Progress at Last

by Terry 7/30/2008 9:38:00 AM

I have finally made some progress on my home chemistry lab. I set a rough target for having everything ready to go by the end of summer (really the start of the school year), around the end August. So far I am on track, and maybe ahead of my plan because I am just plain overeager. I took pictures of the currently clean and fully assembled workbench, which is the mainstay of my plan. With everything coming together I will be able to run a few labs sessions to establish a routine ahead of working with others in my ‘science club’ scheme.

My inspiration for a home chemistry lab and creating a science club where I can tutor my daughter and a few neighborhood kids came from my interests in the sciences, teaching and the efforts of Robert Bruce Thompson and his book, Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments. I am ready to act on that inspiration.

I spent a portion of Sunday afternoon with my friend Richard working in my garage leveling my workbench and attaching the melamine counter tops. The counter tops are nothing special, just quarter-sheets of melamine-coated particle board. Years ago, when I managed a SCUBA equipment service center, I built my work bench out of the same material, which held up for years of abuse. Now, like then, I want a cheap, easily replaceable and chemical-resistant work surface. I am compromising pretty for pure function.

My lab-bench is another compromise. At one point I acquired some industrial steel shelving, rated to hold something like 400kg. These can be assembled in various shapes, including a bench-height configuration. I bolted three of these benches together rather than building or buying cabinetry. It is not precisely pretty, but it works. I can also remove and relocate the entire bench quickly, although I have no reason to do so at this time. The downside is there are no cabinet doors to protect what is stored on otherwise open shelves; more on that in a moment.

Leveling the bench in the garage was not difficult. Most garage concrete-slab floors have a gentle slope so fluids drain out of the garage (like a water dripping off a wet car, which happens a lot in the Pacific North West). Conveniently, the foundation wall of the garage is level and has a three-inch lip on the inside of the garage wall along the floor. Richard and I perched my bench on the concrete lip, helpfully leveling the far side of the bench, and attached the metal frame to the garage wall. We shimmed the front legs to level the near side and then extended the front legs with some scrap wood. We finish it off by attaching three panels of melamine to the top, leaving a slight overlap on the front edge.

A trip to the discount store supplied the plastic tubs and drawer sets for storage, my compromise for cabinetry. I unpacked the lab equipment and glassware last night into the bins, with room to spare. I have some minor storage issues still to work out, like where to keep the 50ml glass burette. The pipettes fit into the drawers well enough for now, but the burette is too long. At the moment I have it clamped on the ring stand. I would like to find a suitable way to protect everything from dust and mishap, so leaving the burette on the stand is not ideal. The thermometer comes in a nice triangular clear plastic tube. A source for similar plastic tubes would be ideal. It protects the glassware from damage and dust, does not roll and can be stored in a larger, sturdier cylinder either standing upright or on its side.

I still have extra bins and drawers for chemical storage. The draws are basically bins in plastic frames; no holes in the sides or bottoms of the drawers. This is great to capture any inadvertent leaks if I store stock here. I will spend some time this week sorting out what should go where. (Kaitlin likes to help with this too. She already stocked one drawer with our lab notebooks and a supply of pens and pencils.) I have a large lidded tub and space on the garage floor under the bench for bulk storage which I have not utilized yet. It is a bit cramped, but not hideously so.

Temperature is a minor issue. Snoqualmie, 25 miles east of Seattle, has a maritime climate. Not too hot, not too cold. We get cold spells in the winter below freezing for a week or more. I plan on storing some items in bins I can bring into the house and store in the pantry during the winter. If I do lab work in the winter, I do have a space heater and halogen work lights to help warm the area, but that may not be a good mix if there are fumes and odors and I cannot open the garage door for ventilation. Winter may be the off-season. Not that Karen would complain too much about that. Such is life.

Lastly, I am trying to keep in consideration having a couple kids working with me (there are two interested at the moment, in addition to Kaitlin). Counter space is limited, but one advantage using the garage is that I can move the car to the driveway. I have several folding chairs and tables in the garage, easily accessible, making for an instant classroom or extended work area.

The lab is ready to start working in and working it will identify and address remaining, some perpetual, issues. Conducting experiments in the future will likely create new issues, requiring new equipment, time and new supplies too. I look forward to the challenge. I need to start through the labs. At the moment time is an issue. I have martial arts practice and teaching several times a week in addition to my ‘paying’ job to work around and I need to create a schedule Karen and Kaitlin will be happy with. Patience is the key. Equipment is not the only recurring issue; time and family are more important and perpetual. Progress sometimes comes in inches.

Pictures
My workbench
 

Drawers of equipment and glassware

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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