This is more of a hypothetical question!

Disclaimer: I have no intention of doing home distillation in any form whatsoever.

In most countries home distillation of any alcohol products is illegal.

It is only legal in New Zealand. Some European countries turn a blind eye to it, but elsewhere it is illegal, with punishment ranging from fines to imprisonment or floggings.

Australians - You can possess a still of <5L capacity, but not produce spirits from it.

[In Bulgaria,] you can take your fermented fruits to a special facility and distill them without paying any tax if you are registered as home producer. Registration is free. The only limitation is that you can distill up to 1000l of fermented fruits and of course you need to pay for the time you are using the still (it can take about 200 litres at a time). - Home Distillation of Alcohol.

That said, how can one make a homemade still for making spirits at home safely?


6 Answers 6


For small-batch home distillation, hypothetically, a large (24 qt.) stainless steel stockpot makes an economical and effective pot still for 5 gal. batches. You will need a large stainless salad bowl of equal diameter, which when inverted makes an ideal lid.

A hole in the top center of the inverted salad bowl for installation of a threaded boss, for attachment of copper tubing which will be coiled in a bucket of ice water to serve as a condenser. The seal between pot and lid is best done with a split length of silicone tubing, using bread dough to patch and seal leaks during the boil (you don't want leaks, it wastes product and could be dangerous). The lid gets clamped on during the boil with squeexe clamps, c-clamps, locking pliers, etc.

A small hole in the lid for insertion of a thermometer, also sealed with bread dough, allows close monitoring of overhead vapor temperature. The overhead temperature indicates the composition of the vapor thus the composition of the condensate/distillate as well.

Of course, this is for distillation of water (which is legal to do at home) but do it outside on a camping stove and keep a fire extinguisher handy nonetheless.


Speaking of safety: don't forget about methanol:

A simple (but effective) rule of thumb for this is to throw away the first 50 mL you collect (per 20 L mash used) for a reflux still. If using a potstill, make it more like 100-200 mL. Do this, and you have removed all the hazardous foreshots, including the methanol.


The biggest risk during distillation is boiling over the pot and having flammable liquid run into an open flame.

I've heard of stills in the NW United States that use steam as a heat source instead of some sort of open flame. I'm not sure of the logistics, the creation of the steam might be in another room for example and pumped into the room with the still.

  • 1
    I think explosion of your pressure vessel or ignition of vapour can be an even bigger risk :-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 20:19

Don't do it in your home.

Set it up 40+ feet from you home in the open or covered shed with open walls. I have a BS in chemical engineering but an alcohol still is pretty basic. Creating the mash is the harder part.

There are many kits on the Internet. Don't get in a hurry and heat it too fast.

  • I have seen a mobile still unit in at a farmers residence when I was in France. I cannot recall clearly how it was set up, but I believe he had it rigged onto a metal framed trailer, thus being able to move it around with a truck or whatever .
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 11:22
  • @KenGraham OK you have seen one on a trailer. Did I answer your question?
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 11:49

The Illegality issue is rooted in the sale of illegal substances AND/OR not paying Taxes on substances used. The BIG issue for anyone is Fire and Explosion. These problems kill or maim people and destroy property.

However, edification is useful: These two Google Search Links should be a good start to orient your understanding of the distillation of solvents.

Drinking alcohol is ethanol. Ethanol is a Solvent in the realm of chemistry.

(1) Laboratory Solvent Distillation https://www.google.com/search?q=Laboratory+Solvent+Distillation

(2) {since i don't have 10 reputation points i can not hyperlink the second Search for you... so you will be forced to do it yourself:} "Laboratory Solvent Tower Distillation"


Building a Good Distillation Tower . . . the down and dirty way:

Glass column . . . fill with glass beads. Exit point ==> condensation coil.


The glass beads cause vapors to condense while being boiled off (lighter vapor rises higher up the column).

And thus different alcohols are separated from each other without having to have a Super Tall tower.

A column of vapor has increasingly higher temperature(s) toward the top, lower temperature(s) toward the bottom. Lighter (less dense) molecules heat up first and rise to the top [e.g. Methanol (ethyl alcohol); that make you go blind]. Lighter alcohols come off first (rise to the exit point), to then condense traveling through a chilled condensation tube. After all the lighter methyl alcohol is gone (thrown away, or stored separately as a cleaner solvent), the temperature jumps up to the next more complex, more dense, alcohol. That specific temperature is exact.

With a thermometer tip (or sensor) placed within the exit point you know when a temperature change occurs. THIS is how you know you are starting to take off ETHANOL, the drinking alcohol. The next alcohol to come off (after methanol) would be ETHANOL . . . that is safe to drink.

Just as Matt Fitzgerald said above: “A simple (but effective) rule of thumb for this is to throw away the first 50 mL you collect (per 20 L mash used) for a reflux still. If using a potstill, make it more like 100-200 mL. Do this, and you have removed all the hazardous foreshots, including the methanol.”

Fusel oil alcohols (Google)

  • 1
    your statement; "A column of vapor has increasingly higher temperature(s) toward the top, lower temperature(s) toward the bottom" is inherently and indisputably incorrect as it relates to distillation. Lower boiling point components boil off first (at lower temperature) and condense last as they travel up the distillation column. The coolest material that remains a vapor will always be higher in the vapor column. Hot at the bottom, cool at the top. Commented Jun 22, 2018 at 23:29
  • You are correct, Jimmy. I, wrongly, inverted the words. Your phraseology works correctly.
    – theIRF
    Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 19:49
  • thank YOU for the excellent suggestion of glass bead packing in the column, it seems an economical alternative to reflux! Commented Jun 24, 2018 at 19:58
  • - Jimmy, I remember the Column (12"D) in my university Chemistry Building (30ft apx). It filled with glass beads (2"apx). It was designed by our Dean of Science and Chem Dept Head. - He also invented Plastic Explosive. He carried a crate of it on his lap in a Douglas C-47, to the WW2 troops. He told us about how the ground & flight crew personnel were terrified of its explosive potential because they thought it was like Nitro Glycerin. They just would not believe his explanation that it was harmless unless fused with a detonator.
    – theIRF
    Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 22:30

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