Shelving the 3D-Printed Shelves

My original plan was to 3D print individual shadow boxes for each of the 118 chemical elements, mount LED’s in them, and make a truly insane periodic table of elements display….with real elements. Well, I’m still collecting elements, BUT, the 3D printed part is out for the time being. Something about six months of constant printing tying up my printer just didn’t sound appealing….

So….. I am folding a bit. While I might eventually do the 3D-printed display, I’m going to “cheat” a bit and start off with a pre-made shot glass display case. I found this case ( that should turn out to be pretty much perfect. It just so turns out that the vials I bought to store my elements are just barely shorter than a shot glass and are a bit thinner which means I can store all of my samples in one with enough shelves pretty easily.

The display that I found has 12 shelves each capable of holding 12 shot glasses. Since my vials are thinner than a standard shot glass, I should EASILY be able to fit an entire row of the classical table on each shelf. With 12 shelves and 9 rows (counting the lanthanides and actinides as separate rows), that leaves me some extra space to put in electronics or other fun display pieces. I think I can still do the RGB LED bit like I planned before, but I’ll need to get actual dimensions from the inside of the cabinet to make sure.

A happy side effect of this is that it will end up saving me a bit of money compared to a fully printed model. Rough math found that it was going to take around 20 spools of PLA filament to print out every cube. At $20/spool, the whole project would cost $400 before the cost of electricity (and AC cooling in the summer). I already bought all of the aluminum extrusion to mount things, unfortunately, but I can still use that stock for other projects or even sell it online pretty easily.

New Complications

If you’ve read my other pieces, you know that I am concerned with the safety of the elements. Some of them are poisonous. Some of them are highly reactive. Some of them are extremely valuable. As I start moving into some of the more dangerous samples especially, it is important that I keep things protected.

So why do I bring this up again? Two reasons.

The first are my pet birds. I have been working with them to learn how to fly. While they could *technically* fly before, they didn’t understand that they could use flight to actually get from point A to point B. As they figure this out, I don’t want my samples displayed in such a way that they can access them and hurt themselves or others.

The second are general idiots. Since my last post, I had company over that wanted to look at my collection. I allowed folks to pick up the samples thinking they’d be gentle and respectful. Nope. One of the idiots flat out SHOOK a bottle of arsenic (yay poison dust creation!) and a bottle of my vanadium crystals (yay damaged samples!). I wish I were kidding. I quickly diffused the situation and asked them not to touch any more samples, but damn…..   So, I’ll be adding a lock to the case door as well as find a way to bolt the case to the wall from the inside to prevent the whole thing from walking out of the door (and from being bumped off the wall accidentally).

New Storage Ideas

A good chunk of the remaining samples I’m to buy are those in glass ampoules. These are basically sealed glass capsules with a sample inside and a non-reactive gas (usually argon) that keeps the sample from oxidizing or escaping. While I have a couple samples already (thallium and thorium), I haven’t come up with a perfect way of storing them. I’ve been toying around with a couple ideas though:


The first “plan” is exactly what it sounds like. Pack the specimens in a dumb amount of foam to immobilize the capsule inside a vial. If things get jostled, the glass can’t move around which reduces the chance of breakage. Unfortunately, this approach is a little unsightly and somewhat sloppy. It’s easy, though.

2) 3D-Printed Inserts

The next idea is to 3D-print capsule holders that will slide into the vials. The holders themselves would be held in place with foam to create a slightly-floating scenario. This would protect the ampoules from ever touching the glass of the vial while providing shock absorbion. Done right, it could look fantastic as well. The downside? Many of the ampoules are of different sizes, even from the same chemical supplier…soooo….it ends up being more work.

Future Research

Something I need to research as well is what materials I can store inside some of these vials in the event the ampoule inside breaks. Ideally, it would neutralize whatever was in the sample fairly quickly without generating large amounts of heat or gas. Whether that is something like vermiculite, activated carbon, or something else, I don’t know yet. I’d be willing to bet that cotton or bamboo fiber may be enough for some things – simple enough for things to react with, complicated enough that it won’t suddenly explode (especially w/ limited or no oxygen inside the vial). But, my degree is not (currently) in chemistry, so I’ll have to do my homework.

I won’t purchase samples like cesium, chlorine, or bromine until I can come up with something though. I recognize that whatever I pick will need to change from sample to sample.

For some of these elements, I could can pretty easily order samples under oil or water and do some rudimentary testing outside. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments or reach out to me via the contact form.

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