Building the still
I built this still entirely on my balcony - no workshop here - just me sitting on the balcony floor with a scrap piece of plywood (2 ft x 2ft) on the floor to protect the astro turf carpet. Here are the tools I used -
- Propane torch, brush for applying flux
- Soldering iron tip for propane torch (substitute electric soldering iron if you want)
- Electric Drill with an assortment of metal drill bits
- Dremel tool - cutting wheels, sander, SS brush tip
- Round bastard file - for filing away 'stops' when making liebig condenser
- copper pipe cutter
- pliers, screwdriver
- Leather Work gloves (for holding hot parts)
- Sandpaper, copper piper cleaner, steel wool, stainless steel scrubbers
- Latex gloves - a must when using steel wool to clean
I'll break down the build with photos covering the various sections of the still. However this is not a step by step, beginning to end illustrated process - Use your common sense, ie. don't solder the top of the column shut before putting in the cold finger condenser.The Boiler
12 qt stainless steel stock pot
2 stainless steel bowls - matched to fit the diameter of the pot
1 1/2" copper pipe end cap
1/4" stainless steel bolt and nut with 2 washers
8 binder clips (medium 1 1/4" in size)
Soldering and assembling the boiler is covered here -How to Solder
Read carefully all posts - there is lots of good information on how to solder using normal plumbing solder the stainless steel - in other words - this is not silver soldering, welding or brazing.The vapor path
16" of 1 1/2" copper pipe (A)
5" of 1 1/2" copper pipe (B)
Copper Tee - 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 3/4 (C)
1 1/2" copper test cap (D)
1" of 3/4" copper pipe (E) (to join the two tees together)
Copper Tee - 3/4 x 1/2 x 3/4 (F)
20" of 1/2" copper pipe (G)
Don't solder all parts together - wait until the you put the cold finger together before soldering B, C & D (the top of the column). After you have soldered A,C,E,F,G it's really good time to clean the inside with steel wool and water and vinegar to get rid of all the extra flux. Everything is open for easy access.
Second note: Solder A & C last, you might even want to wait until the liebig condenser is soldered on. Once the big diameter copper is soldered, it becomes harder to heat up the solder joints because all that copper will 'wick' away the heat. Soldering 1 1/2" copper with a single propane torch will take some time. I probably had to heat up the pipe for a good 5 minutes before the solder would start to flow. A hotter torch or a second torch held by a friend might make this job easier.
Length and angle of output arm: Since the output arm (G) is connected to the column with two tees the angle it flows downward is variable. The 20" inch suggested is the minimum for 1500 watts of power. You can choose a longer length and any angle you want. The basic idea is to have the distillate output away from the stove while trying to keep the angle a bit steep so most of the weight of the output arm is over the pot- preventing it from the tendency of 'tipping'.Liebig condenser
2 brass 1/2" unions (A,G)
2 Copper Tees 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 (B,H)
4" of 1/2" copper pipe (C)
Brass water valve (solder type) (D)
5" of 1/2" copper pipe (E)
1/2" to 3/8" OD copper reducer (F,I)
2 Copper Tees 3/4 x 1/2 x 1/2 (J, L)
16" of 3/4" copper pipe
5 copper pipe sections 1/2" to attach A-B, G-H, H-I, B-J, H-L
The liebig condenser consists of two basic functional parts. The 3/4" pipe and reducing tees (J,L) slide over the output arm to cool the vapors back to liquid. The other portion connects to the cooling water supply and also to the cold finger condenser at the top of the column.
The reducing tees (J,L) will have stops that prevent a 1/2" pipe from sliding through the tee. These stops will have to be filed out so the output arm of vapor path can slide though the tee. I used a round bastard file to file out these stops. This can be done quickly, about a minute of filing to remove the copper.
The water shut off valve (D) is a simple solder in brass valve. The soldering instructions state that the valve should be soldered with the valve in the open position and you should wait until the components have cooled down before turning the valve. The valve will open and close in a 1/4 turn so this valve is not chosen for fine adjustments, but rather a basic off/ fully on adjustment - see operating instructions on how to use the still.
Lengths and other stuff: The length of the pipes and the angles the copper tees (B,H) are not critical, I chose these as they represented the minimum length for cooling distillate with a heat input of 1500 watts and they made sense for connecting the cold finger condenser at the top.
After the stops have been filed out you can solder the liebig to the vapor path.Cold Finger Condenser
2 Copper End caps 3/4" (A/C)
5" of 3/4" copper pipe (B)
2 short lengths of 3/8" OD copper tube (D,E)
2 suitable lengths of 3/8" OD copper tubing (F,G)
2 copper couplings 3/8" OD
The cold finger condenser is probably the most complicated part of the build. It's basically a 3/4" pipe with end caps soldered on the ends. Two holes are drilled in the side and a small length of 3/8" copper tubing is soldered in place. The length should be chosen so the condenser can slide into the top of the column and when the condenser is centered in place the 3/8" pipe protrudes a bit.
Two lengths of 3/8" copper tubing are bent and soldered from the 1/2 - 3/8 reducer on the liebig to the cold finger condenser using 3/8 copper couplers. Once the condenser is soldered into place you can solder the copper test cap at the top of the column.
Some more pics detailing the construction
From top-left going clockwise:
- The cold finger in place at the top of the column showing the short lengths of 3/8" tubing protruding.
- The cold finger soldered into place detailing the 3/8" copper couplers
- final assembly with the copper test cap soldered at the top of the column
- detail showing a notch in the short 3/8" tubing to allow water to flow easily
- using the top the column as a jig when soldering the short 3/8" tubes into place so the tubes are perfectly aligned.
Of course, the cold finger could be connected to the liebig using flexible vinyl tubes, but I wanted something 100% - mostly for looks.Misc build items
There are some minor misc items that have to be built as well. To connect the water supply to the liebig condenser solder 2" long pieces of 1/2" copper pipe to the other half the 1/2" unions. A common garden hose has the same inside diameter as 1/2" copper pipe so simply slide on a garden hose and use a utility clamp to tighter and make water tight.
For packing I used structure copper mesh. A bought the structured mesh from a local garden supply shop. It is used as a copper fence to keep slugs out of your garden. Mostly likely an organic garden store will carry this rather then a big box Home Depot type store.
The copper mesh comes in a roll that is 5" wide. I made three rolls so the total length is 15". To keep things tidy I unraveled some of the copper mesh to create a copper thread. Using this thread I sewed the three rolls together to make one nice 15" continuos tube. Then I soldered (using the soldering iron tip) a solid copper wire to the copper mess and left 1" of wire off the end so it can be easily pulled out of the column after distilling.
With some left over mesh, roll up a small amount to fit into the output tube. This will improve the efficiency of the liebig condenser and produce a nice output stream when doing stripping runs at max heat.
A suitable cork stopper that fits the top of the output tube should be drilled so a therometer can be inserted.