Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Many like to post about a first successful ferment (or first all grain mash), or first still built/bought or first good run of the still. Tell us about all of these great times here.
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Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby SmokyMtnWhiskey » Mon May 10, 2010 11:26 am

Guys, I built the water heater fractioning still described in Ian Smiley's book, Making Pure Corn Whiskey. And I'm darn proud of the results! Basically, for those unfamiliar with the plans, it's a hot water heater with a copper fractioning column screwed into the top, where the anode rod usually resides.

Usually I'm not a great craftsman, but I was able to pull it together. And better yet; on the test run it didn't leak! At all! All the soldered joints held! (That's more than I can say about my Pot Still that I built a couple years ago.) It's not really a testament to my handy work but to the plans. This is a good set of plans, especially if you don't want to deal with an open flame.

The hardest thing in the plan was making the heat exchanger coil. Turning that copper tubing into a such tight coil was damn near impossible. I ended up kludging it a little bit I made large coils that run north and south (up and down the exchanger) instead of east and west (side-to-side down the exchanger). :oops: Surprisingly, it works! It's actually cooling quite well. The top of the exchanger is very cool. I didn't think it would work, but I was so frustrated that I had to try something.

On my first production run, I used a corn/wheat wash, and it turned out pretty well. The beer stripping run was almost too effective (may have stripped some of the "taste" out of it). I skipped one of the steps of adding a voltage regulator (dimmer switch) inline. I probably shouldn't have done that. I really needed a way to dial down the heat on the run. I'm going to add one to see if I can control the heat any better.

But overall, this solution felt good. It's good enough that I'm not embarrassed talking about it. The thermometer sits a little sideways; I might have to go back and fix that. It's a little irritating. Here's some pictures:

OleCopperHead.jpg
Old Copperhead Still

top.jpg
top of column
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Proverbs 31:6
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby mrhooch » Tue May 11, 2010 4:44 am

Smoky:

Nice work! I run a water heater too. What wattage are you running at?

I hear you winding those reflux coils. I tried and gave up, after making a batch of copper scrap. :(

I use a simple coldfinger instead, and I run at 1500 watts with no dimmer.

Hooch.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby SmokyMtnWhiskey » Tue May 11, 2010 2:54 pm

Hooch,

Right now I'm running 875 watts. It's a 3500W 240V element running on 120V (half the voltage, half the current. i.e 3500 / 4). What I'm finding is that the temp at the top of the column is cool (below 100°F), and then it shoots way up, quickly, to like 190°F, when it finally starts doing something. How does yours work? I thought I would be able to get a little more separation during the boil. What the heck am I doing wrong? I was going to try to add in a dimmer to regulate.

Cold Finger? What a brilliant solution. Good idea. I'll have to show you the mess of coiling I created. LOL.
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Proverbs 31:6
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby mrhooch » Tue May 11, 2010 3:58 pm

I run 1500 watts, or more accuratly 1395 according to my power usage meter. Mine does the same, once it hits that boil, the column heats up pretty quick, so you're not doing anything wrong. I used to run with a thermometer, I got tired of twiddling trying to run to temp and not getting the results I expected. More than a few people run by rate, I tried it and haven't looked back. Your still appears to be a Nixon offset head still, so it is of the LM or Liquid Management variety. Mine is a cooling management CM variety.

Even at 875 watts, you should get a respectable output. To run using rate, crank open the takeoff valve, measure the volume of the output at the start of a batch, probably somewhere around the 40mls / minute rate. Then slow down the collection rate to 4 - 10 mls per minute. Look at the output stream it should be drops, and the rate of the drops. Just remember the slower the takeoff, the better the product I've found if you've got the patience.


My still is nowhere near as pretty as yours. :wink: I had to shorten the packing in my column to accomodate the cold finger, so I took a few points off my top ABV, I'm waiting for some fun money to mod it up to the next version.

Two questions for you.

1. The return arm, does it extend into the column to get the reflux into the center?
2. Have you thought of adding just a diode in series with the element, to reduce the power by 1/2?

Hooch.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby acreofcorn » Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:10 pm

Have you tried making corn whiskey with this rig, especially as per Smiley's instructions?
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Kentucky shinner » Fri Aug 13, 2010 2:30 am

Hey brother looks like you have done a really nice job. what is your water heater made of. I am only asking because I want to find one that has copper or stainless boiler and I dont know what brand to look for.
Thanks man good work
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Barney Fife » Fri Aug 13, 2010 5:22 am

measure the volume of the output at the start of a batch, probably somewhere around the 40mls / minute rate. Then slow down the collection rate to 4 - 10 mls per minute. Look at the output stream it should be drops, and the rate of the drops. Just remember the slower the takeoff, the better the product I've found if you've got the patience.

Depends on what he's after; for a neutral, yes, slow it is, especially with a small still. But for flavored drink(rum, whiskey, brandy) run it flat out, as a pot still. Go slow at first to compress the foreshots and heads, then crank it open when you think you're into the hearts, and collect in small jars, and make your cuts later, after airing out the jars a day or two. Keep the good stuff, and put the tails in with the hearts, and add them to the next wash. Repeat until aging barrel is full.... ;)
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Mr.Spooky » Sat Aug 14, 2010 1:34 pm

"I really needed a way to dial down the heat on the run"
i could be wrong, but it seems like MuleKicker might be able to help ya out on that! hit him up.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby MuleKicker » Sat Aug 14, 2010 5:34 pm

it seems that the water heater is haunting me. :lol:
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby rad14701 » Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:38 am

MuleKicker wrote:it seems that the water heater is haunting me. :lol:

I think the biggest issue here is that, unlike much of the rest of the civilized world, copper water heater tanks are not available here in the US... And if they are, I surely haven't been able to locate a source for them... In addition, most countries, other than the US, use smaller water heater tanks, for the most part...
Last edited by rad14701 on Sun Aug 15, 2010 4:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby MuleKicker » Sun Aug 15, 2010 4:11 pm

very true rad. it is very easy to see that the rest of the world is a lot more conservative with there water. Shit, my water heater has a plastic tank and holds 85 gal. its 6 ft tall and over 3 ft diameter. As far as a copper boiler..... Could you imagine the price :esurprised: ? with the price of copper these days.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Kentucky shinner » Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:07 pm

but man that would make one hell of a boiler if it were copper :twisted:
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Cornfield » Tue Aug 17, 2010 8:03 am

MuleKicker wrote:very true rad. it is very easy to see that the rest of the world is a lot more conservative with there water. Shit, my water heater has a plastic tank and holds 85 gal. its 6 ft tall and over 3 ft diameter. As far as a copper boiler..... Could you imagine the price :esurprised: ? with the price of copper these days.


The price was the first thing I thought of. It would be through the ceiling.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby ScottishBoy » Tue Aug 17, 2010 8:18 am

MuleKicker wrote:it seems that the water heater is haunting me. :lol:


My breakfast cereal is haunting me.
It sends me cryptic messages to scare me.
Every morning it goes "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"...;)

I think this is actually kind of neat considering to the conversation we had about Smiley's book and the INITIAL reaction we had to the water heater. I have a water heater coming up for grabs in a few months and I was thinking I might try it for the hell of it.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby rad14701 » Tue Aug 17, 2010 12:53 pm

ScottishBoy wrote:My breakfast cereal is haunting me.
It sends me cryptic messages to scare me.
Every morning it goes "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"...;)

Just as long as it's not saying "C'mon, ferment me, big boy."... :twisted: If that happens, back away from the bowl slowly... :shock:
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby MuleKicker » Tue Aug 17, 2010 2:08 pm

ScottishBoy wrote:
MuleKicker wrote:it seems that the water heater is haunting me. :lol:


My breakfast cereal is haunting me.
It sends me cryptic messages to scare me.
Every morning it goes "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"...;)

I think this is actually kind of neat considering to the conversation we had about Smiley's book and the INITIAL reaction we had to the water heater. I have a water heater coming up for grabs in a few months and I was thinking I might try it for the hell of it.


whats the tank made out of on that bad boy?
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby ScottishBoy » Thu Aug 19, 2010 9:21 am

rad14701 wrote:
ScottishBoy wrote:My breakfast cereal is haunting me.
It sends me cryptic messages to scare me.
Every morning it goes "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"...;)

Just as long as it's not saying "C'mon, ferment me, big boy."... :twisted: If that happens, back away from the bowl slowly... :shock:


Now where would we be if YOU had done that?
:mrgreen:
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby ScottishBoy » Thu Aug 19, 2010 9:23 am

MuleKicker wrote:whats the tank made out of on that bad boy?


Not sure, but its about 22 years old, maybe 25. Worst comes to worst, I learn a little something about water heaters and recycle the parts slowly...;)
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby WesternWiskey » Sat Jul 23, 2011 6:20 pm

Hello all,

I was thinking about building an Ian Smiley Water Heater Still with a used 50gal Water Heater that I found on Craigslist. Its about 10 years old but still runs. Is there anything I should look out for? This will be my first water heater still. Can anyone think of issues that may arise with Ian Smiley's design using a larger water heater? Does the tank have to be stainless steel or copper? I have heard that most U.S. type water heaters have steel tanks lined with an enamel coating or glass lined. Is this a problem? I would like to build a high capacity still, any ideas are welcome.

-Thanks.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Dnderhead » Sun Jul 24, 2011 8:15 am

do to contamination I whould not use a second hand one.
next with the Small fittings it will take forever to run one of that size.are you ready to spend several days?
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby WesternWiskey » Sun Jul 24, 2011 10:19 am

Thanks for the reply. Yep the contamination thing will end it for me. I will revert to my keg still plans. Although, I am still curious if glass lined water heaters make acceptable stills. Also, I am just curious about high capacity stills.

Thanks.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby likkerluvver » Sun Jul 24, 2011 12:00 pm

In North America these water heaters are made of glass-lined steel, under water-supply pressure (+125lbs/sq in). They fail every 5 years or so - even with a whole-house water pressure regulator reducing the pressure to 40lbs/sq in. It's a leak if I'm lucky - a flood if I'm not.

The constriction at the column coupling would be a problem when running high wattage elements full-on, and you can't even throw a chain in there if you ever needed to clean the inside. I would NEVER consider using a new one, let alone a used one, as a boiler. (You should see the shit that comes out when I rinse/drain the sludge out of the bottom of my water heaters every Spring - and that's with whole-house 50, 20, and 5 micron water filtration). :thumbdown:

The few crystal-clear turbos I ran a few years ago, having used liquid carbon, clearing agents etc. would work fine. BUT, how many of us are stilling turbos and/or crystal-clear washes? :crazy:

In short, there are far better boilers available for our needs. - Also, there are weld-less solutions for water-heater elements to be mounted in stock-pots etc. for those of us without welding skills/equipment/"trusted-friend-welders". :thumbup:




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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby C. Morrison » Mon Aug 01, 2011 2:06 pm

I have installed 3 water heaters in my real job in just the past week. If I were only so lucky as to own an Australian copper water heater here in the States!! The only place I've even seen a picture of the copper heater is here on HD. Only "glass lined" black steel tanks are normally available here. The "State" brand water heater has a plastic coating inside. Personally I would never use a U.S. style heater as a boiler. The cold inlet has a "Dip" tube that reaches within 4 inches of the bottom of the tank (It's Plastic !) They also always have a sacrificial anode rod installed to prevent corrosion, made of either magnesium or aluminum.
The crap that collects in them is unreal, as another poster mentioned when drained yearly.

If the glass lining is so good, why do they rust out??

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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby gfeldman » Sat Oct 20, 2012 2:38 pm

I have this book as well, but this would be my first attempt at distilling alcohol. I am a chemist so I am confident in the fractionation portion, but not necessarily the mechanics behind setting up the water heater itself. Does anyone have a home made video of how you accomplished this? Could you send me one, or post it on YouTube? Would love to actually see a video of how this is setup and run! Or if not a video of setting it up, maybe a video of your device and what you had to do to set it up. Anything that I could watch in video format would be extremely helpful. I am sure that there are plenty of others out there in a similar situation, not particularly skilled in the "plumbing"/mechanics of the setup but certainly capable of building upon your advice if they were able to see it first hand (or via video).

Thank you for any advice/help that you are able to provide.

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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby whiskeytripping » Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:28 am

I guess water heaters out of the states here are made to be rebuilt over and over, unlike ours that leak and go to the water heater graveyard every 8 years
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Prairiepiss » Sun Oct 21, 2012 6:12 am

I personaly wouldn't recommend using a hot water heater as a boiler. The price of a new water heater. Compared to building a good still boiler. And the fact they aren't the best materials for the job. A keg with a water heater element installed would be a much better boiler. You would need to build a good controller for either setup.

The must read new distiller reading lounge is a great place to start your research.

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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Yankeespirts » Thu Jan 30, 2014 11:17 am

100% Pure copper heaters do exist in the states. Made by Copper King.
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Re: Built Ian Smiley Water Heater Still

Postby Prairiepiss » Thu Jan 30, 2014 12:35 pm

But you aren't gona find those laying around. All over the place. Mater of fact I just googled copper king water heater. And got nothing about this company. Maybe a link would help?

And man digging up an old thread.
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