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THE ALCHEMIST'S LABORATORY


Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NewT:Hebrews 13:21)


What would an alchemist's laboratory have looked? We can gain a good idea from the many 16th- and 17th-century engravings and paintings of the subject. The walls of the room would probably be covered with strange symbols and alchemical inscriptions in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Arabic. Animal skeletons and bunches of medicinal herbs might hang from the ceiling. The tables would be piled high with books and parchments, jostling for space with retorts and crucibles and the odd human skull. There would be several furnaces to provide different heats, and a bellows to fan the flames. There would be a glass mask for protecting the face, and there would be shelves filled with numerous jars, stills, and tripods. Of course, for the true alchemist, an alter for prayer and meditation was an essential feature. The room would probably be tucked away somewhere in the cellar or the attic, where a gleam of light showing late at night would not attract too much attention. Alchemists were always anxious to preserve secrecy about their work. If too many people knew about their activities they might be persecuted by the Church for their strange beliefs, or hounded by greedy people hoping to amass a fortune.

[From Alchemy, the Ancient Science by Neil Powell; pages 17 and 19. Boldface added.]

Equipment

Alembic: the part of a still were liquid condenses.

Alundel: the part of a still which receives the distilled liquid.

Anthanor: a furnace rather like a modern chemist's sand bath, but using ashes instead.

Bain-Marie: an ancient water bath. Said to be the invention of Mary the Jewess, an early alchemist.

Calcinary Furnace: used for reducing metals and minerals into a fine powder.

Cucurbit: the part of the still where distillation occurs.

Cupel: a crucible made of bone ash.

Crucible: a small clay bowl, shaped so it could be supported on the rim of a furnace. Use for heating things at a high temperature.

Descensory: a funnel.

Descensory Furnace: a furnace with a funnel for pouring liquid down to a recepticle inside.

Dissolving Furnace: a small furnace supporting a pan of water with rings in the pan to hold glass containers. Resembles the modern water bath. See Bain-Marie.

Kerotakis: old name for a Soxhlet extractor.

Matrass: a simple flask. See Philosopher's Egg.

Pelican: a special distilling flask with two necks for continuous distillation.

Philosopher's Egg: a special type of retort in which the neck of the flask went straight up. The forerunner of the modern Florence flask.

Retort: a flask with a long curved neck which curved downward. Named after a type of wild goose.

Still: short for distilling. An apparatus which boils liquids and catches the condensation.

Tripod: older version of a ring stand.

Beakers, crystallization dishes, spatulas, cloth filters, mortars and pestles, and tongs were also used by the alchemist in much the same way they are used by chemists today.

[From Alchemy, the Ancient Science by Neil Powell]

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