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Thread: Solvents in the shop (I hope not too geeky)

  1. #1
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    Solvents in the shop (I hope not too geeky)

    Most of us keep solvents around for a variety of shop purposes. Probably most common are to dilute other solutions and to dissolve other materials. If one does not work, we can try a different one. But some information about solvent properties can help us select an appropriate solvent for the task at hand. Most importantly, solvents dissolve substances that have similar polarities. Other properties such as vapor pressure and purity can also be important.

    Below is a list of more common shop and household solvents arranged in order of increasing polarity. If a nonpolar one at the top of the list does not work, try one near the bottom and vice versa.

    Naphtha, paint thinner, mineral spirits
    Toluene, xylenes
    Methylene chloride (dichloromethane)
    Turpentine (a mixture of many materials)
    Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK)
    Isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol)
    Acetone (finger nail polish remover)
    Ethanol (denatured alcohol)
    Water
    Acids and bases in water (vinegar and ammonia)

    Soaps and detergents are both polar and nonpolar. Liquid versions are generally water-based solutions that can contain many other substances.

    Solvent paint removers are mixtures of chemicals such as toluene, xylenes and methyl ethyl ketone. They no longer contain methylene chloride. They work by swelling the hardened finish and loosening the bonds to the substrate, e.g. wood.

    Most store brand solvents are technical grade and contain impurities so their properties differ from pure solvents.

    Please share your experiences with different solvents for various uses such as horror stories about washing your hands with gasoline.
    Rustic? Well, no. That was not my intention!

  2. #2
    Mineral spirits, dna, and water work for most shop situations. Most of the others are better not handled cavalierly.

  3. #3
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    I'm going to follow this. I can always use more knowledge of solvents.

    When I was an apprentice, one of our old time instructors told stories of when he worked in a transformer plant & at the end of the day they'd wash their hands in pure PCB.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Pratt View Post
    I'm going to follow this. I can always use more knowledge of solvents.

    When I was an apprentice, one of our old time instructors told stories of when he worked in a transformer plant & at the end of the day they'd wash their hands in pure PCB.
    My brother-in-law who worked for the power company used to brag about doing that very same thing. Unfortunately he died of cancer. As did his wife and all of his children. Very sad.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Dawson View Post
    My brother-in-law who worked for the power company used to brag about doing that very same thing. Unfortunately he died of cancer. As did his wife and all of his children. Very sad.
    Wow, that's awful. I bet a fair bit of that stuff came home with him after work. On his hands, clothes, shoes. My instructor was at least in his mid to late 60's & I have no idea how long he lived. He sure was a good guy.

  6. #6
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    It pretty common for Hot tar roofers to clean up with diesel fuel at the end of the day. I remember seeing the laborers use their bare hands for mastic work. I know of one laborer that was diagnosed with cancer he left the us and went to Mexico for treatment. I remember asking Francisco about him he passed very quickly.
    Aj

  7. #7
    I think the stuff I use for the urethane caulks is Zylol

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Utterback View Post
    Ethanol (denatured alcohol)
    "Denatured alcohol" doesn't seem to be regulated and can contain all sorts of toxic nasties beyond just ethanol e.g.: methanol, MEK, MIK, etc. Not good.

    Been trying to limit shop solvents to Everclear, Mineral Spirits and Acetone. In San Antonio Texas this coming week so I'll be picking up some 195 proof stuff to try out with the shellac.

  9. #9
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    I use d-limonene as a thinner for all of my oil based finishes. It works well and is not a petroleum distillate (itís citrus based). Sure smells better too. e-bay is the best source that I have found.

  10. #10
    D limonene, contrary to popular belief, is not particularly safe simply by virtue of its citrus source. In concentration, it can be allergenic. In fact, it is required to be labeled when used in consumer cosmetic products in the EU.

    Mineral oil and mineral spirits are - in some dimensions - arguably safer than limonene.

    Donít go by unqualified me, but do research it more before trusting it without precaution.

  11. #11
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    ...and if you want a nice mix of polar and non-polar solvents (as I do for cleaning metal for tig welding), "lacquer thinner" works well...

    What's in it? Depends...

    My dad used to wash his hands with carbon tet in the old days

    No offense to anyone here, but I think some people go a bit overboard on safety with these things, like my brother's wife who, when she discovered some that pool chlorine had started to get "funny-looking," called in a 10-man, tyvek-clad California hazmat squad to carry it away...you would have thought it was lead-based paint or (gasp) dihydrogen monoxide.
    Last edited by Jacob Reverb; 10-20-2019 at 10:54 AM.

  12. #12
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    Yes, in my younger days after working on cars I cleaned my hands with gasoline. Back in the day, old oil and gasoline was a good weed killer. And believe it or not, this was done in California.

    But to the point of the post, lacquer thinner is my default solvent for removing paint and old finishes on wooden tools/handles. My usual stock is DNA, lacquer thinner, mineral spirits, naptha, and turpentine.

    Disposal is my biggest concern. I used to dispose of used solvent by either pouring it out onto cardboard or kitty liter, left to evaporate, then disposed of. Lately, I’ve started mason jars for each solvent, and when they get full, take them to our local recycling center.
    Last edited by Phil Mueller; 10-20-2019 at 12:04 PM.

  13. #13
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    I would add acetone. I use it to clean up epoxy.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Kelly View Post
    "Denatured alcohol" doesn't seem to be regulated and can contain all sorts of toxic nasties beyond just ethanol e.g.: methanol, MEK, MIK, etc. Not good.

    Been trying to limit shop solvents to Everclear, Mineral Spirits and Acetone. In San Antonio Texas this coming week so I'll be picking up some 195 proof stuff to try out with the shellac.
    You can substitute 99% Isopropal Alcohol for DA. I used to buy gallon jugs pretty cheap from printing supply houses. You can still do that, but it's also available on Amazon for decent prices. One good benefit is slows down the lightning dry time of Shellac, which will allow it to level a little better IMO.

    I recommend always wearing nitrile gloves when handling any solvents or finishes. I go through a lot of them. Lots of ventilation is a good thing too.

  15. #15
    As a former lab organic chemist, I basically bathed in acetone. (We used it for the final rinse of small scale glassware.) It is still my go-to universal solvent. It leaves no residue, evaporates quickly, and is an effective solvent for a wide array of stuff. It is relatively non-toxic and is not carcinogenic. It is naturally produced by metabolic processes so it isnít a completely foreign substance.

    BUT

    It is extremely flammable so you have to be careful. Donít use it in a sink because the vapors can accumulate.

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