Two Low-Cost Homemade Stills

If you're thinking of making your own alcohol fuel, here are two designs for homemade stills. One has a two inch diameter column, the other a 4" diameter column.

| July/August 1980

  • 064 homemade still - diagram, 2 inch
    Diagram shows parts and assembly method for a homemade still with a 2" diameter column.
  • 064 homemade still - diagram, 4 inch
    Diagram shows the parts and assembly relationships for a homemade still with a 4" diameter column.

  • 064 homemade still - diagram, 2 inch
  • 064 homemade still - diagram, 4 inch

Now that the "grassroots" homemade alcohol fuel movement is rapidly gaining momentum, it's no wonder that farmsteaders and town dwellers alike are searching for simple, cost-effective ways to "brew up their own." And, of course, the major start-up expense—especially for a small-scale operation—is the cost of the equipment itself.

With this concern in mind, MOTHER EARTH NEWS is glad to provide her readers with a couple of backyard homemade still designs from alcohol researcher/self-publisher Clarence Goosen ... which have not only proven themselves effective, but which anyone with welding skills can construct inexpensively in a matter of hours. The first distillery—simply a tank within a tank—makes a great "test bed" for various column designs and mash recipes. By scrounging parts, anyone should be able to construct the mini-still for about $25, and the tiny "percolator" can turn out almost 1/2 gallon of 180-proof fuel per hour.

The major components of Clarence's baby distillery are two discarded water heater tanks (formerly electrically fired models are easier to work with, and non-galvanized units don't give off noxious fumes during the cutting and welding process as do their "coated" cousins) ... some pipe for the column, filler, and drain ... copper conduit for the condenser assembly ... and a few assorted fittings and pieces of steel stock.

When choosing the tanks you'll use, make sure your "vat-to-be" is leak-free, and about 4" smaller in diameter (and 12" to 16" shorter in height) than is the "firebox" container. Before you cut the top off the larger tank and weld the small cauldron to it, mark the spot where the drain pipe will protrude through the firebox wall, and cut a 6" X 6" opening in the larger container's jacket at that point.

The two-inch column can be filled with rolled-up nylon window screening, or—if you weld a perforated plate at the bottom of the tube—it can be packed with short sections of 1/2" copper conduit, loosely woven rustproof metal scrubbing pads, or commercial packing (if you're willing to pay the additional cost of the manufactured material). The condenser is nothing more than a conduit set within a larger tube that serves as a water jacket. (If you want to keep track of column temperature for testing purposes, replace the outlet elbow for the vapors with a tee fitting ... which can then be adapted to serve as a thermometer well.)

A Slightly Larger Unit, Too

The second design—a four-inch column model—is capable of producing about two gallons per hour of 90% pure ethanol fuel. Naturally, because this model is larger and somewhat more sophisticated than the two-inch column still, its cost is greater ... but the entire assembly can probably be built for under $200 in about 30 hours of spare time tinkering in your shop.

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