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Saturday 1 September 2012

Starting Equipment

I've written elsewhere on this blog about what materials I recommend to start with and I've also talked about the single largest investment for most starting perfumers, which is good scales.

What I have not covered is all the other things you are going to need in order to be able to experiment effectively with blending and mixing fragrances.

First of all, as I've already recommended in the post on blending, I think it's best when you’re starting out to keep most materials ready diluted in ethanol, and do your blending with those.  That automatically means that you are going to need at least one empty bottle for every different material you buy - probably more - I buy mine in bulk from a bottle manufacturer, but if you can’t meet the minimum order quantities they need we also sell them through the Pell Wall shop in the Accessories for Perfumery category.  I use glass bottles in either amber or cobalt blue or green, to protect the contents from the light. Another option we use a lot at Pell Wall is aluminium: it’s important to use lacquered bottles as some ingredients can react with the aluminium itself, but this is a good way to keep them totally protected from the light.  Again we sell these bottles individually and buy them in bulk.

I find there are some materials that I use so often, or that are such a fiddle to dilute, that it's worth having bigger bottles on hand to save doing a new dilution too often, so I'd suggest you buy a few 100g and 200g bottles as well.

At Pell Wall we offer a comprehensive Perfume-Lab-In-A-Box accessories kit that includes most of the things you’ll need to get started.

To keep all those bottles accessible you'll need something to help organise them.  The traditional perfumers' organ is quite an investment but I found these simple steps, designed to organise containers in kitchen cupboards a cheap and effective way to arrange a reasonable number of bottles.

I like to be able to see what I'm blending when I'm working on a new accord though, so I prefer to do that in a clear container.  To save on wastage of expensive materials I do first cut blends in small beakers or flasks and store them in clear bottles so I can see how the blend is maturing and whether it’s clouded, crystallised or changed colour.

For the actual moving of material from stock bottle to blend, what I prefer is glass pipettes. These are intended to be disposable, so you might prefer to use plastic disposables instead.  On the other hand I find the plastic kind are also a bit less easy to be accurate with and glass is easy to recycle everywhere (I put them directly into a clear glass bottle so that the whole thing can go in the recycling with no risk of anyone coming into contact with the sharp ends).  It is possible to re-use the glass ones if you take out the cotton-wool plug and wash them thoroughly, but it does not work to do that with the plastic ones as the scents tend to impregnate the polyethylene they are made from.

Whichever type you use, on no account use the same pipette in two or more different materials or you will cross contaminate and end up with mixtures in every bottle: quite useless.

Once I have a blend near-right I prefer to make it up in a larger amount for more testing and for that I find standard laboratory conical flasks ideal.  Flasks are also great for making up dilutions of sticky resins or solids that take a bit of swirling to get into solution.

Some things will need more than just a bit of a swirl to dissolve: for those some glass stirring rods are useful, or for the more difficult things an automatic stirrer is a great boon.  There are several types of these, but I recommend buying a small, fairly inexpensive one to start with, which works by using a magnetised stirrer, coated in glass or PTFE that you put in the liquid and a motor that you sit the container on that rotates another magnet, thus turning the one in the container.  Some materials take a long time to dissolve and you can leave these running for a couple of days if necessary.

That reminds me of another thing you'll need, which is some spatulas for measuring out solids ready to dissolve.  I find the spoon type handy for wider mouthed jars, but the narrow sort essential for getting into those little bottles that very expensive materials and samples come in.

Another vital thing to buy is blotters or smelling strips as you need these both for training yourself to recognise and deconstruct smells and for testing your blends.  There are lots of different ones on the market but the are so useful I think it's well worth buying plenty.

I also keep some measuring cylinders, and accurate measuring pipettes (plus filler devices) for those occasions when you need to measure something out by volume - if you are working routinely in weight these are not essential.  I also have Simax bottles in various sizes for keeping larger dilutions and stock in - I like these because they are strong and easy to pour from and will clean up without leaving traces of scent.

Finally you need a workspace with a surface that won't be damaged by spills of aggressive liquids (melamine, glass and granite are all good).


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