J n this section we are going to mix how the still is built with why it's being built that way. And while this may be an annoyance to those who just want to get something working, it might also provide enough background to allow anyone to make fine adjustments to the design to better suit their needs. Even better, this extra information might prevent some colossal hangovers.
„ „ a a., Selecting the right materials for our home
Components & Materials distillation apparatus is very important.
Stainless steel is ideal because it cleans easily, looks nice, and has great resistance to the effects of boiling corrosive liquids. On the other hand, stainless steel is very difficult for the homebuilder to work with. This is especially true without special tools. There are few ready made fittings available for joining the parts, it is very expensive, and it is difficult to find a supplier willing to deal in small quantities with this material.
However, ready made stainless utensils may be easily adapted for use in the still. The boiler is a good example.
Various sources have suggested that a good boiler can be easily constructed by converting used restaurant pots, stainless steel wash pails, bakers dough pans, used soda and beer kegs, old swimming pool filters and a few other such things into a boiler. These items are all good candidates for the purpose, but converting them into a boiler for a reflux column is not always easy. Sometimes they require considerable modification and specialized welding in order to provide proper connections to the column and a way to disassemble for cleaning.
You should give considerable thought to what fabrication will be required before you make your selection of boilers. It is very important that you be able to easily separate the boiler and column sections for cleaning. Construction is a lot easier if the boiling vessel has a tightly fitting, removable top.
You also need to make sure that you have enough room in the vessel to hold the batches you intend to distill, that it is sufficiently durable to withstand the boiling and charging processes, and that it will not taint the distillate with any objectionable metallic flavors or impurities.
The vessel that I found best for this purpose is a used stainless steel milk can. It is readily available, holds about 10 gallons, has a removable top, nice handles, and it shines like a silver chalice. You can actually grow to love the art in this vessel.
It seems natural that a stainless steel boiler should have a stainless steel top end. It would not only look nice but it would also be easy to clean, rustproof, and extremely durable.
Unfortunately, dairy or medical grade stainless tubing and fittings are not easy to find and the parts are horrendously expensive. A small V2" stainless coupling costs as much as $36.00. Regardless of these costs, you will find most of the suppliers will not want to deal with you on such small orders.
The automotive supply stores have stainless steel T409 automotive exhaust pipe. And while it is less expensive (about $10.00/Foot), it takes a lot of polishing to make it look good, and because there are no standard fittings available, this kind of tubing needs extensive MIG welding to fabricate it.
Glass is also nice, but it is also very costly, very fragile, and requires expensive custom glassblowing services to complete the fabrication.
So what all this actually comes down to is if you want to build this at home, plain old copper tubing is the best choice. It's easy to cut, braze, and silver solder. There are an endless number of standard fittings available at plumbing supply distributors, a wide variety of tubing sizes, it is quite inexpensive (around $2.00-$3.00/ft.) and it really looks beautiful when polished. Some even say it gives character to the flavor of the spirits too.
OK, it's decided. We are going to build a hybrid still with a stainless steel boiler, and a copper tubing top end.
The top end is composed of the reflux column, the cooling tubes, and the condenser assembly. At times in this manual we'll optimistically call the top end assembly a tower.
Construction starts with the condenser assembly first.
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