Where to Buy Chemicals and Other Materials

The supplies and chemicals specified within the experiments were, of course, intended to be a set of "easily obtainable" materials. However, the set of materials that might be described that way has changed greatly over the last half century. You might understand if a few of them are simply (or practically) unavailable in the modern era. One of the motivations for this annotated edition is to make the book more usable by filling in these gaps with modern sources and (in some cases) modern substitutes.

Some of the materials are genuinely hazardous and rarely used (by individuals) for reasons of safety. Substances such as mercury and asbestos are still legal and in widespread industrial use, but have either been banned or fallen out of favor in many of their former applications. Kitchen potholders are no longer lined with asbestos, and oral thermometers are more likely to be digital than mercury-filled. And that is not a bad thing. In the one place where asbestos actually comes up in the book — an asbestos tile to protect your desk from hot glassware — we recommend that you use a regular kitchen trivet instead.

Some other materials are no longer produced (at least in quantity), for example, vacuum tubes for radios.

And some other materials that are hard to purchase without appropriate credentials. Many chemical supply companies will only sell to institutions or approved companies. As an independent or amateur scientist, nothing could be more frustrating. We will endeavor to provide alternate sources or substitutes when barriers like these might become issues.

This table is a living resource, that we are currently updating, and will continue to update with links and sources for purchasing the individual materials. (We are working on allowing reader-contributed sourcing notes as well.) Please see the bottom of the page for the meanings of abbreviations that are used.

Chemical or material Sources
Acetaminophen (pure, as crystals or powder) Also known as Paracetamol. CH.
Acetic acid GS (as distilled white vinegar).
Acetone DS or GS (as nail polish remover), CH, HI, HS, IS.
Agar agar GS. Amazon.com.
Alcohol See also Note 6 in Appendix E of the book about alcohol. CH, DS, GS, HS. Amazon.com.
Alum May refer to ammonium aluminum sulfate or potassium aluminum sulfate.
Aluminum metal GS (as aluminum foil), HI, HS, IS. McMaster-Carr.
Ammonium aluminum sulfate GS (spice aisle, as alum, for pickling).
Ammonium dichromate CH, HC. United Nuclear, Home Science Tools, The Science Company.
Ammonium hydroxide ("household ammonia") GS, HS (cleaning section) Home Science Tools.
Ammonium sulfate HI or HS (as a fertilizer) Amazon.com part number: B000BZ4RJY.
Baby bottle (glass) Amazon.com part number: B001F50FFO.
Baking soda (Sodium bicarbonate) GS, HS.
Bamboo skewers GS, HI or HS (grilling section), kitchen goods store.
Battery, flashlight "Heavy duty" type,not alkaline, for carbon rods, zinc, and manganese dioxide powder. HS.
BBs (metal shot) SG.
Beaker LS. United Nuclear, Amazon.com part number: B008VEHLBI.
Bell jar, vacuum ASC.
Bell wire HI, HS. Solid conductor insulated wire (as opposed to stranded wire). Commonly found as a bonded pair (zip cord) of two separately insulated solid-core wires, typically 20 to 24 gauge wire. Amazon.com part number B000UE471O.
Benedict’s solution CH. Home Science Tools.
Bicycle pump SG. Bike store, second-hand store. See also: vacuum pump, bicycle tire pump style.
Blotting paper See paper, blotting.
Borax (sodium tetraborate) HS (laundry or cleaning section). Amazon.com part number: B000R4LONQ.
Boric acid CH, GS, HI, HS (as an insecticide). United Nuclear, Amazon.com part number: B001V9WY0S.
Bottle, baby (glass) Amazon.com part number: B001F50FFO.
Bottle, dropper LS, Amazon.com part number B0081SRRFO.
Bottle stoppers See stoppers.
Brine shrimp eggs Pet store.
Broom straw A filament of plant matter, taken from a household broom that has natural fibers. HI, HS.
Calcium oxide CH. United Nuclear.
Camphor Indian grocery stores (as edible camphor). Amazon.com part number: B000UYIQYI.
Canada balsam AS, CH.
Carbon rods Found as welding electrodes (welding supply store). McMaster-Carr, Amazon.com. Inside "heavy duty" flashlight batteries. United Nuclear. Thick pencil leads may also be used for light duty applications: AS, CS, DS, OS
Chrome alum See chromium potassium sulfate.
Chromium potassium sulfate CH, HC. The Science Company, Amazon.com part number: B001D7NHEA.
Cigar box CS. Amazon.com part number: B001767QPS. Alternately, use an empty shoe box or box from a set of chocolates.
Citric acid GS, HB, HS (canning section). Health food store. Amazon.com part number: B00EYFKKZC.
Clips electrical (alligator) ES, Amazon.com part number: B0002JJU28, Newark part number: 82R5255.
Clothespins CS, GS, HS.
Coal, bituminous Small quantities are frequently available on eBay.
Coal, anthracite Amazon.com part number: B00845R1AU.
Cobalt chloride CH, HC. United Nuclear.
Cobalt nitrate CH.
Compass (directional) SG. Amazon.com.
Congo red CH. Recommended substitute: Eosin Y.
Copper sheet or strip HC, HI, or HS (roofing section) United Nuclear. US Penny coin (pre-1982).
Copper tubing HS, HI, IS.
Copper acetate CH, HC. United Nuclear.
Copper sulfate CH, HC, HS (as root killer). Amazon.com part number: B007HU6G22, Home Science Tools.
Cotton-covered wire Use any modern insulated wire as a substitute. (Plastic insulation is much more common than cotton.) HI, HS.
Cotton rope See rope, cotton.
Curtain rod, lockseam HI, HS. Amazon.com part number: B007ULEZV2.
Ditto fluid See Note 3 in Appendix E of the book.
Dark glasses See welding shade.
Denatured alcohol See also Note 6 in Appendix E of the book, about different kinds of "alcohol." CH, DS, GS, HS.
Diffraction grating Carnival "Rainbow" glasses. Home Science Tools, Amazon.com part number: B006ZBISI4.
Dicoumarol CH.
HI, HS, CS, AS. Amazon.com part number: B0000A605H.
Duplicator fluid Pure alcohol may be substituted. Modern substitute duplicating fluids (such as the non-flammable type available here) may or may not be suitable for your experiments, depending on what properties are needed. See also Note 7 in Appendix E of the book.
Dropper bottle See bottle, dropper.
Dry ice GS.
Ethyl acetate CH. Home Science Tools.
Eosin Y CH. Home Science Tools, Amazon.com part number: B00K33JCL2.
Epsom salt (Magnesium sulfate) DS, HB.
Emery paper (sandpaper) HI, HS, IS.
Fahnestock clips Amazon.com part number: B008C4S31Y Newark part number: 96F9060. Substitute: Shiny (nickel/chrome plated) paper clips or binder clips, OS. Substitute: Alligator clips.
Fehling’s solution CH.
Ferrous sulfate Garden supply (as a soil additive). Amazon.com part number: B00KJL5ZL4.
Filter paper GS (coffee section), CH, HC. The Science Company.
Full wave rectifier See rectifier bridge.
Funnel, plastic HS, IS, LS, Kitchen Goods store. McMaster-Carr.
Funnel, metal (steel or aluminum) HS, LS, IS. McMaster-Carr.
Gallon jug HB. Amazon.com part number B0064O8Z76.
Galvanometer ES.
Gelatin GS (use unflavored, unsweetened gelatin), HB.
Glass pane HI, HS.
Glass tubing The Science Company, Amazon.com part number: B001949476 United Nuclear.
Glass microscope slide See slide, microscope.
Glasses, dark See welding shade.
Glue, white (e.g., Elmers, wood glue) Also known as PVA (Polyvinyl acetate) glue. AS, CS, GS, OS.
Graduated cylinder HC, LS. The Science Company, Home Science Tools, Arbor Scientific.
Grating, diffraction See diffraction grating.
Hacksaw blade HI, HS, IS.
Hemoglobinometer (Tallquist Hemoglobin scale) Kemtec.
Helium gas CS or party stores, for balloons.
Hibiscus flower, dried GS (in herbal tea or spice section).
Hydrated lime See lime.
Hydrogen peroxide (3%) DS, GS.
Hydrochloric acid (HCl, muriatic acid) HB, HI (as cleaner and etchant for concrete), HS (as pH regulator for swimming pools), IS. Amazon.com, United Nuclear.
Hydrochloric acid (food grade) Health food store.
Hypo See sodium thiosulfate.
Iodine (solution) CH. United Nuclear.
Iron filings CH. Amazon.com, Arbor Scientific, United Nuclear.
Isolation transformer, fused Electrical supply store. Amazon.com part number: B00006HPFH, Amazon.com part number: B000LDLF3M.
Knitting needles, steel CS. Nickel-plated steel is ideal.
Lath, wood HI, HS. Lumberyard.
Laundry bluing GS, HS. Mrs. Stewarts.
Lead metal SG (as fishing sinkers or lead metal shot). United Nuclear.
Lenses See Note 24 in Appendix E of the book.
Lime (calcium hydroxide)--not the fruit HS (canning section, Mexican spices), HI (garden section, as hydrated lime). Amazon.com part number B0084LZU1Q.
Lime water (saturated solution of calcium hydroxide) Make lime water by mixing a teaspoon of hydrated lime with one pint of water.
Lye (sodium hydroxide, historically potassium hydroxide) CH, HC, HS (as a drain opener). Soap making supply companies. Gourmet food store (as Caustic Soda). Home Science Tools, Bulk Apothecary, Amazon.com part number: B001EDBEZM.
Magnesium powder United Nuclear.
Magnesium ribbon CH. Amazon.com, Rotometals, United Nuclear.
Malic acid HB. Amazon.com part number: B0064GZB58.
Magnesium sulfate See epsom salt.
Manganese dioxide CH. Can be found in zinc-carbon batteries (see Note 12 in Appendix E of the book). Home Science Tools.
Manganese sulfate CH, HI (garden section). Amazon.com part number: B004RXD1HK.
Masking tape CS, HI or HS (painting section), OS.
Masonite AS, HI, HS.
Mason jar GS, HS.
Measuring spoon set GS, HS.
Methylene blue CH. Pet store (aquarium section). Amazon.com, Home Science Tools.
Mercury Use not advised. See Notes 26 and 32 in Appendix E of the book for substitutes and recommendations. CH. United Nuclear.
Merthiolate Also known as thiomersal or thimerosal. Use not advised; contains mercury. CH, possibly DS (as antiseptic).
Mercury switch Amazon.com part number: B001QG76B8.
Milk of magnesia DS.
Mothballs/crystals See naphthalene.
Muriatic acid See hydrochloric acid.
Nails, finishing HI, HS.
Naphthalene Traditional mothballs. United Nuclear. See also Note 20 in Appendix E of the book.
Neon bulb ES. Jameco part number: 210315.
Nichrome wire, 20 AWG (gauge) Electrical supply store. CS (as replacement wire for hot-wire foam cutter). McMaster-Carr, United Nuclear.
Nickel sulfate CH. Available in nickel plating kits. Amazon.com part number: B00LET73NI.
Nitric acid CH. Hydroponic supply store. Amazon.com part number: B002LHW8PA, The Science Company.
Pancreatin CH. Veterinary supply. Health food stores (in tablet form with additives).
Paper, blotting (Most commonly, as watercolor paper) AS, CS, OS.
Papier-mâché (paper mache paste/wheat paste) HI or HS (wallpaper section). HCS.
Paraffin wax GS, HS (canning section) McMaster-Carr.
Pepsin CH. Home Science Tools.
Petri dish LS. Home Science Tools, The Science Company, Amazon.com, United Nuclear.
Phenolphthalein solution Home Science Tools, United Nuclear.
Phonograph (Also known as record player/turntable) Second-hand store. Amazon.com part number: B00AOBHDPA.
Phosphoric acid CH, HB, HI (as concrete etchant), IS (as cleaner). Amazon.com
pHydrion paper CH, LS. The Science Company.
Polarizing film, linear (Also known as Polaroid Filter) Arbor Scientific, Home Science Tools.
Plaster of Paris AS, HI, HS.
Plastic wrap (clear stretch type) GS as ``Saran Wrap,'' plastic cling film.
Potassium alum See potassium aluminum sulfate.
Potassium aluminum sulfate DS or GS (in health/beauty, as alum block for razor burn), AS or CS (as alum powder for tanning and dyeing). Amazon.com part number: B004NEHR28 for Alum block, Amazon.com part number: B0009IN1FY for Alum powder.
Potassium chromate CH. Home Science Tools.
Potassium chromium sulfate See chromium potassium sulfate.
Potassium dichromate CH. United Nuclear.
Potassium ferricyanide CH. United Nuclear.
Potassium hydroxide CH, CS (for soapmaking, as caustic potash). Home Science Tools, The Science Company, United Nuclear, Amazon.com.
Potassium iodide CH. Amazon.com, United Nuclear.
Potassium nitrate (saltpeter) CH. United Nuclear.
Potassium permanganate CH. Amazon.com. United Nuclear.
Potassium sodium tartrate See Rochelle salt.
Potentiometer (50 ohm, 1000 ohm) ES.
Propane torch HI, HS, IS.
Radioactive source See Note 28 in Appendix E of the book. Thoriated tungsten welding electrode: McMaster-Carr. Uranium ore available from United Nuclear.
Radiometer Amazon.com part number: B0007YFJI2, ThinkGeek.
Rectifier bridge (full wave) Suggested type: GBU8D (see Note 35 in Appendix E of the book for usage). Digi-key part number: GBU8D-ND.
Resistors ES.
Rochelle salt (potassium sodium tartrate) CS, Amazon.com.
Rope, cotton HI, HS.
Rope, clothesline See rope, cotton.
Rubber band OS.
Rubber cement AS, OS.
Rubber tubing Used on gravity wash bottle. Typically, latex tubing is the best choice when general purpose "rubber tubing" is specified. Medical supply stores. McMaster-Carr.
Rubbing alcohol See also Note 6 in Appendix E of the book about alcohol. CH, DS, GS, HS.
Ruler (plastic or wood) AS, GS, OS.
Saran Wrap See plastic wrap.
Sealing wax AS. Stationery store.
Shellac Real shellac may come as flakes that can be dissolved with alcohol. AS, HI.
Shot, metal SG (as BBs).
Silver bromide CH. Photographic supply stores.
Silver nitrate CH. The Science Company, Home Science Tools, United Nuclear.
Slide, microscope LS. Hobby store The Science Company, Home Science Tools, United Nuclear.
Soda lime Medical/veterinary supply. Amazon.com part number: B00GRPVEL6.
Sodium acetate CH. United Nuclear.
Sodium bicarbonate See baking soda.
Sodium bisulfate CH. United Nuclear.
Sodium bromate CH.
Sodium carbonate See washing soda.
Sodium chlorate CH.
Sodium nitrate CH. United Nuclear.
Sodium oxalate CH. HCS.
Sodium silicate CH. Amazon.com part number: B0019LVJO0, United Nuclear.
Sodium sulfate CH. United Nuclear.
Sodium thiosulfate ("hypo" to photographers) CH. Home Science Tools, Amazon.com part number: B00HEYUWVW, United Nuclear.
Solar filter (eclipse viewing film) See Note 13 in Appendix E of the book. A #14 or darker welding shade, from a welding supply store. Telescope store. Amazon.com part number B00712I3JA, ASC.
Spectra cord Kite store. SG (as kite line or fishing line).
Spectrometer Amazon.com part number: B00FGARIAO.
Splint (as in ``glowing splint'') GS, HS (as long fireplace matches or wooden coffee stirrers).
Star charts Recommended types include: Miller PlanisphereA>, Philip's Planisphere, the David H. Levy "Guide to the Stars," and Chandler's "The Night Sky.". Download and print: Uncle Al's Starwheels. Note that it is necessary to get a type that is made for your latitude. See also Note 22 in Appendix E of the book.
Starch GS (in laundry or in baking as corn, potato, tapioca, or arrowroot starch).
Steel wool HI, HS, IS. Amazon.com, McMaster-Carr.
Stirring rod, glass CH, HC. Gourmet kitchen goods store (bartending section). The Science Company.
Stoppers (bottle stoppers, sizes #1, 3, 6½, 7 solid or with 1-hole or 2-hole) LS, IS, HB. Home Science Tools, The Science Company, Amazon.com, McMaster-Carr.
Sulfur CH, HC. Amazon.com, United Nuclear, Home Science Tools, Hobby Chemical Supply, The Science Company.
Sulfuric acid AM (as battery acid in low concentration), CH, HC, HS (certain drain openers). Amazon.com part number: B00KAIQI1W, United Nuclear, Home Science Tools.
Telescope Two recommendations to purchase a low-cost telescope: The Galileoscope, about $50, or (much better) the Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope, about $200. If you can budget about $400, the Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian is an incredibly good next step up and value for the money. See also Note 27 in Appendix E of the book.
Test tubes CH, HC, LS. The Science Company, Home Science Tools, United Nuclear.
Thoriated tungsten See radioactive source.
Tide chart Online, http://www.saltwatertides.com for example.
Tire pump See bicycle pump.
Transformer, filament. Input: 117 V. Output: 6.3 V, at least 0.5 A ES. eBay. Suggested part: Hammond Mfg part number 166L6 (2 A output). Mouser.com Part number: 546-166L6, Newark part number: 92F1309. Wiring diagram from Hammond.
Turpentine AS, HS. Amazon.com part number: B001V9X8ZI.
Uranium glass United Nuclear, various other internet shops as "Uranium glass marbles." Sometimes labeled as "Vaseline glass."
Vacuum gauge Included with some vacuum pumps. AM, HS (automotive section). Amazon.com part number: B006K2RIY8 McMaster-Carr.
Vacuum grease Vaseline (original 100% petroleum jelly version): DS. Purpose-built vacuum grease (e.g., Dow Corning brand): Scientific supply. Amazon.com part number: B001UHMNW0.
Vacuum pump, hand operated AM (as brake bleeding pump). Amazon.com part number: B00265M9SS.
Vacuum pump, bicycle tire pump style Build one in Chapter 2 of the book! AM (as oil extractor pump). Amazon.com part number: B0000BYO97.
Variac with isolation Electrical supply store. Amazon.com part number: B006NGC6HU.
Water glass See sodium silicate.
Washing soda (Sodium carbonate) GS, HS (laundry section). Amazon.com part number: B0029XNTEU.
Weather stripping HI, HS.
Welding shade Welding supply store, Amazon.com.
Wheat paste See papier-mâché.
Window glass See glass pane.
Wood glue See glue, white.
Wright’s stain CH, HC, LS. Home Science Tools.
Xylene CH, HI, or HS (painting section, as a solvent).
Zinc metal Inner case of "Heavy Duty" flashlight batteries. White metal inside copper coating of post-1982 US penny. Home Science Tools, United Nuclear.
Zinc sulfate CH, HC. Home Science Tools.
Zinc sulfide CH, HC. Steve Spangler Science, United Nuclear.

General abbreviations used in the table:

  • AM — Automotive supply (e.g., Pep Boys, O'Reilly)
  • AS — Art supply store (e.g., Michaels, Blick, cheapjoes.com)
  • CH — Chemical supply house (e.g., Fisher, Sigma-Aldrich, Cole Parmer)
  • CS — Craft store (e.g., Michaels, JoAnn)
  • DS — Drugstore or pharmacy (e.g., CVS, Walgreens)
  • ES — Electronics store (e.g., Newark, Digi-Key)
  • GS — Grocery store (e.g., Safeway, Lucky, Kroger)
  • HB — Homebrewing/Winemaking store (e.g. MoreBeer, Northern Brewer)
  • HC — Hobby chemical store (e.g., Home Science Tools, United Nuclear)
  • HI — Home improvement store (e.g., Lowe's, Home Depot)
  • HS — Hardware store (e.g., Ace, True Value, OSH)
  • IS — Industrial supply (e.g., McMaster-Carr, Grainger)
  • LS — Laboratory supply (e.g., LabPro)
  • OS — Office supply store (e.g., Staples, Office Depot)
  • SG — Sporting goods store (e.g., REI, Dick’s, Sports Authority)