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Glass-eating chemical projects in your home laboratory from Popular Science 1938 -

Etching your laboratory glassware is only one of the many possibilities offered by compounds of the active element fluorine. NOT long ago, a noted chemist told of a solvent powerful enough to dissolve nearly every known material. If the water on the earth were replaced with a liquid called selenium oxychloride, he said, we should have to carry umbrellas made of glass, platinum, or tungsten whenever it rained, for those are about the only substances that the fluid does not attack. There is a more familiar chemical, however, so corrosive that it could even eat its way through a glass umbrella. Its name is hydrofluoric acid, and it is one of the interesting compounds of the highly active element fluorine with which you will enjoy experimenting in your home laboratory.

Modern Mechanix » Thrilling Stunts with a Glass-Eating Chemical – Link.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. milombogo@gmail.com says:

    Not that anyone here would have a problem with this, but it should be said that Hydrofluoric Acid is quite the nasty chemical, causing all kinds of painful damage to bone and tissue. It’s also supposed to be really really painful…
    Wikipedia entry for Hydrofluoric Acid

  2. samurai1200 says:

    I’m guessing that it’s also no longer legal to posess without a license?

  3. tms10000 says:

    I thought it was legal. I think you can buy glass etching kits using hydrofluoric acid. It’s not more dangerous than acetone of gasoline.

  4. milombogo@gmail.com says:

    It is certainly more dangerous than acetone or gasoline because it can cause severe bone and tissue damage with relatively low exposure. From the Wikipedia article:

    Symptoms of skin exposure to dilute HF are not felt immediately, but exposure of 10% of the body to it can be fatal, even with medical treatment.

    and

    In the body, hydrofluoric acid reacts with the ubiquitous ions of calcium and magnesium and so can disable tissues and organs whose proper function depends on these metal ions. Exposure to hydrofluoric acid may not be initially painful, and symptoms may not occur until several hours later, when the acid begins to react with calcium in the bones. Under most circumstances, hydrofluoric acid exposure results in severe or even lethal damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, and nerves.

  5. atomicthumbs says:

    “Flourine”, “enjoy experimenting with”, and “home laboratory should NOT be in the same sentence.

  6. atomicthumbs says:

    “Flourine”, “enjoy experimenting with”, and “home laboratory should NOT be in the same sentence.

  7. iamanangelchaser says:

    I am a practicing organic chemist in doctoral candidacy in the laboratory of Eric V. Anslyn at the University of Texas at Austin. Concentrated hydrofluoric acid is one of the most dangerous chemicals a human being is likely to encounter on this earth. To say that it is “no more dangerous than gasoline or acetone” is not only entirely false but dangerously so. It is considerably more dangerous than concentrated hydrochloric or hydrobromic or hydroiodic or sulfuric acids. Not only will it burn you terribly, it will diffuse through your skin and form insoluble CaF2 salts in your body. Besides the effects of hypocalcermia this causes, there are all the attendant risks associated with the formation of insoluble solid salts in your bloodstream, not the least of which are “throbbing, hammerlike pain,” stroke, heart attack, and death. At UT anyone who works with HF is required to undergo a special safety class which is dedicated to explaining its dangers, recommended best working practices, and disposal requirements. It is the only chemical with this distinction. To suggest that it is appropriate for home experimentation is almost criminally negligent, in my opinion. Besides the risks associated with individual exposure, it is very unlikely that proper care will be exercised by amateur experimenters in attending to its disposal. Its environmental footprint is significant.

  8. iamanangelchaser says:

    I am a practicing organic chemist in doctoral candidacy in the laboratory of Eric V. Anslyn at the University of Texas at Austin. Concentrated hydrofluoric acid is one of the most dangerous chemicals a human being is likely to encounter on this earth. To say that it is “no more dangerous than gasoline or acetone” is not only entirely false but dangerously so. It is considerably more dangerous than concentrated hydrochloric or hydrobromic or hydroiodic or sulfuric acids. Not only will it burn you terribly, it will diffuse through your skin and form insoluble CaF2 salts in your body. Besides the effects of hypocalcermia this causes, there are all the attendant risks associated with the formation of insoluble solid salts in your bloodstream, not the least of which are “throbbing, hammerlike pain,” stroke, heart attack, and death. At UT anyone who works with HF is required to undergo a special safety class which is dedicated to explaining its dangers, recommended best working practices, and disposal requirements. It is the only chemical with this distinction. To suggest that it is appropriate for home experimentation is almost criminally negligent, in my opinion. Besides the risks associated with individual exposure, it is very unlikely that proper care will be exercised by amateur experimenters in attending to its disposal. Its environmental footprint is significant.

  9. iamanangelchaser says:

    I am a practicing organic chemist in doctoral candidacy in the laboratory of Eric V. Anslyn at the University of Texas at Austin. Concentrated hydrofluoric acid is one of the most dangerous chemicals a human being is likely to encounter on this earth. To say that it is “no more dangerous than gasoline or acetone” is not only entirely false but dangerously so. It is considerably more dangerous than concentrated hydrochloric or hydrobromic or hydroiodic or sulfuric acids. Not only will it burn you terribly, it will diffuse through your skin and form insoluble CaF2 salts in your body. Besides the effects of hypocalcermia this causes, there are all the attendant risks associated with the formation of insoluble solid salts in your bloodstream, not the least of which are “throbbing, hammerlike pain,” stroke, heart attack, and death. At UT anyone who works with HF is required to undergo a special safety class which is dedicated to explaining its dangers, recommended best working practices, and disposal requirements. It is the only chemical with this distinction. To suggest that it is appropriate for home experimentation is almost criminally negligent, in my opinion. Besides the risks associated with individual exposure, it is very unlikely that proper care will be exercised by amateur experimenters in attending to its disposal. Its environmental footprint is significant.

  10. TheThompsonFive says:

    But you know, if you add a little olive oil and some sea salt it makes a pretty good vinagrette. Warm it up and toss it with some baby spinach leaves, you’ll see.

  11. JoeyBob says:

    I have personally seen an HF burn, and it isn’t pretty.
    It acts as a topical anesthetic, so you don’t immediately feel the injury.
    One of the areas of our lab that was off limits to most personnel was the area that did HF assays. I told new hires that if they saw a problem in that lab, call the safety officer and 911 in that order, and not to go in the lab.

    We had in improperly routed/filtered fume hood in that lab, and etched the windshield of everyone in the parking lot. Had to replace a bunch of windows that week!

  12. dculberson says:

    TheThompsonFive: That was amazingly funny.

    Everyone Else: I think it’s important to note that this is an article from an era past, truly put here for “entertainment purposes only.” Many science experiment articles from 1938 would be viewed as outright reckless in today’s society. Heck, they used to sell a nuclear experimentation kit. Make had a post on that. They aren’t suggesting that you play around with Polonium 210 in posting it, it’s for entertainment. Enjoy it.

    (Now, if Phillip starts selling Hydrofluoric Acid in the MAKE store, then I’ll retract my comment.)

    (And, I wanna try that vinaigrette. You first.)

  13. McGyver says:

    I have been through a lot of safety training for working in refineries and chemical plants. The only training that actually scared me was the training for working around HF.

  14. iamanangelchaser says:

    dculberson: So you’re trying to tell me that the MAKE blog is posting all this fascinating how-to information “for entertainment” only? Sorry, I must have been confused; I thought this was a site for do-it-yourselfers. I didn’t realize I was in the company of historians.

    This is one of those sad cases where our litigious culture has gotten out of control. OSHA slaps terrifying warning labels on nanopure water, sea sand, and wood dust, and people eventually get the message that all the warning labels are exaggerations and can be safely ignored. The sad truth is, most of them really are, and really can. BUT NOT HF. The whole reason for posting my warning (althrough three times was admittedly a bit much) was to make that point to amateurs who might not be in the position to know which labels they can ignore and which ones they can’t. And although it would certainly be their own fault for not knowing that this article, alone among thousands of others on the MAKE site, was “for entertainment” only, I imagine we’d all feel pretty lousy if some enthusiastic amateur accidentally killed or maimed themselves following its advice.

  15. Thomas says:

    My grandma had bottles of the stuff laying around after she died. It was branded as Wink, and it was used to take off fired(or unfired I can’t remember) china paints on porcelain. I we saw a bottle, we waited for my dad to come by because some of those bottles were in a pretty ropey condition. I think we kept a few…

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