How to make a still air box
“What’s a still air box, Mr. Orangutan?”, seems to be a common question amongst people who are a bit newer to the scene. A still air box (commonly referred to as a SAB because that’s how acronyms work) is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.
It’s a box. With holes in for your arms. It helps to keep the air inside from moving so much. That’s it. There’s no magic here. For the love of God don’t go paying £50 for one of these with the holes pre-cut from any online supplier. I’m a big fan of mycology being something that can be done cheaply, because I believe it’s supposed to be for everyone, and this is part of that toolkit.
There’s no reason not to have a SAB if you’re getting into mycology – they’re cheap, you can use the box for other stuff when you’re not doing mycology, and it’ll up your success rates by roughly fifteen billion percent. Realistically, this is the minimum standard of equipment required. A flow hood would be better but is also about fifty times the cost, a cleanroom like in an electronics factory would be super cool but is about five thousand times the cost; for about £10/£20 and maybe half an hour of your time, you can make your life a lot easier.
To save you a bit of time reading this, you could just have a look on YouTube, where there are a “hole” (ho ho ho) lot of videos that’ll talk you through it.
How does a still air box work, man?
It works because it’s a box, my dude. Thanks to the laws of reality, dust, yeast, trich spores, and all the other shit that floats about your house (and everybody’s house) can’t get through solid objects, like… bear with me here… a box.
You’ll want to use a see-through plastic box, because unless you’re either Neo or Superman, you aren’t gonna be able to see through anything else. Get your box. Buy a really big one because you’ll want as much space as possible inside to start preparing your microscopy slides. Stick it upside down on your table so that the lid is on the bottom. Boom, that’s your working area.
Now comes the bit that some people will try to justify charging you £50 for: Cut two holes in the box. Why two holes? Because presumably you have two arms. If you have one arm, cut one hole. If for some fuck-unknown reason you’ve got three arms, probably cut three holes. If you’ve got three nipples, then whoa, rad, but it won’t affect how many holes you need to cut.
How do I cut these holes?
It’s actually a good question. There’s loads of ways. If you are a fancy person who likes fancy things, you can heat up an empty metal cylinder of your choosing (think cake tin, empty catering-sized tin of beans, whatever), and then melt that through your plastic. Please don’t burn yourself because that would suck.
If you’re the kind of human that has loads of tools kicking about, get a holesaw bit for your manly-as-fuck drill, and cut a hole (or a series of holes) through your box. Top tip here that I’ve stolen from a comment on one of Mycopunks’ videos – run the drill backwards and the plastic won’t get all fucked up and snarly.
Failing all of this, you can do what I did, and mark a circle with a pen, then stab at the box wildly before using a pair of scissors to cut out the middle of a hole. You could probably also use a hot scalpel. Doing it this way might leave some rough edges and your box won’t look as nice, but it’ll still function in exactly the same way, so don’t sweat it. You can sand it down a bit, if you like.
The holes are still be a chance for contaminants to get in, so try and keep them to a size that’s comfortable for you to work with, but not any bigger than that. You wanna be able to get your arms in without scraping your skin cells all over your work though so don’t go too small.
Basically, it ain’t hard. If you’re able to successfully use a knife and fork on a daily basis, you can make a SAB.
Underlying principles of your SAB
Literally, the way this works is “it stops shit floating onto your work”. You can’t see the various contaminants in your environment, but there will be millions of them, all trying to take up space on your microscopy slides.
Don’t, whatever you do, try and fix gloves to your box, as if it’s some kind of glove box. Because your plastic box isn’t completely airtight and running at a negative pressure like a glove box would be, if you attach rubber gloves to it you are essentially just making yourself a nice set of Trich Bellows. Every time you pull your hands in and out, you’ll be forcibly pulling air in through any gaps in your box (like the lid), hugely increasing your chances of contamination. It’ll look fancy, sure, but it’s fucking mental.
You’re aiming for still air! You’ve cut your two hand holes, and that’s where your hands go. This way, you’re not interrupting or agitating the air inside, any drafts throughout your room can’t move the air inside much, and nothing can float down and land on your stuff. Perfecto! The air is relatively still!
This isn’t going to be 100% clean, because you’ve gone and cut two holes in it (hence me saying if you’ve got one arm, cut one hole), and that means there’s still a small chance that an errant bit of dust will swoop on in, but it will absolutely improve your success rates by a ridiculous degree.
Using your SAB
It’s mycology time! Shut all the doors and windows in your room, and wait ten or fifteen minutes. Read a book or something, I dunno. You’re trying to let any airborne contaminants in your room settle, so be patient, it’ll pay off. Put your box upside down on your table. Open it. Spray it/wipe it with 70% alcohol. Put all your stuff on top of the lid, then put the box on top. Brilliant!
Now wipe your arms down, put on gloves if you must, grab your syringe, and get to work preparing slides for your microscope.
Bear in mind that you’ve probably now got a lot of alcohol fumes inside this box, so don’t go using a lighter in there until those fumes are gone otherwise you’ve not only made a SAB, you’re essentially making a hilarious video for YouTube that will go on a highlight reel called “Amazing Mycology Fails”. Flames and alcohol don’t mix.
Hope this all helps, enjoy your new craft project, don’t vote Tory.