How to make a still

Picture of How to make a still
This contribution tells you how to distill liquids in your own kitchen.
Maybe for illegal liquor, maybe for purifying water.

! Drinking distilled alcohol may be harmful / fatal.
! Distilling alcohol may be illegal
! Drinking distilled water may be harmful / fatal
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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
I used:
A pressure-cooker
8mm OD copper tubing
A plastic bucket.

Step 2: Construction

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Form a coil with the copper tube, leaving a long lead-in. I wrapped around a demi.
Drill a hole in the bucket, and poke the lower end of your coil through this.
The copper tube is connected to the pressure-cooker with a (brewing) cork
A bit of Blu-Tac seals the tube to the bucket
Fill the bucket with cold water, and maybe some ice.

Step 3: Use

Picture of Use
A person might take two bottles of cheap wine. put them in the pressure-cooker an heat them to the boil. The distillate would be enriched in alcohol, collected from the bottom of the still.
One might wish to add a bit of colour with homemade caramel, and have homemade brandy.

And then one might drink the output and try to post a coherent Instructable.
jbaade1 year ago
It is absolutely untrue that the methanol won't harm you. You must dump the proper volume of the first fraction to come off the still. Methanol turns to formaldehyde in the body when metabolized. It can cause serious, long term damage and kill you. The reason you don't suffer ill-consequences when you drink a bottle of wine (or 2 or 3...) is because in wine the concentration of methanol is at a safe level and is metabolized in such a way that your body can tolerate. It's like I tell my students in the lab all the time, it's not the volume that matters most of the time, it's the concentration.
Jugband1 year ago
Is there a way to monitor temperature on this still arrangement?

You need to stop the run when the temperature starts rising above 190F, or you begin getting propanol coming out, and alcohol content starts dropping, because at about 200F the water starts putting off vapor mixing in with the alcohol vapor.

You don't just boil out all the ethanol then start boiling the water at 212F. When the water starts getting close to it's boiling point, it's already giving off steam, to dilute the alcohol output.

It looks to me like you'd have to just guess at when to stop the distillation, or is there something I'm not seeing about where/how to put a thermometer?

sttt4 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
lemonie (author)  sttt4 years ago

This Methanol-business is often repeated, but it makes no sense. If you drink a bottle of wine you drink any methanol in it. Also, you find it very hard to separate meth/ethanol without a sophisticated fractional-still.

you can separate methanol from the ethanol using a pot still like the one you've kindly shown us how to use. methanol boils at a lower temperature than ethanol, about 64 degrees C i think. so this will come out of the condenser as a steady stream before ethanol. i think this method is called topping and tailing. i heard somewhere that the methanol is a bi-product of distilling so is created by cracking during the heating. if the methanol was in the wine originally you'd be poisoned!
lemonie (author)  brimble14 years ago

Not that simple - look up azeotrope.
Methanol is not created by 'cracking' during the heating, that's something I've not heard before.

thanks for that link. i have since done quite a lot of distilling and was always worried about the methanol because i only seemed to be getting fluid coming out of my condenser at about 90 degrees!
Everyone seems to be so scared of methanol because of stories of moonshine turning people blind and making them paralyzed in prohibition america. But I've read that this was caused by moonshiners adding denatured alcohol to their drink to make it stronger!
Thanks for the help
No, moonshiners weren't adding denatured alcohol to their output, they were distilling it instead of making a mash and distilling THAT.

Feds used to watch for trucks loaded with hundreds of pounds of sugar and barrels of molasses, then follow them back to the still.

But you could carry 40 gallons of denatured alcohol in a car pretty much un-noticed.

On top of that, they didn't have to spend time fermenting a mash, which was the other big way they got found. A fermenting mash smells like fresh-baked bread, and a bunch of large fermenters could be smelled at a great distance.

So the feds and local sheriffs would hike the woods, trying to sniff fermenters.

Distilling denatured alcohol made their operation harder to locate, while resulting in higher profits (it was cheaper than the ingredients in a mash) with less time and effort.

But denatured alcohol was pure methanol, so they couldn't "Distill the poison out of it", since it was pure poison, rather than alcohol to which some poison had been added.
Do I pour both bottles in the cooker? Please email a prompt response @

Thank You sir!
It makes no sense when people are saying that it will harm you... it will not, but only because the percentage is so low.

But separating it out is the simplest thing in the world. It boils at a lower temperature than ethanol, so it is the first thing out of the still, along with acetone and a couple other nasty-tasting alcohols.

Simply discard the first 20ml of output, and it's a done deal. No need for a fractional still.

With the tiny amounts of mash you can fit in a pressure-cooker, 20ml is probably on the high side. With a 5-10 gallon run of mash in a larger boiler, it's about 20ml.
Jugband1 year ago
There isn't enough methanol in a mash to do anything at all except detract from the flavor. That myth dates to when moonshiners got the bright idea to distill denatured alcohol, which was pure methanol. It was cheaper, quicker, and nobody would follow a truck loaded down with sugar back to the still.

But when you distill Pure Methanol, the output is Pure Methanol.

Unless you separate out the heads from a hundred batches of moonshine, save it all then drink it when you have enough, you aren't going to get enough out of drinking the entire output of a large run to actually do you any harm.

While methanol is toxic, there simply isn't enough by percentage in moonshine to hurt anyone. What there IS boils out in the first 20ml, along with the acetone and other alcohols and esters which smell and taste nasty.

Just catch the first output in a shot glass, toss it down the sink, and you're good, taste-wise AND health-wise..
Country4112 years ago
I in no way meant to be rude when I said, "do some research", sorry it offended you. There is very little methanol in a bottle wine, but that doesn't matter to me because I am distilling corn mash. I am a layman, not a PhD, and my understanding of azeotropes is that they are a combination of fluids such as, ethanol and water, that can not be separated by distillation. This is only relavant to me because my final distilled product will never be more 95ish% alcohol . In reality it's probably lower, I use the bubble test, and not a hydrometer. I understand that this post contradicts my last post, but the method I use (including charting the temps) produces a good product. Just trying to keep it simple, and in terms that simple minded people like myself can easily understand. Thank you for the correction, it pushed me to understand my little back woods hobby in a fuller more scientific way.
Country4112 years ago
Just so everybody know methanol boils at 149 degrees, and that is the alcohol that will kill you, or make you blind, do some research the stuff is toxic. Ethanol boils at 178, and that's the good get ya drunk stuff. Water boils at 212. So boil your mash to 178 degrees, then throw it away. Keep everything between 179 and 211. Once the temp raises to 212 your getting water, this is when your done. Another little fact that might help, your temp will not rise to the ethanol boiling point till the methanol has been boiled off. Same with the water, it will not turn to steam until the ethanol is gone.
lemonie (author)  Country4112 years ago
With regard to "do some research"; I have and I've got the paperwork to prove it somewhere (BSc, PhD).
Do you know anything about azeotropes ("it will not turn to steam until the ethanol is gone" is false), or how much methanol there is in a bottle of wine?

grannyjones2 years ago
Another reason to throw out the first and last bits of your distillate is because that is where all the bitterness/unpleasant flavor comes from. If you get it right, the resulting hootch is smooth, mellow, and fragrant. A work of art.
Also, if using copper tubing, the tubing needs to be thoroughly cleaned and dried before and after each use, to avoid contamination by copper salts.
guiwegian4 years ago
Hi, Great instructables.
I have made alcohol with my dad since I can remember it(in France it is legal if you have a right from the sate or pay a tax).
what I can tell you is, you won't die from drinking the first drop, but you should surely distill it twice. My Dad own some fruits tree, and a vineyard, we always 2pass" it twice, because the first "pass" is always coming out at around 35/40% ABV maximum and full of impurity (like in vodka), the second pass will get rid of most of the impurity but still keep the flavour of the fruit.If you triple distill it you ll get an alcohol close to 80/85% abv but tasteless.

So Distill it twice, the first drop will be at 75/78% ABV and stop when the alchol % decrease to around 15/20 (you ll and alcoholmeter, or whatever it is called) if you want to make something proper.
And my last advice is:distill it slowly, most people distill too fast and it taste like Denatured alcohol.
Enjoy drinking responsibly :)
lemonie (author)  guiwegian4 years ago

I agree with you on those.

mattbomb4 years ago
3 CHEERS FOR MOON SHINE, hip hip! HORAY, HIP hip hip, hoRAY, HIP HIP hoRAy!!!
lemonie (author)  mattbomb4 years ago
a croatian friend showed me how to make rakia (um, eastern European spirit made from what ever fruit is easily available...) and he taught me to always throw out the first 150 ml (this was on a 20 litre still, on your will be less). it's important to throw out the first bit, because it's methanol. which is poisonous. a little bit won't hurt you too much I guess, but if you drink it regularly it will.
That is correct but not if you're using wine to make ethanol. Methanol is produced during the fermentation process. Also a little bit of methanol will hurt you, usually in its purest for though. If your getting boozed up on ethanol, and your drink contains mostly ethanol chances are your body will be busy processing the ethanol and the methanol will slip by unnoticed and it will be excreted safely. But dont take my word for it. I have a little experience with biochemistry and i am certainly NOT an expert. better safe than BLIND OR DEAD>
yes, but wine it made with the fermentation process... are you suggesting that commercial wine has the methanol removed? I've never heard of such a thing, and haven't been able to find any such information describing such a methanol removing process for wine.

how ever the amount of wine is low, this website: recommends discarding the first 50 mL of distilate from a 20 litre pail, and says the lethal dose is around 100 ml, so you the amount you would have to drink to be poisoned would be such that you would suffer severe effects from the ethanol first.

and, in the case described here, where you are only distilling 2 litres, would produce 5 mL or less of methanol. probably not advisable to drink the lot your self... and would definately give you a nasty hangover.

i'd throw out 5-10 mL, myself.

also check out this:

I think my earlier comment about drinking regularily thing is incorrect. it looks like piosoning occurs following after a single session where too much has been consumed, and following that, all the alchols will be processed.

Methanol is wood alcohol which is produced in very small amounts during grape fermentation, and most of that is lost in the CO2 during this process. Methanol is very poisonous and can be lethal in very small amounts, but is not a problem in solely fermented wine. If you do choose distill, throw out the first 50-60mL to make sure the methanol is gone. Distillation will bring out the methanol first due to methanols lower boiling point than ethanol, and in a much more concentrated form than when present in the wine. Note: If you do ever drink methanol by accident, it will stay in your system because it cannot be broken down. The only treatment for it is actually to drink alcohol because the enzymes which break down alcohol will slow the poisoning process of methanol, and then seek medical attention immediately.
wayne wong5 years ago
when using the still wud all the mash go in the pressure vessel or wud it be strained off first and if anybody has any good recipes wud be most thankful
lemonie (author)  wayne wong5 years ago