Elements of Chemistry, by Antoine Lavoisier

Chapter VII.

Of the Composition and Application of Lutes.

The necessity of properly securing the junctures of chemical vessels to prevent the escape of any of the products of experiments, must be sufficiently apparent; for this purpose lutes are employed, which ought to be of such a nature as to be equally impenetrable to the most subtile substances, as glass itself, through which only caloric can escape.

This first object of lutes is very well accomplished by bees wax, melted with about an eighth part of turpentine. This lute is very easily managed, sticks very closely to glass, and is very difficultly penetrable; it may be rendered more consistent, and less or more hard or pliable, by adding different kinds of resinous matters. Though this species of lute answers extremely well for retaining gasses and vapours, there are many chemical experiments which produce considerable heat, by which this lute becomes liquified, and consequently the expansive vapours must very readily force through and escape.

For such cases, the following fat lute is the best hitherto discovered, though not without its disadvantages, which shall be pointed out. Take very pure and dry unbaked clay, reduced to a very fine powder, put this into a brass mortar, and beat it for several hours with a heavy iron pestle, dropping in slowly some boiled lintseed oil; this is oil which has been oxygenated, and has acquired a drying quality, by being boiled with litharge. This lute is more tenacious, and applies better, if amber varnish be used instead of the above oil. To make this varnish, melt some yellow amber in an iron laddle, by which operation it loses a part of its succinic acid, and essential oil, and mix it with lintseed oil. Though the lute prepared with this varnish is better than that made with boiled oil, yet, as its additional expence is hardly compensated by its superior quality, it is seldom used.

The above fat lute is capable of sustaining a very violent degree of heat, is impenetrable by acids and spiritous liquors, and adheres exceedingly well to metals, stone ware, or glass, providing they have been previously rendered perfectly dry. But if, unfortunately, any of the liquor in the course of an experiment gets through, either between the glass and the lute, or between the layers of the lute itself, so as to moisten the part, it is extremely difficult to close the opening. This is the chief inconvenience which attends the use of fat lute, and perhaps the only one it is subject to. As it is apt to soften by heat, we must surround all the junctures with slips of wet bladder applied over the luting, and fixed on by pack-thread tied round both above and below the joint; the bladder, and consequently the lute below, must be farther secured by a number of turns of pack-thread all over it. By these precautions, we are free from every danger of accident; and the junctures secured in this manner may be considered, in experiments, as hermetically sealed.

It frequently happens that the figure of the junctures prevents the application of ligatures, which is the case with the three-necked bottles formerly described; and it even requires great address to apply the twine without shaking the apparatus; so that, where a number of junctures require luting, we are apt to displace several while securing one. In these cases, we may substitute slips of linen, spread with white of egg and lime mixed together, instead of the wet bladder. These are applied while still moist, and very speedily dry and acquire considerable hardness. Strong glue dissolved in water may answer instead of white of egg. These fillets are usefully applied likewise over junctures luted together with wax and rosin.

Before applying a lute, all the junctures of the vessels must be accurately and firmly fitted to each other, so as not to admit of being moved. If the beak of a retort is to be luted to the neck of a recipient, they ought to fit pretty accurately; otherwise we must fix them, by introducing short pieces of soft wood or of cork. If the disproportion between the two be very considerable, we must employ a cork which fits the neck of the recipient, having a circular hole of proper dimensions to admit the beak of the retort. The same precaution is necessary in adapting bent tubes to the necks of bottles in the apparatus represented Pl. IV. Fig. 1. and others of a similar nature. Each mouth of each bottle must be fitted with a cork, having a hole made with a round file of a proper size for containing the tube. And, when one mouth is intended to admit two or more tubes, which frequently happens when we have not a sufficient number of bottles with two or three necks, we must use a cork with two or three holes, Pl. IV. Fig. 8.

When the whole apparatus is thus solidly joined, so that no part can play upon another, we begin to lute. The lute is softened by kneading and rolling it between the fingers, with the assistance of heat, if necessary. It is rolled into little cylindrical pieces, and applied to the junctures, taking great care to make it apply close, and adhere firmly, in every part; a second roll is applied over the first, so as to pass it on each side, and so on till each juncture be sufficiently covered; after this, the slips of bladder, or of linen, as above directed, must be carefully applied over all. Though this operation may appear extremely simple, yet it requires peculiar delicacy and management; great care must be taken not to disturb one juncture whilst luting another, and more especially when applying the fillets and ligatures.

Before beginning any experiment, the closeness of the luting ought always to be previously tried, either by slightly heating the retort A, Pl. IV. Fig. 1, or by blowing in a little air by some of the perpendicular tubes S s s s; the alteration of pressure causes a change in the level of the liquid in these tubes. If the apparatus be accurately luted, this alteration of level will be permanent; whereas, if there be the smallest, opening in any of the junctures, the liquid will very soon recover its former level. It must always be remembered, that the whole success of experiments in modern chemistry depends upon the exactness of this operation, which therefore requires the utmost patience, and most attentive accuracy.

It would be of infinite service to enable chemists, especially those who are engaged in pneumatic processes, to dispense with the use of lutes, or at least to diminish the number necessary in complicated instruments. I once thought of having my apparatus constructed so as to unite in all its parts by fitting with emery, in the way of bottles with cristal stoppers; but the execution of this plan was extremely difficult. I have since thought it preferable to substitute columns of a few lines of mercury in place of lutes, and have got an apparatus constructed upon this principle, which appears capable of very convenient application in a great number of circumstances.

It consists of a double necked bottle A, Pl. XII. Fig. 12.; the interior neck bc communicates with the inside of the bottle, and the exterior neck or rim de leaves an interval between the two necks, forming a deep gutter intended to contain the mercury. The cap or lid of glass B enters this gutter, and is properly fitted to it, having notches in its lower edge for the passage of the tubes which convey the gas. These tubes, instead of entering directly into the bottles as in the ordinary apparatus, have a double bend for making them enter the gutter, as represented in Fig. 13. and for making them fit the notches of the cap B; they rise again from the gutter to enter the inside of the bottle over the border of the inner mouth. When the tubes are disposed in their proper places, and the cap firmly fitted on, the gutter is filled with mercury, by which means the bottle is completely excluded from any communication, excepting through the tubes. This apparatus may be very convenient in many operations in which the substances employed have no action upon Mercury. Pl. XII. Fig. 14. represents an apparatus upon this principle properly fitted together.

Mr Seguin, to whose active and intelligent assistance I have been very frequently much indebted, has bespoken for me, at the glass-houses, some retorts hermetically united to their recipients, by which luting will be altogether unnecessary.


Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:36