I got the idea to make a distilling rig from somewhere. At this point I'm not sure where it came from but I started putting ideas together. I really don't drink a lot of whiskey... says the guy building a whiskey still... but I do like to make things. When I drink I like some dark rum and I'd like to age some whiskey to see what happens. I can jar a few gallons and pack it away; maybe I'll give them as gifts when I retire.
It seemed to me that a pot still is good but it wouldn't be able to get the high efficiency that I'd like. I can do better. When I was searching I found these really cool reflux columns that had sight glasses and tri-clamps and cooling tubes that fed back into the column. That's great and all. But, I've never worked with copper pipe, or plumbed anything, or made whiskey. So I decided to go semi-hard. I will build a reflux column head in 2 inch pipe that reduces to 1 inch for cooling in a chamber rather than a coil. Easy enough to make and cool enough to get nods.
I planned for a 2'' copper condensing column. It's hard to find 2'' pipe. Luckily, there is a new +Menards in town and they stocked a great selection of copper pipe. Well, it was in 10' sections so I had plenty to work with. They also had all of the fittings to put together this head. I cut the condensing column to 42 '' long because I will need to cut it down later on to add a connector. The ability to add scrubbers is something that I'm interested in but not immediately. So, in the future I want to be able to split the column and add some scrubbers to get extra distillation. Then take them out for cleaning and such.
For now I have simply made a tall column that reduces to 1 inch at the top and comes back down. Then it reduces again to a half inch pipe at the very bottom.
If you look close you will see that I have barbs in the shorter pipe. That is a copper cooling sleeve. Pretty neat idea. I didn't think of it and it's not new. It was tricky to get it all put together to see if it was all going to work the way that I wanted but I got it.
Then I had to take a break and go watch videos to learn how to solder copper fittings. It's not that hard and there are some entertaining ones. I'd recommend it if you're bored.
I got it done. No leaks except in the threaded barbs. I don't really know if that's a great idea. Seems to be the way to go and I don't mind the small leak because it is only cooling water and it only leaks when I plug the line. Since the line shouldn't be plugged and I have a ton of other things to figure out I will move on. I filled the entire rig up with water in the kitchen sink. My wife wasn't home so it was cool. No leaks there; even cooler.
Now I have the problem of getting the cook pot to get steam into the column. I've been contemplating this for a while and figure that I could buy a flange for it. As it turns out there are plenty of them out there. But they are expensive as hell and I've already laid out a pretty good chunk of change on this project. So, I will have to play around with what I have.
My stupid pot turned out to be aluminum. Sucks ass. Really sucks ass. Except that aluminum is easy to drill and sand and solder. I can use an aluminum pot for a while until I can justify buying a new one. It also has a hole in the pot lid for the thermometer. I don't want tit there at all but it will be there for now. That's something else to figure out. The hole is a little loose for doing what I want to do because steam can escape from it. A little bit of something will fix it later. I'll find something.
Flanges are expensive, but it looks like they are just flared pipe ends. So I am going to flare my own pipe and run it through the hole I cut in my stupid, easy to cut, aluminum pot lid.
Turns out to be pretty easy. I just worked it for a few minutes until I got a feel for the shape and how hard to hit it. I suppose that means I can use a copper collar to fit the flange to the column. So the flange work into the hole in the lid and into the collar. It was cheap; maybe 5 bucks. That's way cheaper than a flange would have been. Once I got it fitted together I hammered it as flush as I could to make a tight seal at the lid.
The next lesson is soldering aluminum when you thought you were soldering stainless steel. I got some expensive solder and brazing rods that wouldn't work with the propane torch I use in the garage. I'll save that lesson for later when I get the stainless steel pot I want with a stainless steel lid. Silver solder doesn't work well here and it made a huge mess. I should have stuck with the regular solder and it would have been a lot cleaner. I'm going to have to do it again in the maybe-near, could-be-not-so-near future. My crappy solder will hold for now.
Now that it is all one piece I have to figure out how to get water into the cooling tubes. Most people run tap water into it but I don't really like to waste the water so I got a pump that's supposed to be for fountains. I plan on using the pump to recirculate water from a bucket, or something... I got a couple of buckets at +Menards, too.
I fired it up for the first time to test the burner and look for leaks. That's the video. It was pretty sweet to see it all work the way it was supposed to. Even with all of the steam leaks I was able to see it get warmer all the way up the column and start puffing steam at 212 degrees. When I turned on the recirculating pump it turned the steam to water and flowed well. Score. The top is heavy and wont stay upright on it's own. I tied it to the garage door opener int he video. Don't judge, I wasn't planning ahead that far.
Works pretty well but the cooling water get really warm. Not nearly enough cooling. Something else that I have to work on. Perhaps I'll use an ice bucket until I can get a good system. I wasn't expecting that but I can fix it. I was expecting to find some leaks to fix but they weren't bad at all. Alcohol vaporizes before water so there may be some more sealing to do when I run a wash through it but I believe that it will be good enough without gasket on the lid.
I don't have any thermometers in the system except for the one that makes a gaping hole in my stupid aluminum lid. the extra little hump on top was suppose to be for a thermometer but I didn't think far enough ahead to get one, and then I didn't realize that soldering a cap on the pipe makes it hard to get off, or I completely forgot. Either way, it doesn't have one at the top where I want one. I got it covered with a clamp on thermometer. As a matter of fact I got three of them so I can measure the water temperature, too.
The system works. I put it in the corner and suspended it on a hook so that the weight would be balanced. The water tubes were a little flimsy without support so I attached them to the wall. I'm still thinking that there is a way to cool the water coming out of the cooling jacket without spending a million bucks or running tap water for 6 hours.
I suppose that I need a good rum recipe now.