Boil Off Some White Gas in the Back Yard

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[S Heath] is a Coleman lantern collector. Coleman lanterns can run from a variety of fuels, however they seem to run best with white gas, or Coleman fuel. Store bought Coleman fuel can cost upwards of $10USD/gallon. To keep the prices down, [S Heath] has created a still in his back yard to purify pump gas. We just want to take a second to say that this is not only one of those hacks that we wouldn’t want you to try at home, it’s also one that we wouldn’t try at home ourselves. Heating gasoline up past 120 degrees Celsius in a (mostly) closed container sounds like a recipe for disaster. [S Heath] has pulled it off though.

The still is a relatively standard setup. An electric hot plate is used to heat a metal tank. A column filled with broken glass (increased surface area for reflux) rises out of the tank. The vaporized liquid that does make it to the top of the column travels through a condenser – a pipe cooled with a water jacket. The purified gas then drips out for collection. The heart the system is a PID controller. A K-type thermocouple enters the still at the top of the reflux column. This thermocouple gives feedback to a PID controller at the Still’s control panel. The controller keeps the system at a set temperature, ensuring consistent operation. From 4000 mL of ethanol free pump gas, [S Heath] was able to generate 3100 mL of purified gas, and 500 mL of useless “dregs”. The missing 400 mL is mostly butane dissolved in the pump gas, which is expelled as fumes during the distillation process.

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The “Melt-O-Matic” – A Digital Melting Point Apparatus

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A common technique in organic chemistry is to determine the melting point of a specimen. While commercial options exist, [kymyst] decided to build one with similar (or better) functionality, and managed to keep it under $100. The basis of his rig is a 60W soldering iron. He simply replaced the normal soldering tip with an aluminum heating block that holds the capillary tubes and temperature probe. Two small fans are used to quickly cool the heating block, allowing fairly quick measurement times. It should be noted that building a project like this one will mean working with wires that carry 220V (or 115V, depending on your country). Please use proper precautions.

In case organic chemistry is on your list of ‘to learns’, [kymyst] included a nice writeup of the determination of melting points. It’s a great primer for those interested in learning more.

Using this setup, [kymyst] gets readings of ±0.1 °C. He mentions the possibility of adding a webcam for determining melting point automatically, something that would make this system competitive with much more expensive hardware.

The last time we saw one of these it used a hot glue gun as the heating element.

Crafting A Liquid Crystal Display

gif Throughout the 1960s, the management at RCA thought LCD displays were too difficult to commercialize and sent their engineers and researchers involved in LCDs off into the hinterlands. After watching [Ben Krasnow]’s efforts to build a liquid crystal display, we can easily see why the suits thought what they did. It’s an amazing engineering feat.

Before building his own version of an LCD (seen above in action), he goes through the mechanics of how LCDs operate. Light enters the display, goes through a polarizer, and is twisted by a liquid crystal material. The first successful LCDs used two types of liquid crystals – chiral and nematic. By combining these two types of molecules in the right proportion, the display can ‘twist’ the polarized light exactly 90 degrees so it is blocked by the second piece of polarizing film in the display.

Besides getting the right crystals and engineering processes, another major hurdle for the development of LCDs displays is transparent electrically conductive traces. [Ben], along with every other LCD manufacturer, uses a thin layer of indium tin oxide, or ITO. By embedding these clear electrodes in the display, segments can be built up, like the seven segment displays of a calculator or a bunch of tiny dots as found in a TV or computer monitor.

In the end, [Ben] was able to build an extremely simple single-segment LCD display out of a pair of microscope slides. It does modulate light, just barely. With a lot of work it could be made in to a calculator type display but for now it’s an awesome demonstration of how LCDs actually work. Continue reading “Crafting A Liquid Crystal Display”

Salvaging Gold From Old Electronics

If you’re hoarding old electronics like us, there’s a good probability you have a decent amount of gold sitting around in cardboard boxes and storage containers. Everything from old PCI cards, IC pins, and even printers have a non-negligible amount of precious metals in them, but how do you actually process those parts and recover that gold? [Josehf] has a great tutorial for gold recovery up on Instructables for the process that netted him an ounce of gold for three months’ work.

After cutting up a few circuit boards to remove the precious gold-bearing parts, [Josehf] threw these parts into a mixture of muriatic acid and hydrogen peroxide. After a week, the acid darkened and the gold slowly flaked off into dust. This gold dust was separated from the acid by passing it through a coffee filter and readied for melting into a single nugget.

Gold melts at 1064 ˚C, much hotter than what can be obtained by a simple propane torch. This melting point can be reduced by the addition of borax, allowing the simplest tools – a propane torch and a terra cotta crucible – to produce a small gold nugget.

For three months of collecting, stripping, and dissolving electronic parts, [Josehf] netted 576.5 grains of gold, or at current prices, about $1500 worth of the best conductor available. Not too bad, but not something we’d use as a retirement plan.

Thanks [Matthias] for sending this in.

Heirloom Chemistry Set

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We try not to share too many crowd funding projects, but when a tipster sent us to this Heirloom Chemistry Set we knew some would-be chemistry hackers might just want to see it!

[John Farrell Kuhns] runs a small science store with his wife in Kansas City called the H.M.S. Beagle, where young scientists (and adults!) can buy professional lab supplies, equipment, and the resources to study all things from chemistry to physics!

It all started when [John] was a child in the 1950’s and he received the classic Gilbert Chemistry Set as a Christmas present, which help set him on the course of becoming a professional research chemist. Now, wanting to share his love of chemistry with his children, he realized there just isn’t the same kind of chemistry sets available commercially!

Since the opening of his store he has made many custom chemistry sets very similar to the originals, but these were almost all one-off’s and very time consuming to make. So recently he decided to try making a set that he can produce in fair numbers to meet the demand, and so he started this Kickstarter to help it get off the ground. It’s already surpassed its goal by two times!

We wish we had one when we were growing up!

[Thanks Jeremy!]

Copper Electroplating the Cheap and Safe Way

[A_Steingrube] has posted a guide to his favorite method of copper electroplating. Plating copper onto other metals is popular with the steampunk crowd, but it does have other uses. Copper plate is often used as a prep step for plating other metals, such as nickel and silver. It also (usually) increases the conductivity of the metal to be plated. [A_Steingrube] is using the copper acetate method of plating. What is somewhat novel about his method is that he chose to make his own electrolyte solution from household chemicals. The copper acetate is created by mixing distilled vinegar and household hydrogen peroxide in a 50/50 ratio. The mixture is heated and then a piece of copper scouring pad is placed in. The scouring pad is partially dissolved, providing copper ions, and turning the solution blue.

The next step is to clean the material to be plated. [A_Steingrube] uses Cameo Aluminum and Stainless cleaner for this, though we think any good degreaser will work. The actual electroplating process consists of connecting a piece of copper to the positive terminal of a 6 volt battery. Copper scouring pad is again used for its high surface area. The material to be plated is connected to the negative side of the battery. He warns to keep the solution and the material being plated in constant motion to avoid heavy “burn spots”, which can flake off after the plating process. The results speak for themselves. As with any bare copper material, the electroplated layer will quickly oxidize if not protected.

Electrochemical Etching With a Microcontroller

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While most of the time the name of the game is to remove a lot of metal, etching is an entirely other process. If you just want to put a logo on a piece of steel, or etch some labels in a piece of aluminum, You need to think small. Mills and CNC routers will do, but they’re expensive and certainly not as easy to work with as a small, homebrew electrochemical etcher.

This etchinator is the brainchild of [Gelandangan], and gives the techniques of expensive commercial etchers to anyone who can put together a simple circuit. This etcher can etch with both AC and DC thanks to a H bridge circuit, and can be fabbed up by anyone who can make their own circuit board.

To actually etch a design in a piece of metal, simply place the piece on a metal plate, put the stencil down, and hold a felt-covered electrode moistened with electrolyte down over the stencil. Press a button, and in about 30 seconds, you have a wonderfully etched piece of metal.

[Gelandagan] has some templates that will allow you to make your own electro etcher, provided you can etch your own boards and can program the PIC16F1828 microcontroller. All this info is over on the Australian blade forum post he put up, along with a demo video below.

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