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.

20150620_181724.jpg


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:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01AW ... 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.

20170124_132730.jpg

20171109_202713.jpg


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.

20171109_202648.jpg

20171109_202702.jpg


With the boiler and columns semi-complete, I did a mock-up of what it could look like...
20170111_092325.jpg


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:
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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.

Message_1489173141291.jpg
Boiler lid with 3" TC ferrule attached. Gussets line the inside to support the weight. Then I just soldered the lid onto the boiler.

20171114_065742.jpg


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.

20171114_065724.jpg
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:
1-58-id-1-12-nom-p-trap-copper-fitting.jpg


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:
20170407_155123.jpg
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!
20170615_1000151.jpg
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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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Wed Nov 29, 2017 9:44 am

I got a really neat condenser that I think would work well for many others on this site. I’m planning on using this still on everything from whiskey, peated whisky, rum, gin, etc. So the oils from peat or gin would easily contaminate anything else that I would run after that. So since everything after the Alembic column is downhill from there, any contaminates would carry over down to the condenser. I wanted to build a shell and tube (shotgun) condenser out of SS so that it would be more durable and easy to clean with strong chemicals. However, I wasn't feeling confident in building this myself, so I started looking around...

I searched around and came across this gem on Ebay: https://www.ebay.com/itm/85-000-BTU-316 ... Swi7RZIwO3
It is a built as a hot tub heat exchanger, but looks more to me like a condenser ; )
20171127_210326.jpg

It is advertised as a 85K BTU unit, fully welded 316L SS, 19 corregated tubes, with large threaded inlet and outlet ports. They come in a number of lengths and port configurations, I bought mine with opposed ports on the shell side, but they do come with them on the same side. It is even available in Titanium if you really wanted to go nuts and spend way too much money. I picked this one up for $85 after some bartering on Ebay. One thing to keep in mind, copper has a thermal conductivity that is roughly 10x higher than SS, so size your condenser accordingly.
20171127_210355.jpg
These corrugated tubes are awesome!

20171127_210449.jpg

I then simply welded on ferrules on each end. Man 316L stainless welds together nicely!
20171127_210427.jpg


I'm using 5" long braided stainless steel washing machine hoses with 3/4" FGH connectors. They even have blue/red markings for cold water in, hot water out. I had to buy an adapter to fit the condenser. These things are awesome!
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01N0 ... UTF8&psc=1

I built the parrot during some free time that I had, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to get pictures. It is pretty straight forward, valve on the bottom for draining heads and the tube after the run. And a support rod with a threaded end that will have a bolt in it to act as a leveling support foot.
20170420_194333.jpg

20170420_194343.jpg
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Wed Dec 13, 2017 12:01 pm

I got it all assembled, up and running!

After some soap and water, a vinegar distillation run and a heads cleaning run, it's fully functional! I packed the onion head with small 1/2"x1/2" copper tubes...about 6 pounds worth! They should help scrub out all of the sulfur compounds during distillation, and can be removed and regenerated with vinegar.
20170423_211308.jpg


For the cooling water loop, I'm using a bucket with 3/4" GHT adapters on the side to screw the hoses into. Inside is a small Harbor Fright 264 GPH submersible pump. Seems to work plenty well!

First actual run was with a heavy peated malt (38ppm phenols), and a Scotch Whisky yeast from WhiteLabs. This should be a good wash to use since this still is more similar to a Scottish pot still than anything else.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby hellbilly007 » Thu Dec 14, 2017 6:41 am

That is an awesome build. Beautiful
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby zapata » Thu Dec 14, 2017 3:52 pm

Super pretty!
I dont see a vent on the inlet to the parrot though, does the output surge?
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby Kareltje » Thu Dec 14, 2017 4:08 pm

And I miss some nice parts that were shown before.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby ben stiller » Thu Dec 14, 2017 4:25 pm

That there is a piece of art. Great job!
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Mon Dec 18, 2017 8:43 am

zapata wrote:Super pretty!
I dont see a vent on the inlet to the parrot though, does the output surge?


Great observation! I got too focused on putting the parrot together that I didn't think about a vent. It wasn't until I was putting the still together for a vinegar run that I thought about that. So I had to take it apart, go to work the next day and weld on a breather. Basically it is a U-tube on the parrot flange, so that there is always a small amount of liquid in the breather. It keeps slight pressure within the still, but it can suck air into the still once there is 1 inch of vacuum.

You can see the breather in this pic. The opening isn't pictured but goes up a few inches.
20170510_174918.jpg
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Mon Dec 18, 2017 8:59 am

Some of you are probably wondering why this is titled "Optional Offset Column Hybrid"...

Halfway through the build, I started thinking about building a column still to make neutral spirits. However, my storage space is limited and I didn’t want to go through too much more work to build another separate still to make neutral spirit with. I found this still online and fell in love with the design and functionality of it.
4d6f5bb1262101a214e8df1ed00e235b.jpg


I thought it would be so cool to have something that could be a pot still, column still, or both. I have plenty of 3” DWV copper pipe, so I figured I could make the column that size, and it would work well since the boiler connection is a 3” tri-clamp. I wanted to make the column about the same height as the alembic head, so I did some math and determined I could only make a column with 5 trays. I decided to go with bubble caps vs. sieve trays. I like that bubble cap trays don’t run dry the same way that a sieve tray does under poor conditions. So I got to cutting.
20170615_100015.jpg

Then I cut out ½” tall rings, cut a section out, and brazed it back together. This will seal against the inside of the column and provide a wall for the spirit in the tray.

I’m using ½” copper risers that I got at a plumbing store. These are exactly ½” OD, so I can use regular a ½” copper cap as a bubble cap. This leaves about a 1/16” gap inside the bubble cap. As long as I have clean, particle free vapor coming into the column, I won’t have to worry about clogging. I figure the alembic head provides plenty of space for the foam to settle down and I have a lifetime supply of antifoam that is used in commercial distilleries.
I’m going with 6 bubble caps per tray and a 3/8” downcomer with a ½” cap. It takes so long to build these things and get them perfectly aligned…
20170615_135409.jpg

20170615_135427.jpg
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby zapata » Mon Dec 18, 2017 9:33 pm

Ohboyohboyohboy. This just got even better!
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Wed Jan 03, 2018 10:36 am

Spent some time putting the column together. I got each tray built and I needed a way to space them inside the column. There isn't much space to use allthread like many do, so I got creative. I cut out 3" DWV pipe and made sidewalls to keep the trays aligned and spaced perfectly.
20170912_084217.jpg

20170912_084657.jpg


Then it's just a matter of soldering it to each tray. Building one after the next....
20170912_091337.jpg

20170912_092142.jpg

20170912_092254.jpg

20170912_094001.jpg
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Wed Jan 03, 2018 10:44 am

Here's the bottom:
20170912_094113.jpg


I failed to take pictures during the process, but I needed to make a stand so that the column could be offset, but still higher than the boiler. I cut out each side with a plasma cutter, TIG welded each panel together to form a stand. I also have adjustable feet on the bottom. In the center of the stand, welded on a 3" ferrule for the column, then I drilled a hole and soldered on a P-trap so that the bottoms could return to the boiler, but it still had more hydrostatic head than the overall liquid height in the column. Of course it doesn't hurt to clean up the metal using a drill press with a scotch brite pad. :lol:
20171012_161744.jpg


Mock fitting the column to the stand
20171012_150441.jpg

20171012_150449.jpg
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Mon Jan 08, 2018 10:45 am

The column is starting to take shape!
20171012_150415.jpg

20171026_112834.jpg

20171026_114205.jpg


Saddle cut on standard 1-1/2 trap adapters. I had to hone the top of the copper so that the PTFE gasket will sit flush for the sight glass.
20170825_121732.jpg

20170825_121636.jpg


No pics of making the stainless vapor tube, but I cut a slight wedge out of the vertical part to make a slight taper. Mainly for aesthetic purposes. I also fitted the 3/8 copper tube for the bottoms to return to the boiler.
20171103_165806.jpg
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby rgreen2002 » Mon Jan 08, 2018 1:35 pm

...I GOTTA take a damn welding class!

Al... this is beautiful! I have been wanting a small (5 gallon or so) still to do final spirit runs on after I get my 25 gallon strips done. This water tank is great and your additions make my job easy! What material is the spigot at the bottom of the tank? Is it SS?
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:11 am

rgreen2002 wrote:...I GOTTA take a damn welding class!

Al... this is beautiful! I have been wanting a small (5 gallon or so) still to do final spirit runs on after I get my 25 gallon strips done. This water tank is great and your additions make my job easy! What material is the spigot at the bottom of the tank? Is it SS?


Thanks, I really wanted it to incorporate form and function! The bottom of the boiler? It is just a standard 1/2 NPT male adapter. I then screw a 1/2 ball valve onto that during a run. I didn't trust the original spigot... wasn't sure about the quality of materials it was made out of, and it can't handle solids because it is a globe valve. Looking to go up to 3/4 probably. It got clogged when draining the stillage from a corn wash.
Last edited by AlChemE on Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:20 am

Building a dephlegmator. I have laying around a sweet 3"x1-1/2 reducer (very thick copper) that I'm going to use for the top of the dephleg. I already welded a 1-1/2" ferrule onto it.
20171018_133740.jpg
20171018_133752.jpg
20171018_133810.jpg
20171018_133821.jpg


Looking to add a 1/2" cooling water inlets and two outlets with high/low water level control. More to come.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby Dima » Fri Jan 12, 2018 9:46 am

This looks amazing!
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby Oldvine Zin » Sun Jan 14, 2018 5:42 pm

Nice build ALChemE, you have some skills :thumbup: :thumbup:

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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby rgreen2002 » Mon Jan 15, 2018 6:25 pm

AlChemE

My "water dispenser" arrived today. It is a little smaller than I thought but man is it beautiful! The copper is much sturdier than I expected (except the base which I agree with you on). I'm wondering if it would support a short internal element instead of the induction burner I was originally thinking about.

Also, I may go with a 4' opening so that it is compatible with my 4" flute supplies. I can use the 4"-2" reducer to get the alembic idea you have here or run a plate or two of flute. Hmmm.... the possibilities!

Your project is looking outstanding! Kepp that copper porn coming.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:26 pm

Alright! The time is here!!! I got the second half of the column still up and running!!! It is truely now an 'Optional Offset Column Hybrid'

I added the inlet and outlet adapters for the dephlegmator. I am trying a dual level control method to allow either 4" of cooling water in the dephleg during 100% reflux or 1/4" of water in the Dephelg for a low reflux ratio. I use pretty cold water (40 F) so I was afraid my dephleg would be too touch with any change in flow rate if it had 4" of cooling water in it. Now I can just open both valves, (plus an air vent - not pictured here) to drain and fill the top half of the dephelg with air.

20171027_151758 (1).jpg
Test fitting the dephleg to the column with the vapor take-off tube from the alembic-only setup


I couldn't but help to take a shot through the sight glass with the tiny bubble caps in their place! Lots of polishing needed.
20171027_150758.jpg


After finishing up the remaining work on the column and dephleg, it was quite simple to rig up the rest of the still. It is designed so that the vapor-takeoff tube/condenser/parrot would all just fall into place. Only problem is that the parrot sits up about 2 inches higher, so I had to make a new adjustable leg to support the parrot/condenser... no big deal.

After polishing I took all the parts inside and cleaned with soap and water. I snapped this picture as I had everything out to dry.
20171205_195259.jpg


And here it is assembled together! It is truly a beauty. I am very proud of how it turned out!
Hybrid Alembic-Column Still.jpg


The last problem I had to tackle is adjusting the cooling water flow rate of dephlegmator using the condenser warm water outlet. I came across this at Lowes and thought it would be a novel way to fine tune the amount of water going to the dephlegmator and the amount of water going to recycle.
https://www.lowes.com/pd/Keeney-Brass-1 ... 1000292469

I ran a standard vinegar run, followed by a heads run. For safety I watered the heads down to 30% abv. I ran at 100% reflux for 30 minutes and then backed off. After collecting for 15 minutes, I was still holding steady at 94% abv!
20171208_114948.jpg
The neat thing about this setup is that I can adjust the angles between the boiler - column- condenser to be either a line or L shape (pictured) to save space.

20171208_133949.jpg


The dephlegmator worked beautifully and would respond well to any changes in cooling water flow rates. I noticed it is easier to dial in once the cooling water reservoir is warmed up to about 70 F.

I have plans on making a runs with this soon using just the column placed directly on the boiler, skipping the alembic head and column stand. I also want to build a small gin basket that I could place right before the condenser. The beauty of using tri-clamp fittings is that there are so many configurations and additional parts that can be used. But for now I'm just going to learn how this rig performs and enjoy looking at it sitting on top of my cabinets between runs.
Last edited by AlChemE on Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby AlChemE » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:35 pm

rgreen2002 wrote:AlChemE

My "water dispenser" arrived today. It is a little smaller than I thought but man is it beautiful! The copper is much sturdier than I expected (except the base which I agree with you on). I'm wondering if it would support a short internal element instead of the induction burner I was originally thinking about.

Also, I may go with a 4' opening so that it is compatible with my 4" flute supplies. I can use the 4"-2" reducer to get the alembic idea you have here or run a plate or two of flute. Hmmm.... the possibilities!

Your project is looking outstanding! Kepp that copper porn coming.


I remember it looking a little smaller than expected when mine arrived too. But if you haven't tried it already, you can fill a 5 gallon bucket and pour it all inside the "water dispenser". What I did with my pot is I soldered on a backing plate to the bottom side of the pot. I then drilled a hole through it for the drain adapter. This makes it even sturdier and I haven't noticed any issues at all. I'm sure it could work for your purposes as well. Glad I could help you find a great boiler!
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby LWTCS » Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:43 pm

Really nice.

Three way valve on the top of the vapor supply manifold would let ya pot still or run the column without having to break anything down.

Though that would likely mess up your space saving adjustability.
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Re: Building an Alembic with Optional Offset Column Hybrid

Postby Oldvine Zin » Tue Jan 16, 2018 7:41 pm

Nice job - now learn how to drive her and make a tasty drop :thumbup:

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