Diethyl Ether-why use it for collodion work?

Discussion in 'Alternative Processes' started by Mark G MacKenzie, Feb 16, 2006.

  1. Mark G MacKenzie

    Mark G MacKenzie Member

    Dec 16, 2005
    I am truly curious about this. For the time being let us set aside the fact that it was first used successfully this way and that it is historically correct.

    The questions to be answered that I see now are:
    1. Are there adverse chemical reactions when using a substitute ether solvent?
    2. Are there mechanical/substance related problems/issues when using an ether substitute solvent?
    3. Are there timing issues when using an ether substitute? This may be a subset of the question above.

    Diethyl ether evaporates extremely quickly thereby lessening the film formation and toughening time which is a bonus for any "hand" operation. However, this quickness works against us by giving a short exposure/developing window.

    Collodion is essentially nitrocellulose lacquer. I mix/create solvent blends for use in lacquer work for art conservation treatments to give needed working characteristics. Can some of them work for us in wet plate collodion photography?

    Collodion is soluble in amyl acetate, some of the alcohols and it should be soluble in "lacquer solvent" which can be many things depending upon air temperature and whether it is for spraying or brushing.

    The question of miscibility of the various potential solvents is the first problem to be investigated followed by the effect on the rest of the wet plate process.

    I haven't tried any of this yet and won't be able to for a while until my traditional supplies all arrive. However, a good experiment begins with the research into what has been already done and the results of this work, good, bad and indifferent. Please share your experiences or your expectations.

    Why am I curious about this question? Well, that is the way I am and I think that without such curiosity those first successful wet plate chemist/experimenters would not have been successful. I will try a fully traditional wet plate technique but being able to use more readily obtainable materials may be of more increasing need in this over regulated world.


    Mark MacKenzie
  2. nworth

    nworth Subscriber

    Aug 27, 2005
    Los Alamos,
    Multi Format
    I think the main reason the recipies call for diethyl ether is that it is the solvent used to make colloidion. Used in a well ventilated area, well away from flames or sparks, diethyl ether is not to bad to work with. Under any other conditions, it's an extreme hazard. It is particularly a fire hazard, and warm objects or sparks you normally may not even be aware of can set it off and burn the house down. The vapor also tends to sink and crawl along the floor - beware the water heater. You can certainly experiment with other solvents. Most that might be suitable (like somewhat higher ethers) are also quite volatile and flamable. Remember that one of the qualities you need in the solvent is pretty good volatility. My recollection (and a bit of experience recently with label removers) is that amyl acetate is likely to leave things gooey. Ethyl acetate may work (that's just a guess). MTBE may work. Tetrahyrofuran may work.
  3. avandesande

    avandesande Member

    Sep 7, 2002
    Tijeras, NM
    Medium Format
    see if acetone works. it is very volatile and isn't an undue health or flammability hazard. it is easy to get at home depot or paint store.
  4. JG Motamedi

    JG Motamedi Member

    Dec 18, 2004
    Portland, OR
    Large Format
    I have never tried ether substitutes, but I do know that using Petroleum Ether, rather than Ethyl Ether will result in an opaque film. Not good.

    It is possible, at least according to John Coffer, to use denatured alcohol in place of both Ethyl Ether and Ethyl Alcohol. Your "set" time for the collodion will be much longer, but it should work.

    Again, you will get better answers at the other forums. There are only three or four of us here, and there is at least one Canadian who participates in the other forums.
  5. Soeren

    Soeren Member

    Nov 5, 2004
    Naestved, DK
    Multi Format
    You should also be aware that Diethyl Ether will form peroxides over time making such a bottle a very unstable explosive. Visits form the demining group are very common at laboratories, scools and universities that have worked with Ether for some years.
    Regards Søren