Heirloom Chemistry Set

heirloom chemistry  set

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!]

57 thoughts on “Heirloom Chemistry Set

  1. My god, you bloody yanks just don’t understand how good you have it. If you don’t give these amazing people as much support you can then you really don’t belong on this site.

    I have dreamt about something like this for nigh on 50 years…

          1. It’s interesting the Dutch don’t (generallly) arrest people for possession of many drugs. And they have one of the lowest rates of drug problems. Also more sex education / liberal attitudes to sex / less teenage pregnancy.

            It’s paradoxical, isn’t it? Almost like treating other adults like they’re children doesn’t work!

        1. They’re really not. Canadians are like cousins to the British. We have much more in common with them culturally than we do the USAians. Canadians seem to “get it”, Americans really don’t.

      1. I was wondering what on earth you were talking about but I see you are the poster of the article, but I was referring to the chemistry set (or more specifically to the H.M.S. Beagle shop) and it’s geographical location, and hence availability.

        But heh? if we want to get picky neither the US OR Canada (as a federated country) existed when the term yankee was first used in 1758 to refer to New Englanders, and let’s face it, Canada is really just an extension of New England isn’t it? ;-) My sister-in-law is from Toronto so I know!

        1. I like to think of most of the North East portion of the continent to be a descendent of the long forgotten ‘New France’.

          Part of their casual attitudes comes from never really caring what country they are officially in. They just live where they live and don’t care for petty squabbles like revolutions or civil wars or commonwealths.

          1. Not picky at all – a fair cop – as someone who prides himself on his grammar that was a pretty horrible mistake – my only excuse was that in writing that section I had to quickly look up whether the name “Canada” was actually in use at all at that time and so I was distracted. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

  2. I’m old enough to remember those commercially available chemistry sets. As I recall, they came in a metal, bi-fold cabinet with shelves on both sides for the 2, maybe 3-oz bottles of chemicals (maybe 20 or so in a set). The stores that carried these chemistry sets, possibly Sears and similar stores, had racks of replacement chemicals and other supplies. Each chemical was something like 25 cents. Potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur anyone?

    1. Modern chemistry sets contain what looks like 5mg of citric acid and possibly table salt. I saw a “micro-chemistry!” set in a shop. All the fun of chemistry only you have to look through a magnifying glass since the quantities are so small.

      Either we should give chemicals to kids or we shouldn’t. They can always dare each other to jump off bridges if they’re determined to kill themselves. Even olden-days chemistry sets didn’t come with anything highly corrosive or dangerous, and we managed fine.

      You can get slime / gross-out type chemistry sets, but I wonder how much polymer chemistry they teach you vs just mixing stuff in a jar. Give kids stuff to work out for themselves, stuff they can apply themselves to, and stuff that gives entertaining results, and they don’t mind if it educates them.

  3. Brilliant! I had a chemistry set a a lad and it fascinated me no end. I took a look in Hamley’s (London) and the chemisty sets there had NO CHEMICALS – maybe a little plastic tube of SALT or something. My one when I had a kid had at least a DOZEN GLASS tubes of stuff that would probably send you to the hospital if you were dumb enough to eat it or get it in your eye. Today’s SAFETY nonsense is SO harmful! I read the instructions on my kit and was forever in awe and so careful with dangerous stuff. {insert further rant about kids today}

    1. I know, but I can somehow understand the hysteria. My older brother told me crazy stories about his peers that have lost fingers during the time when there were no regulations. Not that it kept me from trying to loose mine. At new years eve I had always the loudest firecrackers that commercially available ones could simply not match.

      1. I would fill up balloons with oxygen and acetylene and if I got the mix just right it’d go off like a stick of dynamite. Better than a pineapple I’d say. I bought these water balloons at 7 11 that looked like little hand grenades and they had thick walls, wholly smokes! The trick is to put the gasses in one at a time, a little acetylene, then a lot of oxygen. I’d say a ratio of 15::1 is about right. I would use a cutting torch to fill mine. Party balloons!

        I set a couple off for people and everyone was always much impressed. One friend of mine sincerely thanked me when I told him he’d better back up. He was going to stand right over it when it went off. I guess he wasn’t expecting very much. Another guy said he was going to start doing it at work, he got a really big kick out of it. He built elevators and he said he planned on dropping them down the shafts. I wonder how that worked out for him?

        An oxy-acetylene balloon the right mix is a loud, deep blast. If you’re getting a fireball you’re using too much acetylene. Tape the balloon to a piece of paper, light, and run like hell! Although I’d usually just put the balloon on some paper if it isn’t windy. Running isn’t optional. You want to be at least 30 feet away before detonation.

    1. Taking into account the horde of braindead “safety”-obsessed bureaucrats with a regulation fetish who need to churn out at least several kilograms of abused paper daily to appear useful that make up policies/ideas/standards/whatever in the EU, the state of society that allows lawsuits of the type “I hurt my self with hot coffee, it’s your fault, now pay me!”, the whole nanny-state destination we’re heading into, I’d be pleasantly surprised if a toy like this got onto the market here.

      1. “‘I hurt my self with hot coffee, it’s your fault, now pay me!'”

        Bad example. I agree with your point, but that’s not a good example of a frivolous lawsuit.

        McDonald’s was responsible for the coffee being between 180°F and 190°F, which can cause third degree burns in two to seven seconds. Coffee is usually served at home between 135°F to 140°F. As you increase the temperature past 140°F, the potential to cause burns increases non-linearly.

        Liebeck (the plaintiff) suffered third degree burns over six percent of her body. She was hospitalized for eight days. She needed skin grafts and debridement treatments.

        McDonald’s was responsible for continuing to serve scalding-hot coffee after receiving _over_seven_hundred_ complaints from customers who had burned themselves on unnecessarily hot coffee. Some of those customers suffered third degree burns very similar to the those that Liebeck suffered.

        Liebeck tried to settle for $20,000, to recover the cost of all or some (I don’t know) of her medical bills. McDonald’s told her to get lost.

        The jury _did_ find Liebeck to be partially at fault. Damages awarded were reduced accordingly.


      1. There must be plenty of interesting chemicals that aren’t hazardous. Making up a list of them is a job for the manufacturer, but plenty of kids bought chemistry sets from toy shops back in the day. I guess from the lack of hysterical stories, that mostly they avoided mutating themselves into swamp monsters.

        Lithium batteries are a pain to ship, hazardous and have loads of regulations. They manage well enough. It’s just a matter of a bit of application and research.

  4. I grew up with these chemistry sets – my last one included no less than three deadly chemicals and it was great, which brings me to my point.

    We are such a lawsuit happy society that it’s too risky to sell anything to a minor that might cause harm. For proof, just go to the craft section of your local Wal-Mart and look around. The most potentially dangerous item there will be a EXACTO knife set & it’s only there because you need a knife to cut things. Everything else is fru-fru frilly stiff! The toy section isn’t much better.

    I wish John luck with his project but I’m afraid he will get tagged if he gets big enough.

    1. It might be parents being pussies that reduced the demand for “dangerous” kits, more than lawsuits. I’ve never heard of a chemistry set lawsuit, for whatever that’s worth.

      But yeah all of culture has gone safety-nuts. Mostly it’s the fault of ambulance-chasing lawyers who make suing people seem like a free go on a fruit machine. Go on, do it! What have you got to lose?

  5. I built a fairly wicked chemistry set when I was a kid and had my mad scientist’s lab setup in one of my closets. My Mom thought I was going to asphyxiate myself in there, so I gave it up for her peace of mind. Looking back she was probably right. But my lab was made up of about 3 of the 50s metal box sets I’d gotten at flea markets, plus a ton of glassware I also bought here, and there. I had a 5,000 ml gas bottle for instance. Thing must have been 2 feet tall.

    Later, in high school, I became semi infamous as the kid who could make nitrous. I found the formula in an ancient chemistry manual. I collected those at book sales. I forget all the details of that setup, other than bubbling a gas through water (at one point we used my bathtub) into a trash bag. There was some black chemical powder we’d buy to make it at the hobby store who’s name escapes me now. Man we bought bottles of that stuff.

    Good times, good times…

    1. Ammonium Nitrate can be decomposed into Nitrous, the water was probably a solution of ferrous sulfate with calcium and potassium hydroxide. the black powder being the ferrous sulfate. Tricky to do right… dangerous to do wrong.

  6. I’m afraid this guy is in for a rude awakening. Representatives of the Nanny State will soon be knocking on his door. Just try to buy glassware-the only way I could get a set of glassware was to order it from a guy in Israel. If you’re a farmer and buy a bag of ammonium ditrate, I’m sure your name goes into a database.

    1. To be fair, ammonium ditrate is REALLY easy to make into building-demolishing van dombs. People would be pissed off it law enforcement didn’t keep an eye on it. Though I’m sure it’s easy enough to steal from a farm, they’ve got to make what efforts they can.

      1. LE isnt omnipotent as you imply. And explosives can be bought very easily, especially those which use AN. Look for exploding target indicators at a sporting goods store which sells firearms. I know Gander Mountain is a distributor for Tannerite. It comes in two parts, AN in one part and a mix of Aluminum and Titanium powder and some other stabilizers in the other part. There are plenty of other companies on the internet.

        Also fertilizer grade AN is different from explosives grade, I believe the latter has small air pockets in the prills.

    1. It’s possible he’s “selling” these at a premium to finance (relatively) mass-production kits to be sold at regular prices, of course. Kickstarter is not (supposed to be) a store, but a crowdfunding platform.

      1. The opposite is also possible. He is trying to take everyone for everything he can, just as any other business owner does.

        Crowdfunding sounds nice, but more often than not it is nothing more than a scam to get more money for less work.

        1. Actually, the Heirloom Set will sell for more once the Kickstarter completes. These will be offered for between $900 and $1,000 AND the purchasers will have to pay shipping. The pledge level that gets one the complete kit includes the shipping with the pledge. I have been in the business of supplying SCIENCE for going on 10 years and I don’t rip off anyone!

          1. “Heirloom Set will sell for more”

            I’m sure that there are tons of people just lining up to spend $1,500 on a wood box, glass bottles and small amounts of chemicals.

    2. Everyone’s going on about how he’s going to get sued into oblivion, and you’re criticizing him for charging too much?

      Maybe he just wants to be able to:
      * make a quality product
      * save up for legal defense
      * save up to be able to ramp up production
      * pay himself a reasonable living wage for the work he’s doing

      1. I don’t see the issue with criticising this set.

        it’s a set of glass, (like what you can buy from ebay) with a set of chemicals, (which again most of which you can buy online without restriction fairly cheaply)

        I’ve amassed a small selection of chemistry equipment, mostly glassware, they live in the standard silver toolboxes, (mostly sold to electricians) each tool box is filled with a chunk of foam, (from the seat cushion of my old Ikea sofa) each has slots purpose cut for all the items in the set. i.e. they are better packaged and likely to last longer than the ones in this set.

        glassware is somewhere between quite and very cheap when bought second hand from ebay, bought new from educational suppliers, (like rapid electronics) it’s a little more expensive, but not unreasonable.

        chemicals can be bought in bulk, again, many from shops on ebay, some through educational suppliers, other chemicals can be procured through other means, -as in distilled from different compounds.

        the fact is at a grand this set is over priced for any one who wants a working chemistry set for practical use.

        if someone wants something that is a good looking and fairly educational tool then it’s not a bad price.
        it’s kind of in the name, heirloom set, it’s not really functioning equipments, it’s functional art. and is priced accordingly…

        the point I’m clumsily making is if you have some chemistry that you need to get done, this won’t be the thing that you want to get it done with (you’ll go buy more glass and more chemicals for less money and sort out your own box.
        if you want to buy a functional gift inside a pretty retro styled box, then this is a pretty amazing gift to receive.

    3. This same set, once the Kickstarter project concludes will be available for $900.00 (buth w/o the “stretch goal” rewards and shipping isn’t included). This set takes a long time to make and assemble. The Master Kit, w/o the wooden box take three to 7 days to assemble.

  7. This brought memories of myself playing with similar sets some 35 years ago. They were dangerous but highly instructional (what doesn’t kill you…), moreover those were the days when parents were supposed to spend time with kids and not leaving them rotting their minds in front of a tv or some videogame.
    I wish them best luck for the project! Great shop, btw.

    1. I wish you all the success in the world but I’m afraid that some brainless parental unit will buy this for their kid and when the little dear gets a splinter from the box you will be sued into the stone age. I hope this doesn’t happen, but I’m afraid it will.

  8. I’m all for these being available.
    One way you might make things a bit safer is to include ready made compounds for the “dangerous” ones ie YBa2Cu3O7+ pellet encased in indium/tin for the maglev experiment.
    Also many interesting experiments can be done with low voltages such as birefringence, homemade LEDs (silicon carbide), homemade LCDs using a natural solvent that is non toxic extracted from buttercups IIRC and all manner of electroluminescent experiments.

    Just my $0.019999997 (calculated on broken Pentium with FDIV)

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