Basic Distilling Safety

This hobby is fun & enjoyable, but it is not tiddlywinks. Be safe!

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HookLine
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Basic Distilling Safety

Post by HookLine » Tue Aug 11, 2009 8:10 pm

Basic Distilling Safety

Both the distillation and storage of alcoholic spirits (mainly ethanol) has some potentially fatal dangers associated with it. Tall neutral columns in particular can produce very high strength ethanol, at a concentration of greater than 95% abv (alcohol by volume). However, while there are some very real dangers, following some basic, common sense safety rules will reduce any risk down to an acceptable level:

If you are new to stilling, then stick to using well tested designs and materials and recipes to start with. Experimenting with new ideas is good and part of what we do on this forum, but you should learn to stand and walk properly before you try to run.

Check your equipment carefully before each run. Make sure all the openings and pathways are not blocked, and any valves are working. Set the whole still up, including connecting the coolant system up fully and testing it, before turning on the heat source for the still.


NEVER leave a running still unattended. That is just asking for serious trouble. Get to know the behaviour of the still well, and directly monitor it at all times during the run. Make sure you will not be disturbed during the run by anybody or anything. Do not run a still while you are tired or sick or upset, or under the influence of alcohol or any other kind of intoxicating drugs. Keep your mind firmly on the job.


Liquid ethanol above a concentration of about 50% abv is very flammable, and the vapours are also flammable and highly explosive in the right concentration of air-vapour mix. In these ways ethanol is similar to the dangers from petrol.

Ethanol vapours are almost invisible, and the flame from burning liquid ethanol is almost invisible in med-strong light.

Do not allow vapours or liquid product to be anywhere near a heat source, especially a naked flame.

Place your collection vessel in a much larger non-flammable, ethanol resistant container (such as a tray or large pot). It should be capable of holding at least an hour's worth of output if your collection vessel spills or leaks.

Do not allow any leaks from the still. Use a mirror and torch (flashlight) to detect leaks, look for condensation on the mirror. If any are found, DO NOT continue the run. Turn the heat source off straight away, and repair the leak before continuing.

Make sure the stilling area is well ventilated, so even if you have missed a small leak then vapours cannot build up in the stilling area.

Wipe up any liquid spills immediately. Keep a bunch of old dry rags or a bucket of fine dry sand handy to do this. Remove them from the stilling area (to out of doors) as soon as they have been used to soak up the spirit.

Keep at least one fire extinguisher handy during distillation runs, and also in the storage area, (though not right next to the still or stored spirit). A fire blanket and a charged garden hose in the nearby vicinity are also a good idea. Always make sure you always have an easy escape route from the stilling area.

If you ever run your still at night, and rely on electricity for lighting, then always keep a reliable flashlight within easy reach or on your person. You never know when the power will go off.


High strength neutral ethanol is also a concentrated poison that is colourless, and almost flavourless and odourless. If ingested in any quantity, it could kill. Children are especially at risk. Do not store your spirit at high abv. After the initial ageing has been done, water the spirit down to at least 50% abv or under. The best storage strength for beverage alcohol spirits is 40% as it is a very common commercial standard for spirits that most people are accustomed too, so it will not take them by surprise after a couple of drinks.

Clearly label your product storage containers with the type of spirit in there, and the strength (in % abv). Many distillers also write the date of production or bottling on the label.

If you have children in your house, lock your spirits away safely. If you can, dedicate a specific area to your stilling, and lock the kids out (and your pets).


High proof beverage distillate should never come into contact with plastic (with the exception of PTFE/Teflon gaskets). It can eat into the plastic and leach unwelcome chemicals into your distillate. The safest known and best tested materials for contact with your handcrafted spirits are glass, copper, stainless, and certain woods (mainly French and American oak). Oak barrels made specifically for storing alcoholic spirit are good storage containers, and are in fact used for ageing and maturing some spirits, to add colour and flavour.


Overtemp alarm.
When buying a thermometer for your still, it is best to get an electronic one with a programmable over temperature alarm. For neutral runs, set the alarm at 80 ºC (176 ºF), maybe a little higher. For stripping or pot still runs, set the temp at 98 ºC (208 ºF).

•••••••••••

Please feel free to make any safety suggestions or comments. Good ones will be incorporated into the original post (with credit). Once that is done then I will remove the original suggestion/comment from the thread so that the thread stays clean and short, and people do not have to wade through a whole bunch of comments to find all the useful info.

Hook

Additional suggestions from:

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Be safe.
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Cornbread
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Cornbread » Wed Dec 09, 2009 5:41 am

Wipe up any liquid spills immediately. I have to admit guilt on this one. I am very safe..or so I thought..but I always let the spills lie there until clean up time at the end. Thanks (They could be burning and I wouldn't even know it)
Moonshine ain't nothing but lots of love and goodness distilled into liquid. It will love you like a big woman wearing a straw hat

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Cornbread » Wed Dec 09, 2009 5:55 am

I am too much of a "cut up". I try and post funny stuff on here and always get into trouble with the moderators. Everytime they fuss at me, I usually think they are overreacting.
I would like to firmly state that in this case of me joking about "distilling while drunk" I made a big mistake. SAFETY is number one in this forum. I REPEAT : SAFETY IS NUMBER ONE IN THIS FORUM. ...and should NEVER be joked about. I am very sorry. Even after being asked this morning to re=read the basic safety rules, I found out that I was violating at least one of them. I would rather Hookline bitch me out than me or my family to be dead from a fire. Sure, 99% of you may have known I was joking, but the 1% may not have. I wish you all a Merry and Safe Christmas.
Moonshine ain't nothing but lots of love and goodness distilled into liquid. It will love you like a big woman wearing a straw hat

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by ScottishBoy » Wed Dec 09, 2009 10:17 am

Well that actually brings up a good point...

When you clean up spills, make sure you either remove the soaks from the area immediately or place them in a sealed container or bag. I like to have a breadbag or two around with my towels in case this happens because the alcohol will still be evaporating off the rags. All your doing is changing the efficiency of the evaporation in the exact opposite direction you want to go in. The cloth will help the alcohol evaporate unless you can can get them somewhere airtight.

Get them out or get them inside of something...quickly.

Be mindful of where you leave them as well. Dont just drop them in a corner. Alcohol vapor is still explosive if its 1 hour old or 1 week old.

ScottishBoy
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Cornbread » Wed Dec 09, 2009 12:20 pm

WOW..didn't know that.THANX
Moonshine ain't nothing but lots of love and goodness distilled into liquid. It will love you like a big woman wearing a straw hat

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by ScottishBoy » Thu Dec 10, 2009 3:54 am

Cornbread wrote:WOW..didn't know that.THANX
I cant tell if that is sarcasm or not? ;)
ScottishBoy
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Read.Search.Listen.Ask for feedback, you WILL get it. Plastic is always "questionable". Dont hurry. Be Careful. Dont Sell,Tell, or Yell. If you wouldnt serve it to your friends, then it isnt worth keeping.

Cornbread
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Cornbread » Thu Dec 10, 2009 5:03 am

NO NO NO............I didn't know it was explosive an hour later or a week later. Honestly (and dumb now I know) When I wipe up a spill, I throw paper towel in trash can about 4 to 5 feet away. I actually thought that I was OK...until I read your post. I said thanks and I meant it ScottishBoy!
Moonshine ain't nothing but lots of love and goodness distilled into liquid. It will love you like a big woman wearing a straw hat

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by ScottishBoy » Thu Dec 10, 2009 5:10 am

Sorry, in light of your recent post about being a cut-up, I wasnt sure. ;)
ScottishBoy
HD Survival in a Nutshell...
Read.Search.Listen.Ask for feedback, you WILL get it. Plastic is always "questionable". Dont hurry. Be Careful. Dont Sell,Tell, or Yell. If you wouldnt serve it to your friends, then it isnt worth keeping.

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Cornbread » Thu Dec 10, 2009 9:09 am

On my very first run, I collected several drops in a spoon and "tried" to light it. (IT WAS LIT...I just couldn't see the flame.!!!) I emptied the spoon back into the collection jar (which, at that time, was an old plastic measuring cup because I was going to throw the foreshots away). I left the room to wash the spoon and returned and saw my measuring cup melting before my eyes..YEP..I had poured the "flame" back into it. Talking about dumbass. Of course, now I am glad it happenned because it didn't hurt anything but the old cup and my pride and it taught me about the term "invisible flame"
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by kiwistiller » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:23 pm

:shock:

bloody hell cornbread, you got 9 lives.
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by still_in » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:45 pm

maybe cornbread is serving a pretty useful role here in bringing to light these issues that some folks who are not as much of "cut ups" would maybe not mention due to being embarrassed or too proud. personally i appreciate your humour cornbread, even while i recognize that sometimes you need a word from the moderators to clarify your meaning.

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Kentucky shinner » Thu Feb 18, 2010 2:10 am

so if your doing a spirit run you never want your temp over about 176f? did I read this correctly. The only reason I ask is I am sure I have read of folks on here collecting tails up to about 92c.

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by rad14701 » Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:43 am

Kentucky shinner wrote:so if your doing a spirit run you never want your temp over about 176f? did I read this correctly. The only reason I ask is I am sure I have read of folks on here collecting tails up to about 92c.
That 176F/80C temperature is for reflux column stills... The 198F/92C is for pot stills... This was explained in HookLines original post...

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by pistachio_nut » Thu Jul 29, 2010 11:23 pm

I had a mistake while distilling that could have gone badly. I have a submersible water pump connected by a hose to the condenser. One fine evening, the connection between the water pump and the hose loosened and came out completely. The only thing that looked different was the movement on the surface of the water in my coolant tank. I don't usually stare at the surface of the water in my coolant tank, so I didn't notice anything. The water pump was still functioning properly but no coolant was going to my column or the condenser. Alcohol vapor was pouring down from the condenser nozzle through the hose that led to my collection jug. The jug was about two feet away from the flame, and alcohol vapor quickly formed a cloud around the jug and headed towards the flame.

Noticing the cloud and wondering what was wrong (I was totally new and had no idea what alcohol vapor looked like) I pulled the hose off the condenser, releasing a new cloud of vapor about four feet higher up. Thankfully, the cloud closest to the flame dissipated very quickly because my still was outside and it was kind of windy that day, but the new cloud was just pouring out. I checked the pump and reconnected the hose, which immediately sent cold water to the condenser and column, reconnected the hose to the condenser, and continued collecting distillate.

After that experience I checked the water pump much more carefully.

Now that I've decided to take things more seriously I bought a 1/6 hp fountain pump from the hardware store that has a screw in connector.

To any new people who bought a kit and aren't engineers, please make sure your coolant system is up to the job.

I'm going to take pictures of my new system when it's in place and post to the forum for comments. I think it's sort of OK right now but I have an idea for a more advanced system later.
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by HookLine » Fri Jul 30, 2010 9:04 pm

Thanks for your story, pistachio. A good reminder to folks to check their pump connections properly, and keep an eye on the coolant flow during a run.

Might also want post it in this thread, specifically for reporting mistakes we make.
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by rad14701 » Sat Jul 31, 2010 6:58 am

One way to avoid this problem is to always keep your return line out of the storage tank so you have a visual indicator that the coolant is flowing... An added bonus is that the further the coolant falls the more heat that is removed by the ambient air... Even having the return coolant spraying out of a shower head or some other stream splitting device would help improve in heat removal because more coolant is in direct contact with the air thus aiding in thermal transfer...

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by kiwistiller » Sat Jul 31, 2010 3:37 pm

I do that as well rad. the only downside is that the sound of the water makes me want to take a piss all the time. the other bonus is you get an audible indication of whats happening with cooling if you're working on other things in the shed. I'm often cutting and blending while the stripping run happens, so that's been a big help in the maybe twice (?) that I've had coolant flow issues.
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by chris69ca » Wed Jul 13, 2011 11:43 pm

ok hear is my embarrassing story ok what happened i was still inside with my 7.5L boiler on a smugglers pot head i took a percentage reading by dripping the stuff into the tube thing and replaced the collection jar and took my reading off memory it was 60% or their abuts so i poured the stuff back into the collection jar (dumb idea) i had a twitch spilt it all into the flame fire was up in seconds b4 i even had a chance to kill the flame likely i reacted cool and thought i removed the bulk and extinguished that by suffocation and wet tea towel over the rest of the flames it was a good eye opener
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by dlktdr » Wed Aug 17, 2011 10:03 pm

Check your equipment carefully before each run. Make sure all the openings and pathways are not blocked, and any valves are working. Set the whole still up, including connecting the coolant system up fully and testing it, before turning on the heat source for the still.
I have experienced this one in a rather scary way when I first started out, with our first (poorly designed) still. While we were distilling a friend noticed that our pot (55gal drum) was starting to bulge, the take off port on the column had partially plugged and pressure started building up in the pot. Luckily he noticed or I don't want to imagine what would have happened, I opened the other cap on the pot to release the pressure and a 20 foot high plume of steam and apple shot out for quite a few seconds... It looked like a rocket going off upside down.

We were just lucky no one was hurt....
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Bushman » Thu Aug 18, 2011 6:14 am

rad14701 wrote:One way to avoid this problem is to always keep your return line out of the storage tank so you have a visual indicator that the coolant is flowing... An added bonus is that the further the coolant falls the more heat that is removed by the ambient air... Even having the return coolant spraying out of a shower head or some other stream splitting device would help improve in heat removal because more coolant is in direct contact with the air thus aiding in thermal transfer...
I use clear hoses to view the flow, the return is held just above my garbage can so I can also see the return and feel it to make sure it is not getting to warm.

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by greetal22 » Mon Sep 19, 2011 2:09 am

If a vapor leak is discovered in your rig during a run, flour dough mixed 4 parts flour to 3 parts water makes an excellent temporary patch and will allow you to complete your run before repairing the leak more permanently. I normally use this to seal the joints on my pot still and usually have a bit extra after setting things up. I keep it on hand until the run is over just in case.

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Weißer Hund » Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:44 pm

I have a question concerning a safty issue. I see alot of CM, LM, & VM stills with no form of pressure relief. Basically you are running a pressurized container(with your outlet valves closed awaiting equilibrium) as it comes up to temperature. I recently exchanged my rubber bung plug for a Tri-clover S.S. plate cover, tapped out to hold a Blichman thermometer. I don't have valving to restict pressure, but I'm thinking about putting a valve on to allow for VM operation. I have recently seen on the "Mile Hi" website that they carry a 5 PSI poppet pressure relief valve and I was wondering if any one has purphased this item, and what they thought of it.
Weißer Hund

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by blind drunk » Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:55 pm

The VM, LM and CM have atmosphere ports, at least they're suppose to -

http://homedistiller.org/forum/viewtopi ... =1&t=19711
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Weißer Hund » Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:40 am

O.K., I've looked closely at some other designs and can see vent ports or some other form of pressure relief via the condensor. So basically I don't need to purchase this item(5 PSI poppet valve), all I need do is drill, tap and install a 1/8 nipple to my S.S. cover plate to provide me with the necessary pressure relief to prevent creating an explosion hazard to myself. I've watched alot of videos of rigs in action, including the "Hillbilly flute" and saw no vent tube to vent pressure. Anyways I know what I need to do now. Thanks.
Weißer Hund

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by RevSpaminator » Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:10 am

While we are talking about safety, lets not forget that we are running a boiler here and the thing will get hot. Make sure you don't burn yourself while taking care of all your other safety concerns. :shock:
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Durace11 » Wed Aug 01, 2012 8:12 am

Weißer Hund wrote:I've watched alot of videos of rigs in action, including the "Hillbilly flute" and saw no vent tube to vent pressure.
It vents out the final condenser outlet, the reflux condenser (dephlegmator "the rain maker"™) keeps the liquid based vapors trapped in the main column by refluxing them back but air(without liquid vapor) under pressure can flow past the reflux condenser and out the final condenser. If the final condenser is open, and unblocked, the system is not closed and will not build any pressure.
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by NY Chris » Fri Nov 02, 2012 5:48 pm

HookLine wrote:Thanks for your story, pistachio. A good reminder to folks to check their pump connections properly, and keep an eye on the coolant flow during a run.

Might also want post it in this thread, specifically for reporting mistakes we make.
Hello Hookline,

In the new distiller reading lounge in your basic distiller safety post you state

"Never charge the boiler with any higher than 40% ABV. Doing so creates an explosion risk."

I am new to distilling and have never run a run. I am trying to understand, how can I distill a spirit 2 or 3 times without putting higher then 40% ABV into the boiler.
Using a pot still with no thumper how high of an ABV can I expect to achieve? and if I distill 3 times what approximately will the ABV be at the start of each of the three runs?

Thanks for any help
Chris

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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Prairiepiss » Fri Nov 02, 2012 5:56 pm

You dilute the spirit with water till its 40% or under. And put it in the still and run it. And how you run it and your still will determined the highest ABV you will get. Somewhere around 80%. Give or take some?
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by Richard7 » Fri Nov 02, 2012 6:03 pm

Chris, You simply dilute your spirits down with water to get the ABV down to 40%. You don't want to have anything flammable in your boiler. :thumbup:
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Re: Basic Distilling Safety

Post by NY Chris » Fri Nov 02, 2012 6:04 pm

Prairiepiss wrote:You dilute the spirit with water till its 40% or under. And put it in the still and run it. And how you run it and your still will determined the highest ABV you will get. Somewhere around 80%. Give or take some?
OK, thanks for that crucial information. Without it I may have had a big, really big problem trying to get a higher ABV. by starting my run above 40%.

Chris

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