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January 9, 2019

How to Run a Still with an Electric Controller

Before we get started, a reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits. 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.

A still can be heated with an electric hot plate, propane, or even over a fire. However, it is best to run stills with an electric heating element and a digital controller. When running a still with an electric heating element and digital controller there is no need to worry about filling a propane tank, open flames, or a hot plate cycling. The best thing about running a still with a controller is the ability to easily dial in the drip rate.

In order to heat a still with an electric heating element you will need a few things.

1) You will need a still - either stainless or copper.
This link has all of our stills.

2) You will need an electric heating element adapter and controller.
This link has our controllers and adapters.

Installing the heating element adapter on one of our stainless stills is extremely easy. Attach the heating element adapter with a tri-clamp and gasket. The full video install is located here.

It is also easy to retrofit our heating element adapter to a copper still with a  copper still heating element adapter kit. The copper adapter kit includes everything you need to add a heating element to a copper still. 

The Clawhammer Supply digital controller is able to run in a set value mode as well as in manual mode. When running a still with a digital controller it is best to run the controller in manual mode. Read the directions on switching the controller to manual mode in this article.

How to Use a Digital PID Controller to Run a Still

  1. Attach the heating element to the still.
  2. Install the thermowell for the temperature sensor in the boiler thermometer location on the still. 
  3. Install the temperature sensor from the Clawhammer Supply controller into the thermowell. The temperature sensor will simply slide into the thermowell. The thermowell is included in our heating element adapter kit.
    1. It is possible to install the temperature probe from the controller in the column thermometer location,  but it is best to install it in the boiler location.
  4. Fill the still with liquid.
  5. Once the still has been filled and everything is securely attached with tri-clamps and gaskets (flour paste for our copper stills) start heating the still. 
  6. Make sure the controller is in manual mode and set the power to 100%. Heat the still at 100% of power until the still starts producing.
  7. Once the still starts producing dial the % of power down to about 20% or until there are 3-5 dips a second coming out of the still. Once the power has been adjusted to the desired drip rate continue until the drip rate slows down.
  8. Once the still starts to slow down simply increase the % of power until there are once again 3-5 drips a second. The still will need the power increased a few times during the run to maintain the desired drip rate. Always run the still by drip rate and not by temperature.

Benefits of Running a Still with an Electric Heating Element

  • No Open Flame
  • No need to worry about propane.
  • Extremely easy to dial in the drip rate of the still.
  • Replacement heating elements are inexpensive.
  • No cycling of power like with an electric hot plate.
  • How does one know when the steam isn’t producing alcohol anymore? Seems like last batch was great in the beginning but started getting watery later in the run.

    Posted by Neil on March 12, 2019
  • Would like a price on electric heating element and controller and tri clamp and gasket

    16 gallon pot. From a keg

    Posted by Dean on January 29, 2019
  • Would like a price on electric heating element and controller and tri clamp and gasket

    16 gallon pot. From a keg

    Posted by Dean on January 30, 2019
  • Thanks for information I bought a steel but have not learned enough to operate it yet and this is good information

    Posted by Liz on January 21, 2019

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