Sort Out Chemical Storage For Your Shop

There is one constant in the world of hardware hacker’s workshops, be they a private workshop in your garage or a public hackspace, and it goes something like this:

Everybody’s a safety expert in whatever it is they are working with, right up until the accident.

In other words, it is very tempting to harbour a cavalier attitude to something that either you are familiar with or the hazards of which you do not understand, and this breeds an environment in which mishaps become a distinct possibility.

As hardware people, we are familiar with basic tool safety or electrical safety. The chances are that we’ve had it drummed into us at some time in our growing up, by a lab supervisor, a workshop teacher, or a parent. That you as readers and I as writer have survived this long is testament enough to the success of that education. But what about those areas in which we may not have received such an education, those things which we either encounter rarely or seem harmless enough that their safety needn’t be our concern? Chemicals, for example: everything from glue through solvents and soldering consumables to PCB chemicals and even paint. It all seems safe enough, what could possibly go wrong? The answer to that question is probably something most of us would prefer never to find out, so it’s worth looking in to how a well-run workshop can manage its chemicals in as safe a manner as possible.

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Chemical Hacking at a Store Near You

Imagine for a minute that you aren’t an electronic-savvy Hackaday reader. But you find an old chemistry book at a garage sale and start reading it. It has lots of interesting looking experiments, but they all require chemicals with strange exotic names. One of them is ferric chloride. You could go find a scientific supply company, but that’s expensive and often difficult to deal with as an individual (for example, 2.5 liters of nitric acid costs over $300 for a case of six at a common lab supply company). Where would you go?

As an astute electronics guy (or gal) you probably know that ferric chloride is common for PCB etching, so you would check the electronic store down the street or maybe Radio Shack if you are lucky enough to find one that still stocks it.

So sometimes knowing where to look for a chemical is a key part of acquiring it, especially when the names are not the same. For example, do you have any amylose? No? That’s corn starch. Want to try making your own cadmium sulfide light sensor? Go to the art supply store and ask for cadmium yellow pigment. Need magnesium carbonate? Stop by a sporting goods store and ask for athlete’s chalk.

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Simple PCB etchant made from chemicals you can put in your mouth

etching_test

[Stephen] often finds the need to make his own PCBs at home, and when he got the urge to do some etching recently, he realized that he was fresh out of “Ferret Chloride and Bureaucratic Acid*.” Undeterred by his empty chemical cabinet, he poked around in his kitchen mixing together anything and everything that might have the ability to strip copper from a PCB.

Now, we don’t necessarily recommend this course of action, but it seems that he finally hit upon a winner. He discovered a formula that can be made at home from simple and safe household ingredients which does the job quite nicely. A fair warning however, standard ferric chloride disposal procedures need to be followed when using this solution.

If you want to know what he concocted in his kitchen as well as the chemistry behind it, you will have to visit his site, we won’t ruin it for you. You can however, see the solution at work in the video we have posted below.

*His joke, not ours

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