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October 19, 2015

Copper Stills vs. Stainless Steel Stills

Stainless steel still vs copper still distilling

Copper or stainless? That is the question. It's answered here!

If your gut feeling is that there is a clear winner, think again. Each material type presents its own set of trade-offs. The bottom line is that copper is better for some things and stainless is better for others. We'll break down all of the differences below.

We'll begin with the most basic and obvious differences.

Copper Distillers

The reasons that copper is often used for distilling are as follows: it is a great conductor of heat, it will remove sulfur compounds, and is an easy metal to work with.The main drawbacks of copper are higher cost and the fact that they are more difficult to keep clean. 

Stainless Steel Distillers

The best features of stainless are, it is less expensive than copper, it is very durable, and also easy to clean. The main drawbacks with stainless steel are it is not the best conductor of heat, and stainless steel won't remove sulfur compounds from the wash.

Stainless / Copper Hybrid Distillers

Sometimes the best solution is a compromise. Depending on what you're using the still for and what features you want, a stainless boiler with a copper column might be the best solution. Read on for more details.

How to Decide Which Still Is Best for You?

So, copper or stainless? Well, there is more to consider than solely the material properties. The bottom line is that each type is slightly more appropriate at completing certain tasks. In other words, copper stills are better at doing some things while stainless stills are better at doing others.

To figure out which type of distiller is best for you, all you need to do is ask yourself a few simple questions (below). Read the question, answer it, then click on the links below to read our opinion on which type of still is better for that particular task.

What are you distilling?

What types of features do you want to add?

Do you want a pre-built still or will you build your own?

What Are You Distilling?

Always use the right tools for the job. Probably heard that one before, right? It definitely applies to distilling. Below is a list of potential uses for stills and direction on which type of still would be best for the job.


This one is essentially a tie. Stainless stills aren't going to distill water any better than copper will, and vise versa. If you're looking to purify water by means of distillation, you can't go wrong either way. Copper and stainless will do the job equally well.

Essential Oils

Functionally, stainless and copper stills will do an equal job of distilling essential oils.This one is going to be a tie as well!

Fuel Alcohol

OK, this category has a clear winner, assuming that we're comparing a stainless steel still that is completely sealed with mechanical connections (ferrules, tri-clamps, etc.). If this is the case, stainless steel fuel alcohol distillers definitely beat copper.

Fuel alcohol distillers need to have reflux capabilities because the final product needs to be extremely high proof. Because of this, a still with bubble plates should be used and this requires a boiler / column assembly that can withstand a slight amount of pressure. Essentially, all of the parts of such a still need to be clamped, bolted, soldered, or welded together. Old timey copper stills with friction fit parts aren't appropriate for this.

Distilled Spirits (Whiskey, Vodka, Moonshine, Etc.)

Overall, copper is better for distilling spirits because the material removes sulfides from distillate, which produces a better tasting and smelling final product. Copper is definitely the better choice for products like Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, Irish Whiskey, Scotch, and traditional Rum, because of the sulfur reduction, as mentioned above.  These spirits are also most commonly distilled in pot stills (no reflux), which allows for lots of flavor to come through from the wash. Copper stills are great for high proof spirits like vodka too. Tito's Vodka, for example, is distilled in a copper pot. However, vodka is best distilled in vessels with a reflux column, as it can be done quicker that way.

This isn't to say that stainless stills can't be used to distill spirits. In fact, a stainless pot with a copper column, or a 100% stainless still packed with copper mesh, are both excellent options for producing spirits.

Additional Features?

Odds are that you're going to want to add some additional gauges, functionality, etc. to your still. This section will tell you which material type is better for which features.

Standard Components

In their most simple form, stills consist of a boiler (where the liquid is held), some sort of a cone, cap, or dome (where the vapor initially rises out of the boiler), a lyne arm or a column (where the proof can be altered, depending on the style), and a condenser (where the vapor is turned back into a liquid). It sounds complicated, but stills are much more simple than people realize.

Any vessel with all of these components is capable of distilling. Such a piece of equipment could be used to purify water, concentrate essential oils, and increase the proof of alcohol to make ethanol or distilled spirits like whiskey.

However, there are a few basic add-on's that one should definitely consider building into a still to increase its functionality and the quality of its products.

Temp gauges

Temperature gauges can be added to copper or stainless steel stills, but adding ports (if they're not already built into the still) copper is much easier. For example, adding a 1/2" NPT fitting to a copper boiler is as easy as drilling a hole and soldering in a bung. To add the same fitting to stainless, you'd need to have TIG welding equipment and experience.

Copper packing

Copper packing can easily be added to both stainless and copper stills with ease. This one is a tie.

Pressure gauge

Pressure gauges can be added to copper or stainless. However, just like the temp gauge example above, adding one to a copper still will likely be a bit easier.

Bubble plates

Bubble plates and sight glasses should only be added to stills that are able to withstand at least a slight amount of pressure without leaking. This rules out a lot of copper stills. For example, Clawhammer's copper stills use a friction fit connection and rye flour paste to join the boiler with the column. This type of configuration is not compatible with bubble plates, as it could potentially cause vapor to leak out of the seam between the two parts.

Bubble plates will be compatible with almost all stainless steel stills, because all of the parts on stainless stills are joined by mechanical fittings such as tri-clover fittings. So, stainless wins this one.

Electric heating element

Electric heating elements are compatible with both copper and stainless stills. However, once again, they're probably easier to build into a copper still if there isn't a port for one already. Note, Clawhammer's stainless 8 gallon includes a built in fitting for a heating element.

Buy or Build?

This is an important question. If you have strong opinions on whether you want to buy or build a still, this section will definitely push you in one direction or the other.

Buy a still

Obviously buying a still is going to be more expensive up-front, because it takes a lot of time and effort to build a still, which you end up paying for when you buy a still. There are plenty of pre-built copper and stainless options out there. If you're only criteria for purchasing a still is that it needs to be pre-built, you'll have a lot of models to choose from in copper and stainless. For example, Clawhammer Supply sells a pre-built Stainless Steel Still.

If you're looking for more information on pre-built stainless steel stills, make sure to check out our detailed article on stainless steel distillation equipment.

Build a still

If the idea of building one of our DIY copper still kits sounds appealing then copper is going to be the best choice for you. Copper is malleable, meaning that it bends and forms easily. It's relatively soft and is very easy to cut with a sturdy pair of tin snips. It's also easy build bond copper parts to one another and can be soldered with little experience and inexpensive tools.

The hardest part about building a still is going to be fabricating the parts. Our DIY copper moonshine still kits are a great option for folks who like to build and love DIY projects, but don't have the desire or capability to work out the geometry of the parts. The parts are machine cut and fit together perfectly.

Final Verdict

It will be hard to go wrong with either type of still. Copper and stainless stills have slightly different properties and each excel at slightly different tasks, but are also versatile enough to not be that different from one another. a stainless or copper still. If you're on the fence, hopefully the list above will point you in the right direction and push you over the edge. At the end of the day either still type will probably work great and you'll most likely be happy with your final decision, whatever it may be.

Copper moonshine still for sale

  • I am looking for a 20 gallon Stainless Steel -thicker wall-still with a column appropriate for fruit brandy. Would appreciate your guidance

    Posted by Jerry nesnadny on May 12, 2021
  • Hi,
    Just wondering if you can ship to ireland ,
    Thanks john

    Posted by John on February 11, 2021
  • Do you have any alembic copper still sets (60 litre and above)?

    If so what would the total price including shipping to melbourne australia be?

    Posted by SErge on June 11, 2020
  • I am interested in purchasing your 10 gallon kit set copper stil. Do you send to New Zealand and could you supply a rough cost of freight please.

    Posted by PAul LELievre on April 29, 2020
  • What thickness should my stainless steel be to make my still

    Posted by Jessica on April 06, 2020
  • In regards to cleaning a copper still I have found the easiest and best way is to run some vinegar through the still, it will become sparkling clean inside.

    Posted by Nasa on August 28, 2019
  • I read about the 8 gallon stainless. You said it has a port for a heating element. Please explain how it works. Thanks for the emails. Looking forward to the next.

    Posted by BOb on July 15, 2019
  • please send me a complete drawing to build the still

    Posted by Willem van biljon on June 18, 2019
  • Can I get more flavor making rye by taking the 4 or less plates out of column (bubble ) and make more of hybrid system .will this work on your 8 gal still

    Posted by Randy kaul on June 12, 2019
  • please send me details regarding distillation of giranium in india with shipping cost and all .

    Posted by abhay on May 22, 2019
  • I need to add my copper tubing to the hot pot and wanted to know the best way to seal the holes and tubing

    Posted by Joe on March 21, 2019
  • hi…..Great Blog! Thanks for sharing this information.
    Moonshine still boilers

    Posted by Moonshine Still on March 12, 2019
  • I have a 5 gallon all stainless with thumper, no column to pack. can i place copper mesh in the thumper container along with the thumper liquid and obtain the same results as a packed column?

    Posted by David G on January 11, 2019
  • What additional components would I need to a 5 gallon copper still to be able to make Gin with a basket ( or whatever you think is the easieast way ?
    What is the cost to tbe UK ?

    Kind Regards


    Posted by Bernie on July 25, 2018
  • I’m using a inox still With 4 copper plates inside the column. The system goes under vacuum distillation, where the boiling temperature is only 45 c. Do you believe that it is enough to cut out sulfur compounds and bad aromas as well as bad flavours in the final distillate (cachaça)?

    Posted by Ricardo on May 03, 2018
  • How much of each batch do you throw out? It’s methanol, right?

    Posted by Kathy Boes on April 23, 2018
  • Will the bubble plats in my 4 inch s/s still remove all the sulfite I have 4 plates

    Posted by Tony on April 02, 2018
  • I use sweet feed pellets but I cook the mash for one hour at 150 degrees does the matters if it’s petes or not?

    Posted by BEau BOnin on March 08, 2018
  • I purchased a stainless steel column bubbler from you can I ad a cooper column if I am not happy with the outcome of the spirits?

    Posted by Michael Mcguire on February 10, 2018
  • I see where this question was asked earlier. Will the copper column on the hybrid still remove sulfites? Will the hybrid be a good choice for bourbon and moonshine?

    Posted by Scott Baker on January 16, 2018

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