Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

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Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:23 am

It's funny how once you make a still, all you want to do is build another, and another, and another.....

It's been a few years in the making, but I am getting close to finishing up my still. It started as a simple idea, and inevitably, I had to make it more complex than needed. I was at the antiques store and came across a vendor selling a 100% copper vase and sphere. Whenever I see copper, I usually think how I can turn it into a still... I thought I could make it into an interesting alemebic head like those Scotch distilleries.

I wanted to make something that didn't look like a bunch of plumbing parts put together. Something that looked like a single sheet of copper molded and shaped to fit. So I opened the sphere up, sanded off all the old solder (in case of lead) and resoldered the sphere together with the vase on top of it.


I started thinking about what kind of boiler I wanted to use. I figured a keg wouldn't look right with a beautiful onion head, so I started looking around for copper boilers. I came across this: ... UTF8&psc=1

I usually make 5 gallon all grain brews, so this would be large enough, it had a good thickness to it, and for $175 with free two day shipping I couldn't pass it up!

I was really impressed with the quality, but I thought that the thin bottom could warp and wear quickly. I wanted this to be a stove top distiller, so I needed it to work with a spiral stove element. I had an old flange laying around that had the same OD as a large burner, so I traded a flask of whiskey for a machinist to turn it smooth. I soldered it to the bottom. My thoughts are that the flange will provide a buffer between the ON/OFF cycles of the burner and maintain the heat more evenly.



To keep the still safe, I had a 5 PSI pressure relieve valve laying around from work that was pulled from a Vendome pot still. As ugly as it looks, I figured it would be good practice to add to the boiler to keep it from over-pressurizing in the event of a blockage.



With the boiler and columns semi-complete, I did a mock-up of what it could look like...

I wanted to use 3" TC ferrules for ease of connecting and disconnecting the boiler to the column. It's huge! But I really like the way it looks.

That's it for now! But I've got a ton more to this rig that I'll share soon!
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby jon1163 » Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:53 am

Whoa. Looks beautiful. As an ex sailor, I see copper/brass and I just want to Neverdull it all day.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby Kareltje » Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:34 pm

Yeah, it is a beauty.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby acfixer69 » Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:47 pm

Wheeoow nice work there. I've been looking for a copper vase like that for a couple years. Hope to hear how it runs.

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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby MoonBreath » Sun Nov 12, 2017 12:15 pm

Very nice and unique..
I'm an expansion freak myself. :clap:
*Spend it all, Use it up, Wear it out*
Beware of sheet-sniffers and dime-droppers!
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby Dima » Mon Nov 13, 2017 9:47 pm

:crazy: :crazy: i have same issue, as soon as i see anything copper i start thinking of how can i use it to make a still :) Collecting material to build 3" flute
I've been picking up all vases that are for sale around town, thinking of making something like you have here, yours looks very nice! :thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup:
Those water containers are not available anymore on amazon :(
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Tue Nov 14, 2017 1:49 pm

I wanted to share some more on the Alembic column.

The boiler/head connection was made from TIG welding 3" DWV copper to the SS ferrule. I found it really tricky to TIG weld the copper/stainless together. I'll admit it took more than one try! This way the copper 'sleave' could extend a few inches into the boiler lid and easily be soldered in place. Inside the lid of the boiler, I made triangular gussets to support the weight of the head. It was pretty tricky to match the shape of the curved lid.

Boiler lid with 3" TC ferrule attached. Gussets line the inside to support the weight. Then I just soldered the lid onto the boiler.


I did the same 3" SS to copper ferrule as the boiler, the only difference is I cut out 3" of SS mesh to insert into the head. This would hold the copper rings in place. I made it slightly oversized so that I had to press it into the fitting. The bottom of sphere was drilled out slightly less than 3" so that the TC ferrule could sit against the outside of the sphere. Then I just sweat soldered it together. I added a small copper ring to help hide the seam.

Mesh to hold copper rings inside the head

On top of the head I went with a 1-1/2" TC ferrule to connect to the condenser.

I wasn't quite sure how I wanted to build the vapor take off. I really like the style and shape of the tradition Swan's Neck that you see on the commercial stills. I wanted to replicate the long curving neck without any seams. The best way I could think of doing this was with a P-trap like this:

After I got it, I found it wouldn't clear the column head, so I heated the entire pipe up til it was red hot and quenched it. This anneals the copper to make it easier to bend. I pulled on the trap to get a gentler curvature. Then I welded ferrules to the ends and did a test fit:
swan neck test fit

At this point I realized I would either have to extend the diagonal section out a couple feet or so in order for the condenser to clear the boiler. I eventually gave up on this...

I decided to make the vapor takeoff out of Stainless. I figured this still could incorporate the traditional look of an Alembic with some tough, hard wearing stainless parts. (Sorry I don't have any pictures of the fabricating). I didn't want the entire thing to be 1-1/2" SS, So I made the long vertical part with a slight taper down to 1". I did this with a cone template maker, then traced it onto a 1-1/2" pipe, cut it out with a portable bandsaw and slowly worked the metal seam together. Then I just ran a bead down the length and popped a ferrule on the end!
vapor take off pipe

Make sure when sanitary welding stainless to keep your purging gas flow rate high enough to displace all the oxygen. I had a few spots that sugared on me, mostly because I was rushing. Sometimes I just need to remember to slooooow down....
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby BugHunter » Tue Nov 14, 2017 2:17 pm

Beautiful work. I especially like the metal ring on the boiler. It does more than just hide the seam, it adds a nice accent.
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