It doesn't take long after making the decision to build a still to recognize that there are a lot of things to be considered. A visit to the library, and some reading about the distillation process is a good place to start. However living in a small rural town without a significant library can make things more difficult. It's even worse if the nearest big university is about 100 miles away.
If you find yourself in a similar condition you should consider starting with the Internet. Initial searches will turn up thousands of hits on the subjects of moonshining, distillation, stills, spirits, whiskey, reflux ratio, unit operations etc..
Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of really good information about building a first class personal still out there. Sure, there are lots of commercial distillers, beer and wine equipment suppliers, discussion groups, moonshining stories, book sellers, discussion groups, and lots of chemistry information on the web, but only a couple of quality publications on amateur distillation and still construction. There are some good ones though.
One of the first, and best, reference that I found was from a corporation in Sweden run by Gert Strand. It was the "Home Distillation Handbook", translated from Swedish to English and written under the pseudonym of Ola Norrman. It is available on line, for small fee in PDF format from //http:/partyman.sa.
Partyman is a first class provider of liquor essences, fermentation, and fine German instrumentation equipment useful in alcoholic beverage measurements.
Ola Norrman's book takes you step by step through every procedure involved in the process of producing a variety of spirit drinks, including guidance in the construction of an appropriate still.
Another good source can be found in Dr. John Stone's book "Making Gin and Vodka". It can be ordered on http://www.gin-vodka.com. Dr. Stone concentrates on producing pure alcohol spirits (Vodka and Gin), but the book discusses in detail the construction of a multi-stage distillation apparatus, much like a scaled down commercial facility might use. It is very complete in describing every phase of producing and refining alcohol, and provides many first hand insights into this process.
For the more technically inclined, the web surfer should read M.T. Thams' Introduction to Distillation tutorial at:
For those of you who simply want a still, and not all the work of doing it yourself, you will enjoy the Still Life at http://stillife.com, and Ray Toms' Moonshine Supplies at http://moonshine.co.nz/ .
The University at Akron offers an excellent slide presentation of distillation theory at: http://ull.chemistry.uakron.edu/chemsep/distillation/
For the engineering students among us, you might find Andrew Sloleys' distillation and petroleum refining homepage a good start. You will find it at: http://asloley.home.mindspring.com
And finally, for the best about the art, science, and folklore about distilling checkout Bourbon Street Bayou:
These sites and books will give you a good starting background for those things you are about to undertake. Certainly there are many others that may be even more appropriate. But for the most part, they provide an excellent foundation for constructing a high quality apparatus that will deliver quality spirits in a safe manner.
And so, armed with this information, and a bit of common sense, we can begin the task by addressing the most important question.
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