$2 Storm Glass Guide!!!

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Introduction: $2 Storm Glass Guide!!!

About: I am looking at the way the world is and all of the potential that exists in the space around us and the space between our ears. Asking questions that range from the ridiculous to the important and engaging w…

If you are wanting to get to the goods and find out the cheap and easy way to make a storm glass for $2 then check the end of the material list and then jump to Step 12. Sorry for possibly boring you with experimentation first.

I had not even heard of a Fitzroy Storm Glass until my brother put one on his Christmas list. Following the link he provided I thought while they looked cool and fit the winter season but they seemed expensive for what you get with many of the listings asking between $20 and $35. This was the seed crystal that grew into the thought "that they did not look that hard to make". After reading a few articles and watching some videos by NightHawkInLight my 2020 became a DIY Christmas.

I was all set to use NightHawkInLight's method, but I was still ruminating on three questions.

  1. Potassium Nitrate and Ammonium Chloride are not readily available so are they really needed?
  2. How much Camphor is needed to get a satisfying response?
  3. Are there other options to Ethanol since it is expensive and it is hard to get if you are too young.

I was in the doldrums of these questions trying to figure out how to make this weather predictor when I stumbled across an article by Allan Mills from the University of Leicester that looks at the first two questions: https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1...

It covers some testing that seems to indicate that the Potassium Nitrate and the Ammonium Chloride are not even needed and that smaller amount of camphor could be used while still getting satisfying results. At the start of this I was not sure if this was true and after seeing Ammonium Chloride crystal on Wikipedia it seems like something you would find in a Storm Glass so I was skeptical about not using them

OK, so what are the goals of this instructable? They are four-fold:

  1. Show how to make a Storm Glass yourself for only $2 (See The Materials and jump to Step 12)
  2. Test if Potassium Nitrate & Ammonium Chloride are needed by comparing performance with and without
  3. Test other alcohols that are much cheaper and easier to obtain such as Isopropyl Alcohol and Methanol
  4. Test if different concentrations of Camphor will influence the temperature sensitivity of the glass.

By the end of this instructable I will summarize what I learned about how the Storm Glass works and check out the YouTube video I made it and jump to step 12 to make your own.

Lets make the weather inside this storm glass frightful!

I hope you find this instructable a glass more than half full.

Note: I bought way too much Ammonium Chloride and Potassium Nitrate but I am sure I will find other uses for them in other projects.

FTC Disclaimer: I earn a percentage of the sales through the affiliate links provided through Amazon. If you click on the link it helps fund future projects but bear in mind it might not be the best price for this materials.

Supplies

Testing Materials

Tools

$2 Storm Glass (Methanol Based)

  • Half Pint Jar (I found these that hold just about 1 cup) (~$0.75)
    • Something Capable of hold around 300mL to hold the ~250mL of solution)
    • They are cheaper in person.
  • 100mL Heet (~$0.45)
  • 100 mL Distilled Water
  • 12 grams of Camphor (~$0.8)

$5 Storm Glass (Methanol Based)

  • Half Pint Jar (I found these that hold just about 1 cup) (~$0.75)
    • Something Capable of hold around 300mL to hold the ~250mL of solution)
    • They are cheaper in person.
  • 200 mL Vodka (Cheapest I found was $1.5 but it is typically closer $2.25 for even the deepest well vodka)
  • 16 grams of Camphor or ~28 grams (~$1.60)

Step 1: History

The Fitzroy Storm Glass has an interesting appearance in addition to its interesting back story

It was popularized by a sea captain, Robert Fitzroy, that sailed Charles Darwin around for his scientific research on the H.S.S Beagle. He believed that in conjunction with a thermometer and barometer that the weather could be more accurately predicted further out using a storm glass

This might not seem like a big deal to us with daily weather reports and instant access to the 10 day forecast on our phones but when you are out at sea with no communication in the 1800's it is very helpful to see a storm coming a few days out. It could mean life or death.

So how are you supposed to read a storm glass to predict the weather? Well what I have found is the following for the different features that could occur in your storm glass and what they are suppose to mean.

  • Clear Liquid: Bright and clear.
  • Cloudy Liquid: Cloudy, with a chance of precipitation.
  • Small dots in the liquid: Humid or foggy weather can be expected.
  • Cloudy glass with small stars: Thunderstorms.
  • Small stars on sunny winter days: Snow
  • Large flakes throughout the liquid: Overcast in temperate seasons or snowy in the winter.
  • Crystals at the bottom: Frost.
  • Threads near the top: Windy.

Since its origins and popularization what is taking place inside the storm glass has been a topic of discussion ranging from simple temperature controlled solubility to Quantum Tunneling phenomenon (I am not kidding). The solubility idea is based on how much of the dissolved elements stay dissolved and the rate at which the temperature change occurs determines the crystalline formation with fast temperature drops resulting in smaller crystals and slower drops in temperature allowing larger crystals to form

I am solidly in the temperature controlled camp believing that this is effectively an inaccurate thermometer, but I have to say it is fun to look at and so for aesthetics reasons I still wanted to make one and it would mean less Christmas shopping. This is why one of the goals of this project is to determine what changing the concentration of camphor in the mixture will do to temperature sensitivity. If this is the true then higher concentrations of camphor in the mixture would produce crystals at higher temperatures.

Now I am going to work on my questions from the previous step a little out of order. The first question that I want to address is how important is the alcohol that I am using because this has a large impact on the cost of the storm glass.

Step 2: Alcohol Selection

There are a large number of different types of alcohol and I am not talking about the selection at the liquor store. Just in this project I am looking at Ethanol(The standard recipe), Isopropyl Alcohol, and Methanol. The reason being is that for some people Ethanol might be hard or expensive to get a hold of.

Most of the recipes that I have found list the ingredients out in a very chemistry-like fashion having distilled water and ethanol as separate ingredients. If I were just looking at this project I would likely stop right there and just look at the pictures and never make one because I do not have access to lab grade ethanol and I do not want to spend the money getting 190 proof Everclear or 200 proof lab alcohol.

This is where NightHawkInLight is a genius. Looking at the proportions of distilled water and ethanol he determined that effectively what this mixture made was 100 proof alcohol and the easiest way of getting that is vodka. I went to my local liquor store and bought the cheapest vodka that they had on hand which sadly was only 80 proof but it will work for this project. Even though I went with the cheapest option for ethanol that I could find it still cost ~$1/100ml when buying it in a 750mL container.

I wanted to find out if there was a cheaper option to make a more economical Christmas gift but also because I wanted to make a really big glass (I am talking like 2 gallons!!! I will link this instructable here when I finish) so I needed a lower cost alcohol. This what got me thinking about why ethanol is even used and if there were other lower cost alcohols that could be used.

Two other easily available alcohols are Isopropyl Alcohol and Methanol. I am going to break down what using these different alcohols could look like for a storm glass by looking at these different alcohol options over the next three steps but first I will start with looking at Ethanol.

Step 3: Ethanol

This is the standard solution (hehehe because chemstry terms). Whether you are looking at the recommended recipe that uses lab grade ethanol or NightHawkInLight's that uses vodka there are a few challenges.

  1. You need to be over 21 to purchase ethanol in the USA ( I am not sure if there are limitations on lab grade)
  2. It is expensive to buy since it is ~$1/100mL with cheap vodka in a 750mL container at best $0.60/100mL in a 1.75L handle while 200 proof lab grade is ~$6/100mL which works out to be about $3/100mL after it is diluted to 50%/50%.

The result is a relatively expensive solution that even at the lowest cost for ethanol with be ~$1.50 - $2.50 for a 200mL storm glass using vodka. This leaves very little money left for the rest of the components which is why I am exploring other alcohols.

First what is Ethanol? It is a small chain Monohydric Alcohol that has the following composition C2H5OH. This puts it right in the middle of the two other alcohols that I am testing which makes for some interesting questions. Ethanol has a molar mass of 46.069 grams per mole. This might be part of what influences the crystal formation in the solution but I will get into this idea a little bit later. The density as very similar to the other alcohols at 0.78945 grams per milliliter. It is also miscible in water which means that water and ethanol mix together unlike something like oil and water.

The standard recipe that I have found is attributed to a letter published in June 1997 School Science Review:

  • 2.5g Potassium Nitrate
  • 2.5g Ammonium Chloride
  • 33mL Distilled Water
  • 40mL Ethanol
  • 10g Camphor

The standard recipe starts by using distilled water to dissolve the Potassium Nitrate and the Ammonium Chloride since these chemicals do not easily dissolve into ethanol. The scientific way of saying that is that they have low solubility especially compared to water.

  • Ammonium Chloride Solubility
    • Water: 383g/L @ 25C
    • Ethanol: 6g/L @ 19C
  • Potassium Nitrate Solubility
    • Water: 383g/L @ 25C
    • Ethanol: Slightly? (Wikipedia is holding out on me)

These extremely low solubilites are one of the reason the water is present so that it can accept these salts.

The alcohol (ethanol) is present because the camphor has a similar problem with dissolving in the water. The camphor is dissolved separately into the ethanol.

  • Camphor
    • Water: 1.2g/L
    • Ethanol: 1000g/L

This makes the 50%Ethanol/50%Water solution well tailored to accept all of these ingredients. Once the solutions are created separately they can be combined. That said since vodka works and it is already combined the same could be done using the lab grade solution combining the water and the ethanol and then the Ammonium Chloride, Potassium Nitrate, and the Camphor are all added together. Once they are added the solution is heated to promote the elements to dissolve.

Since I am working with the vodka recipe and not the sciency one my ingredients look closer to what is used by NightHawkInLight in his instructable here:

https://www.instructables.com/Create-a-Storm-Glass...

The recipe that he is promoting is:

  • 300mL of 100 Proof Vodka
  • 28g Camphor
  • 10g Potassium Nitrate
  • 10g Ammonium Chloride

Sadly I went really cheap and only picked up 80 proof vodka. ( I think that liquor I stopped at did not have a discount 100 proof option)

The first thing that I noticed while writing this is that his proportions are not the same as the lab recipe for all of the ingredients involved. This opens the door to the interesting idea that the proportions are not all that important.

This gives me confidence that there are still things to be learned by tweaking the recipe, but to start with I need to measure out my samples to start my testing.

Since my ethanol comes "pre-mixed" with water I will not be adding any. Using the 45mL test tubes I will be measuring 40mL of vodka into each batch.

I loaded up 6 test tubes for testing with the vodka (ethanol) and set them aside to receive the other elements while I metered out the other alcohols.

Step 4: Isopropyl Alcohol

Right now this might be a little bit hard to come by with everyone wanting to make hand sanitizer and disinfect every surface, but in general Isopropyl Alcohol is a rather inexpensive and abundant form of alcohol. It has a number of benefits over ethanol.

  • It is available in more places such as grocery stores or big box stores
  • It is remarkably inexpensive looking at 70% Isopropyl Alcohol which costs ~$0.20/100mL which makes it about 5x to 15x less expensive than ethanol. I could have diluted this to 50%/50% by adding ~30% more water to the solution with would make the cost ~$0.14/100mL
  • I do not think that there is an age requirement to purchase

The solubility of the materials into Isopropyl Alcohol was not something that I could find since it is a less common solvent so I will be in suspense (hehehe chemistry pun) until I test it experimentally. This means I do not know if Ammonium Chloride, Potassium Nitrate or even Camphor will dissolve in 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.

What do we know with a little searching about Isopropyl Alcohol? It is also a small chain Monohydric Alcohol that has the following composition C2H7OH. This makes it the largest alcohol molecule that I am testing which makes for some interesting questions if there are any differences in the crystal formation. Isopropyl has a molar mass of 60.096 grams per mole. This might be part of what influences the crystal formation in the solution but I will get into this idea a little bit later. The density as very similar to the other alcohols at 0.786 grams per millilitre. It is also miscible in water which means that water and ethanol mix together unlike something like oil and water. Based on these initial facts these alcohols seems very similar except for the number of carbon and hydrogen that are strung together which impacts it grams per mole and where the hydroxide molecule is located in the middle instead of on but otherwise they seem like they would act the same in a storm glass which makes them very promising looking at their price.

Since I am working with a 70% solution I am not planning on adding water since the camphor is supposed to dissolve in the alcohol portion so the water is not a priority in the whole construction process.

Using the 45mL test tubes I will be measuring 40mL of Isopropyl Alcohol into each batch.

I loaded up 6 test tubes for testing with the Isopropyl Alcohol and set them aside to receive the other elements while I metered out the other alcohols.

Step 5: Methanol

NOTE: Be careful with methanol since is a poisoness and can cause blindness

Methanol is an interesting alcohol in that it is also readily available but it is less straight forward for where to find it. My go to sources for methanol is Heet gas line anti-freeze and water remover. Lets look at how it stacks up against the two other alcohols.

  • Readily available in most places simple auto accessories are sold which ranges from big box stores, to home improvement stores, to even some grocery stores.
  • Inexpensive at ~$0.45/100mL for 100% methanol but I am planning on diluting it 50% with distilled water making the cost only ~$0.23/100mL. This puts it right around the cost of the 70% Isopropyl and about 1/4th the cost of 40% Ethanol with the Vodka.

What do we know with a little searching about Methanol? It is also a small chain Monohydric Alcohol that has the following composition CH3OH. This makes it the smallest alcohol molecule that I am testing which makes for some interesting questions if there are any differences in the crystal formation. Methanol has a molar mass of 32.04 grams per mole. This might be part of what influences the crystal formation in the solution but I will get into this idea a little bit later. The density as very similar to the other alcohols at 0.792 grams per millilitre. It is also miscible in water which means that water and ethanol mix together unlike something like oil and water. Based on these initial facts these alcohols seems very similar except for the number of carbon and hydrogen that are strung together which effects is grams per mole but otherwise they seem like they would act the same in a storm glass which makes them very promising looking at their price.

Now Methanol is an alcohol that some people seem to care about when it comes to solubility since it has the solubility for some materials but certainly not nearly as many as water or ethanol.

  • Ammonium Chloride Solubility
    • Water: 383g/L @ 25C
    • Methanol: 44.7g/L @ 25C
  • Potassium Nitrate
    • There is not much information on Methanol

The solubility of camphor into Methanol is also not something that I have found just laying around so I am hoping that there is not issue here otherwise methanol will not be an option.

Since the source of Methanol that I have has little to no water(It is sold as a water remover) I will need to add some distilled water. I choose to go 50%/50% between water and Methanol as a baseline test.

Using the 45mL test tubes I will be measuring 20mL of Methanol and 20mL of distilled water into each batch fr a to 40mL of solvent.

Since I am making 6 test tubes with a total of 240mL I mixed up a cup of solution adding 1/2 cup of the Heet and 1/2 cup of water. I the loaded up 6 test tubes for testing with the Methanol/Water mixture and set them aside to receive the other elements while I metered out the other alcohols.

Step 6: Do We Need Chemicals Outside of Camphor?

This is an interesting question that has been asked and tested by others (Check the article I linked in the first step). I am a curious sort of person that values third party verification so I decided to test the different alcohols with and without Potassium Nitrate and Ammonium Chloride.

Where I am testing these chemicals I have them in proportion with the 40mL of solvent I am using:

  • ~1.9g Potassium Nitrate (This will end up being 2.0g)
  • ~1.9g Ammonium Chloride (This will end up being 2.0g)

This mixture will go into a single control mixtures for each of the alcohol mixtures while the others will be tested without these salts at first. The reason being that it is easier to add something than it is to try and take it out.

If I want to add these salts to other camphor concentrations for testing that is still easy to do.

The primary goal is to see if the crystal formation is impacted by the presence or lack of these salts. While they are not expensive to get they can be a challenge to get a hold of and are likely only available in larger quantities than most people would want to buy.

Using these tests as an example if 40mL of solution uses 2 grams and I wanted to make a 200mL storm glass it would use about 10 grams of each of these materials. This would be only ~$0.10 of each of these chemicals but in my case I was buying pounds of them to get this price.

All that to say I am trying to determine that hopefully these chemicals are not needed to make the $2 storm glass.

Step 7: Camphor Concentration/Temperature Relationship

Another element that is alluded to in various storm glass recipes is the idea that different amounts of camphor in the same amount of solvent will have different temperature sensitivities. This seems like it would be basic science but maybe there is something more complex going on inside the storm glass.

My instinct is that different concentrations would respond at different temperatures. If you read about the relationship between solubility and temperature for most materials it tracks with temperature. What this means is that a hotter solvent can typically hold more of the same material than a colder solvent.

Translation, if you have more camphor in your recipe it will crystallize at a higher temperature than if you have less camphor. This makes the relationship is as follows: if you are in a warmer climate where your average temperature is higher then your recipe should be a little heavier on the camphor. The converse is true if you live in a colder place then you would prefer having less camphor otherwise it will nearly always be precipitated out.

The plan is to test a spectrum of concentrations to find out which are best. I am doing this by starting with 5 samples of each alcohol with differing amounts of camphor dissolved and observe the crystallization.

There are the two recipes that I have found. One has 73mL of solvent with 10g of camphor and the other has 300mL of solvent and 28g of camphor. This gives me a camphor concentration range of 0.1g/mL to ~0.14g/mL to work with.

Since I have 5 samples to work with here is how I plan to space out the concentrations to give myself a decent range to work with. Since my scale is only able to display 0.5 gram steps I am having to adjust the amount to match the limits of my ability to measure to hit the level of precision on my scale (Precision limitations can be a real bummer sometimes)

  • 0.02g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 0.8g (This will be 1.0g)
  • 0.06g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 2.4g (This will be 2.5g)
  • 0.1g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 4.0g
  • 0.14g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 5.6g (This will be 5.5g)
  • 0.18g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 7.2g (This will be 7.0g)

This means that for each type of alcohol with its 6 samples I will need 24 grams of camphor. This is 20 grams for the graduated camphor test and 4 grams for the control test for each alcohol type.

With that in mind I need to start grating/chopping a lot of camphor. I was thinking that 75 grams should give me some wiggle room but the camphor that i bought comes in 1 ounce blocks which is ~28 grams so that means I will be using 3 blocks for this to get a total of ~84 grams. This will give me a little bit leftover in case I want to do a little bit more testing after this first round. So I chopped it all up using a utility knife and a cutting board and then continued to break up the pieces even smaller using my hands to allow me to measure small amounts for the testing and to help it dissolve faster

Step 8: The Prep for the First Round of Testing!

I wanted to make the best use of my time and so instead of using a pot to heat each of my 18 mixture variations separately for each storm glass recipe independently. I am mixing them all up in their individual test tubes and I will get into how I cooked them in the next step.

I used my 3D printer to make a few test tube stands so that I could have all 18 of the containers upright and easy to work with. I washed each of the eighteen 45mL test tubes and let them air dry in the stands so remove any impurities that might be inside the containers.

Then using a 20mL syringe that I have for an upcoming project(Follow me to stay updated) I measured and marked where 40mL of fluid comes up to on the test tube. It resulted in a fill line that is about 4" up from the bottom so I went with a dry erase marker and marked up each of the 18 test tubes to make it easy to get approximately the same amount of alcohol in each.

Dispensing the alcohols between the different test tubes was pretty straight forward once I knew where to fill to. I still used a large syringe to help make sure that I filled each tube to the proper amount because a syringe is a very precise and easy way of filling a container with little to no mess or chance of spilling if the quantities are small enough.

I also went through with a labelizer to mark up each of the tubes to know which camphor concentration I was looking at and to tell the control apart. I also went through and marked each of the sets of tubes with an initial on the stopper for which alcohol I was using for that group

With the samples labeled 1-5 and the control labeled with "Control" it would make analysis so much easier.

The Control has the following composition:

  • 40mL Solvent
  • 2.0g Ammonium Chloride
  • 2.0g Potassium Nitrate
  • 4.0g Camphor

The other 5 samples will have 40mL of solvent and the graduated amounts of camphor.

Using a kitchen scale accurate to the 0.5 gram I measured all of these elements out and placed them into the different tubes that already have solvent in them. Once I place the ingredients in I covered the opening of the test tube with their provided corks to reduce evaporation of the solvent until I was ready to cook to whole lot.

  • 0.02g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 0.8g (This will be 1.0g)
  • 0.06g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 2.4g (This will be 2.5g)
  • 0.1g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 4.0g
  • 0.14g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 5.6g (This will be 5.5g)
  • 0.18g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 7.2g (This will be 7.0g)

Step 9: The Cook!

The cook was an interesting stage. How do I carefully heat 18 different samples uniformly? I am using one of my favorite cooking gadgets and honestly a really powerful tool for something like this, a Sous Vide! What is that? Effectively it is a hot tub heater but for cooking. It will let me heat up a bath of water that I will place my test tubes into and it will circulate the water as it heats up. This bath will have a high enough temperature to mix in dissolve each configuration, ~150F. Going much higher than this is problematic since at sea level these alcohols boils at between 148 - 180F

Using a large plastic tub I filled the base with water to ensure that there was enough to cover the minimum fill line to keep the sous vide happy and enough to cover the full liquid level of my samples to heat them uniformly. The sous vide did a great job controlling the temperature and getting it up the 150F and keeping it there until the solutions were fully dissolved.

It also helped ensure that the 18 samples were experiencing the same temperatures and would start at the same temperature for the cooling test.

NOTE: The 3D printed test tube stands became very soft and pliable in the hot water making them a little hard to pull out and have the stands stay stable. Next time I will look into a sample holder that can withstand higher temperatures. or I will only heat the bath to a lower temperature of 120 - 130F

I tested crystallizing the mixture by cooling them to room temperature in my house which currently is about ~65 Fahrenheit because it is November.

Step 10: Results

Pictures in Order

  1. Full Set
  2. Isopropyl Early Testing
  3. Isopropyl Late Testing
  4. 40 Degree Isopropyl
  5. Ethanol Early Testing
  6. Ethanol Late Testing
  7. Methanol Early Testing
  8. Methanol Late Testing

Here is where I ran into a number of interesting things when the results were in.

First, Isopropyl Alcohol is a complete no-go. The first, second, third, and fourth pictures show what all 6 test cases for Isopropyl looked like. It was still uncrystallized a day later with a layer of camphor at the bottom of the test tube barely perceptible. Even when I placed the whole set outside in 40F weather there is barely any crystalization, but where it is happening is in the control with the other chemicals raising a few questions that they might be needed. There are a number of reason that could be the cause:

  1. Maybe the solubility of camphor is just so high that even the highest concentration is not enough?
  2. Maybe the chemical composition of the larger alcohol molecules inhibit the formation of the crystals and the camphor settles out of suspension at the bottom?

I am thinking that the first thought is the most likely. Even the highest concentration of 7 grams in 40mL it does not precipitate any of the camphor even at 66 degrees. This could be because of the solubility or maybe because it is a 70% solution of Isopropyl while the others are between 40% and 50% alcohol solutions. It was interesting to see that while the ethanol and methanol pushed the camphor to the surface as it melted the isopropyl forced the camphor to the bottom of the samples.

Second, the ethanol was impressive. It reacted in beautiful large crystals that stretched out across the sample along with smaller fluffy crystals. Also even at high concentrations there was little crystalline layer on the top of the samples which seems somewhat unappealing to me. I was very interested to see how different in appearance the 3rd concentration and the control were. The control has clearer water with more distinct crystal shapes and less clouding on the top surface. That said over time the control and the third sample have settled to have a similar appearance to one another suggesting that the additional ingredients in the control might not be needed. It makes sense why Ethanol has been used for so many storm glass recipes.

Third, Methanol diluted with 50% water worked really well. There are crystals in even the least saturated test with only 1g for 40mL which makes Methanol the most sensitive of the tested solvents. This has the additional benefit of meaning that even less camphor might be needed for a Methanol solution which will lower the cost even more. Looking over all of the samples I prefer the response that I observed in the 2nd concentration. The 3rd concentration and the control were on the edge but still acceptable since there was a noticeable amount of crystallization at the top of the solution which personally seems less desirable. Once the amount of camphor got up to 5.5g per 40mL or above in the 4th and 5th concentrations the amount of crystallization at the top of the solution was more than I wanted. I also did not see much difference between the 3rd concentration and the control which have the same amount of camphor but the control has the Ammonium Chloride and the Potassium Nitrate. This suggested to me that for Methanol the Ammonium Chloride and the Potassium Nitrate might not be all that important. That said they do seem to impact the clarity of the solvent and change the response time a little bit. I am going to have to test this a little bit more to understand what is going here better.

All told I think that solutions between 1 and 3 grams of camphor for each 40mL for Methanol or Ethanol will create an impressive storm glass. It really comes down to preference and if you like the spidery crystals in the ethanol or the smaller fluffy crystals in the methanol. Also it makes a difference for how much you want to spend.

Since the Methanol is about 20% of the cost of the Ethanol and the sensitivity is slightly higher meaning that you can use less camphor while not needing the Ammonium Chloride and Potassium Nitrate. This makes Methanol the clear winner in my book.

The one draw back I can see is that there is more crystal variety in the Ethanol at least in the testing that I did so that might tip the scales to encourage using Ethanol to be able to achieve the crystal variety particularly with larger crystals.

Step 11: Refining the Final Recipe

The testing in step 10 helped to narrow down what I am looking for when it comes to the best low cost storm glass recipe. Since I still have testing material left over and I really want to get a rock solid recipe I am going to run one more series of tests in the key range of interest which is 1 gram to 3 grams of camphor in 40mL of solvent. The focus will be on the ethanol and the methanol to have then available for side by side comparison.

I followed a similar set up process to what I detailed in the rest of the instructable so I will not bore you with the details. Here is the break down in the testing.

  • 0.04g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 1.6g (This will be 1.5g)
  • 0.06g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 2.4g (This will be 2.5g)
  • 0.08g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 3.2g (This will be 3.0g)
  • 0.1g/mL which means in the 40mL of solvent 4.0g

However I wanted the result of this testing to be a little bit more practical so that I could give them as gifts so instead of using the 40mL test tubes I graduated the experiment up to small canning jars to use ~200mL of solvent which turns out to be exactly 200mL. This will give camphor amounts of following for my methanol and ethanol tests. This means that I can simply measure out 200mL cup of vodka for the ethanol tests and 100mL methanol + 100mL of distilled water for the methanol tests into the half pint ball jars I have.

0.04g/mL which means in the 200mL of solvent 8g

0.06g/mL which means in the 200mL of solvent 12g

0.08g/mL which means in the 200mL of solvent 16g

0.1g/mL which means in the 200mL of solvent 20g

This means that I am going to need to chop and crush up a bit more camphor about 132 grams which comes out to just about 5 of the 1 oz tablets.

What I have found is that as the container has gotten larger that there is even less camphor needed by volume.

To this point the methanol samples with 16g and 20g would not fully dissolve even when the solution was brought to 125F. This leaves the prefered composition of a methanol based storm glass to be 12g per 200mL so that it is not saturated even at high temperatures like the 16g and 20g and is quicker to respond than the 8g solution.

The Ethanol acted very differently. All four of the samples fully dissolved the camphor at 125F. However lower concentrations of camphor in the 12g to 16g per 200mL worked very well.

The final conclusion is that I liked 12g of Camphor for the Methanol and 16g the Ethanol solutions.

Step 12: $2 Storm Glass Recipe (Methanol)

The result of all of this work is a very economical storm glass!

  • 12 grams of Camphor
  • 100mL of Methanol (Yellow Heet)
  • 100mL of Distilled Water
  • Half Pint Jar (240mL) [You can use any glass container you want if it looks nicer and seals tight]

This is a slightly different proportion but the results should end up being similar.

  • Measure out the 12 grams of Camphor.
  • Starting with 100mL of Methanol from yellow Heet pour this into a clean container.
  • Add 100mL of distilled water to the container holding the Methanol.
  • Add the camphor to the 200mL 50%Methanol/50%Water.
  • Place the solution into a glass container and set into a pot of water
  • Heat the pot of water contained the glass and the solution until the camphor is melted away completely. This should happen around 125F
  • Stir the solution to make it homogeneous.
  • Allow the solution to cool a little it and then seal the container shut.
  • This heat if you are using canning or mason jars will help to seal the container shut and make it leak proof

Now you can scale this recipe up or down to whatever size container you want.

If you jumped straight here you may notice that I do not include the Potassium Nitrate or the Ammonium Chloride. That is because through the testing in the rest of the instructable they did not create any noticeable effect in the Methanol solution unlike the Ethanol solution that I believe benefits for their addition. If you would like to know more then I would encourage you to read the rest of the instructable.

What I have noticed with the Methanol based solution is that the crystals tend to be smaller looking more like small snow flakes compared to some of the larger crystals that I have observed in the Ethanol solutions. If you are after those larger crystals then go to the next step and follow through on making an Ethanol based Storm Glass.

Step 13: $5 Storm Glass Recipe (Ethanol)

This solution is similar to the methanol based version but more expensive.

  • 16 grams of Camphor
  • 200mL of Vodka (80 or 100 Proof)
  • Half Pint Jar (240mL) [You can use any glass container you want if it looks nicer and seals tight]

This is a slightly different proportion but the results should end up being similar.

  • Measure out the 12 grams of Camphor.
  • Place 200mL of vodka into the container.
  • Add the camphor to the vodka.
  • Place the solution into a glass container and set into a pot of water
  • Heat the pot of water contained the glass and the solution until the camphor is melted away completely. This should happen around 125F
  • Stir the solution to make it homogeneous.
  • Allow the solution to cool a little it and then seal the container shut.

If you jumped straight here you may notice that I do not include the Potassium Nitrate or the Ammonium Chloride. That is because through the testing in the rest of the instructable they did not create a noticeable effect in the Ethanol solution that made it worth including. If you would like to know more then I would encourage you to read the rest of the instructable.

What I have noticed with the Ethanol based solution is that it is capable of larger crystals compared to the Methanol based solution. These have a certain aesthetic appeal when they exist that could make paying up for an Ethanol based storm glass worth the extra money but the choice is yours.

However I should say that after cycling a few times the Ethanol 200mL solution has yet to produce the larger crystals.

Step 14: Summary Thoughts

You may be wondering why did I go through all of this trouble to try and find out how Storm Glasses worked and if there were cheaper ways to make them. This work seems especially futile if the cost is only the difference between $2 and $5 for a craft storm glass.

The reason I went through all of this is simple. I want to make a giant storm glass as a "weather predicting" snow globe!

Looking at the cost of even the cheapest vodka it that I could find on sale would involve ~$40 to get ~6L of vodka. This is compared to the Methanol solution that would only cost ~$11 of Methanol! I am till deciding what solvent to and if I should add the Potassium Nitrate and Ammonium Chloride.

This solvent cost is on top of needing around a pound of Camphor.

Next I am working on documenting the build for the giant storm glass snow globe in another instructable that I will link here once it is finished:

This project raised some really great questions about what we take for granted. There is rarely only one way to do something and so it is a real shame to not try and just expect yourselves or others to settle on a single solution. The variety that exists in how people approach problems and challenges facing both victory and defeat is so unbelievably valuable. I hope that you value your own unique style in thinking and approaching things as well as the style of others because it is through this variety that will be able to overcome the challenges that were left unsolved by the past or that possibly the past created.

Let me know if the comments what you are thinking about and if there are any ideas that you want to brain storm (glass).

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    11 Comments

    0
    pmartel
    pmartel

    10 months ago

    Very nice Instructable. Just a nit, but in the "Methanol" section you say "What do we know with a little searching about Methanol? It is also a small chain Monohydric Alcohol that has the following composition C2H3OH. " That should be CH3OH.

    0
    RyanMake
    RyanMake

    Reply 10 months ago

    I will get that changed. It is good to be accurate! Thanks for letting me know.

    0
    mamoon001
    mamoon001

    Reply 11 months ago

    MEK is Methyl Ethyl Ketone. Extremely flammable!!!!

    0
    WilkoL
    WilkoL

    Reply 11 months ago

    I'll take care with it. It may be just 1%, but the rest is ethanol which burns pretty well too.
    At the moment I have more problems getting my hands on the other ingredient: Camphor. The best I have found so far is very small blocks (few grams) for a lot of money (30+ euro).

    0
    RyanMake
    RyanMake

    Reply 11 months ago

    Hello WilkoL! Thanks for asking a question. Yes that would work really well. I would recommend diluting it 50/50 with distilled water and you should be good to go.
    Let me know how it works!

    0
    mamoon001
    mamoon001

    11 months ago

    I noticed you did your alcohol and water mixtures by volume. This did not yield the expected percentages. The density difference between water and the alcohol requires more alcohol than water to achieve a true 50% mixture. I don’t know if that will make any difference in the solutions. I don’t remember how to calculate a true volume of the ingredients to achieve that either. It’s been over 4 decades since I manufactured flavors and fragrances so the info is long gone from my memory.

    0
    RyanMake
    RyanMake

    Reply 11 months ago

    I had been wondering about that but did not get past thinking about it to research the proper way. Thanks for the reminder for best practices in making aokutions like this.

    0
    mamoon001
    mamoon001

    Reply 11 months ago

    Happy tinkering!

    0
    RyanMake
    RyanMake

    Reply 11 months ago

    I drink my coffee coffee to fast to predict the weather unless it is telling me a drought is coming.