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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Distillation Basics

Water is critical to life.  The recent situation in Ohio and Michigan has demonstrated how fragile our water supplies can be. Yesterday, Chaplain Tim covered bleach for water purification, which is good knowledge any time your water is questionable. Today, I'll cover distillation, as it relates to making pure water. (Sorry, I have zero knowledge of how to make booze.)




Advantages & Disadvantages

Distillation is the process of converting water to steam, then cooling it back to a liquid in another container. This process removes everything from the water at the end of the process, leaving pure H2O.

Distillation is also inefficient, compared to filtration or chemical treatment.  You only get back a fraction of the water you initially put in, where other methods return virtually all input water.  There are several off-the-shelf distilling options available, such as this one, but they aren't exactly cheap.  The big benefit, though, is that you can put pretty much any water into it and have it come out clean.


Assembling Your Still

So, how do we distill water on a shoestring budget?  The parts themselves are actually fairly simple.  You need:
  • a container to hold your source water
  • a container to catch your distilled water
  • a way to move steam between the two

The chief requirement of the source water container is that it be able to tolerate high heat.  A metal soup pan or stock pot fits the bill nicely.  These also have the advantage of often having snug-fitting lids, preferably made of metal, which provides a variety of options for attaching your steam conveyance.

The clean water container mostly needs to be, well, clean.  Don't let it come into contact with any of your source water, or you risk contaminating it and needing to replace it.  In the same sense, your source water pot is for that purpose only, and cannot be used for cooking, etc., after it starts life in a still.

To move steam between the source pot and the final container, my solution is as follows:
  1. Drill a roughly 17/32" hole in the lid of your source pot. 9/16" is also acceptable, if you cannot find the muck less common 17/32. 
  2. Thoroughly wash one each of this and this, then install them in the lid, with the barb stem facing out from the pot, and the nut on the inside of the lid.  
  3. Attach a full length (at least 10 feet) of this tubing to the barb, and run the other end into your clean water container.  
  4. Support the tubing to keep it out of the way and clear of your source pot, preferably running it up above both of your containers.  
  5. You now have a basic still.


Blue Collar Distillation

To run your still, simply put a quantity of water into your source pan and add heat.  You're trying to generate steam, so a rolling boil is what you're after.  As the water heats up, steam vents up the tube and cools back into water, which then flows down into your clean container as pure, drinkable water.

You can use a wide variety of methods to convey the steam between the containers.  My recommendation is based on the tools and supplies I have handy, but there are endless ways to accomplish the same end result. Longer tubes give the steam more time to cool into water. making the still run far more easily.  The more sealed your initial pot/lid/tube assembly is, the more efficient your still will be, and the more water you'll get back in relation to your input water amount.

Lokidude


(Author's note. The initial version of this article contained references to distilled water stripping minerals from the body. This was based on old science that appears to have been successfully rebutted. The references have been removed. My apologies.)

The Fine Print


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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