If only 120V is available

Using a single power supply voltage gives you the opportunity to use two heater elements to safely achieve power level control.

120 V circuits are generally rated for 15 or 20 amperes, depending upon the wire gauge used. In North America, the largest 120V heating element available is 1500W, which draws 12.5 amperes. 1500W hotplates are readily available and inexpensive, and 1500W 120V water heater elements are available at most hardware stores.

If you are willing to accept the long heat-up time, you can certainly run a pot still with one 1500W element. With good attention to detail, you can probably also run a compound still at 1500W with good results. Obviously, having only one element and using only one heat level is the simplest possible design.

If you wish to heat up faster, you can install two separate 1500W elements in your boiler, and plug them into separate circuits. If you plug them into the same circuit, you WILL blow a fuse or breaker. Many rooms have several circuits available, but some do not. You may have to use an extension cord to bring a second circuit to your work space. Doing this will give you 3000W for rapid heat-up, but still leave you at 1500W minimum power.

Since heater elements draw large amounts of current, the circuit(s) used to feed them should not be feeding any other devices when the still is operating. In some of the possible arrangements, as small an additional load as a television set could trip the main breaker.

120V Control Box

120V Control Box

Three levels of heat control can be achieved by building the box detailed in Fig. 7-13.

This box contains two outlets, one for each element, two switches and two cords for plugging into separate circuits. It allows you to operate one element for 1500W, two elements in parallel for 3000W, or both elements in series for 750W. This circuit is carefully designed to have no unsafe settings (make up a Truth Table and check for yourself!)

120V Jumper Plug Box

Fig. 7-14

Alternatively, as switches can be very expensive, you might prefer to do away with them altogether and make a Jumper Plug box instead. Not only is it cheaper, it is also easier to make, and the power levels can be clearly marked against each jumper socket.

Study the diagrams carefully, and if you have any doubts about your ability to build either of these devices, have a qualified friend make one for you. Also carefully mark it and keep the box in safe storage - it should not be used for any purpose but controlling your boiler heater elements.

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