How To: Portable Superglue Chamber for Vehicles
Written by Special Agents Mark Kollar, John Saraya, Ed Staley, and Dan Winterich   

HOW TO Build a Portable Superglue Fuming Chamber for Vehicles

THE SUPERGLUE (cyanoacrylate) fuming technique for developing latent fingerprints became a popular procedure after its introduction to the United States in 1982. It was originally devised by the Japanese National Police Agency in 1978. The advantages of this technique are that it works on diverse surfaces, hardens and stabilizes the print, does not hinder subsequent DNA analysis, and allows for additional processing with several dye stains such as MRM-10 and rhodamine 6G.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Crime Scene Unit utilizes the superglue fuming technique in many ways to process items for fingerprints and footwear impressions. We have created several different-sized portable fuming chambers for the field including one designed to fume a body. (For more information on that particular device, refer to the 2002 article by Gary Wilgus in the Journal of Forensic Identification, “Latent print recovery from human skin”.)

Even larger items can be fumed, too. This article provides procedural details on how to create a fuming chamber for vehicles using PVC pipe and painter’s plastic—materials that are both affordable and easily constructed. The total cost for the materials used in building this fuming chamber was approximately $150.00. All of the materials are readily available at hardware stores, and the process of fuming both the interior and exterior of a car only takes about one hour.

Materials and Equipment Needed

  • Six pieces of 5-ft. PVC 3/4-in. pipe (lengthwise sections)
  • Eight pieces of 7-ft. PVC 3/4-in. pipe (legs)
  • Four pieces of 8-ft. PVC 3/4-in. pipe (width and cross sections)
  • Eight pieces of 1-ft. PVC 3/4-in. pipe (feet)
  • Eight 3/4 x 3/4 x 1/2-in. threaded reducing three-way corners with eight 3/4- to 1/2-in. threaded inserts (corners and feet)
  • Eight 3/4-in. tee connectors (legs and cross-sectional pieces)
  • One roll of plastic painter’s drop cloth (.315 Mil, 9 x 400 ft.)
  • Five small fans (for circulation)
  • Four coffee-cup hot plates with aluminum foil
  • Two 5-gallon buckets (with warm water for humidity)
  • Approximately 3 ounces of superglue
  • Tape, binder clips, clamps
  • Piece of acetate for a test print

Step 1:
Assemble the frame utilizing
the PVC pipe and the connectors


Figure 1

Figure 2

FIgure 3

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 6

You need to connect the PVC pieces to create a frame for the plastic sheeting. The frame should measure 7 ft. high x 8 ft. wide x 15 ft. long (see Figure 3). The six 5-ft. sections are connected with the tee connectors and are used to make the lengthwise portions (see Figure 1). They are then connected to two 8-ft. sections, creating the width portions and forming the top frame.

To connect the corner pieces, assemble the 3/4- to 1/2-in. threaded reducing three-way corner pieces with the 1/2-in. threaded inserts to create a 3/4-in. three-way corner piece (see Figure 2). Use four of these corner pieces to connect the widthwise and lengthwise portions.

The two additional 7-ft. sections are used for the cross-sectional supports within this frame and are secured with tee connectors.

Finally, insert the eight 7-ft. pieces to form the legs. There are several options to stabilize the legs. In this method, we created support feet using two 1-ft. PVC pieces connected to the four inner legs with a three-way corner piece and secured the outer four legs to large traffic cones.

Step 2:
Apply the plastic drop cloth

Drape one piece of plastic lengthwise over the top of the frame and then wrap two pieces around the frame leaving a slit at one end so you will have access to the interior. The tape, clamps, and binder clips are used to seal the chamber. Make sure to tape the bottom portion securely to the floor (see photo on facing page).

Step 3:
Add circulation

Attach two of the small fans to the cross-sectional supports in opposing corners (see Figure 4) and place two more on the ground in opposing corners. The fifth fan should be placed in the interior of the car.

Step 4:
Add humidity

Place one bucket of warm water at each end of the chamber to create humidity. Optimal humidity should be approximately 70 to 80 percent.

Step 5:
Add the vehicle

Put the vehicle inside the chamber and open all of the doors. Place one of the small fans inside the car.

Step 6:
Heat the superglue

Place one of the hot plates at each corner of the chamber and fill up the aluminum tins with approximately 0.75 oz of superglue each (see Figure 5). Apply a test print to a sheet of acetate and place near the chamber’s opening. Finally, seal up the opening and heat the superglue in the tins on the four hot plates for approximately one hour. (Note: This time period could be less if the test print begins to develop).

Step 7:
Vent and perform more processing

After approximately one hour, open the chamber and allow it to vent for a reasonable period of time to dissipate the fumes. Keeping the small fans turned on and using a larger fan or blower should expedite this step. If you are conducting the fuming inside a building, make sure to properly vent the fumes to the outside by opening all doors and windows.

Once the fuming process has been completed, you will be able to apply any powders or chemicals that might be selected to further enhance any latent fingerprints. Applying the dye stain MRM-10 along with an alternate light source (ALS) works extremely well for enhancing superglue-fumed prints (see Figure 6). The dye-stained prints can then be easily captured with macro-photography.

Conclusion

Over the years, the superglue-fuming technique has proven to be an excellent way to process small-to-medium items. With a little planning and a few dollars, this technique can be applied to much larger items—such as a car.

One caveat is that this process will cause damage to the car. For that reason, you should follow your agency’s own policies and procedures before you proceed with superglue fuming. In most agencies, the potential for damage to the car has caused officials to recommend that this technique should be used only for certain major crimes such as homicides.

The design of the chamber that is described in this article can be modified in many ways to accommodate smaller or larger vehicles.

In addition, this particular design can be used to make a permanent and more stable chamber by suspending the top frame from the ceiling of the garage with pulleys. If it is suspended in this way, the frame of the chamber could be fitted with a permanent plastic cover and stored out of the way when not in use.

In addition, using larger-sized PVC pipe will add more stability. The only limitations are your imagination and your budget.

About the Authors

The writers of this article are Mark Kollar, John Saraya, Ed Staley, and Dan Winterich, special agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. They are assigned to the Crime Scene Unit in the Northeast Region. From this location, they provide crime-scene investigative assistance throughout the state. They can be reached at 330-659-4600 or by e-mail at: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it '; document.write( '' ); document.write( addy_text98995 ); document.write( '<\/a>' ); //-->\n This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED:
"How to Build a Portable Superglue Fuming Chamber", written by Special Agents Mark Kollar, John Saraya, Ed Staley, and Dan Winterich
November-December 2008 (Volume 6, Number 6)
Evidence Technology Magazine
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