Quick made fixture for distillation apparatus

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Project by Sodabowski posted 05-20-2014 11:13 PM 3067 views 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hi LJs. It’s been several months since my last post, moreover on the geek side, so here comes.

So I’ve been wanting to build/get a decent distillation apparatus for many years. Since I started a Masters Degree on education last year, I got to play a lot with laboratory devices as part of my chemistry cursus (we teach both physics and chemistry here in France). This helped me a lot to be more familiar with the existing devices, and I settled on the “buy it” approach… for starters. So I spent a little (really) money on ebay for chinese lab glassware. First surprise is the build quality of the stuff. I really scored big time on that one (only the thermometer is poor quality, but I can swap it easily). For $65 including intl tracked postage, I got the whole apparatus for the price of a single 200 ml round flask!

I decided not to buy the metal stands that are used in the lab, since I can build one in wood myself, and I won’t be heating the hell out of this stuff. My purpose is to vacuum boil plants mixtures to extract essential oils.

I used a scrap test piece from last year, which was a failed attempt to build a long straight edge with integrated rotary blade to cut leather strips. It had a sliding dovetail channel, and the corresponding piece: I used the slider as a support for the glassware, drilling holes to fasten them with rubber bands (green in the pictures). The dovetail shape helps center and secure the round glass elements, which is pretty nifty. The long board got hand cut into three pieces to form the frame, with the routed channel at the back side: eventually it will be used for sliding feet to raise or lower the whole assembly, as a means to regulate the heat on the boiling flask. For now I made a quick L-shaped foot that I fastened with spring clamps for the tests. The feet will be made this summer at the parents’, since I left my router and bits there.

Long story short, in less than an hour I had a sturdy assembly with pocket screws and made my first home distillation. Sort of… I had no vacuum grease so I had leaks (like the Wiki doodz) and lost a bit of the ethanol I boiled off a test mix. Temperature rise was fast and the glass held very well. I used a miniature aquarium pump and my trusty iron casserole to feed the Liebig condenser (the tilted linear part) and it worked very well.

For a 1€ board at the beginning, I’m pretty pleased. Sorry for the messy 1AM kitchen ;)

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

20 comments so far

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 3065 days

#1 posted 05-20-2014 11:30 PM

Soooo, are you making Bourbon? or just moonshine!!

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4205 days

#2 posted 05-21-2014 12:01 AM

Maybe a nice batch of Calvados!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View bbrewer's profile


43 posts in 3033 days

#3 posted 05-21-2014 12:22 AM

That looks neat. Who did you buy from on e-bay? I’m looking for parts to build a small still for use at farmers markets. Looking more for pot boiler type system, but would like quality parts for less money. Hoga in Spain makes some pretty classy equipment. My wife and I are hoping to start production distilling lavender essential oil next year, maybe the year after.

-- Tom southern MI

View whitewulf's profile


456 posts in 3995 days

#4 posted 05-21-2014 02:00 AM

All u need is “VASOLENE!!”

-- "ButI'mMuchBetterNow"

View Woodwrecker's profile


4240 posts in 4633 days

#5 posted 05-21-2014 02:41 AM

Very cool brother.
And it looks like you have it figured out well !

View Ken90712's profile


17984 posts in 4247 days

#6 posted 05-21-2014 08:15 AM

I think I saw this on Moonshiners, Popcorn Sutton? LOL great job and nice score.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View Sodabowski's profile


2400 posts in 3891 days

#7 posted 05-21-2014 10:11 AM

@Joe & Dean: Calva for starters wit the apples from the parents’ garden ;) Seriously though, mere ethanol for the moment, then essential oils.

For more serious production this kit is way too small, the best yeasts can yield up to 20% alcohool, but since this kit has a vacuum hose I can pump it down to reach a pressure at which ethanol evaporates at around 35°C without killing the yeasts.

@Tom the seller is “nanshinsales” on ebay, here's the 500 mL kit I got, and the 1L kit if you want to get bigger. In any case you can merely get a bigger boiling flask with the same joint size ;) Shoot me a PM if you need help with the setup, particularly the watercooling circuit (always feed from the bottom!)

Thanks for the nice words everyone ;)

@Ken: BTW guess who’s getting married next month? :D

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View Underdog's profile


1650 posts in 3093 days

#8 posted 05-21-2014 11:59 AM


What’s that hemorrhoid looking piece of glass do?

-- Jim, Georgia, USA

View chrisstef's profile


18129 posts in 4064 days

#9 posted 05-21-2014 12:47 PM

Coolest bong ive ever seen ;)

Seriously looks pretty cool. I rarely know what in the hell youre talking about but I can see in the pictures that it works. Your ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. Good stuff brother.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Sodabowski's profile


2400 posts in 3891 days

#10 posted 05-21-2014 01:26 PM

@ Underdog: it’s a Vigreux column, it helps vapors to recondense and fall back into the boiling flask, so only the lightest make it to the top and this way you can control very precisely the temperature of the vapor you want to condense into the exit flask. Since water boils at 100°C and ethanol only at 78°C (at ambient pressure) this helps get the alcohool out of the water up to around 95%

@ chris: hahaha wait dude, how about this clear Büchner filter? :D

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View Porchfish's profile


862 posts in 3590 days

#11 posted 05-21-2014 01:33 PM

Cannabis Oil has so many medicinal properties…....some day !

-- The pig caught under the fence is always the one doing all the squealing !

View Sodabowski's profile


2400 posts in 3891 days

#12 posted 05-21-2014 01:35 PM

Well the main drawback is that it spoils the brain, I only have to see how my smokers friends ended up!
Bought some oranges today, I’ll make a second attempt :)

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View adbuett's profile


12 posts in 2937 days

#13 posted 05-21-2014 04:01 PM

A viable substitute for vacuum grease is teflon plumber’s thread tape. It’s a thin white strip of teflon that can be wrapped around fixture threads to form very tight seals. I use it all the time on our vacuum and pressure lines at the lab. One or two turns around a ground glass joint will help seal it nicely. Do not use any vasoline or non-vacuum/high temp designated greases. The Vasoline will probably melt (though at 35C it might not) and any cooking oils are going to be too thin to do much good.

View Sodabowski's profile


2400 posts in 3891 days

#14 posted 05-21-2014 11:50 PM

@adbuet Great idea the teflon, thanks a lot for this huge tip! Definitely doing that from now on (I have two rolls). I made a batch of orange essential oil today with vaseline as a joint grease (since there were no oxidizers in my boiling flask, would never do that with KMnO4!) and it didn’t melt or run, although I ran the distillation at 100°C (no vacuum right now).

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View Sodabowski's profile


2400 posts in 3891 days

#15 posted 05-21-2014 11:53 PM

1 mL of pure essential oil from the peels of three oranges (there’s water on the bottom), not bad for a first :)

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

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