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liquid motion timers (aka density timers/toys) What's in them? Answered

You know those liquid motion toys you often find at places like Spencer gifts in which a denser liquid (usual bright colored) drips down onto a spiral and you can watch this discrete bubble ride on down?

I'm wondering what's inside them and if its feasible to make your own. I've heard lots of things, that the clear liquid is usual a light oil and the colored part is water. I've heard the reverse, I've also heard that there is no water in these things that both are different oils.

any help would be appreciated. if your still wondering what im talking about heres a place that sells them : http://www.officeplayground.com/spiraltimer.html


Actually as mentioned previously on here water has a tendency to effect the longevity of the unit, and although certain methods can be used to "prep" the water to avoid evaporation/separation, algae growth and many other inerrant complications, most "professional versions" and I use that term lightly as in this case it is simply meant to reference those built fo retail sales, where longevity and quality are important, do use 2 different weights of oil.

If you are looking to build one of these and have access to the plastic material and manufacturing necessary to create the design you are looking for, and you are looking simply for ingredients to use, you can experiment with different "clear" oils as different viscosity will result in different levels of separation, which among other things will change the rate of speed at which the drop will travel through the body of your design. However even here you will want to be careful as if the density is too closely matched between oils, it may look good at first but may begin to combine over time into one color goo.

The best combo I have found thus far is lamp oil and baby oil (both the clear versions, for color accuracy with food coloring). These have enough difference in viscosity that they separate nicely, but not so much that they carry air bubbles with the moving drop.

When coloring oil i tend to go more towards the "paste" style food coloring as it will blend easier with oil than liquid food coloring, which is mostly water.

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sharing stuff and learning more about this kind of stuff is really nice to know . Oil business will let you all know more about it once started .

Well, they are oil on the top, and it works with colored water, so you are actually watching a "water" drop lol. But yeah, I love these things immensely and purchase all them at http://www.oildropper.com/shop.shop.php and they are like the best for gifts!

Alcohol and water are different densities so it should separate! =)
I found the best prices and shipping for the commercial type
at http://OilDropper.com

Hi everyone, I am new here, I want to learn how to make a liquid motion timer. I am extremely fascinated by them, I have bought 2 of them from internet sites, but they are so bloody expensive. How to you make a liquid motion toy?

All the versions you have heard are true - some use different oils, some use oil and water, and the colours used can be dissolved in either liquid. If you're making your own, your best bet would be a combination of a light-coloured vegetable oil and water with food-colouring in it. If your project is meant to be kept and used for any length of time, though, you will need to be aware of several things: > Air in the water will bubble out and obstruct small holes. The water you use will need de-gassing (boiled, and then cooled in a sealed container). > Microbial / algal growth will need to be prevented somehow. Maybe you should use mineral oil and engine oil? What about hydraulic (brake) fluid? Just thoughts - ignore them if you want.

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your kidding me.. I am a lava lamp collector. Also craving to create my own wave machine someday soon. Much of what you describe in here is dead on. All these ideas, concepts and info. apply to my lava lamps. Often a lamps lava dies so to speak. Sometimes the dye will separate from lava, Other times to strong a lamp has been used. there are many methods we use to try and fix from boiling the lava , to filtering the waters thru mrs filter giving bottle a good few rinses and gently re filtering back into bottle, often we use salt for bouyency that has been melted already into distilled or added to boiled water in cerating portions then added in half teaspoos into bottle in 10 breaks until lava starts to rise. Often there is added a miniscule amount of dish liquid so lava wont stick to inside of bottle.some people have diff. opinions on brand..there are those who use oils, wax, parrafins ... then there is this..we have available what are called goo kits and dye packs.too. What an intelligent and informative page i found here.. thanks

You can dye the water and use a clear oil i don't know what its called, we got it from a hotel.

It has:
Jojoba Seed Oil
Meadowfoam Seed Oil
(Leaf Extracts)
Hexyl Cinimal
Benzyl Salicylate
Benzyl Benzoate
Alpha Isomethyl Ionone

It has leaf extracts too but I left them out. (It has them where it said them)

did anyone figure out what exactly in these??

I would really like to start building my own but I'm worried about the longevity of it.

What is going to work the best and last? I have one and it's been good for over 2 years, WHAT IS IN THIS THING? lol, any advice would be great. Will vegetable oil and alcohol work for a long time?

I tried this, By making 2 different ones with different oils, In one I used vegie oil,colored water and filled it to the top. didn't care for it...so tried a second one with baby oil and colored water, liked that one much better as did my 2 yr. old son.

Ive Tried  ethylene glycol and Olive Oil It Works

Ok, I've been working on this for a Jewelry project for about 6-8 weeks now, and what I find works best (for getting one liquid to bead up in the other) seems to be vegetable oli(thicker than mineral oil) and isopropyl alcohol*.  FOR COLORING OIL: Liquid wax dyes used in candle making are great, can get cheap at Hobby Lobby in their candle and soaps isle, and food coloring works fine for the alcohol.  The alcohol is less dense than the water, so the oil will sink instead of float.  *If you want to get really weird try different portion mixes of alcohol and water and you can get the oil to float in the middle.

I've been sealing the mixture in small pouches of laminate film purchased from kinkos, sealed with an iron, with a little open space where I inject the oil and water from a syringe I happened apon from a friend w/ doc parents, but an eyedropper could work too.  Once the pouch is filled it can be sealed no prob w/ the iron. I've been trying to get the alcohol to bead up or separate into smaller bits in the oil as the oil clings to the edges. 

I'm working on trying to find larger more 3-D, non bulky or ugly, ways to contain the mixture and any ideas would be greatly appriciated.

hmm glycerin might be good. ill have to think about that one. i might have to mess with some oils to see what doesn't mix. as for using water i would probably use bottled water which should be sterile enough for long term use, it also probably wont form bubbles. but mostly i would use it because if i got any evaporation it would be a mess. the water here is a bit on the hard side (IIRC i used to test it for dissolved solids with a photospectrometer and it was like 80 (ppm?) the well water we had at that facility was 300) anyway for more detail about my plans i think it would be cool to build a very large liquid motion toy. bod some poly carbonate and make a huge one. or make one of those wave machines. i always thought they were cool but i have come to find they aren't made anymore and they can fetch quite a bit on eBay. but the idea that started it was making a flowing "art" piece. i was going to get a small pump and a bunch of plastic tubing, my first thought was to back light it with colored water and pump glitter or beads but that would be harder to design or find a good pump for. so i thought it would be cool to pump the stuff from those timers through it. i know from experience you can shake those things up and get a cloud of color but it will reform after time. which would be cool if i made my tube long enough i could use the impeller to break it up but it would slowly reform by the end of the cycle. some led lighting and it could be a cool piece to put next to my lava lamp. (assuming i could seal the whole contraption enough to get its maintenance cycle low enough to want to keep it, not to mention the various other technical hurdles)

Don't laugh, but I saw this on Martha Stewart a while back. How to make Ocean In A Bottle or something. Just water + blue food coloring and baby oil. Looks pretty cool. Couldn't seems to find the link though. I personally think water and motor oil work better, since motor oils are specifically designed to isolate water.

motor oils are specifically designed to isolate water.

Nah - not really. Motor oils are primarily designed for a specific viscosity and temperature range. All oils will repel water, but can form colloidal suspensions when you shake them up hard enough - the "cloud of color" SpinningCone mentioned (vinaigrette is another classical example of an oil-water emulsion). Denser, more viscous oils may better resist forming emulsions when shaken, but might also stay in emulsion longer (that part is just an assumption on my part). But there's really no need to worry about any "mixing" between oil and water, unless you have a particularly annoying 5-year old who does nothing but shake up your container all day...

All in all, I would base your choice of oil on (1) color (motor oil - even when clean - looks pretty gross), (2) preservation (vegetable oils might go bad, mineral oils won't), and (3) whether they look great in your contraption (i.e. what density and viscosity gives most esthetically pleasing results).

Hmm, I wonder if a very small amount of detergent in the water might keep if form making those colloidal suspensions to a degree ? The detergent would break the surface tension of the water somewhat, I would think.

Nonono - detergents (or at least the surfactants in them) help emulsify oil in water. That's their main purpose in fact - enable greasy stains to be cleaned, by "dissolving" the grease particles into the water.

Yeah, I kind of figured that might be the case, but wasn't sure what might happen in the case of having more oil then water :-)

And (4) whether (and how) you colour the oils.

yeah mineral oil (baby oil)would probably work well. that should make a good wave machine tho i still think the timer sorts arnt water but two different oils. wonder if baby oil and glycerin mix. might also need too look for coloring agents. food coloring is nice but I know the liquid drops stuff doesn't last forever it will fade out over time even without exposure to light. looks like i have some experimenting to do this weekend.

it also probably wont form bubbles

you can test that fairly quickly: put some in a glass and let it sit overnight. The next morning, any bubbles clinging to the side would have been those that would be inside, had you used it "as is".

I made a wave machine as a kid with alcohol and water in a two liter bottle. Worked nice, never grew anything.

. How did you keep the alcohol and water from mixing?

I'm guessing you actually used something like white spirits or kerosene, rather than alcohol.

Ah *yeah* I mean, Mineral Spirits, not alcohol.

. Drat! I was hoping you had some trick up your sleeve.

He did, it just wasn't the "trick" you were looking for LOL

Just an update for anyone interested. i bought a bunch of things and played with them : gel food coloring (couldnt find the powder stuff)Mineral oil, mineral spirits, alcohol & glycerin looks like water and mineral oil is the best choice, mineral spirits are a bit harsh and very expensive alcohol dissolves in everything, glycerin works like a really viscous water but (at least in glass) it tends to stick to the sides, it might work ok as a glycerin water mix but its also really expensive. mineral oil is the cheapest oil (bout $10 gallon) most stable and least dangerous. i cant color it though since the food color will only dissolve in water. anyway more later when i gut the funds to buy what i need to proceed

If you know anyone who paints as a hobby, you may be able to get a small amount of oil paint - that should dissolve in the oil, but not in the water. Thinking of food oil... there are definitely some pigments that dissolve well in oil. Chili oil can be a nice red - try soaking some bell peppers or even dried chilies in a cup of mieral oil. May need to heat it up for best results. All in all, you're probably better off coloring the water and leaving the oil uncolored...

Hey: So were you able to find out what these are made of? What's the colorless liquid and what is the coloured one.


10 years ago

Oil and water should work fine. Remember - oil is lighter than water (it floats on top), so in this case the drops falling down would be water inside the lighter oil. I would try salt water with some water soluble dye, and a clear mineral oil. Different types of oil might be tricky, because you'd have to make sure they don't mix (and that their dyes don't mix!). You may be able to use glycerin instead of water - it's heavier and more viscous than water so it will "glop" better, and I don't think it mixes with oil. Don't know what would be the best way to color it though. Instead of using color, you may want to try using clear fluids for a much more subtle "heat haze" effect. You could even drive a little propeller or miniature water mill using these invisible droplets. Or try sandwiching the container between crossed polaroid filters - you may be able to visualize the turbulence in a spooky "X-ray" effect...