Assembling your Dual Purpose Still Column


Posted by Jeff on 22nd June 2014

 
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You bought your fancy new still column for moonshine, and it finally arrives on your doorstep. Oh, the excitement! But wait… what are all these pieces? How do I get this darn thing together?

We get that question a lot. And, unfortunately, a lot of how you assemble and run your still tower is personal preference. For example, there are many different ways to pack a reflux tower or hook up the cooling hoses. If you haven’t already, I would read our article on Column Packing – Copper Mesh vs Raschig Rings to figure out what type of column packing you want.

So, here is our method of tower assembly that we would recommend starting with if you don’t know where else to start.

Running your dual purpose tower as a reflux still:

Assembled Column with Hoses Attached

Assembled Column with Hoses Attached

1. Place 1 roll of copper mesh (rolled up in a cylinder shape like you received it, but with a smaller diameter so that it fits into the tower) into the bottom of the bottom part of the tower by shoving it through from the side opposite the 3 pins on the inside of the pipe (the pins will help hold the mesh in place during operation). Place 1 roll of mesh up into the top part of the tower so that it is right in the middle of the reflux chamber (this helps conduct heat, making the reflux condenser purpose more efficient)

2. Attach the bottom part of the tower to the ferrule on your boiler. You should feel it when the lip on the gasket slides into the groove in the ferrule on each side (the gasket being seated properly is important for a good seal). You can then wrap the clamp around both ferrules and screw down the knob on the clamp to firmly clamp it in place.

3. Pour the raschig rings in until they are just below the top of the lower portion of the tower and place the perforated metal disc on top (this helps distribute the reflux evenly as it runs down the tower).

4. Attach the top part of the tower, using a gasket like you did in step 2.

5. Screw the thermometer into the thermowell and clamp the thermowell in place using the 1.5 inch gasket and clamp.

6. Attach the cooling water source input tube to the lower barbed fitting on the condenser (the long, skinny, diagonal one). To attached these, simply tighten/screw down the hose clamp down on the tubing on the barbed connector. Do not over-tighten it, though, or you may actually cause it to leak.

7. Attach a crossover tube from the top of the condenser to the bottom of the reflux chamber.

8. Attach the cooling water output tube to the top of the reflux chamber and run it to wherever you want it to drain

Running your reflux tower as a pot still:

1. Place 1 or 2 rolls of mesh up into the top part of the tower. This is just sacrificial copper to provide a large surface area that the sulfides can react with.

2. Attach the top part of the tower to the ferrule on your boiler. You should feel it when the lip on the gasket slides into the groove in the ferrule (the gasket being seated properly is important for a good seal). You can then screw down the knob on the clamp to firmly clamp it in place.

3. Screw the thermometer into the thermowell and clamp the thermowell in place using the 1.5 inch gasket and clamp.

4. Attach the cooling water source input tube to the lower barbed fitting on the condenser.

5. Attach the cooling water output tube to the top of the condenser and run it to any available drain.

Variations

 As we mentioned above, there are many way to set up your still, and what it comes down to is preference. But if you find something that works well for you, by all means, switch it up! Here are a few things you might consider:
-All copper mesh packing (more expensive, and you will have to replace all the copper mesh eventually, but you won’t need to clean it as often)
-Not packing you entire column so that more flavor comes through
-Putting a separate valve on both condensers so that you can individually control the flow to each
-Anything else you can think of that makes sense!

As always, if you have questions, please leave them in the comments section below and I will do my best to answer them!

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23 thoughts on “Assembling your Dual Purpose Still Column

  1. Kurt Mitchell

    i was using a keg with a propane burnner and your 2 inch tower and i was getting good stuff 140 proof but tasted terible so I thought mabey i was scorching the mash so i bought ypor 8gallon milk can and the electric controler stuff put it all together and did a run it came out supper cloudy did i fill the milkcan to full?

    Reply
    1. Jeff Post author

      Kurt, cloudy distillate can be several things, but I have seen it most commonly when people collect too far into the tails of their run. As the alcohol concentration decreases, there are compounds that are soluble in higher alcohol solutions that begin to separate out as more water is added to the mixture. This also makes them much more apparent via smell and taste. My advice would be to run it through the still again, or run it through through a carbon filter!

      Reply
  2. Matt

    Would be nice to see a few detailed pics or video on both set ups you mentioning. I was lead to believe that I may have mine set up wrong after calling today. I spent almost 10 hours and produced about half gallon. I was happy that it came out so clear and it proofed at 170. Not sure why so little actually boiled off. It was suggested I may have something set up wrong and that a good portion of what is boiled is staying in my still. Please help.
    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Jeff Post author

      Hi Matt, we definitely understand how this can be a little confusing without images, so we assembled one of the stills in our shop and took a picture for you. Please check it out, and let me know if it still doesn’t make sense!

      Reply
      1. matt

        I read your reply. Thank you. I have run the input water both in at the bottom and at the top of the condenser and into the top of the reflux. In short I have run the water in two directions and find that it is very slow in regards to output. Do I need to keep the cooling water a certain temp, or do I need to make sure the overall temp displayed at top of condenser stays at certain temp? (Ie 180 to 200?)

        I suspect a lot of what I was boiling was falling back down into pot as a result of cooling to fast. This happened regardless if I ran the input water into the condenser or if I ran the input water into the reflux.

        I played with running water threw the condenser only and found I could increase my output. Far great than my original attempt of .5 gallon in 14 hours. I was not concerned with the quality at this point. I was working on productivity.

        Thank You for your time.
        O I had the hoses hooked up correctly. Again, I think it was a combination of water input and how cold the water was.

        Reply
  3. matt

    I lied. I reviewed my setup. I see what I was doing wrong when I compare to your pic. I had the top of condensing coil hook up to top of Reflux. THat might be my problem

    Reply
  4. Darrell

    Talking about water flow for cooling, will it help to install a valve to the out put line to the drain to create back pressure against the supply. This way you can control flow thru the system not just to the system by throttling this valve??

    Reply
    1. Jeff Post author

      Typically most people don’t install a valve on the outflow side, because then the pressure builds up inside the system. The stainless steel can certainly handle it, but often the vinyl tubing cannot!

      Reply
    1. Jeff Post author

      To be honest, I just let it drip out the end and into my parrot. However, there are many different types of hose you can use, just make sure it is ethanol resistant so that it doesn’t leach flavors or chemicals into your distillate!

      Reply
  5. Philip

    I only bought one roll of copper. The first step above seems to require two rolls of copper. Am I misunderstanding something?

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Jeff Post author

      You will need 2 rolls of copper mesh, however, the 1 lb rolls that we sell are usually enough to make 2 rolls for both the 2 and 3 inch columns.

      Reply
  6. tom saunders

    ihave a ferment, of some 7 days, i would like to store it until another more opertune time, relatives arrived, i have a good new pop tank, can keep this fermented batch for a long time in this tank, seems like a large wine bottle of stainless steel???????

    Reply
    1. Jeff Post author

      Hi Tom, I am not completely sure I understand what is is that you will be storing the mash in, but if it is stainless steel, you sanitize it well, and you use an airlock, it should be fine!

      Reply
  7. Pingback: Some Fermenting Tips | Food Is My BESTFRIEND Food Is My BESTFRIEND

  8. J

    Why are the thermometers mounted at the top of the tower after the reflux chamber? Wouldn’t it be more accurate at the top of the boiler or the bottom of the column?

    Reply
    1. Jeff Post author

      The thermometer is mounted there so that it can measure the temperature of the vapor right before it is condensed down and run out of the still. You can monitor this temperature to make sure it is steady and you are getting proper reflux action, as well as know you are about done with the run when it starts rising rapidly.

      Reply
  9. ken g

    Hi Jeff, I have your 8 gallon pot still with the 2″ top I am looking to convert to the 3″ dual purpose tower. what else would I need to purchase ?
    Ken G.

    Reply
    1. Jeff Post author

      There are two different routes, both are simple! First, you could purchase a new lid with a 3″ connection on the top (all of our lids are interchangeable). The other option would be to buy a 2″ to 3″ adapter.

      Reply

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