This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Read our complete summary for more info.
If you're looking for instructions on how to make a moonshine still, you're in the right place. I've been building stills for almost 15 years and have a lot of experience in this area. When I made my first moonshine still the smallest piece of copper I could find was so big that I actually had enough material to build three stills, so I did. I ended up keeping one and I sold the other two. That's how Clawhammer Supply was born.
Fast forward to 2023, and I am still designing and making distillation equipment. I still find it as entertaining and rewarding as when I built my first one. When I look back at that first experience, I am very appreciative of the information that was shared with me. It was extremely helpful, and I would not have been able to build my own still without it. So, i'm happy to pass on some information to you. I also sincerely hope that you find the resources below helpful on your journey, and that your efforts to build a still are successful!
Oh, and if you like this article, you'll also find this article on how to make moonshine absolutely fascinating.
Making a Moonshine Still
Here's our complete guide to making a moonshine still at home. It's is a multi-step process and we're going to break down each step below. Use the following table to skip to the section you'd like to learn more about. Oh, and we kick the entire process off with a time lapse of a moonshine still build that shows the entire process start to finish. Here is some information to get you started
Here are the step to building a still:
- Be Safe
- Gather moonshine still parts and material
- Prepare the still parts
- Build a moonshine still boiler
- Solder the copper parts
- Build a still vapor cone and lid
- Make a moonshine still condenser
What is a Moonshine Still
Before we get started, let's define exactly what you'll be building. Copper stills, also called "moonshine stills," have a storied history in the United States. The reason these types are called "moonshine stills" is that during the US prohibition, when alcohol was outlawed, home distillers made their whiskey at night by the light of the moon to avoid getting caught. Hence the term "moonshine." As bootleggers always used copper stills, small copper stills are generally referred to as "moonshine stills."
So, the phrase "moonshine still" doesn't refer to what the stills are meant to distill. These types of stills are actually multi-purpose; they can be used to distill water, essential oils, fuel alcohol, spirits, and with the proper permits and safety precautions, moonshine.
Although alcohol is legal again, making whiskey at home, and in some cases even owing a still, remains illegal. However, the name "moonshine" endures, and the name "moonshine still" has stuck as well.
Why Moonshine Stills Are Copper
Copper stills are corrosion resistant with proper upkeep, but it takes a bit more work to maintain copper stills than it does stainless steel stills. Though, on the upside, copper is widely available, affordable, very easy to cut, easy to form, and can be soldered with basic tools and materials. And soldering is something anyone can do with little to no experience, unlike welding stainless.
Copper has been the material of choice for spirits producers for centuries and it's used to make Scotch, Irish whiskey, Canadian whiskey, Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, Japanese whiskey, rum, tequila, vodka, and more... Basically, copper is the preferred material of choice for distilling most spirits
Time lapse of a Moonshine Still Build
If you follow the guide below, the following video shows exactly what you'll be getting yourself into. It's a time lapse of the entire still building process from start to finish. Though, in the video below I'm making a 1 gallon still. In the following tutorial I'll be making a 5 gallon moonshine still.
Ok, now that you have a rough idea of how it's done. Let's get into the specifics. but before we do, please note: our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.
Tools and Safety
Here's what we'd suggest having on hand before beginning the process of building a moonshine still. We'll start with the tools you'll need to build a still as well as the safety precautions we'd suggest.
You’ll need a pair of safety gloves. I’m using heavy duty welding gloves. This will keep your hands safe when you’re soldering and handling the copper still parts. You’ll also need to work in a well ventilated area and we would also suggest wearing a VOC mask. And you’ll want to wear some safety glasses to protect your eyes.
Still Building Tools
Ok, so as far as the tools go, you don’t need anything fancy, and you could definitely get away with less stuff than we’re using here. At a bare minimum you’ll need a plumbing torch, a pair of pliers and a hammer.
I’m using a Bernzomatic 8000 torch head but this is overkill. I’d suggest buying a Bernzomatic WT2301 basic self light torch if you don’t have one already.
Pro tip: Only use propane gas to solder the copper parts. Do not use map gas or oxy acetelyne - Those will get the parts too hot. Use propane only.
You’ll also need something to manually clean the copper still parts with. A wire brush and sandpaper will do the trick. 120 grit is what i’m using here.
A basic pair of pliers are required to bend the tabs on the copper still boiler. Sheet metal pliers work best but these are absolutely not necessary.
I do highly recommend rounding up a small pair of locking pliers or a small clamp for soldering the collar in place. You'll see this in video 7. This isn't 100% necessary and you could probably get the job done without the pliers, but it'll be about 10 times less likely that the piece will solder into place correctly on the first try with the pliers.
A small hammer will be required to install the rivets. Ball peen hammers work great for this. A dolly, a random hunk of metal, or even another hammer, like a sledgehammer head will be needed for setting the rivets. An anvil is handy as well, but it isn’t a necessary item. Though, if you don’t have one, you might ask yourself why not. They look cool as hell and can be used for all sorts of stuff.
Also, a vice isn’t necessary, but really comes in handy when soldering the copper column and condenser. This is another one of those basic items that everyone should own anyway, so consider picking up a small vice if you don’t have one already. Like i said, you can build a copper still with less stuff than this, but these are the tools i’ll be using in this video.
You'll need a few consumables aside from the copper parts. Namely solder and flux. This part is very important: only use water soluble plumbing grade flux and lead free plumbing solder. In fact, you can buy both of these on our site by clicking on the links and i’d suggest that you do so to make sure you’re using the right stuff. While you’re there, pick up a couple of flux brushes too. If you don't use water soluble flux you're going to have a heck of a time getting the flux off of your still and if you don't use lead free solder then it's not going to be safe to distill anything with. So make sure you're using those two specific materials.
Moonshine Still Parts and Materials
Always use C-110 food grade copper when building a copper still. In the timelapse and in this video series i'm using parts from a Clawhammer Supply still kit. They're computer designed, machine cut, and make the building process go very smooth.
The list of the parts you'll need are as follows. This is also the list of part that come with the Clawhammer copper still kits.
- (2) 90 degree, half inch street elbows;
- (2) ½ by ½ by ¾ tees;
- (1) 45 degree coupling;
- (2) small pieces of half inch copper tubing;
- (1) larger piece of ½ inch tubing;
- (1) piece of ¾ tubing;
- A long piece of 1 ½ inch tubing;
- An inch and a half to half inch reducer coupling;
- Some solid copper rivets;
- (1) large rectangle for the still boiler wall;
- (1) thin rectangular piece of copper for the collar
- A “C shaped” piece to serve as the still’s vapor cone
- (1) slightly tapered piece of copper for the cap skirt
- A 1 circular boiler bottom
- And a cap plate, which is at least 17 gauge copper
Note, all material should be made with c-110 copper. We always suggest requesting to see the materials certificate from the manufacturer, which guarantees that the alloy is what it's claimed to be.
Prepping Copper Still Parts
The very first step of the actual build process is to bend the "teeth" at the bottom of the boiler so they are perpendicular to main body of the boiler. The circular boiler bottom will sit on the "ledge" you create by bending these teeth. So the closer you get these to a 90 degree angle, the easier it will be to solder the bottom together.
Next, before soldering, make sure to sand or score every edge and then apply flux to every seam before you solder. If you don't do this you're going to have a really difficult time getting the solder to stick to the copper. This is a really important step, so don't skip it. If you do, you'll more than likely end up with a big mess. It's possible to fix, but it isn't easy. So always sand or score every part before soldering and always use flux.
Building a Moonshine Still Boiler
So what I'm doing in this first part of the video is forming the parts together by hand and then riveting all of the parts together to make a moonshine still boiler. If you rivet everything first, it makes things go a little faster once you start soldering.
One thing to note about the rivets is that they do not need to be smashed flat. Really all you need to do is get the rivets in the pre-drilled rivet holes and tap them a few times just so they balloon out enough to secure the copper together. The structural support for the still is actually provided by the solder itself. Riveting the parts make it easier to solder the still together. It also looks cool. So, that's why we use the rivets.
Soldering The Still Boiler
I started soldering by sealing the boiler. Next I dropped the bottom in and soldered it to the boiler. After that, I move on to the vapor cone and then I solder the vapor cone to the boiler.Once the cone is soldered to the still boiler, solder the small "collar piece" into the top of the cone.
Note that the boiler, vapor cone, and the collar make up one part of the assembly. Nothing else gets soldered to this part of the still. The next step in the process is building the column assembly, which friction fits to the boiler, once it is all finished. Do not solder these two sections together or you won't be able to fill, empty, or clean the still.
Build a Still Vapor Cone and Lid
After liquid in a still begins to boil, it will travel through the path of least resistance to the exit point. To ensure that the vapor has a smooth trip, a vapor cone is built on the top of the boiler. And to make the interior of the still accessible for filling, draining, and cleaning, the vapor cone is attached to a lid. How to build both are shown in this video.
How to Make a Still Condenser
Next, assemble and solder the cap plate, the cap skirt, and the column, and the condenser parts.
Begin by soldering the cap skirt together. Next solder the cap plate into the cap skirt. After that solder the column into the cap plate. After that assemble and solder the condenser parts and attach them to the top of the column.
Finishing the Copper Still
There is really no way to build a copper still without making a mess of the parts. They always need cleaned and polished once they're built. I like to kill two birds with one stone by cleaning and polishing at the same time. To do this, I use 100 grit sandpaper. Sandpaper will take excess solder, and carbon deposits right off. It makes the still look nice and shiny too. If you want a mirror finish, feel free to buff the still after sanding. Just keep in mind that if you're actually going to use the still, it will be very difficult to keep it shiny. That's just the way things go!