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.