Materials

One of the easiest materials to obtain and use is copper. Copper plumbing tubing is readily available in most places in a variety of diameters and gauges, in almost any length you need. It's an easy metal to work, and parts may be easily joined with solder at low temperatures. Hardware stores stock many different types of connectors, allowing almost any kind of junction to be made. Copper is a very good heat conductor and since small gauge tubing is fairly easily formed into coils, it is the material of choice for making condensers.

More experienced metalworkers may want to use brass, at least for columns, flanges and other small components. Brass, like copper is easily worked and soldered. The advantages of brass include the facts that it's more resistant to knocks and dents and it is excellent for silver soldering, which is much stronger than the more common plumbing solder. Brass has five times the thermal resistivity of copper, making it a good choice for a column that needs to be insulated against heat loss. Also, it's beautiful when polished and doesn't tarnish as readily as copper.

Stainless steel is perfect for boilers and columns because it is very resistant to corrosion and has high thermal resistivity. On the other hand, it is notoriously difficult to machine, difficult to solder, and requires specialized welding techniques. It can be brazed and silver soldered, and off-the-shelf clamps that require no soldering or welding may be used (once the clamps are attached to the tubing and equipment, of course!)

If you want to make specialized parts, you will need appropriate workshop facilities and experience. This makes copper, with its ease of working and wide variety of ready-made parts, the starting material for most hobbyists.

Many people consider glass, because it is often used in laboratories, and for its aesthetic appeal. Borosilicate glass (Pyrex®) has excellent tolerance to corrosive materials, which is why it is used in laboratories. It has extremely low thermal conductivity and this makes it ideal for columns, but not at all good for condensers. If you do decide to use glass then you will need to find a good glassblower since it takes great skill to make anything in this material, or confine yourself to ready-made parts you can buy off the shelf.. You should also bear in mind that connecting a glass column to the boiler or to a head unit requires special clamps and relatively complicated seals ... and a great deal of care! Glass is very fragile and easily broken. To be practical, glass should only be considered if you're dealing with small items, like a botanicals still, or if you can't achieve the results you want by using metal parts. In the end, it all comes down to a matter of personal preference.

Plastics should usually be avoided because many of them contain materials that can be leached out by hot vapors, and particularly by ethanol vapor. Some food grade plastics retain their strength at high temperatures and don't introduce unpleasant flavors and smells, but test them carefully to make sure that they will withstand the conditions of distillation.

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