How to Distill Alcohol, Part 1: How to Make a Still

[error]DISCLAIMER: The following is highly dangerous or illegal and it is not recommended to be used under any circumstances, except zombies.[/error]

Generally, when people think of a still, they think of liquor or moonshine.  While being able to make these items in a post-Apocalyptic world can make things easier for you.  A still can be used to make other products as well (all alcohol related, but more useful than drinking).

Basically, a still is just a sealed cooking vessel with an outlet pipe that allows the alcohol to cool.  Some stills get more elaborate than this, but they all follow a similar premise.

  1. Put a substance containing alcohol into the vessel.
  2. Heat it up such that the alcohol evaporates, but nothing else does.
  3. Wait for evaporated alcohol to exit vessel via tubing.
  4. Alcohol goes through tube and cools off, trickling into a recepticle for storage.

Cooking Vessel

Keg Still and Copper Condenser

The most important thing to consider when creating your cooking vessel is size.  Remember that you’re going to be cooking off a lot of stuff in order to get a small percentage of final product.  Think of ethanol production: Your typical mash will be between 5% and 10% ABV, so you generally won’t get more than 10% of your original volume as a final volume (depending on your still efficiency).  Basically, the bigger the better.  As far as material goes, anything that can transfer heat is good, copper being one of the best things.  You also want to make sure that as much surface area as possible  is exposed to heat.  The faster to temperature, the faster you’re done.

Condenser Tube/Coil

The condenser coil is what allows the alcohol vapor to cool down and convert back into a liquid before dissipating in the open air.  The thing to consider with your tube or coil is that you need to get the temperature of the contents of the tube down to near room temperature before it leaves the tube.  So you either need an incredibly long tube (which is where a coil comes in handy), or an external means of cooling the alcohol down (e.g. ice, cool water, etc).  Either way, this needs to be considered when scrounging or making your condenser.   As with the cooking vessel, if you have access to a material that easily dissipates heat, use it.

The Procedure

First, put your alcohol bearing material in the cooking vessel.  If you are fermenting something, you might as well do it in this vessel, just make sure you don’t completely close it off or else pressure will build up.  Next, close off the vessel and attach your condenser.  Light a fire underneath the cooking vessel.  Maintain the temperature of your material as close to the boiling point of the type of alcohol you are extracting.  Ethyl alcohol boils at ~80C and methyl alcohol at ~65C.  The amount of alcohol you can distill is completely subjective.  Basically, you’ll start out getting barely a trickle of alcohol out of your condenser, then you get a steady stream of it, then a trickle again.  The trickle at the end will be less concentrated than the rest of your batch, but viable nonetheless.

Found on the Internet: The 45 Day Emergency Candle

A Crisco Candle
This candle will last you a month and a half!

Keeping a flame going can be difficult sometimes, and candles can sometimes be hard to come by!  Coley Hudgins shows us that if you have a tub of Crisco (or any type of shortening really) you can easily make a long-lasting candle.  A big can of Crisco (as shown above) can be left lit 8 hours a day and will last for 45 days.  Just insert a piece of string into the center of your shortening and light the type – Instant Candle!

Emergency 45 day candle from Crisco [via The Resilient Family]

How to Build an Oven

In the P.A.W., it would be nice to be able to make a nice loaf of bread or even just cook something without using a campfire and risking burning your food all the time.  This isn’t as far-fetched of an idea as you may think.  In fact, you could build an oven to use while you’re travelling if you have the time.

The basic premise of cooking in a conventional oven is cooking by convection.  When you bake a loaf of bread in a modern conventional oven, the heating elements in the oven heat the air closest to the flames, causing it to rise, moving the colder air near the flames and repeating the process until the air inside the oven is a relatively uniform temperature.  You then place the bread dough in the heated air of the oven.  The heated air transfers its heat into the dough, causing the temperature of the dough to rise to roughly the same temperature as the air around it.  At this temperature, the ingredients in the dough cook and eventually you have bread.

Earth Oven

The easiest and quickest oven you can build is an earth oven.  You don’t need anything too special or permanent to build it – just some mud and a fire.  The basic concept of an earth oven is that you are creating an enclosed space that holds the heated air required to oven cook anything.

Because dirt/mud is exceptional at holding, we’ll use mud to build the shell of our oven.  We use mud because it is malleable until it drys, at which time it will hold its shape.  The first thing we need to do though, is find a way to make our oven space hollow.  The easiest way to do this is to use wet sand.  We can shape the wet sand into whatever form we want and the mud won’t destroy that shape, and dry sand is just as easy to remove from our oven as wet sand would be.  So we first make a mold for our hollow space, then we coat the mold with several inches of mud.  The thicker the mud walls, the more heat it will retain for longer.  Let the mud dry into a hardened mound, then cut an opening into one side of the mound all the way to the sand/molding material.  Dig out all of the sand/molding material and you now have an oven!  Build a fire inside the oven to heat the walls of the oven.  Once your oven is to temperature and the outside of the oven is hot to the touch, put out your fire and remove all of the fire material from the inside of the oven.  Place your food inside the oven and cover the hole up to avoid letting any heat escape.  Eventually, your food will be cooked.

Pompeii Oven

The Pompeii oven is a precursor to the modern brick oven, commonly used in pizzerias.  The Pompeii oven works on the same principles as an earth oven, and is actually the evolutionary successor to the earth oven, but it is more permanent and used with the fire still inside the oven while cooking.

For convenience, a Pompeii oven is built at around waist height or higher (because who really wants to crouch all the time while they are cooking?).  This is best acheived by building a dais out of brick or stone or some other material that is fire proof and resistant to age and the elements.

Then you want to build a slab that the oven will be built onto.  You might be fancy/lucky enough to have concrete and rebar to make this slab from, otherwise go for a material that is fire proof and resistant to age and the elements.

When considering bricks or brick material for building your oven, there are two factors to consider:

  1. Can the material withstand high temperatures? (refraction)
  2. How well can it reflect heat? (conductivity)

Ideally, you want a high refraction, low conductivity material because it won’t be destroyed by the heat of the oven and it will reflect heat given off by the fire efficiently.  Firebricks (bricks made of a type of clay composed of high levels of alumina and silica) are the ideal material, but ceramic and clay will work just as well.

Lay out a pattern of bricks on your slab for the floor of your oven.  Most people use an offset pattern for the floor because it prevents a seam in the floor which can cause your food to snag when putting it in or taking it out of your oven.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how you lay them out as long as they are tightly lined up with each other to prevent heat leakage.

To form the dome of the oven, you can either build it free standing, or over a wet sand mold as with the earth oven.  Building the dome free standing, you will lay the bricks one layer at a time and let the mortar dry before moving on, occassionally adding a wedge between rows of bricks to account for curvature.  Don’t forget to leave space for an opening!

If you don’t have access to modern mortar, you can use clay, mud, pitch (tar), or you can make your own.  Essentially, you just need something that will bind to your bricks to make a solid structure.

When building the door and door frame for the oven, you want to ensure that your door is at least slightly bigger than the opening in the oven.  This will ensure that the door doesn’t swing into the oven and, when closed, forms a seal to heat and moisture leakage from inside the oven.  Don’t make it an airtight seal.  An airtight seal will cause what is known as backdraft: The flame will go down as it burns through the existing oxygen, then when you open the door the onslaught of fresh oxygen causes the fire to roar back up, potentially exploding out the opening of the oven and burning you.  The door itself can be made from whatever you can manage: a hunk of scrap metal, dried mud, a rock, an old oven door, etc.

It is also a good idea to build a chimney into the door frame so that smoke and hot air have an escape path that isn’t your face.  _Don’t put a chimney into the oven itself!_  This fundamentally defeats the functionality of the oven.

After your oven is built, you need to purge it of any excess moisture.  This curing process ensures that your oven doesn’t crack when in regular use.  To do this, build a small fire for 6 hours each day for 5 days.  Start at 300F and increase by 50F each day.  If you can’t accurately guage temperature, just build a small fire and increase the size each day for 5 days.

Once you’re ready to actually start cooking with your oven, start you’re fire near the front of the oven and once it gets going, push it off to one side or the back and let the oven heat until the outside is hot to the touch.  Then cook to your hearts content!

Found on the Internet: Simple Handmade Stove

In the PAW, a working stove of any kind will be hard to come by, and sometimes that’s all you need.  Sometimes you just need a small, simple fire to cook food over for a few minutes and be done with it.  Enter these instructions for a simple handmade stove.  Granted, with these instructions left the way they are, you’re devoting more resources to this “quick” solution than you get out of it.  But if you modify them a little bit, this could be a worthwhile technique when you’re on the move and hungry.

[Simple Handmade Stove via EnglishRussia.com]

Found on the Internet: Thermos Cooking

Cooking over an open camp fire isn’t exactly the most predictable way to cook.  It’s easy to char the outside of a meal, while leaving the inside raw or under cooked.  Cooking in a pan is even more unpredictable, plus you constantly have to monitor your meal to ensure it doesn’t burn.  However, boiling water over a campfire turns out the same result every time – boiled water.  If you have a thermos, you can add boiling water to your ingredients, let them simmer for a while and when you come back, you’ve got a properly cooked (read unburned) meal waiting for you.

http://www.thermoscooking.com/

How to Make a Torch

In an end of the world/limited supplies situation, it can be a benefit to know how to make a torch.  A torch may be used as a long-lasting light source or a small heat source.  In an environment without electricity, a torch is an easy way to light an area.

Makeshift Torch

In a survival situation, you may need to improvise a torch for one reason or another.  In this case you need to use your environment to make a torch.  There are three basic components to a makeshift torch: the handle, the wick, and the fuel.  The handle is the part you hold on to and attach the rest of the torch to.  It is commonly a 3-4 foot long stick that is about 2-3 inches thick, but it can be any material you can find that won’t melt or fall apart.  The wick is the part of the torch that you light on fire.  This can be anything from dry grass to leaves to twigs: as long as its flammable it will work.  In fact, the more flammable the better because that means it will be easier to light.  The fuel is what is doing the “heavy lifting”, so to speak, of the torch fire.  You can use animal fat, wax, tree sap, or (should you be desperate enough) chapstick.

You need to coat the wick completely in the fuel, make sure that everything is covered.  Wrap the wick and fuel around the top of the handle and tie it with something: a strip of cloth, flaky bark, vines, roots, string, wire, etc.  Once you light this, it should last for a fair amount of time, but this depends on how much fuel you put into it.  It should be noted at this time that these torches are not very stable and it is possible that it could begin to fall apart and you may even burn yourself, so be careful!

Birch Bark Torch

There is an even simpler way to construct a torch, though it won’t last nearly as long.  This is a birch bark torch.  To make one of these, you need to pull a sheet of bark off of a tree with papery bark like the birch tree.  Your sheet should be about 2-3 feet long.  Wrap it at an angle to form a cone.  Make sure it is wrapped tightly, but not so tightly that it isn’t hollow in the center.  Tie it in several places down the length with string, wire, vines, etc.  This type of torch will only last a little while, but its a great way to get light quickly.

Permanent Torch

If you need a more permanent torch, you need to use more permanent components.  For the handle, use something like PVC pipe or a metal post.  The best solution for wick and fuel is string and lamp oil.  You can make an oil reservoir using an old soup can and an old tuna can.  Punch a hole in the bottom of the tuna can and feed a string (or actual candle wick) through it, then fill the soup can with lamp oil.  Turn the tuna can upside down and place on top of the soup can.  Duct tape the two can together and attach your reservoir to the top of your handle.  This torch can still be leaky, especially if it isn’t held upright, but it offers a more permanent, reusable solution.

Of course, the best solution is to just scavenge a tiki torch from the Walmart near you.  While chintzy, the $5 tiki torches in the Outdoor department at a Walmart or similar store are better built than most things you can put together “in the wild”.

Further Reading