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.
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
A tape measure
A pencil or marker
A 15mm drill bit
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.
Tecwyn Twmffat made it!
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Please be positive and constructive.
Thanks for clear and easy to follow instructions.
I have a naive question to ask on the technique. Why do we pass the condenser feed and return pipes through the reflux coloumn?
What may be the production rate and alcohol concentration to be expected?
Thanks and best regards.
Hi, the condenser feed pipes pass through the column to produce reflux within the column. You could probably expect to get around 80-90% alcohol with this.
hi mate, nice instructions, im also in the uk, im struggling to find the boiler, can i ask where you found it? also im interested to know what abv you can get with this still? im after 90% for making tinctures...
I'd recommend this, probably the best cost-wise.