Picture of Build a Whisky Still

If you're reading this, I assume you are interested in the theoretical transformation of a relatively weak alcoholic mixture into a relatively strong alcoholic mixture. That is, the distillation of whisky.

If you are just interested in creating your own alcoholic drinks from scratch, then I recommend starting with brewing beer (LINK). It's cheaper, easier, and less likely to be illegal in you area.

If you don't know about the early stages of whisky distillation, here is a quick round-up:

Take some grain, and allow it to sprout. Just as it starts to sprout, quickly kill it by drying. It is now a "malted grain". Mix the malted grain with hot water and stir until you get bored - you are dissolving the sugars from the grain into the water. Filter out the solids, and add yeast. Keep the mixture slightly warm (and sealed from the air) until the yeast has turned the sugar into alcohol. You now have a wash that is ready to be distilled. Apparently, the wash has a strength and taste similar to beer, so maybe you would like to start there.

Distillation is the process of separating a mixture of liquids with different boiling points. In this case, we're trying to separate ethanol (alcohol) from water. Pure ethanol boils at 78.4oC, and pure water boils at 100oC, so heating the wash will make the ethanol boil off first.

[Some of my most current projects are now here.]

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SlimD18 months ago

Aluminum stills are ok to use. Companies who produce stills, have been using aluminium for years.People who have purchased these stills ,have produced many batches of alcohol, without death. In much the same manner, that people have used aluminium pots and pans ,for cooking food

I still use an old 20 liter aluminium pot still ,over here in new zealand. Sometimes i can produce (after dilution) 7 litres of (middle cut) alcohol @ 42% . I throw away (first cut) the first 100mls that comes out of the still. And will re-still the last litre of (end cut) tails too, in the next run (but will then just totally discard the last cut ,upon having done this process for 4-5 times. Just so as to make real sure that all the "mean n nasties" just dont get enough of chance, to really build-up to any sort of real-dangerous level )

I'm still alive and kicking.Still feeling as fit and randy as a buck-rat

For sure, aluminium may not be the "very best" choice of material for someone to choose to be using. And that also apply's to "preferred-choice" of material to be used for pots and pans too. But folks have still used "aluminium" for very many decades.Crikey ,many of our grandparents, all did.And most of those folk had all lived long happy lives

After the distillation process is done. We then will first soak the alcohol through primary (activated) carbon process, for about a week.Then it is also finally filtered out through a filter using some activated finishing carbon too.

Had a friend staying at my place for three days ,over a long week end ,awhile back. And he finished-off one and a half bottles of whiskey @ 42 %, on his own,over those three days. With no hang-over, at all whatsoever .

Had he purchased a cheap bottle of whiskey from the bottle store. He might have feared a whole lot worse-off .Even if that bottle was made through someone using a stainless or copper still

The wash only ever sits within the "aluminum" still, for like somewhere around 4 hours, from start to finish. Its not like the wash is being left to brew for days/weeks, in it..

lee.tolen.511 months ago

Thank you Kiteman,

You didn't allow your ego to block WartHaug and his promotion of another web link.

Thank you Warthaug,

You sound very informed and hard to dispute. (i will verify before my first batch.) You put out there what really needed to be said. Strong warnings should be given in the making of any still. I'm not as concerned for my self the immediate danger. I drink little. I am very concerned of the accumulative effects. The government already says theres nothing to worry about with the accumulative effects of chlorine and fluoride. I would like to err on the side of caution. Others just getting into distilling can benefit from your exchange with Kiteman and be entertained!

Sergei-7 years ago

This guy puts new meaning in choose your poison!
A lot of no no's in this, worked in a lab ay? As a lab technician or janitor?

You can get lots of methanol from realy anything you distill including just a simple wash of sugar-water-yeast.

People going blind from a punch mmmm better stay away from wine champagne and beer.

Using a bed post as a column is a good idea if it's made from 304 or 316 foodgrade stainless steel or waterpipe copper tubing somehow i don't see that. You will get contaminents in your wash that will cause you harm in the long run from mostly anything else.

Things like using epoxy to seal up joints is bad you need to use lead free solder or silver solder for that.
It's lucky that you have never done any of this yourself or you might be writing this instructable in hospital.

If you realy want to build yourself a quick or complex still try this place for more info first http://homedistiller.org/
If you want to distill just small amounts glassware is the safest and most accurate way.

Kiteman (author)  Sergei-7 years ago
A lot of no no's in this, worked in a lab ay? As a lab technician or janitor?

As head of a large industrial lab. As a high school science teacher. As a published science writer.

Let me know when you've actually read the Instructable properly, plus all the replies I've made to other people who have not read it properly (like the other people who think that yeast produces methanol in anything other than trace amounts). If you still have any smart comments to make, make them then.
It's not that people didn't read it properly, you simply didn't explain it properly.
Kiteman (author)  Dr_Stupid7 years ago
Yeh, it's real bad. That's why I won...

people love to critisize. I enjoyed

"(like the other people who think that yeast produces methanol in anything other than trace amounts)" I'm assuming this is a snide remark at my expense. I guess pointing out the biochemistry and science behind it was the wrong way to go. And here I thought it would resonate with someone who claims a scientific background. You can call it what you want - 'trace amounts' or whatever, it doesn't change the fact they are in there. I wont point out the irony that the whole idea behind distillation is to concentrate things that are present in trace amounts. In my average brandy run 3-5% of the total distillate is the sub-78C fraction, and most of that is methanol. Assuming 75% methanol in that fraciton, and assuming that the other 25% is non-toxic, including that fraction into the portion you drink that would be a high enough concentration that 1 servings (i.e. 1.5oz) would exceed what is considered a safe limit. You would hit a mildly toxic dose (i.e. possible blindness) around 6 servings in. For someone who claims to have the background you do, you're sure adamant about something which is both wrong, and a common/ widely reported problem in producing food-grade ethanol. The production of methanol during the fermentation process, and its concentration during distillation is the topic of a multitude of scientific and industrial reports. BTW, homedistiller.org is an excellent resource of home distilation, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the craft.
Kiteman (author)  Warthaug7 years ago
From your recommended reference

Poor quality home distilled spirit : methanol 0.0186%
Methanol : usual fatal dose 100-250 mL

So, to get a fatal dose of methanol from poor quality spirits, you would have to drink over 500 litres of the spirit at a single sitting.


The lethal dose of methanol is at least 100 ml that is equal to about 80000 mg or you need 27000 liters of mash at least to get that amount.

That is, to produce a single lethal dose of methanol, you have to collect all the methanol from nearly thirty tonnes of fermented grain and water.

"Poor quality home distilled spirit : methanol 0.0186%"

here's the full link, so everyone can see

As everyone can see, you're distorting what the webpage states. After a discussion of proper distillation techniques - incluiding throwing away the heads, they (correctly) point out that the methanol content will be minimal; even if you do a poor job. But that is with *throwing away the heads*, which is exactly what we've been saying you have to do all along.

But you're counseling people to not throw away the heads. If you do this the amounts of methanol are much, much higher.

For example, most wines have a methanol content of >0.1%; some fruit juices have methanol contents even higher then that - meaning, of course, if you distill them, and don't toss the heads, you'll concentrate them along with your ethanol. Even with grains you'll get methanol produced, although it'll be lower then fruit-based ferments.

As stated before, my personal experience with brandies is 3-5% of total distillate is methanol/other lower-boiling point compounds. I used to do a lot of sugar mashes, and even then I collected 1-2% the final volume of these lower temperature fractions.

"The lethal dose of methanol is at least 100 ml"

Firstly, that is out-and-out wrong. Methanol has an LD50 of ~1ml/kg, and since most of us aren't 100kg, you're toxic limit is way off.

Secondly, I never said anything about death. I specifically said "mild toxicity, i.e. possible blindness", not once did I say "death" or "lethal dose".

Blindness occurs at doses as low as 0.1ml/kg, and permanent eye damage occurs at doses about 1/5th of that. Meaning for me (at 65kg) I'd have to drink a meager 6.5ml of methanol to blind myself, and a minute 1.3ml to begin seeing minor damage to my eyes. That's not very much.

In the case of my Brandies, if I were to put those heads back in I'd have a methanol content of ~3%, meaning to get my 1.3ml worth (onset of eye damage) I'd have to drink a mere 43ml (1.45oz, just shy of 1 serving) to hit a point where damage is possible. 5 servings gets me upto 6.5ml; onset of blindness.

Lastly, there is a growing body of medical evidence that long-term exposure to minute amounts - parts per *billion* range - can have damaging effects of the neurological system, including the onset of a Parkinson's-like disease. Chronic higher doses have a large range of known effects - including, but not limited to - reproductive disorders, teratogenic effects, optic, liver, kidney, and heart damage.

But hey, its your life. If you'd rather continue on in your delusion, and poison yourself slowly, that's your business. But to falsely claim that there is no danger - when there is a well established danger - is just wrong.
Kiteman (author)  Warthaug7 years ago
Please point out where I say "do not throw away the heads"?

All this argument has happened because people - yes, I mean you - are not reading what I wrote.

Check Step 5 - I specifically say not to collect the condensate until the temperature at the top of the column reaches 78oC - by that point, all the methanol will have evaporated.

I have been discussing the product collected if you follow what I write. You seem to have assumed, that just because I did not use the term "heads" that I am some sort of ignorant fool that is quite happy to encourage others to poison themselves.

"The lethal dose of methanol is at least 100 ml"

Firstly, that is out-and-out wrong. Methanol has an LD50 of ~1ml/kg, and since most of us aren't 100kg, you're toxic limit is way off.

First you recommend http://www.homedistiller.org/, then you criticise me for your recommended site quoting numbers you do not agree with.

Wikipedia agrees with those numbers
According to the official MSDS; "Methyl Alcohol (Methanol) Oral rat LD50: 5628 mg/kg" (I mass about 70kg, so (a rat my size) needs a touch under half a litre to kill me)]

The reference you gave us says that says a 100ml dose is fatal.
The official HSE data says it needs 500ml to kill 50% of those who drink it.
What do you say?
"Please point out where I say "do not throw away the heads"?" My bad, but you have repetitively commented that there is no risk of methanol poisoning, when there is. You specifically attributed methanol poisoning from moonshine to adulterants; which is also false. "First you recommend..." They're a great resource for how to distill properly, build a still, make a mash, etc. But I'll take the medical communities findings when it comes to toxological data. "According to the official MSDS" There is no such thing as an "official MSDS". MSDS's are produced by the manufacturing companies, and simply have to meet some rather weak standards. Take a look at Lilly's MSDS for methanol - they've got completely different LD50's listed compared to yours. And why use the rat standard, when the toxicity in humans is well established? its long been known us lowly primates are far more sensitive to methanol than are our rat brothers. My values - both the LD50, onset of blindness, and onset of optical damage, came from HUMAN data, published in "Medical Toxicology" by R.Dart, published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins in 2003. "Wikipedia agrees with those numbers" No, it don't. Direct quote, from your wikipedia link: "The usual fatal dose is 100–125 mL (4 fl oz)" That 1/5th of your "half liter". For myself thats 1.3ml/kg; just a hair higher than the 1ml/kg I quoted previously. And wikipedia does not state its an LD50, so we don't even know if the two values are comparable. Bryan
Sergei- Kiteman7 years ago
just read your new post about the methanol 0.0186%. You get more than that in a 25l wash of just sugar water and yeast just to make 4 liters of alcohol especialy if it's a pot still.
Kiteman (author)  Sergei-7 years ago
Then Warthaug's references are wrong.
'Then Warthaug's references are wrong." No, you mis-read what it was stating. The resource pointed out - correctly - that when the heads are disposed of the worst case scenario is a minute amount of methanol (0.0186%). You're telling people not to dispose of the heads - which is where the methanol is. That is plain wrong, and including those in the final product will greatly increase the methanol content.
Kiteman (author)  Warthaug7 years ago
See my post timed 12:36pm
There are grades of st.stl. The lower the number,the 'cheaper' the material,i.e.,it corrodes easier,faster. Best to start is 304,next is 316.The content of chrome/nickel increases & carbon stl decreases,therefore less corrosion.Both are expensive,however,304 is less than 316.
Regards stainless stl. versus copper, Calif wineries use st.stl.light wall tubing with clamp end fittings,meaning no welding.The tubing is actually a polished,(food grade reqd'),st.stl. Tubing can take high pressures,however,as the temp rises,the pressure rating decreases. In alcohol production,the temps are relatively low as are pressures,so light wall tubing works fine. I am a materials specialist for about 40yrs.in industry.Foreign copper contains cyanide. Domestic copper does not allow cyanide.Cyanide is added to the mfging process so the copper flows better.Foreign copper is allowed in the U.S. Small copper tubing can use compression fittings,so no welding required. Copper conducts heat faster than st.stl.
kilofeenix2 years ago
from what i can read microbore looks like pvc, could i not just use 1/4 inch copper tubing like your picture shows?
Kiteman (author)  kilofeenix2 years ago
In the UK, 1/4 inch copper tubing is referred to as "microbore", so, yes.
davec0202 years ago
For those trying this remember that Methanol (Wood Alcohol) evaporates at around 135% F and Ethanol at 195% F it is vital to discard any fluid that condenses before the mash has reached 195% if you don't you could end up dead or blind so an accurate thermometer is necessary, as for taste many places sell essences to add to your flavour to the product. Also remember to use a hydrometer and measure the specific gravity diluting it with spring water to around 35 to 45 % vol better still buy cheap booze from Aldi that way you won't end up dead, blind or in prison
jsadler12 years ago
I have never found an epoxy that was decent for boiling water. I built stills for universities by the way. Solders can be very, very dangerous. Assume the worst unless you validate very carefully the ingredients in the solder and flux. For a small volume home still that is easy to make check out a Roman still. It is simply a pot with a gutter inside the lid. As the boiling point of alcohol approaches simply put a bag of ice on the lid and the condensate will run down into the gutter. The gutter needs a tiny drain spout so that you can collect the alcohol. You will not get 200 proof alcohol but you may well reach 180 proof. For safety's sake small batches are best. Keep in mind that alcohol burns nicely and you are using a process where fumes or a spill might ignite. Also know that you will want to cut your alcohol with water as pure alcohol is a bit much for your throat and internal organs to handle.
The joy of a good, illegal still, is that you transport the product before you cut it. The end user buys one gallon but will be aware enough to cut it and make two gallons from the one. Also grain mash stinks to heaven so you might want to actually brew beer or wine and distill that product to keep the odors down to next to nothing. I have never tried simply sugar, water and yeast but that might work out rather well. The worst would have to be rotting potatoes to make Vodka. Imagine 500 lbs. of rotten potatoes. Yuk!
old miner2 years ago
wort, mash, wash, are all right in there own countries.

i made apple pie moonshine and because i wanted 190 proof or better i used a thumper.
why because if i got caught with the apple pie shine i could claim i made it with 190 Everclear and if they did not find my still it would be imposable for them to prove different
I used a old world war 2 stainless oxygen tank that had been modified by adding a filler cap and electric tank heater fittings welded on with TIG welding

The best part it looked nothing like a still when stored.
and if not caught running it i could claim it was for distilling water.
The cops in Kalifornia are dumb because there are few people in calif making moonshine and a lot of drug labs.

Some meth head broke into the shed i had it stored in and took it for scrap.
Im wanting to build my own copper still and was wanting to know if anyone could give me advice and a list of materials and how to actually build it.
Kiteman (author)  StangeBotwin2 years ago
If you're after a properly-built still, rather than a DIY lash-up, I'd google for appropriate specialist forums.

Orngrimm2 years ago
"- Home-made still tend to explode.
No, they don't. They are open systems, there is nowhere for pressure to build up. "

Well... You forgot something there. You are correct in the sense that it wont explode because of pressure-buildup in the system as it is (as correctly stated) an open system.
BUT: There WILL be alcohol-vapor present and if the air-alcohol-ratio is just right, you just can hope that you are using an electrical heating-plate and not open flames. ;)

See article from mid-last year in the UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/fatal-blast-reveals-secret-trade-in-moonshine-2314082.html
Or May 2012 in USA: http://www2.wspa.com/news/2012/may/10/3/legal-moonshine-still-explodes-anderson-ar-3768325/
Or May 2002 USA: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-120409399.html

So while yes: the still wont burst but it may produce alcohol-funes which are explosive if you are unlucky!
So be SURE you do this in a well ventilated area or outside in the open.

Have fun and be save. :)
See A very good short video on YouTube about the exact dangers i outlined above:
It is one of the famous "Periodic Table of Videos".
Shadeburst3 years ago
The distilled ethanol will be close to tasteless, right? How do we go about giving it a genuine whisky/whiskey taste? At a recent brandy tasting the presenter said that they store it for three years minimum in casks of charred French oak. I'm guessing that some caramel is added to provide colour? Bell's for example has a strong toffee taste.
Kiteman (author)  Shadeburst3 years ago
Real whisky spends years, even decades, in barrels used for other drinks, and also includes peat at some point.

A distillery was built a couple of hours drive from me -they could not, under UK law, call the stuff they sold "whisky" until it had been in barrels for five years. Before that, it was "distilled spirits".
This was so nice to read, I got distracted and just had to when I saw the title. I had used very similar method to build myself a distilling chamber for essential oils, but I think I will go back and make some changes to mine. Maybe then I can delve into making some absinthe :)
Kiteman (author)  barefootbohemian3 years ago
Don't forget to post the instructable before you start seeing Kylie Minogue in a fairy costume...
Ha ha, good thought! But since I have an allergy to alcohol, it will be my "taste testers" seeing fairies and elephants running about the room!
fuzvulf4 years ago
For fuel distillation, good instruct able.
a note of caution
One brance of my family tree was in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, US. They were not well liked by revenuers but they were by their customers. Some people thought it was okay to use just anything to distil spirits. Its not. For fuel use its probably fine but if anyone on here is planning on drinking anything then please read the following.
The stills built by my ancestors were all copper, assembled with fold joints, copper rivets and sealed with a paste made from corn starch, flour and cat tail fluff. The still was heated slowly to cure the paste and no solder was ever used on any of the connections. Where possible the copper was formed to a tight joint that really didn't need much help in sealing.
heated alcohol can and will disolve lead out of solder or even eventually from harder alloys. Do a search on pewter's contribution to lead poisoning in history.
Heat, steam, and alcohol vapour can leach out undesireable substances from materials not suited to distillation. Not all epoxies are chemically inert when set and may result in a contaminated end product. Even chemically inert epoxies may become chemically active if the user exceeds the epoxy's heat limitations.
Some brass contains small amounts of lead, especially brass which comes from certain asian countries and therfore should not be used for standard food or beverage containers much less under the conditions encountered during distillation.
I count most of you folks as friends I'd like to keep all of you around as long as possible :p

I am so glad you added that, as it has been the downfall (and worse) of many wanna-be moonshiners.
Note to HG341, lead free solder is not safe for this application either. It will react the same as steel does.
And note on another side: medical treatment for anti-freeze poisoning is pure ETOH (aka ethanol) intravenously given only under strict medical supervision and monitoring.
namora fuzvulf3 years ago
All great advice. The booze is hard enough on a guy without laceing it with heavy metals. As a jeweler I have used silver solder which contains no lead however I don't know what besides silver it contains. Just a thought.
hg341 fuzvulf3 years ago
use lead free solder they make it now xD
xd12c4 years ago
I have access to quite a bit of stainless steep pipe & tube. What diameter should the pipe be and would the wall thickness be a factor? Would you want a thicker or a thinner wall?
Also, I see a lot of comments about solder & flux, etc... What about welding? I work with a bunch of PED welders that would give me a hand...
bg_askins xd12c4 years ago
stainless reacts with the vapors thats why copper is used in stills
quite to the contrary,stainless does not react,however copper does and helps to neutralize nasty compounds that cause off flavors.
you win i just knew copper was good and stainless was bad thanks for the correction
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