Introduction: How to Make a Copper Reflux Still

In this instructable I will show you how to build a reflux still which can be used for producing high proof alcohol.

This still is a basic reflux still, and is a nice intro into reflux stills, as more complex reflux stills are hard to build and will cost a lot.

As I am from the UK I work in Metric units, so you can find a conversion tool easily by searching mm to inch conversion on google, if you work in imperial units.

This instructable cost me around £35 -£40, not including a boiler and tank fitting, as I already had these.

A boiler and a tank fitting will probably cost you around £20.

Before you build this please check your local laws to ensure the distillation of alcohol is permitted. I am not responsible for any laws broken:)

First, familiarise yourself with the diagram of the still as shown above. The column refers to where the still meets the boiler (pan), where the vapours rise. The condenser refers to the cooled pipe where the vapours collect and condense, producing high proof alcohol.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

To start this instructable gather the required tools and materials.

Tools:

Hacksaw

Blowtorch

Paintbrush (or cloth)

A vice or some sort of heatproof clamp

Methylated spirits or any other solvent - rubbing alcohol works well

Steel wool - fine

Files - one half round file, and one round file

Rough grit sandpaper

Pliers

A tape measure

A pencil or marker

A drill

A 15mm drill bit

Materials:

A 1 metre length of 15mm flexible pipe or garden hose

2 metres of 15mm copper pipe (or 6 feet)

2 metres of 28mm copper pipe (or 6 feet)

Lead free solder

Non toxic flux

One 28mm end cap

Three 28mm - 15mm reducers

Three 28mm - 15mm T joints

One 15mm 90 degree joints

One 28mm tank fitting / coupler

One large saucepan, preferably above 15 litres (around 4 gallons)

Step 2: Cutting the Piping for Column and Condenser

First, start my measuring 450mm of 28mm piping.

Cut the 450mm piece.

Next, measure a 700mm long piece of 28mm piping. Cut this piece.

Start to prepare the piping for soldering. Use a half round file to level the ends of the piping. Then use a round file to remove any burrs inside the pipe ends.

Take some sand paper and sand around the ends of each pipe. Then take some steel wool and polish the ends.

Take the 2 metre length of 15mm pipe and use steel wool to polish the outside of the piping. Then file the inside of each end to remove any burrs.

We will cut the 15mm pipe to size later in this instructable.

Step 3: Cutting the Pipe for Connecting Fittings

In this step we will cut the pipes connecting the column and condenser, along with the reflux pipes.

Start by cutting a 70mm section of 15mm piping. This will connect the condenser and column of the still.

Next, cut two 150mm sections of 15mm pipe. These will act as reflux points, and provide water to the condenser.

Cut a 70mm section of 28mm pipe. This will connect the end cap to the condenser.

Use a file to remove any burrs, and polish the outside of all the cut pipes with steel wool.

Step 4: Preparing Fittings

To prepare the fittings for soldering you need to sand and polish all surfaces to be soldered. This is essential, as any dirt or grease left on the pipes will stop the solder from flowing properly, resulting in a weak seal.

Start by sanding the inside of each 28mm-15mm t joint. Next, sand the inside of the 15mm 90 degree joints, the 15mm 135 degree joint, the 28mm end cap, and the 28mm-15mm reducers.

Then sand the 28mm part of the 28-15mm reducers, on the outside.

Use steel wool to polish and surface or area you previously sanded.

Next, take a file and remove the lip inside the 28mm-15mm reducers. You may not need to do this if your fittings have no lip. I removed this to allow the 15mm pipe to slide right through it. (see photos)

Run the 15mm pipe through the reducer to ensure it fits smoothly.

Step 5: Cutting the 15mm Pipe

Assemble the still as shown in the photo. Cut the 15mm pipe running through the condenser so that there is 30mm of piping sticking out of the bottom of the condenser. This is also shown in the same photo.

Step 6: Preparing the Relux Pipe/water Supply Holes

Unfortunately, I lost some photos for this step, so I'll try to explain as best I can.

Mark a point 233mm along the column of the still. Then mark another at 466mm. These points are where the pipes will pass through the condenser.

Next, clamp the column into a vice, and drill through both sides of the pipe with the 15mm drill bit. File and sand any burrs on the edges of the holes. Sand as little as possible, as there must be a tight seal around the pipes.

Place the 150mm of 15mm pipes you cut in a previous step through the holes to ensure they fit.

Step 7: Preparing the Still for Soldering

Assemble the still as shown in the photo, to ensure everything fits together properly. Disassemble the still.

Take your chosen solvent, and rub all surfaces you previously sanded with the solvent. This will remove any grease which may affect soldering.

Then thinly coat all cleaned and sanded surfaces with fluxite, or any other non toxic flux. Reassemble the still.

Step 8: Soldering the Still

Start by soldering all the condenser joints.

Apply a medium flame around the fitting, do not heat the pipe, but the fitting. Constantly move the flame to avoid uneven heating. Occasionally touch the solder to the fitting; if it melts you are ready to start soldering the joint.

Touch the solder to where the fitting and the pipe meet, and the solder should flow into the joint, creating a seal.

Repeat this with every joint, but solder the condenser joints first, the column joints second, and the reflux pipes/water supply pipes last. Coat the entire reflux pipes in flux before soldering.

I recommend practicing several times before soldering the final project, if you have never soldered before. A useful guide for beginners can be found easily, just search how to solder pipes on google.

Step 9: Cleaning the Still

At this point your still will probably look pretty dirty. It needs to be cleaned to stop the remaining flux from corroding the copper piping.

Start by filing off any large blobs of solder, but be careful as you can easily scratch the copper.

Then take some steel wool and polish the copper. Adding some solvent may help remove the black staining.

Once you have polished the still I would suggest rinsing it with some hot water to remove any remaining flux.

Step 10: Building the Boiler

I had already built a boiler for a still I made a while ago, but I will explain how to make one.

You will need to take the lid off your four gallon pan, and cut a hole big enough for the 28mm tank fitting to fit through. I would suggest drilling several holes and cutting between them with tin-snips. Place the tank fitting through the hole, and tighten the nut on either side of the lid. The lid should now look like the photo above.

Insert the bottom of the still column into the tank fitting and tighten the tank fitting.

Connect a section of hose or tubing to the bottom of the condenser. This will allow you to easily collect your alcohol, and to keep it away from naked flames.

Step 11: Finished!

Your still should now be ready to use! You should perform a cleaning run before using to distill alcohol, I will link a guide to using a still below.

This website has everything you will ever need to know about distilling, from recipes to build ideas. You can find it here.

Thank you for reading, I hope you go out and build this instructable, it's always great to see more people picking up distilling as a hobby.

If you really enjoyed my instructable, please consider voting for me in the 2016 Homebrew contest here.

Comments

author
Tecwyn+Twmffat made it!(author)2016-11-25

https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Distill-Alcohol/

distiller small.jpg
author
vanyo made it!(author)2016-08-07

What, no warning about how not to go blind from methanol consumption?

Basically, methanol boils off first, and will be in higher concentration in what comes out of the still first. Methanol is present in small amounts in fermented beverages, but is harmless in the undistilled fermented beverage because it's mixed with ethanol, and ethanol is an effective antidote for methanol.

If you drink the first stuff that comes out of your still (too much methanol, not enough ethanol), even as little as one or two shot glasses, and drink nothing else, you run a serious risk of being blind in a couple of days. Also, by the time you notice ANY symptoms, it's too late.

Without this knowledge, it's not unlikely someone distilling for the first time might be eager to sample what's coming out of the still.

author
vanyo made it!(author)2016-08-07

Another note: The amount of methanol in the undistilled ferment depends on what's being fermented. Whole mashed fruit with seeds, for instance, will produce more methanol.

author
Kalle+Kl%C3%A6p made it!(author)2016-10-29

The amount of Methanol produced in a ferment, ain't enough to cause serious harm...regardless if it's a fruit ferment. Worst case scenario, is a hell of a hangover and the spirits made taste like sh.. However, one should make it a habit to toss the first Ml of each run, as they contain a lot of unwanted stuff. If it smells like nail polish, it probably is. As it ain't supposed to be in there, just toss it. The good stuff can be diluted to 40% abv and be drank without any regrets.

author
Kalle+Kl%C3%A6p made it!(author)2016-09-22

Yup..!

Also, one would toss the first mL coming off the still, they are considered the "foreshots". With a still this size, I would say between 50- and 100 mL should be sufficient. One would run a stripping run first, only tossing the foreshots. Then the distillate is diluted down to 40% abv or less (for safety reasons) and a spirit run is done. That's also the point when cuts are made...heads (still some bad stuff in it), hearts (the stuff you want to drink), and tails (low proof). Heads and tails can be added to your next stripping run, so they are not wasted. The hearts are diluted down to 40% abv for drinking. Tails are collected down to 20% abv, as the remaining Ethanol in the still, wouldn't justify the time neither heat used.

author
sveillon made it!(author)2016-08-11

it's called giving the first shot to the devil, if you are distilling 3 to 5 gal just take the first two shots and keep them for other jobs. I use mine for engine degreaser.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-07

This wasn't meant to be a guide on how to distill, rather a guide on how to equip yourself for distilling. I hope anyone building this will research distillation processes before using it:)

author
vanyo made it!(author)2016-08-07

A little more detail for those interested:

The body has two ways to get rid of methanol (a poison). One is to metabolize it (break it down to other substances), the other is to flush it out through the kidneys.

Metabolizing methanol produces formic acid, which for some reason the optic nerve is very susceptible to. It does permanent damage.

Flushing it out through the kidneys takes time.

In the presence of ethanol, the body metabolizes the ethanol more quickly, slowing down methanol metabolization, which gives it time to be flushed out.

If you are poisoned by methanol, the standard treatment in a hospital is methanol administered intravenously. But it has to be caught before onset of symptoms.

author
Kalle+Kl%C3%A6p made it!(author)2016-09-22

Nice work..

The design is an outdated one, though. The water connections going through the column, won't give a whole lot of reflux. Furthermore, the still will be a pita to stuff with packing due to those pipes running through the column. A better option for a reflux still, would be one with a reflux condenser on top of the column. It could easily be constructed with some thin copper pipe (breaking pipes for a car would do) 5-6 mm in diameter. The column diameter is also a little on the small side. Try to get some 2" copper pipe (50 mm) instead. It will cost a little more, but your takeoff speed will be a lot higher.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-10-28

Thanks for reading!
I used an old still design due to limitations in the materials I could find, the largest column diameter I could get was 28mm. I also wanted to keep the cost as low as possible, but the still works fairly well.

author
Kalle+Kl%C3%A6p made it!(author)2016-10-29

Oh yes, I see..

However, if you ever want to improve it a little, you can build a condenser around the top of it. 100 mm would do. Wind a coil around it or build a shell, either with water running through it. As it is right now, it makes an excellent pot still. So you made a nice project with materials that were at hand.

author
killerbeans4001 made it!(author)2016-10-05

How much water do you think you need to flow through the condenser, and how long would a typical run be likely to take.

I am on a metered water supply so I would like to calculate how much the water is going to cost having a constant flow.

Thanks

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-10-28

Hi!
you can use the calculator here: ( http://homedistiller.org/calcs/cond_calc) to find how much water you will use.

author
QBKLVRY7T3EJ3EVJN9MN8W made it!(author)2016-09-18

Try as I might I can not download the PDF--it goes to an advertisment.

author
RJRMAGIC made it!(author)2016-08-26

Great instructable, very easy to follow guide thanks
P.s I voted for you :)

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-09-05

Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for the vote:)

author
David+the+R made it!(author)2016-08-08

In the USA it is illegal to distill alcohol without a permit. If it used illegally for drinking the Feds can take your house or whatever property you were using as well as your still.

Study up.

author
sveillon made it!(author)2016-08-15

I'm not too worried about it. I made 5 gal. total and used most of that to clean engine parts. It was just a project to see if I could do it. Unless you really get into making shine, it is much more cost affective to just go buy it at the store.

author
sveillon made it!(author)2016-08-11

but it is not illegal to distill water, for making your own wine ;-)

author
David+the+R made it!(author)2016-08-11

You can make 200 gallons a year of wine or beer without a permit as long as you don't sell it. I've made a lot of cases of wine and some beer, it's fun.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-08

I'm actually in the UK so I don't have to worry about that :) .(as long as I'm not selling it)

author
sveillon made it!(author)2016-08-11

I have made one very much the same as yours a few years back. I will see if I can find some photos. It worked amazingly well.

author
HenriP1 made it!(author)2016-08-07

This is a very old design. You should realy update yourself on still designs.

http://homedistiller.org/forum/download/file.php?i...

http://homedistiller.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t...

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-07

If I wanted to build an advanced reflux still I would have. I built this to be an easy and cheap intro to reflux stills.

author
HenriP1 made it!(author)2016-08-07

I am sorry but this is more a potstill then a reflux still. Your still produce very little reflux. In the Nordic countrys Its called a Labmaster. I have been building stills for 28 years (on and off) and rebuilding old labmasters to VM stills for friends for a long time.
You could have made a liebig on the top or top part of the column then it would resemble more a reflux still.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-08

It does work, for what I need, I have produced 90+ percent alcohol with it. If you are looking for an advanced reflux still I suggest you look at the many other instructables for that sort of thing.

author
universallvr made it!(author)2016-07-30

just wanted to ask can you distill water in this?

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-07-31

Yeah, this setup is great for distilling water, you can produce very pure water. It will take longer to produce the distilled water, as water has a higher boiling point than ethanol.

author
DanieMalan made it!(author)2016-08-01

Not to offend anyone but you are not entirely correct about why it would take longer. I agree that the boiling point of water is higher but this does not mean it will take longer to distill. Assuming that (among a few other things) you have the same amount of heat being added to the system ethanol requires about 840 kJ/kg (Source: NIST) whereas water requires about 2250 kJ/kg to vapourise. So the energy required to boil 1kg of water is about 2.5 times that of 1kg ethanol. Of course if you increase the rate of heat input by 2.5 times the boiling time should be round about the same. That is assuming a few things relating mainly to heat transfer, which is another kettle of fish

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-02

I meant if you kept the heat input the same:)

author
Izngood made it!(author)2016-08-07

His point still holds. This is quite an interesting part of physics.

To increase 1 g of any matter 1 Kelvin (1°celsus), requires a certain amount of energy. So if you constantly feed fx water with a steady amount of energy, the temperature will rise linearly (well isolated). That is well known.

But when it reaches 100°C it doesn't evaporates right away. It takes a lot of energy to actually "boil it off", change from liquid into gas. The energy required is different regarding the molecule, and ethanol is easier to "tear apart" than water (i.e. happens with less energy). This part is what DanieManlan explains.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-07

Yes, I get what he means. I just meant if you used the same heater and volume of liquid, you would need to boil the water for longer than the ethanol.

author
kaalhodet made it!(author)2016-08-07

Would have been nice to include a few temp. sensors in column and boiler, flow sensor, pressure sensor in the boiler (explosion ?), + + + in an Arduino/RaspberryPie environement too.

But alas, in Norway building and using this unit is illegal. I'm not sure that the "hounds" would accept that I (would have) made it to distill water, sighhhh !

Find design though.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-07

Thanks! I'm not too good with electronics, so I might find it tricky to build sensors. Great idea though:)

author
doctorlock made it!(author)2016-08-07

Where did u find that torch?? prob came over on the Mayflower! Interesting choice for a still design.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-07

Hahaha, I was given it by a friend. It works great even though it's old!

author
Tecwyn+Twmffat made it!(author)2016-08-01

I'm voting for this project mainly cos distilling gets such a hard time from the legal authorities worldwide and needs to be liberated.

A few comments to make - packing - there's probably not enough room inside the main pipe for packing and it would be a nuisance to keep removing it for cleaning and there should be enough copper surface area to remove sulphites in the tubing already present. Also the small tube means greater surface area to volume ratio and greater reflux so this still will work well without it.

Try and incorporate a thermometer at the top of the pipework as this will tell you how pure your product is at any given time.

What do you want to make with this still? Are you making alcohol for use in a cooker or running the car? Are you distilling sugar beet beer? If you want to make nice tasting whiskey from barley wine then you gonna lose the flavours with this setup :( Great for a 'no taste' vodka to add herbs and spices and create a killer absinthe or such like, otherwise the Alembic system is the way to go IMO.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-08-02

Thanks for the vote :)
I'm making vodka with this still, but I have another pot still I've made a nice rum with. I did use some packing, but as you said it's probably not needed. I probably should put a thermometer in, but I usually just go by smell to test if methanol is present then measure the percentage after.

author
ernter made it!(author)2016-07-31

you didn't mention any packing inside the tube.

i heard of glass shards or stainless steel wool "washing pads" (kitchen supply) being packed in the tube for further increase of reflux.

any recommendations on that?

author
DanieMalan made it!(author)2016-08-01

I have mixed experiences regarding column packing in stills. On the one hand, reactive packing (steel wool or copper mesh typically) can remove a few things but this means that whatever the packing has reacted into stays behind in the column. Non-reactive packing (glass, raschig rings and such) do not remove potentially dangerous compounds but also do not get contaminated by reaction products. The overall effect of packing is something we studied during my separation tech course at university but I can't remember enough to say what the effect will be. Maybe someone else has a better grasp than I do.

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-07-31

Yeah, you can use copper mesh for packing, it will help to remove sulphites, but the pipes running through the column should provide enough reflux. Its probably better to use packibg, but I aimed to do this instructable as cheap as possible, so I excluded this.

author
Gertd4 made it!(author)2016-07-31

Nice instructable, thanks. Why did you mount the cooling pipes through the column? Is this the reason that you name it a reflux type?

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-07-31

Thanks btw gertd4 :)

author
ernter made it!(author)2016-07-31

I had the same question and searching the web I found this answer by another author of such a reflux still design:

"The idea of the cooling tubes passing through the column serves two purposes. The cold water passing through the column will increase reflux within the column and add support to the condenser."

author
oolala170 made it!(author)2016-07-31

Ernter's right, the tubes provide a cold surface for the alcohol vapours to condense on.

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