Thursday, November 14, 2013

Heirloom Chemistry Set--WOW

"Heirloom Chemistry Set"


John Farrell Kuhns


To tell our story for this Kickstarter project, we really have to start in Christmas of 1959. Like many young scientists of the time, I received a Gilbert Chemistry set. This chemistry set provided me hours of great fun and learning as well as laying the foundation for my future as a research chemist. As I became an adult I wanted to share these types of experiences with my daughter, my nephews and nieces, and friends. But soon I became aware real chemistry sets were no longer available. Without real chemistry sets and opportunities for students to learn and explore, where would our future chemists come from? So .... I set out on a mission. Nine years ago, my wife and I acted on that mission and opened our science store, H.M.S. Beagle: to provide young scientists (and adults!) an opportunity to explore real science. At H.M.S. Beagle, a young scientist can buy chemicals, professional quality lab supplies and equipment to explore chemistry, physics, astronomy, and more! Our primary customers are families with children who have an interest in science and technology. We give the kids and their parents (and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings and friends) a place where they can find things to help build and keep their interests in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but being an artist myself, we also included the "A" for "art", especially as it relates to the other four areas, or "STEAM." At The Beagle, we especially enjoy our kids' science club for students form kindergarten to eighth grade.

At our Saturday morning meetings, club members explore a full range of science topics, from paleontology and astronomy to chemistry and robotics. We have watched our science club members move on to higher studies and careers in science and engineering we believe, in part, because of their Science Club experiences. We also are the main sponsor for Make: KC the family oriented maker/hacker organization in the Kansas City. . We also hold monthly star parties April through October, and we have an adult science club, the Beagle Society. Our numerous workshops cover robotics, rockets, astronomy, chemistry, perfumery, precious metal recovery and refining, fossil preparation, field trips to dig dinosaurs, and so much more. Before opening H.M.S. Beagle, I built custom-made chemistry sets, combining chemistry with my woodworking skills. Ever since opening The Beagle, I have wanted to be able to offer these custom-made, heirloom sets. Every week we get calls and questions about real chemistry sets, and even the people who bought my early sets have asked if they are still available. I have been able to build a few, but not enough to satisfy the demand and meet our mission to provide the sets to a larger audience.

So .. enter the Kickstarter opportunity: I have designed a new set that can be cut out on a CNC router and quickly hand assembled and finished (complete with the shiny brass hardware and the exotic wood inlays of my original sets). In addition to building the beautiful, custom heirloom box for the chemistry set, I synthesize, purify, and/or formulate and package all of the chemicals.

The equipment is personally selected for the home experimenter. Please read each pledge level carefully...some levels are stand alone levels, while others build upon some of the preceding levels.

Important notes about the equipment and chemicals offered in this project: The selection of chemicals in this set matches those originally offered by the A.C. Gilbert company from the 1920s through the 40s. We understand the hesitancy of some parents to allow their children to have access to certain chemicals and while every chemical we offer is safe when handled properly we will offer those who have pledged at those levels, where appropriate, to request substitutes for any given chemical or chemicals. We stand ready to make suggestions for proper substitutes which will allow the experimenter to make use of the supplied manuals, experiments and demonstrations. Each chemical has a QR code on its label that links directly to its particular Safety Data Sheet on our web site ( ). We are committed to safety and stand ready to provide advice when asked.

Regarding equipment, while we have shipped custom chemistry sets (both chemicals and equipment) to customers in each of the 50 states for the past 10 years it needs to be noted that some states do frown on its citizens owning chemical glassware. We recommend that if this is a concern to you that you contact your state and/or local authorities to ascertain what may be allowed.

With your support, we will be able to keep the complete set's price at, or below, what the original sets sold for 9 and 10 years ago. We have scores of customers who compliment us on our store and our mission and what we offer the community, but a business can only rely on "good will" for so long. Your participation in our "Heirloom Chemistry Set Project" here on Kickstarter will help ensure that The Beagle continues on while also helping get some really fine chemistry sets into the hands of all those young scientists and those adults wanting to relive their childhood experiences!

Risks and challenges

Our project's greatest challenge to completing and launching this project has been producing the actual sets' boxes exactly to my specifications. It has taken us almost a full year to convert drawings to computer readable files and finally to go from computer drawings to a tangible object. This was done using a large CNC router to cut multi-ply Baltic birch plywood.

The components of the chemistry set are taken directly from our science store, the H.M.S. Beagle and/or are manufactured directly in my own laboratory and workshop. I produce and package all of the chemicals contained in the chemistry set and will continue to produce and package replacement chemicals as well as adding new ones to our product line every week or so.

The issue of safety and appropriateness is also a concern. My experience for more than 10 years selling home hobby chemicals and chemistry sets, as well as my experience for more than 50 years a chemist, has made me fully aware of safety when it comes to chemistry sets. Just like all chemistry sets, the Heirloom Chemistry Set is not for use (1) by children under the age of 9, (2) by children without proper adult supervision, or (3) by children who cannot read English.

And this...

"Chemistry set Kickstarter looks to recapture the wonder of days gone by"

Graham Templeton

November 14th, 2013


The phrase “chemistry set” is embedded in the collective unconscious, but try to actually call one to mind. What does a chemistry set look like? What does it include? What can you do with it? If you’re anything close to being a millennial, you probably have only vague answers to these questions. If you’re a little older, however, you probably remember one of the classic sets that is responsible for our powerful (if nonspecific) connection to the concept of a chemistry set. Chief among these, in many people’s eyes, is the Gilbert Chemistry Set, which inspired untold numbers of young people to study chemistry.

Now a new Kickstarter wants to help adults and children alike recapture an excitement that most of them have never actually known. Research chemist John Kuhns has been making wood-box chemistry sets for years, mostly as gifts and small sales direct to friends and family, but now he wants to scale up the operation and bring the tools of real chemists back to the everyday home.

His Heirloom Chemistry Set is certainly focused on nostalgia more heavily than on affordability; with a box of birch including mahogany inlays, the set is hardly cheap, and is clearly meant to be kept visible within the house. This is half chemistry set, half personal statement.

The Kickstarter’s tiers range from under $10 to almost $1,000, but you’ll be pledging at least $175 to secure the lowest-end kit. Even this comes with 64 chemicals, however, that can be mixed to do things like start a small fire or display acid-base reactivity. Bumping up to $225 will score you a nice array of glassware to go with it — and if you’re shelling out for the chemicals you definitely want the proper, non-reactive beakers to mix them in. The $550 and $900 tiers seem to provide diminishing returns, adding a book and alcohol lamp and a hand-held scale, respectively.

So where did the chemistry set get off to? With so many shiny toys to distract, it’s possible that the lure of simple chemical reactions became dulled, and there was definitely an aspect of consumer apathy in the downfall of the chemistry set. Just as important, though, was a sort of arm-flapping parental panic that ignorantly branded all chemicals as dangerous. This is the mentality that decided the possibility of a minor chemical spill was scary enough to warrant sheltering a child from truly creative toolsets. This is the generation that drove Lego to making almost exclusively pre-made sets.

This Heirloom Chemistry Set is equal parts chemistry set and attempt to recapture the past. While this might find its way to a few kids, it definitely seems like a project designed for the adult child on everyone’s wish list. With just $3,000 left to raise at time of writing, and over 40 days in which to do it, this set seems destined for success. The only question is whether you want to get in now, or wait for the price to go up a few months down the road. 

H. M. S. Beagle

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