Step 4: Implementation

fill your condenser with ice and water (a little salt wouldn't hurt either, lowers temperature - think ice cream). attach the copper tube coming from the pot to the tube from the condenser with the couplers. place something under the spout to catch your shine and go to town.  it may be good to have more than one receptacle.  you will see why if you continue reading.

now we need some heat. back in the day people would use wood fires, gas stoves, basically anything they could get their hands on. dangerous! play it safe. open flames are not good around a still. alcohol vapors are flammable! as well, precise temperature control of your heat source is not necessary. the solution will take care of that. electric heat is the best.

check the pic. i'm using an electric stove. works great. you can see how i have it set up and i hope it all makes sense now. you load your wash into the kettle/pot, apply some heat, and condense the results.  how?  i'll tell you if you'd just be patient.  geez.

okay, pour your wash into the kettle. place the stopper into the spout. turn on the heat. watch the thermometer. alcohol boils at a temperature lower than water. that's what makes distillation work. exact temperature will vary depending on elevation and barometric pressure, but water boils at around 212 °F while ethanol boils at around 173 °F.  methanol, that can make you blind and is what you really want to avoid, boils around 148 °F. while running your wash, watch for plateaus (when the temperature stays the same for a while -- forms a plateau if you graph it) on your thermometer and compare them to known boiling temperatures to ensure you get only what you want and leave the rest. check out my instructable to give you the basics of distillation.

basically if you begin to distill and the temperature reaches a certain point and remains there for any length of time you have reached the boiling temperature for a particular liquid component of your wash. check the temperature against the boiling point data you have researched and you can tell what it is you are distilling at the time. using this information you can discard anything other than ethanol. no matter what a solution contains, it will not boil at a temperature any higher than what the level of the component with the lowest boiling temperature is until that component is boiled away. check the comments or 'distilling basics' for a discussion or two on this.

as an example, if your solution contains methanol, ethanol and water it will happen like this: once the temperature of your solution reaches around 148 °F methanol will begin to boil and come out through your tube as vapor into your condenser where it will convert back to liquid and exit into your receptacle.  the temperature of your solution will not vary much beyond 148 °F until the methanol is gone and then will begin to climb again until it reaches 173 °F, the boiling point of the ethanol.  the same thing will happen here.  the temperature will hover around the same until the ethanol is boiled off and then on to water. 

in order to get ethanol and exclude the rest you get rid of what are called the 'heads' and 'tails.' basically dump anything that boils lower than around 173 °F and everything after the temperature begins to climb again.  this is why i mentioned having more than one receptacle. use one for the heads, one for what you want, and one for the tails.

so once you've boiled off and then condensed your wash, you should be left with a solution containing a much higher alcohol content than what you started with.  you will still get a bit of water, but that's okay. running the product through the still again will further extract ethanol and raise the proof.

a bit of trivia: the Xes often seen on moonshine bottles in old cartoons, etc. represent the amount of runnings, or how many times it was distilled.

i've achieved a blue flame from a wash after a first run with this set up. you may or may not need to run the wash more than once. anything over about 150 proof will burn.  that's a pretty good result from a single run.

i do not recommend doing anything i've talked about. it's not very legal (in the US), and it's not very safe. i enjoy knowledge for the sake of knowledge, though, and just because i know how to do something doesn't mean i will. so take this to heart, and take care.


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fragmaster44 years ago
I'm pretty sure you can make 100 gallons of alcohol for your own personal use in the U.S. You can MAKE Moonshine but you can't sell it. THAT is what is illegal about it.

WRONG YOU CANNOT MAKE ANY MOONSHINE FOR ANY REASON ! I use our still to condense water, we have a shallow well we use for drinking water & it makes it a 100% better tasting. it is done the same way as shine but, w/o mash. just plain water !!!

Good post. I saw another one where the guy was very unclear as to how to get rid of the methanol. He basically said throw out the first half cup of distillate.

Here's the link to the ATF regulation governing distillation. Look at section/chapter 19. You can't distill alcohol in the US without jumping through all kinds of hoops. You have to be bonded, your facility can only be used for distillation, no private residence, sheds or garages, permits from the ATF, yada, yada, yada. If you're running a still it better be for something other than alcohol.

The amounts of beer and wine you can make are dependent on the state. I'm a home brewer BTW, not a distiller. (Although I wouldn't mind trying it)

Also, I love the comment at the end of the post, "just because i know how to do something doesn't mean i will" Uhhh, you have a picture of a still, presumably yours, and you claim to have gotten a blue flame off a first run. Self incrimination? :-D
If you distill even a thumble of likker, your comitting a Federal Crime. You don't have to sell it to get locked up you just have to make it!
nope. every still must be registered and regulated by the govnt. its easy enought to get a fuel alc license, but its expensive
pdub77 (author)  fragmaster44 years ago
Not true.  You can make certain amounts of beer and you can make certain amounts of wine, but you cannot make liquor of ANY quantity without registering your still with the federal government and therefore, I would assume, pay the taxes on it.

I'm not sure why I'm debating this.  Check my link about distilling laws.  And if you still don't agree, cite your statute.  = )
matt.pratt1 month ago

Awesome Guide never thought of distilling in the kitchen, and it doesn't seem as it would be too dangerous since the vapor won't ignite of the electric stove. But one question do you solder the cooper together to make it air tight or just put it together

you can do it either way you like. but. ALWAYS use LEAD FREE SOLDER.

if you just "put it togather" use wet oatmeal as a sealer..

Thank ya sir, your information was very thorough and enjoyable to read!
3 times
Watch this video this guy has a better still and explains it a lot better! He knows what he is doing! You only throw the head of the 1st run away and add the tails to the next run makes no sence to throw the tails away otherwise why not just turn the still off! Think about that.
TJ721 year ago
Actually anything over 100 proof or 50% alcohol will burn. You claimed 150 proof.
tony51202 years ago
when running your product for the second time do you use the same water or do you need clean water. just made first batch and need some help
munkeyman222 years ago
ok so after i put the wash into the kettle and i dis gaurd the head n tail must i do this every time i put wash into the kettle since the whole wash will not fit all into the small kettle, remember this is all still from the same wash
jjay012 years ago
hey pdub77,
i've done a test run with no temp checks or breaks, just boil till i got results to see that my setup worked. when i tried to do a second and proper run i didn't notice any temp break or run off at or around 148 F. i raised the temp as slowly as i could specifically to look for the temp break and make sure i got all the methanol to clear out. did i do something wrong or am i missing something. hopefully you still follow and have a moment to reply. in the mean time i am going to have another go at it. either way, thanks for the work you put into this!
Hey I understand everything on here. But at the ferminating process do you absolutely need the airlock tip?
pdub77 (author)  johnthehandyman3 years ago
The airlock allows carbon dioxide (a byproduct or fermentation) to escape while not allowing harmful bacteria to enter. Is it absolutely necessary? No. Is it preferable and will it possibly save you some time, energy and money? Yes. There are many methods to do this, though. Just google it and you can find many different ways to make an airlock or substitue something. Even a piece of saran wrap rubber banded over the top can work. It doesn't have to be perfect, but if bad yeast and bacteria get in, your product is ruined and you may not find this out for weeks.
randomv5 years ago
"Effects of Methanol Poisoning As little as four milliliters can cause blindness and 80 to 150 milliliters can be fatal; about half a milliliter per kilogram of weight is deadly. Drinking methanol causes effects similar to common alcohol, such as an upset stomach and dizziness, with the addition of pronounced vision problems. After these effects disappear, they reappear six to 30 hours later, only with much greater severity. severe symptoms tend to appear 18 to 24 hours after consumption. the relapse time makes it imperative to seek medical help as soon as possible. The most seriously poisoned lose consciousness and die of respiratory or heart failure. those who do not die may stay in a coma for as long as a week and may be left blinded." Not to scare anyone, just wanted to point out that you have to be very careful. I may try this some day, thank you for the very good guide.
lx2036 randomv3 years ago
As long as you make your mash with the right ingredients (fruits/grains/sugars) the methanol content will never be high enough to do any damage. You'll die from alcohol poisoning 10-20 times over before you've consumed enough methanol to do anything. The reason we are worried about it in distillation is because it really affects taste, not because of its toxicity. Same deal with the tails. The reason it's got such a reputation is most don't understand it. Posting facts like this without a full explanation of the details only fuels the misinformation. For a good perspective into the professional-amateurs check out:
Home Distiller (the forum is great as well) or
Whiskey Still (the new distiller FAQ is great)
Here's a quote from the new distiller FAQ talking about average toxic: content
"Home distilled spirit (untreated): methanol 0.0067%, ethanol 99.632%, fusils 0.361%
Commercial vodka: methanol 0.013%, ethanol 99.507%, fusils 0.48%
Poor quality home distilled spirit : methanol 0.0186%, ethanol 98.453%, and fusils 1.528%
If you're talking about untreated spirits as being dangerous, then to reach the LD50's that are published, you'd need to consume 149 L to be affected by the methanol, or for a 90kg bloke, about 58 L for the pentanol, from the "good" homemade stuff. That would be one hell of a session ! Even on their "poor quality" brew you'd need 11 L for the fusels. Stock standard pissed-as-a-newt high-school-student alcohol poisoning is the greater problem."

Jrogers33503 years ago
First off I just wanted to say thanks for putting this up here, my family has a lot of heritage in the moonshine era and me and my brother have been wanting to take a gander down that road. After reading this plus doing some more research I think i've found most of the information i need. This has definitely helped out a bunch. Only question i have is have you ever heard/thought of using a beer keg as the pot? I've been doing a little research into this as i have an extra one laying around and thinking about using it. Just wanted to know if maybe there was any dangers i should be aware of depending on the type of metal it is and such... thanks so much again!!!
beer kegs are stainless steel and work quite well for your pot. I assume you have already found some instruction on how to make your still. Mine is a column reflux type and I have just made my first batch. It worked very well although it was pretty expensive. by the time i got raching rings (small ceramic rings for condensation in the column) I was into it around $600.00, sure hope I like the taste of the stuff as it will take some time to break even. The experience alone of making some is worth most of what I have spent.
pdub77 (author)  scoonr3 years ago
Thanks for the info, scoonr. Care to share any pics?
scoonr pdub773 years ago
hi pdub here are the pics i promised. beer keg on a banjo burner. 36 inch tall reflux shown here making distilled water.
pdub77 (author)  scoonr3 years ago
That's fantastic! This is taking it to the next level. Thank you so much for sharing.
scoonr pdub773 years ago
thank you sir this is cool to be able to share. to bad its not over a shot.

scoonr pdub773 years ago
sure thing i will take a few and share them soon, and i want to thank you for your "plateau" explanation of the boiling points of methanol and ethanol. I was very concerned about the whole heads and tails situation as I had heard it in terms of percentages that you toss out before and that seemed a bit risky to me. Any way i distilled my first shine yesterday out of a batch of pear wine that i had recently fermented. not only was I able to see the plateau happening on the thermometer it was also evident in the flow coming out of the still as the different stages kicked off. I only ran it once and it came out nice. Very smooth, had a slight taste of pear left in it and it burned a nice blue flame.
pdub77 (author)  Jrogers33503 years ago
I'm sorry but I have no idea what kind of metals are in a beer keg and if it would work. Aluminum would be a wild guess. Unfortunately I can't give you advice on this one. Thanks for the kind words, though.
Pdub77....You explained this wonderful!! I am actually a Bootleggers Son...I was raised in a Bootlegging Joint!! I really like the way you explain Head and Tails!

Thanks so Much!! Nice to read something that the person knows wht they are talking about!!


pdub77 (author)  Bootleggers Son3 years ago
I appreciate your kind words!
seb11885 years ago
i strongly advise against making this. nobody here seems to fully understand the science so this is definitely NOT a reliable guide to not permanently damaging your body. if you must make it, test it on a pet first. then wait two weeks. if it's still alive and fully functioning, drink up!
scoonr seb11883 years ago
surely you jest about using your pet for a test subject. I have researched the moonshine making subject quite a bit. Although I am still a bit leery about the heads and tails as it does sound like a crap shoot of sorts. But pdub77 has explained it with some scientific content that makes sense. I would like to find some boiling point information that corresponds to elevation as well. do any of you know of such a document.
pdub77 (author)  scoonr3 years ago
This is far from a crap shoot, but I still would be careful. With boiling points in mind you are really pretty safe. Check out my Instructable "Distilling Basics" for another view. Here is something I found that might help you with your altitude question:

And for the record I would test nothing on a pet. I only have fish and I can never tell when they are drunk anyway. . .
A) are you kidding?  Alcohol in its various forms has been made for well over 4000 years by peoples who initially had no concept of science.  In most every society there has been a 'discovery' of some sort of alcoholic beverage or substrate that is consumed for pleasure, religious events, and because it was safer then stream/well water.

B) the author lists this as the THEORETICAL process (though it is funny how closely it follows the non-theoretical)

C) as far as safety is concerned.  The author very clearly defines which liquids boiling temperatures are okay to keep. 
And while I no way condone the practice, should one wish to do the same process utilizing a martensitic stainless pot etched and pitted from ionized water to boil your liquid and an ABS pipe filled with rusty steel wool as a condenser, one would still be fine.  As long as the set parameters for dumping heads and tails are maintained to an exactness met by any household instant read digital thermometer.

D) you should be ashamed for suggesting that one force a pet to drink an alcoholic beverage
pdub77 (author)  TANZMEISTER4 years ago
TANZMEISTER:  I could not agree more.

Seb1188:  My science is sound and my method works.  I also made plenty of disclaimers and encourage extra research on one's own.  I will concede that this can be dangerous, but as I have done it, it is not.  Thanks, though.
techno guy3 years ago
How do you check the proof of your product, and can I just mix the methanol with the ethanol since I'm planning on burning it and I'm sure that methanol burns too.

And you can mix the methanol in when burning it, depending on how you intend to burn it. If you're going to use it under any pressure, (like say in an engine) the methanol can cause premature detonation. Not good.
tlind443 years ago
Hey, I don't mean to sound dumb, but I figure better safe than sorry, right? If the wash is just sugar and water like you described, the heads and the tails won't be dangerous, right? Not that I'm planning to drink the heads and tails, or even try this for that matter, but if I were to make a mistake with the temperature or change the containers at the wrong time or something, would the heads, tails, distillate, or a mixture of the two or three of the products of the sugar and water wash do all the horrible horrible things to me that were described above?
bertzie tlind443 years ago
The heads are what get you, since they contain methanol. This is true regardless of what the source of the sugar is. DO NOT DRINK THE HEADS. The best time to switch from the head container is after it's hit the second plateau. You lose a little lightening, but it's far safer.

The tail is just when you've got all the ethanol, (the drinkable alcohol) out of the pot, and it's starting to boil the water. You get rid of the tail mostly because it's just watered down alcohol.

Let me repeat myself. The methanol is what does the horrible things to you.
ntwalk3 years ago
Thanks for the info pdub. I made this in sophomore year to run a moped and needed a refreshing course. You are a good humorous instructor and deserve props. So here's to ya.

"All whiskey ain't the same good moonshine burns with a clear blue flame" - Tom Gray
mburns93 years ago
i have 3 questions how did you build the carberatuer on the top of the carboy? how much and what type of yeast did put into your wash? and what temp do i need to bring the condensed material to before i let it dump into the catch tray?
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