Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Amateur Chemistry now vs several decades ago

nagyepf - 2-10-2018 at 10:38

If you are a veteran,can you tell me that was amateur chemistry harder or easier some decades ago than now?
I think in old times you could get chemicals more easily.For example sodium chlorate was sold as a herbicide,ammonium nitrate could be purchased in pure form,no dolomite contamination,potassium permanganate and hydrogen peroxide were also commonly available.
But you couldnt get so many recipes that you get now on the internet.
For example,NurdRage,CodysLab,NileRed did very good work for both amateur and professional communities.

fusso - 2-10-2018 at 11:01

I guess the answer would definitely be harder regardless the experience.

[Edited on 02/10/18 by fusso]

symboom - 2-10-2018 at 11:53

Just look at all the ways nitric acid and sulfuric acid had been made
All the way down to old fashioned ways using lead chamber process. And nitric acid from air

[Edited on 2-10-2018 by symboom]

digga - 2-10-2018 at 13:24

It is way harder now. My dad actually got me Nitric and Sulfuric acids at the drugstore! Their only concern was that I not destroy the house. I never had any red phosphorus, but I am sure I could have gotten it.

I remember fondly screwing around with black powder.

They were all delighted - after Sputnik, that I had a science hobby. This proceeded the "green" movement.

What we didn't have was the readily available knowledge. We had the goods, but not the know-how. Now we have the know-how, but not the goods.

macckone - 2-10-2018 at 20:24

Definitely harder now.
Back in the day you could literally pick up chloroform at the grocery store for cleaning dry clean only clothes.
You could also get petroleum ether.
DCM was sold straight as paint remover.
Sulphuric acid could be had at the hardware store in 5 gallon carboys.
Lye was available practically everywhere.
Bleach powder was also readily available.
Hydrochloric acid was available at any hardware store as well.
You could pick up a lot of stuff at the neighborhood pharmacy including charcoal (food grade) and sulfur (99.9%) and potassium nitrate (medical grade).
And this was in the late 70s through the 80s.
And calcium oxide was sold in 50lb bags.
You had to mix it with water then mix in aggregate to make concrete.
Ready mix concrete in a sack wasn't as much of a thing back then.

Sulaiman - 3-10-2018 at 01:16

My first real hobby was chemistry, age 12 to 17.
Information came from school and library books,
in town there was one chemistry supplier, Mr. Hogg,
a helpful old guy who supplied to schools and local businesses.
He had a huge shop floor area - a miniature Alladin's cave.
Restrictions were at the discretion of Mr. Hogg
- he knew what we were doing :P
explosions and fire ... yeah !
I am unaware of any present day walk-in chemistry supplier.

Now in its second incarnation my chemistry hobby started aged 60, to present 64.
The ease of access to information now is incomparable to the few books that I had available then,
and although I sometimes complain about restrictions,
I have been able to obtain just about every chemical that I've wanted,
and my significant collection of jointed glassware that I now have
was just a dream in the '60's.
One MAJOR difference between now and then is the internet,
so much data, videos, and incredibly helpful to me ... SM of course !

Relative to average income I think that hobby chemistry is more affordable nowadays.

In the '60's and early '70's chemistry was seen as a constructive hobby,
it was a good thing if youths were active with all kinds of hobbies,
now there seems to be less acceptance of chemistry as a hobby,
I assume due to general chemophobia and of course terrorism.
In general, people are a lot more risk-averse nowadays.

Overall I'd say that hobby chemistry is probably easier today than it has ever been,
worldwide postage, internet resources, cheap equipment and chemicals ...
what more do you want ?

Herr Haber - 3-10-2018 at 03:41

Of course you could get "recipes" from the Internet.
It was called the Anarchist Cookbook. Around 500 pages of... crap.

You can find a lot more serious papers now. Some people even insist on calling them "synthesis".
Finding chemicals was actually harder for me back then. Sure, I could get potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur from the pharmacy and I saw Nitric acid and Ammonia sitting on the same shelf at the drugstore but many other things were totally unobtainium.

Nowadays I can get even the more obscure organic compound by just asking a few select suppliers. Precious metal salts, hydrides etc.
All available easily and not necessarily by the ton thanks to eBay & Amazon. Need a ton or a few ? Alibaba is there for you.
Back then, I could get Mg ribbon or flake. Today I can get Mg with a specified particle size.

So I guess things have improved.

fusso - 3-10-2018 at 05:48

Quote: Originally posted by fusso  
I guess the answer would definitely be harder regardless the experience.

[Edited on 02/10/18 by fusso]
The difficulty depends on availability of everything. From chemicals, equipment, to the knowledge.

Knowledge is basically otc. back then, one can go to libraries to read what they want. Now one can also go online alongside to libraries. So availability of knowledge definitely increase.

Equipment variety and accessibility also increase with time due to technology advancement and internet. Hence availability of equipment and apparatus also increased.

However, for chemicals, I think it's the opposite due to terrorism. A lot of chemicals were otc then, but due to terror attacks, many countries chose the (probably) irreversible path of restricting a variety of chemicals and many of them were removed from shelves in these coutries. And the essence of amateur chemistry is the chemicals. Chemicals! Without suitable knowledge one could still do chemistry (but may hurt himself). Without suitable equipment one can build some himself. But without the chemicals? How could you do chemistry without them? So limiting chemical availability definitely hurt the most.

[Edited on 03/10/18 by fusso]

macckone - 3-10-2018 at 11:32

Two chemicals that are hard to get/make are mercury and sulfuric acid.
Both of these are critical in many processes.

Other things can be extracted from mixed composition products.
You can even get calcium oxide out of cement if you have sulfuric acid but it is a long process involving, converting the carbonate to the chloride, then precipitating with sodium carbonate, then heating to convert to the oxide.

Similarly sodium hydroxide can be readily made with electricity and a membrane (which they do sell).

symboom - 3-10-2018 at 11:50

YouTube will soon lose it's armature chemistry youtubers due to its policies Chemplayer is already on bitchu video platform. Nurdrage and Cody's lab maybe soon follow?

[Edited on 3-10-2018 by symboom]

SWIM - 3-10-2018 at 13:09

Most things are harder to get now as opposed to the 1980s.

But the internet is mighty handy for getting some things that were hard to get then.

Back then mercury, sulfuric acid etc were, as said above, available at local stores.

But if you needed something more unusual, without the internet there were few places that would sell to some random asshole on the street.

LAH, HI, THF these could be hard to buy unless you knew of a supplier who wasn't too picky about who he sold to.

Many storefront chemistry and hobby shops would look at you like you had just asked for a pound of fresh human eyeballs if you asked for hydrobromic acid, let alone LAH.

These comments refer to the US in the 80s and early 90s.

JScott - 13-10-2018 at 09:12

Growing up in the sixties my Dad was a bit of an amateur chemist, a hold over from a friendship with his high school chem teacher. He was a lithographer and had an account with a local chemistry supplier. There wasn't anything they wouldn't sell Dad that I was aware of, and much of this would have had little to do with printing.

I was also fortunate to live near a fairly large city, big library. No internet, but we had a CARD CATALOGUE. Worked nearly flawlessly. This library had all of the important industrial periodicals as well. If you were curious and disciplined, there wasn't anything you couldn't figure out. Further, questions asked by an eager teen regarding chemistry were treated differently than they are today. I have seen the chemistry sets sold to kids then, described today as "The most dangerous toy ever sold".

There was also a bookstore in town, Johson's. The basement was dedicated to amateur science. Microscopes, telescopes, and chemistry equipment, frogs in formaldehyde. It was a like a science museum where everything was for sale.

I was in the forest service out of Tuscon AZ in 1979. At that time I could walk into a hardware store and buy dynamite. And as I remember, rent some blasting gear there as well. I understand dynamite has little to do with amateur chemistry, but trust has great deal to do with it. It was easier to do EVERYTHING! And yet, for most the part, we all behaved! Imagine that!!!

woelen - 15-10-2018 at 02:27

I am not sure when hobby chemistry was easier. It is true that basic chemicals were easier to buy in the old days. As a boy of 16 I purchased 96% H2SO4, 65% HNO3, 25% NH3, KMnO4, KBr, KClO3, CuSO4.5H2O, KNO3, NH4NO3, H2O2 (30%), Na2S2O3, and many more chemicals locally in the town where I lived, without hassle. So, for a starting home chemist, things definitely were easier in the 1980's. A nice set of chemicals could be obtained, allowing you to do fun experiments, of course with all necessary bangs, smokes, smells and lights ;).

But if you wanted something more special, then your local store quickly ran out of options and obtaining these special things was nearly impossible. Even obtaining fairly common stuff like H3PO4, KBrO3, KIO3 or NaNO2 was impossible for me those days. Now I have stuff like RuCl3, RuO2, CrO3, CH3COCl, Na2SeO3, SeO2, K2TeO3, Ga, Ge, V2O5, MoO3, HIO3, I2O5, and much much more, which I did not even dream of in the 1980's. Back at that time, home chemistry was limited to compounds of common elements and 70% of the periodic table simply was completely out of reach as "very special stuff" for labs and real scientists. Also, all glassware I now have and all equipment I now have, this would be completely beyond what was possible in the 1980's, even if you had the money.

As a starter, you now have to go online, even for basic materials, and the threats of terrorism and chemophopia have made home chemistry more difficult, but someone who is really devoted now can obtain much more than what could be obtained 35 years ago. My fear, however, is that real interest comes at the age of 15 or so and if you cannot obtain anything interesting anymore locally at that age, then at a later age, people will not start anymore, except maybe a very few really devoted persons.

symboom - 15-10-2018 at 21:15

Armature chemistry then nice and thriving armature chemistry now up and dying out.:mad::mad::o
What will be the fate and future of amature chemistry

[Edited on 16-10-2018 by symboom]

ChemistryForever - 12-1-2019 at 07:26

I think we should buy all the chemicals now before everything becomes more strict. I think that we are in the last years when we can buy chemicals... I'm afraid of the future, with increasing restrictions, not to be made a law which would interdict any chemical's acquisition by an individual.

itsafineday - 21-2-2019 at 06:00

Quote: Originally posted by ChemistryForever  
I think we should buy all the chemicals now before everything becomes more strict. I think that we are in the last years when we can buy chemicals... I'm afraid of the future, with increasing restrictions, not to be made a law which would interdict any chemical's acquisition by an individual.

I agree with this, unfortunately.

If you can't participate in a culture that supports the hobby , is it really a hobby?

It's also unfortunate that this thinking puts us in the position where FOMO says to acquire the chemicals most likely to become unavailable . This makes those who do this fall into similar consumer habits as those who mean to break the law or do harm.

nitro-genes - 27-2-2019 at 10:24

When I was like 17 or 18, I bought 2 bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer together with a friend of mine. At that time it was available OTC in many shops, only needed to filter off the calcium carbonate. The guy at the counter said with a big smile: "Don't go building any smokebombs with that huh! :D". Amazing, in a few years one might go to prison for having still having a few bags of these in your shed. Not that anything has changed really, there is no increased threat and not a single death was due to an terrorist attack using this fertilizer in the Netherlands. Where does all the fear come from?

Amnesty international seems to know:

Note that we are talking about Amnesty international, the forerunner and watchdog of the most basic and fundamental rights you have as a human being! :o

Can you imaging these control-freak-voyeur-psychopath-types spying on your whole family? They must have a total lack of empathy, because I'm pretty sure any normal person would be seriously offended if this would happen to his own family and could relate to this.

And don't think for a moment you are safe on this forum:

Similar stories can be found for foreign intelligence agencies.

Meanwhile we are entering a new cold war due to the US repeatedly violating the agreement on the nuclear arms race...crazy times huh...

[Edited on 27-2-2019 by nitro-genes]

PirateDocBrown - 27-2-2019 at 12:37

Chemicals I have bought, in the last 4 years, OTC:


Household vinegar
Hypochlorite bleach
Aluminum foil
Steel wool
Lead shot
Iron hexacyanoferrate
Magnesium Chloride
Sodium Carbonate
Sodium Bicarbonate

Home improvement or garden stores:

Hydrochloric acid
Ammonium sulfate
Potassium nitrate
Potassium permanganate
Silica sand
Diatomaceous earth
Impure ethanol
Aluminum sulfate
Calcium chloride
Copper sulfate
Impure THF
Potassium chloride
Sodium bisulfate
Trisodium phosphate
Sulfamic acid

Drug store:

91% isopropanol
Mineral oil
Magnesium Sulfate
3% Hydrogen peroxide

Pool supply store:

Sodium bromide
Sodium dichloroisocyanurate
Trichlorocyanuric acid
Cyanuric acid
Calcium hypochlorite
30% hydrogen peroxide

Camera store was sadly much more limited than they used to be, but still:

Sodium sulfite

Surprisingly, at Asian groceries:

Sodium nitrite
Monosodium glutamate
Gum acacia
Impure benzaldehyde
Impure amyl acetate
Calcium hydroxide

Car parts stores:

30% sulfuric acid
Impure Ethylene glycol
Ether/heptane mix

Local pottery supply store:

Potassium carbonate
Ferrous sulfate
Calcium phosphate
Calcium fluoride
Calcium carbonate
Barium carbonate
Zinc oxide
Manganese dioxide
Ferric oxide

Local brewing supply:

Tartaric acid
Potassium metabisulfate
Calcium sulfate

Silver bullion from a mom and pop jeweler. I'm sure I could get gold and platinium, if needed.

Hardware stores:

Oxalic acid
94% Sulfuric acid
Ethyl Acetate
Sodium Nitrate (special ordered it for me, gotta love mom & pops!)

Activated charcoal from a pet store.

Zinc from pennies
Copper from pipes
Lithium from batteries.

Honestly, if you can't find chemicals, you aren't really looking, all this was within 10 miles of my house.

More can be had by ordering, pottery supply stuff that my local didn't have, metals from various suppliers. Ebay is, for me, a last resort.

[Edited on 2/27/19 by PirateDocBrown]

Ubya - 27-2-2019 at 15:07

in italy for example we don't really have lots of specialized shop like in the us or uk. "local pottery shop" would be a nonsense here, the most similiar thing would be an art store with some paints, and not the "to fire in a kiln" type that you would need for chemistry.
brewing shops also are not a thing here, same for car parts, asian markets (i live in a neighborhood with 80% cinese and pakistani population and i have near just 1 "asian shop" that sells 5L tanks of soy souce and some imported chinese goods. when i found monosodium glutamate in an asian shop i was in berlin hahahaha).
pharmacies are useless for most things, when i was a kid i asked for borax, the girl at the counter panicked as she had no clue of what i was talking about, explaining myself saying i needed some sodium tetraborate panicked her even more, in the end pharmacies are ok just for overpriced glycerine, iodine tincture and overpriced 3% hydrogen peroxide.
methanol here is as hard to find as uranium, they banned it many years ago for a scandal where people used methanol in cheap wine to make it more alcoholic for cheaper, and people died or became blind.
home improvements stores and hardware store are now a thing, big chains like leroy merlin, bricoman, obi etc but 15 years ago the best think you could hope for was a "ferramenta", small shop that sells just what usually people needed (screws, nails, some standard pipe joints, paints, drill bits, etc) but as a small shop you couldn't find things like 10 different kinds of paint thinners or entire sections just for plumbing.
health shops here are just supermarkets that sell normal stuff but "bio" "organic" "vegan" "gluten free" "ph basic" and all the stupid "healthy" trends you can find on the internet, at 10x the price of the equivalent normal product.
pet stores just sell pets and food for pets or toys for them.
photography shops have not been a thing here for at least 25-30 years said my dad (that did photography when he was young).
"chinese shops" are a everywhere here in rome and in the biggest cities, they sell pretty much everything, toys, cleaning products, office supplies, kitchen stuff, clothes, electronics, everything of the cheapest and lowest quality from china kind, the best for disposable things in the lab or things to hack. in this shops (like 10 just hundreds of meters away from my home) i found 98% sulphuric acid, 32% HCl, camphor, naphtalene, NaOH, acetone, sodium carbonate/bicarbonate, tetrachloroethylene, dichloromethane, ethylene glycol, bleach, mineral oil, bisphenol A (car brake fluid), limonene (car product i can't remember), starch, etc.

but at least here in italy i can buy pretty much in every supermarket 50 or 100ml of 7% HF sold to remove rust stains from clothes

Doped-Al2O3-fusion - 5-3-2019 at 00:50

Quote: Originally posted by itsafineday  
Quote: Originally posted by ChemistryForever  
I think we should buy all the chemicals now before everything becomes more strict. I think that we are in the last years when we can buy chemicals... I'm afraid of the future, with increasing restrictions, not to be made a law which would interdict any chemical's acquisition by an individual.

I agree with this, unfortunately.

If you can't participate in a culture that supports the hobby , is it really a hobby?

It's also unfortunate that this thinking puts us in the position where FOMO says to acquire the chemicals most likely to become unavailable . This makes those who do this fall into similar consumer habits as those who mean to break the law or do harm.

I can confer. Just a month ago, I could get toluene in pure form from any hardware store here in the US. Now, I can't find one single store. You have to buy lacquer thinner and then distill if you want toluene. Luckily, I have about a gallon left from years ago. I've become paranoid due to the difficulty in obtaining anything lately, that I buy if I see it on the shelves.

MEK seems to be disappearing from the shelves of every store where I live in Washington state. Toluene, is absent. Sodium hydroxide is only available by one hardware store and all the other hardware stores seem to not even know what sodium hydroxide is.

Potassium nitrate is only sold by one store within a 250 mile radius of where I live. I can't find ferrous sulfate or ammonium chloride anywhere. 99% isopropyl alcohol has completely disappeared from every single store franchise everywhere within the state. Acetone is even becoming difficult to find. Potassium permanganate? Forget about it. You can find dilute solutions available from WalMart, but trying to find crystals is like trying to buy meth or TNT. Oxalic acid is even becoming a huge chore to find anywhere, and let's not even get into TSP

I've actually become more reliant on myself to come into baring any phosphorus containing compounds through igneous mineral formations I find in the rivers.

Thankfully eBay is there if I don't feel like synthesizing almost everything from scratch. It's got so bad that I've been trying to figure out a way to create H2O2 completely on my own. I can get up to 12% concentration from Amazon and noqw eBay if I want to spend a crap ton of cash. I have a couple other suppliers I can get near 40% H2O2 from, but I don't dare mention who they are.

I purchase 70% nitric acid from two different suppliers at reasonable prices, but in large part, I make it on my own. I'm getting close to fearing the worst, saving my urine and fireplace ashes to make what I need. LOL. I'll first fallback to consumer grade ammonia and using a platinum or palladium catalyst, but maybe it's about time to start storing 5 gal buckets of urine. I can at least get phosphorus that way too.

CouchHatter - 16-4-2019 at 18:42

I can't speak to the hobby's nuances as I'm quite new to it. Still...

Toluene is sold at the biggest hardware store in my town, but you have to ask an employee for it. They apparently keep it in the back. MEK and its substitute seem to share alternating times on their shelves too. My Wal-Mart sells varying concentrations of IPA at different times. I'm inclined to agree with PirateDocBrown about some of those chemicals, although Oklahoma is probably more similar to Minnesota than Washington as far as environmental conscienciousness.

I'd be quite surprised if a professional paint store didn't carry toluene though (regardless of US state). Maybe I shouldn't be.