way to my senior year, graduated with honours. I regret not taking it further in university, but my local university required a lot of advanced mathematics in order to take chemistry and math is my weak point. So I abandoned it.

Now many years later I find I'm becoming naturally interested in chemistry as a hobby. I've been watching a lot of videos online of experiments and I find the whole thing fascinating, enough to maybe look into getting my own startup chemistry set.

The thing is... I am totally rusty. I could repeat people's experiments that I've seen online, but to me it doesn't represent "true knowledge". In other words I don't necessary understand the underlying principles, the stoichiometry, etc. The other thing is that in high school, there was so much focus on the textbook and on theory. I am much more fascinated by applied chemistry, but in school I did not get much useful lab time.

So with that... I ask for advice. I'm an experiential learner. If I can't connect the theory to a practical purpose, then I won't get the concept. I'm wondering if there's any point in going back and hitting the books because it might be a bit too dry for me. On the other hand, maybe I could do some simple experiments with safe chemicals to build my knowledge? What do you think? Am I barking up the wrong tree? I guess I could look into continuing education with a community college, but I don't think school is my cup of tea right now, and also I don't like being forced to learn things that I'm not interested in.

I'm also wondering what kind of basic setup I would need as a prospective hobby chemist. In a lot of the videos online they use things like hot plates / stirrers, vacuum filters, separatory funnels, torches, etc. I'm not rich but I'm willing to invest a bit. How all out should I go here?

My other question is, I would be doing most of my experiments at home. I don't have a fume hood, so that rules out anything with dangerous gases, but I do have a balcony. What reasonable limits should I set for myself in a home environment?

My goal here is to do a lot of research before I get started. I remember in high school my teacher dropped a piece of elemental potassium into water under a fume hood to show us what chemicals can do, and ever since then I've had a healthy respect for this branch of science!

Thanks for reading!

[Edited on 26-3-2016 by Chiron]

Daffodile - 26-3-2016 at 10:48

For investing in equipment, I'd recommend picking up a stirring hotplate, with an aluminum or ceramic surface.

Also I'd recommend getting a simple distillation setup (2 round bottom flasks, a three way adapter, leibig condenser, and drip adapter, all items with 24 40 size joints).

Definitely thermometer of some accuracy, made of glass and with a range of -10 to 110 C.

PH paper, filter paper.

Two funnels, plastic or glass.

3 stir bars, of different sizes.

Some pipets or droppers.

Worth shelling out for 5 to 10 beakers of different sizes, I'd recommend 2x 100ml, 2x 250ml, 1x 400ml. Maybe pick up a 50ml or 600ml as well.

OPTIONAL: Separatory funnel and vacuum filtration setup.

Also get a torch of some type, I just use a butane kitchen version.

Some old containers from cottage cheese/etc are useful sometimes too, but you don't have to keep them on hand.

Now for learning, I'd recommend picking up a university textbook and an AP chem 12 book to familiarize yourself with everything.

Now for some chemicals to pick up, I'll put these in the order of priority, things required for amateur experimentation at beginning, easing into more advanced things. All of these are OTC (0ver the counter products).

- Sodium Chloride

- Copper Sulfate Pentahydrate

- Magnesium Sulfate Heptahydrate

- Sodium Carbonate

- Sodium Hydroxide

- Acetic Acid

- Hydrochloric Acid

- Sodium Hydroxide

- Calcium Chloride

- Sodium Hypochlorite

- Potassium Chloride

- Ethanol

- Sulfuric Acid

- Acetone

- Potassium Nitrate

- Ammonia

- Methanol

- Aspirin

- Potassium Hydroxide

- Magnesium

- Everything else

This is just based on my own personal experience, but it should give you a general idea of amateur chemistry and what it entails at the beginner's level.

EDIT: I should have said some shit about electrons and stuff, but that's a load of shit to explain and everyone has their own way of learning it.

NOTE: Your balcony is fine. Not many of us have a fume hood or cupboard. Just make sure to find a good work surface, and keep everything tidy and compact. If the cops come over when your AC unit explodes or whatever and they see a 'meth lab', things can spiral out of control very quickly. However if they see the work space of a home experimentalist, the consequences are much more desirable.

[Edited on 26-3-2016 by Daffodile]

ave369 - 26-3-2016 at 11:46

There is an old German book called "Chemistry for the inquiring mind" (Chemie selbst erlebt), by Grosse and Weissmantel. I don't know if it was translated into English, but my Russian-language copy was quite informative when I was getting into chemistry.

[Edited on 26-3-2016 by ave369]

aga - 26-3-2016 at 12:04

Rather than shell out a lot of $, pick 1 reaction you'd like to do (from here, youtoob etc) and get the stuff for that, do the experiment and see what you learn/how you feel about it.

That'd be a cheaper and more 'organic' way to grow the hobby.

Buying loads of stuff is silly, which is why i have a totally unused Dean-Stark trap.

100PercentChemistry - 26-3-2016 at 12:27

Check out hst they sell good quality chemicals/ glassware for very cheap. That's where I got most of my glassware. As for chemicals they only sell in small amounts and mainly basic supplies. Amazon actually sells a lot of chemicals. Instead of getting a ton of chemicals pick some experiments and get those chemicals, then lick another experiment and get those. Soon you will acquire a lot. A hotplate/ distilation set is important too. You don't need a fume hood. Just do it outside. Remember to get saftey supplies like proper gloves etc. When I started out I used a 20 dollar hotplate and manually stirred. But an upgrade to a 140 dollar one is worth it. For chemicals like HCl,Acetone,H2So4, ammonium hydroxide etc. check a home improvement store. Don't do chemistry in your room if possible. Do it in the basment or garage. That's how I started out.
Also where do you live. Texas has many regulations as well as other states. Most of the time your fine though as its not illegal.

Sulaiman - 26-3-2016 at 12:30

I agree ... chemistry is such a wide field, luckily many areas require only kitchenware, ingenuity, and a few reagents,
just try a few things that interest you and see where it leads ...
Most of us here do not have a fume hood, we all want one.
Elaborate ground glass jointed equipment is just work for some, a teenage desire for me (decades overdue), unnecessary for others.

One thing, I've only been doing amateur chemistry a couple of years but I can see oppression of amateur chemists
the press hence public see chemistry = drugs or terrorists (to a degree, not entirely)
so check your local restrictions, lots of info here at SM
consider where you can purchase stuff from.
For myself I have had no problems at all, but some have,
I am down to my last 1l of nitric acid, which is illegal to replace, and soon illegal to posses here in UK/EU. :mad:

Daffodile - 26-3-2016 at 13:36

Okay it looks like I might have misguided the guy after my last post. How about not making drugs and going from there?

100PercentChemistry - 26-3-2016 at 16:08

Just don't order like 10 liters of sulfuric acid a pound of iodine, 5lbs of pottasium chlorate...

ganger631 - 26-3-2016 at 17:12

First off, i would recommend buying a set of distillation from ebay, you cannot go wrong with it, also make sure to make glass thermometer adapter. From there, i would source out a good hotplate or heating mantle, homemade ones works as well. Finally, i assume that you dont have much money to go around buying reagents from big companies, i suggest going around your local hardware store and sourcing essential chems.

Chiron - 27-3-2016 at 03:29

Wow thanks everyone for the wonderful feedback!

Any advice on where to get a hot plate / stirrer that doesn't cost $200, yet won't break after a few uses? I've read a lot of reviews online and it seems these things malfunction easily.

For the distillation set, there are a bunch of different options... most of them have 500mL and 250mL round flasks. Should I go bigger, like 1000mL?

ave369 - 27-3-2016 at 09:10

I do not have a hotplate and stirrer. I use a common electric stove for flammable stuff, and open flame (alcohol lamp, gas burner) for stuff that isn't flammable. And a set of glass stirring rods. A hotplate and stirrer is not essential, unlike a distillation setup (but even that I bought late, and had to make do with a retort for a long time).

arkoma - 27-3-2016 at 09:32

I ain't got no (<<<redneck assassination of English) hotplate/stirrer either, but I DO have $300US of Chinese glassware. I use a cheapass Wal-Mart deep fryer for a "flammables" heating unit.

*edit* WTF?

I ain't got no (redneck assassination of English) hotplate/stirrer either, but I DO have $300US of Chinese glassware. I use a cheapass Wal-Mart deep fryer for a "flammables" heating unit.

[Edited on 3-27-2016 by arkoma]

[Edited on 3-27-2016 by arkoma]

[Edited on 3-27-2016 by arkoma]

*edit* them thar sideways arrows FUCK me UP

[Edited on 3-27-2016 by arkoma]

Sulaiman - 27-3-2016 at 10:26

I have one of the common cheap electric hotplates, everything about it is great value
except for the 'thermostat', a flimsy assembly of metal strips
that have no direct thermal contact with the hot bits
and seems to be designed to fail/drift,
but is easily bent back to a usable range.
Replacing the thermostat/regulator with a variac or suitably rated lamp-dimmer circuit
or, as I have not yet gotten around to, a REX C-100 temperature controller kit
would give a long life bit of kit I think.
Adding a stirrer is a problem due to the solid iron top plate.

aga - 27-3-2016 at 10:31

For distillations i generally use a small spirit burner, unless an oil or water bath is essential, whether the stuff i'm distilling is flammable or not.

My own lab circumstances allow that - in most other situations that would be insane.

Today i got through almost a litre of Vodka in about an hour.

100PercentChemistry - 27-3-2016 at 18:10

A cheap hotplate and stirrir is here The 22 dollar one is good. The 140 dollar one has a magnetic stirrir and adjustable temps and speed, however, it is small. You can just use a stove mostly.

[Edited on 28-3-2016 by 100PercentChemistry]

gdflp - 27-3-2016 at 19:24

I'll add in my two cents. If you want a good hot plate stirrer, which I would highly recommend getting, and can't afford to spend too much, don't buy a new one that comes from some unknown company(even if it is sold by an American distributor). Look on eBay for a used hot plate stirrer which comes from a good name; a few which I have found to be reliable and relatively easy to find are Corning, Thermolyne, Fischer Scientfic, IKA, and VWR. Many of these units, such as the Corning PC-351, come from the 80's and 90's so they've definitely seen some use, but are quite reliable, heat up to much higher temperatures, have faster stirrers, and an overall better build quality. Such units tend to sell for between $100-$250 depending on condition, size, brand, and whatnot. Personally, I have a 10x10 Fischer Scientific Isotemp ceramic hot plate/stirrer, which I got in great condition for around ~200USD from an auction. Size wise, I would suggest going with something at least as big as a Corning PC-351, or bigger if you'd like. 10in x 10in is quite unnecessary in most cases, but I have found it handy when heating several solutions at once. One decision you will need to make is a ceramic top or an aluminum top. Ceramic hot plates tend to reach higher temperatures and have a greater chemical resistance than aluminum hot plates, but are relatively slow to heat up or cool down. Aluminum hot plates on the other hand suffer from lower max temperatures(still around 300°C on the quality ones) and are susceptible to attack by concentrated acid and alkali solutions, but heat up much quicker.

As for a starting point on other fronts, I would highly recommend Robert Bruce Thompson's Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments if you need to brush up on the basics. Many libraries carry it, so buying it is unnecessary. Once you get a bit more comfortable, you will start to find it basic, but it's a great starting point, while other, more advanced books, can be found in our extensive forum library. It also gives an idea of what basic chemicals are useful to get, most of which can be found OTC. This guide, by the aforementioned author gives a pretty good idea of where to pick up some basic chemicals, a much more comprehensive list by one of our retired moderators can be found here. For chemicals that cannot be found OTC, Elemental Scientific tends to have decent prices.

In regards to equipment, you will need to get some basic glassware to begin with. Sets of beakers and Erlenmeyer flasks ranging in size from 50ml - 1000ml can be found relatively cheaply from a variety of sources, get Bomex glass if your budget is tight, but I would recommend spending a bit extra and getting Pyrex if you can. A 10ml and 100ml graduated cylinder is also necessary for many experiments. If you get a stirring hot plate, you will need some stir bars; these are quite easy to find and it's hard to go wrong. A good balance is another necessary piece of equipment which is often neglected, again I would recommend buying a used one with at least .01g precision and 150+g of capacity. Mettler Toledo, Ohaus, and Sartorius are all good companies. I would not recommend buying one of those Chinese jewelry scales on eBay or Amazon, as they typically have very low weight capacities and pretty horrific accuracy unless they are calibrated often. A few other pieces of lab equipment which are handy to have are a few ringstands, matching iron rings and clamps, several crucibles, and a propane torch or Bunsen burner. Test tubes, test tube racks, crucible and beaker tongs, disposable pipettes, iron gauze, and pH paper are other useful things to have around. A good quality spirit or mercury thermometer is also very useful to have around.

Storage bottles are another thing you will want to look into, to store newly prepared chemicals or whatnot. Specialty Bottle has good prices and a good selection, though it adds up fast!

Once you get into slightly more advanced chemistry, you will likely want to get some jointed glassware for distillations and more advanced experiments, though I wouldn't recommend getting this to start out. New Pyrex glassware of this type is typically very expensive, instead I would opt for either getting used glassware from either eBay, or someone like Dr. Bob on this forum, who I have had several excellent experiences with and would highly recommend. The other option is to get good quality Chinese glassware, Laboy and Synthware both fall into this category and have decent websites, good prices, and I've never had a quality issue. I have had issues such as thin glass, bubbles in the joints, and glassware with incorrect bend angles when buying from other unknown Chinese sellers on eBay, so I would stick with the ones I mentioned above, or others who have comparable quality.

Hope all of this helps! Chemistry is a very rewarding hobby, if you're willing to put the requisite effort in. Welcome to the forum!

Chiron - 31-3-2016 at 03:48

I was looking into buying a heating tape to make a high temperature heating mantle, but every company I contact for advice on which model to buy hasn't responded to me. I find this a bit strange. So, I am having to give up on this idea.

I'm just wondering how to do high temperature reactions in a controlled way without one. I could use a flame source, but that would ramp up the temp really fast and I'd have to keep removing and adding the heat source if I wanted to prevent boiling over and things like that. And hot plates don't get very hot.

How do you guys do higher temperature reactions? (I'm talking up to 700C) I don't have anything planned but if I'm going to spend money on my setup I want maximum flexibility.

ave369 - 2-4-2016 at 02:15

I do not do reactions under 700C. I don't have glassware that can survive that. When I need to, I use sacrificial glassware such as test tubes, and a gas burner.