Metal Working Guide

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Introduction

The purpose of this guide is to supply you with the means to acquire the metal working skills you will need to create your own still. Even with zero previous knowledge of plumbing or metal working, with diligent research and a bit of practice you can teach these skills to yourself.

The Basics

Sweating a Joint

The fundamental skill necessary in building a still is soldering a copper pipe joint together. This is also known as "sweating" a joint. You should practice this skill until perfected before attempting to construct your still. You WILL mess at least the first couple of joints up.

Materials & Tools

Tools:

  • Propane Plumbers Torch This tool is used to heat the pipe to a temperature hot enough to melt the solder
  • Tubing Cutter This tool cuts the pipe. While a hacksaw with a metal cutting blade can be used, a saw can leave you with a crooked cut, bent pipe and exhausted forearms. Don't cheap out on this, the little $4 pipe cutters are terrible. They bend easily, and the cutting wheels are so dull you'll find yourself cutting the pipe for minutes on end. Get the big $10 - $20 one, they cut a larger variety of pipes and will cut through a pipe in a matter of seconds.
  • Sandpaper/Pipe Cleaner Pipes must be sanded to ensure a good bond with the solder. Sandpaper can be used, and is often recommended, but a cheap pipe cleaner is much less physical effort and will last you through the end of your whole distilling project.
  • Solder Solder is the filler metal that bonds the two sections of copper pipe together. There are different solders for different uses (such as electronic soldering). It shouldn't be hard to find the one that is appropriate for copper pipe. Chances are that at places like home depot, its the only type of solder they sell. The one you want to purchase is a mixture of tin/silver. Make sure there is no lead in your solder. While silver solder that contains lead has generally fallen out of popularity, you can still pick up the occasional spool. It's cheaper, and, sometimes appropriate in instances where human consumption isn't a possibility.
  • Flux We'll go into the details of what flux is later. Right now, just pick up it up. Its often shelved right next to the solder.
  • Leather Gloves Copper pipe gets hot when you heat it (obviously). Welding gloves are bulky and overkill, simultaneously, garden gloves just won't cut it.

Safety

Workspace You will need a clean and uncluttered workspace. This applies to all shop practices regardless of the specific task you are trying to accomplish. It is easy to dismiss this as not related to safety but cluttered workspaces and general disorganization are among the easiest ways to cause an accident. I've learned this the hard way. Think about it, misplacing tools can cause your mind to slip. It becomes much easier to make mistakes, or hurt yourself when distracted in a shop. An organized workspace can bring a clarity of purpose and increased concentration.

This can be especially hard on those of us without a proper shop to work in. But cramped spaces make this all the more important. Here's a few tips: Leave yourself with blank surfaces to place tools. There will often be times when you wish you had extra hands. Clamps, vices, pliers and other grabby tools are indispensable in this regard. You will also be working with fire. Keep flammable materials away from you work area as much as possible. Also, do not work alone, while you should have no reason to fear for your life sweating a joint, accidents can happen and its always good to have someone around to drive you to a hospital.