After attempting a few experiments with some super low-budget lab equipment, I got to thinking how I could create a simple tool to hold test tubes and a heat source that would be just like something you'd see in a real chemistry lab. So I threw together a test tube stand out of some PVC and scraps. It looked awful, it was too flimsy to use, and it wasn't very practical. So I gave it some more thought, looked around the workshop, put a few pieces of pipe together, and the result was a much nicer design for a test tube stand with mad-science steampunk style.
With a few tweaks here and there, the test tube stand took shape and became a somewhat functional tool for performing small experiments, tests, and other semi-scientific procedures. I'll attach a few fun experiments one can do with it at the end of this instructable.
Grab your goggles and get ready to start steampunking! [that's probably not a word, but who cares?]
Step 1: The Supplies
Before we can begin constructing this apparatus, we'll need the necessary supplies. Keep in mind that steampunk projects require a bit of creativity. Your results may vary.
- copper pipe (0.5 in. diameter and at least a foot long)
- copper pipe fittings (it helps when they match the size of the pipe)
- copper wire (14 or 12 gauge wire works fine, the thicker the better)
- a nice chunk of wood for the base
- a one in. diameter wooden dowel rod
- an old glass insulator
- dark wood stain (to make the base look nice)
- glass test tube (be careful not to use plastic!)
- a small candle (yes, this is a steampunk project that actually produces steam)
- wire cutters
- drill and assorted drill bits
- 1 in. drill bit
- 5/8 in. drill bit
- 3/32 in. drill bit
- patience (technically this is a virtue)
- it helps if you know how to use tools
- an afternoon or a weekend depending on how fancy it gets
- if you plan on staining the wood, allow it plenty of time to dry
- I built this entirely from scrap, so it didn't cost much.
Step 2: Build the Base
I started by cutting a chunk of wood into a pyramidal shape using a table saw (I did this off camera). From there I sanded the wood and began thinking about how I was going to place everything around it. Word of advice, it helps to know what you are going to make before you start making it. The final wooden chunk was about 5 in. by 5 in. square, about 1.5 in. thick with a 40 degree slope on each side.
For this design, I needed three holes drilled in the top of the base: one to accommodate the pipe fitting that will connect to the base of the central pipe, and two others to allow some thick decorative copper wire to extend out of either side and re-connect with the pipe in a very steampunk way. I drilled the large 1 in. hole right in the middle of the wooden base. I decided to only drill about 1/4 in. deep as I wanted most of the pipe fitting to be visible. The two other holes were roughly equidistant from the center, though drilled a little deeper to provide more support.
Two more holes needed to be drilled into the side of the copper tube to give the wires somewhere to plug into. Rather than keep everything symmetrical, I decided to put one hole about half an inch above the other. This ended up giving the structure a little more stability as well as looking a little more interesting.
I cut two four inch lengths of thick copper wire and bent them into an L shape before trimming off any unnecessary length. Brush everything except the wood with steel wool before putting it all together.
Finally, I assembled all these parts and thought about what to do next.
Step 3: Add Arms
After a number of spectacular failures in using other materials to clamp onto the pipe, I found that a piece from an old electrical box fit perfectly over the pipe. The piece included a set screw to hold the thing in place and an additional nut that I could use to hold a length of thick wire.
I cut a few 8 in. lengths of copper wire and wrapped one end around the threaded section of the grey electrical cylinder thing shown above. After tightening the nut to secure the wire, I wrapped the other end around a section of pipe that was roughly equivalent in diameter to my glass test tubes. I then used my fingers to tighten the coiled wire so that it could hold the test tube firmly in place. I don't recommend wrapping the wire directly around the test tube as this applies pressure to a delicate piece of glass, which is just a bad idea.
I ended up making two arms, one for the test tube and another for a candle that will serve as a small source of heat.
It then occurred to me that this is a steampunk project that actually produces steam. That isn't nearly as common as it should be.
Step 4: Put the Insulator on Top
It seems like few of my projects are ever complete without a shiny glass insulator on the top.
To complete the steampunk look, I need some sort of ornamentation on the top of this thing and what better to add than a good old glass insulator. To make this work, I needed to make something that would connect the top of the pipe to the threads on the insulator. Luckily, this was as easy as drilling a 5/8 in. hole into a piece of a 1 in. diameter dowel rod. This will allow the dowel to connect to the top of the pipe. To attach it to the insulator, I simply shoved it in the bottom and twisted until I could feel the glass cutting threads into the wood. When it was done, I simply put it all together and the hard part is over.
Step 5: Stain the Wooden Parts
This step is optional, but it looks good. Darker stain gives the wood a weathered look, as if it has survived years of hard use.
Staining wood can be a messy process. Always work in a well-ventilated area (outside is ideal) and carefully dispose of any rags used to apply the stain, as they've been known to spontaneously catch on fire.
I had to disassemble the whole thing to get at the wooden parts alone. It might have been a good idea to do this before I put everything together, but I wanted to make sure everything fit before I decorated it.
That's pretty much it. When the stain is dry, you can sit back, relax, and begin mixing diabolical potions with your shiny new old-looking test tube stand.
Pouring a little diluted highlighter ink into the test tube and watching it bubble as it is heated by the candle is always fun. It's even more fun when you shine a UV light on it and watch it glow in the dark.
Step 6: Become a Mad Scientist (optional)
Now that we've finished making everything, this is the most difficult step. You'll need to read plenty of horror stories, do a little research on past experiments gone wrong, and descend into madness.
If you enjoyed this project, be sure to check out some of my other diabolical projects, which include:
- a coil gun built from old disposable cameras
- rocket igniters made from office supplies
- a hydrogen generator (with more hydrogen projects coming in the future)
- and a UV light (perfect for reading invisible ink and finding fluorescent things)
Let me know what you thought of this project in the comments below and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel if you would like to see more interesting projects.