Distilling – An Overlooked Survival Skill

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Distilling – An Overlooked Survival SkillDistilling fluids is a skill which every prepper should become well versed in. As we all know, as humans we can go for a month or longer without food, but without water, you can be dead within a few days.

So having clean, pure water for drinking is vital for survival. Even with fancy filters that many companies offer, there are still some chemicals and even a few microbes that can get through into your body.

Distilling water is the most reliable method of purifying water. Learning how to steam distilled water opens the door to distilling alcohol, as well as purifying other useful chemicals, like ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and ether, all of which can be very helpful in a variety of disaster/doomsday scenarios. So let us learn of joy of distilling!

How To Distill

Distilling anything requires several basic components. You need a heat source. You′ll need a heat resistant vessel for holding what you plan on distilling. Next comes a condenser of some sort, which cools the heated steam from the vessel, returning it back into a liquid state. Then you′ll need another container to catch what you distilled.

In between the last three components, you′ll need some sort of tubing to carry the steam from the heating vessel, through the condenser and then into your catch-container. Depending on what you intend on distilling, this tubing may be of copper, in the case of anything you intend to drink, or can be simply plastic tubing as in the case for ammonia or ether. In addition, you may require other parts to aid in connecting it all.

Distilling Water

Let us first look at steam distilling water, as this is the most important for long term survival. The average adult human needs about a gallon, or roughly 1.75 liters of clean, pure water everyday to stay healthy. If you live in a harsher climate, you may need double, if not triple that amount. Buying plastic jugs of distilled water can get expensive. Storing such takes a lot of space, especially if you are stockpiling a supply to last you several weeks or months. Store-bought water can cost over one-hundred times the price of just tap water from your local public utility. So investing the time and materials in your very own steam distiller is money spent wisely.

Many companies offer home steam distillers for water. These commercially available options typically cost around $100 to $200 US. They come in a kit form with an electric distiller that has a built-in condenser. They also come with a good filter and a container for catching the steam-distilled water.

These units are basically counter-top appliances which can distill a gallon of water in about 15 to 20 minutes. You just fill up the distiller with tap water, secure the top and plug it into an electric outlet. Once a batch is completed, you simply transfer the distilled water to another container for storage or immediate use.

These types of distillers are safe, simple and convenient. With a little education, a child can easily use one. If you drink a lot of water, then they pay for themselves very quickly with the money you save from buying water from a store. Every prepper should have at least one of these in their kitchen. Two would be even better, especially if you like a good, stiff drink.

They don′t tell you in the instructions, but these commercial steam-water distillers also have another use. Instead of distilling water, you load it up with some cheap wine. The end product is brandy, with about 2 to 3 times the alcohol level. As they say, wine is fine but liquor is quicker! Just the sort of thing you need to take the edge off during an apocalyptic situation. Or even a visit by the in-laws.

Whether you are using these counter-top distillers for distilling water, or for making brandy from wine, you will have to clean them regularly. You′ll find a layer of chemical residue on the bottom of the distiller, even from so-called clean tap water. This junk is often what leads to kidney stones and other methods of slow poisoning or harm to your body.

There are, of course, many do-it-yourself plans out there for building a steam water distiller. Some of these use alternative methods for heating, such as an open fire or the power of the Sun. The heating method to be used would effect the type of distilling vessel you need. For example, one fellow seen on the National Geographic series, ″Doomsday Preppers″ used a solar-powered system for distilling water.

In this example, he used a simple glass mason jar with a layer of dark-colored rocks on the bottom as his vessel. The rocks aided in heating the water to a boiling point faster. So once you determine what heat sources you will have available to you, picking the right DIY plan is a snap.

Distilling Alcohol

distill alcohol

Now, distilling alcohol from scratch requires considerable more work and equipment. But once you master the art you′ll never be lonely again. Your first step is to consult what the laws are where you live in regards to home distilling. In the United States, you are allowed to produce a limited supply of ′spirits′ for personal consumption. The last time I checked you could make up to 200 gallons per year.

That is a lot of spirit in my book! Selling the produce from your still is another matter where familiarity with the law is important. Even beyond federal or national laws, your local community may also have laws concerning the production and sale of alcohol. So before you turn your dreams of moonshining into reality, make sure you are aware that there could be serious legal issues involved.

Of course, in an apocalyptic scenario, who cares? Odds are there won′t be any government around other than the local warlord to contend with. I′m sure he or she can be bought off at a reasonable price. So once again we turn to our basic components. Your heat source would most likely be an open fire, fuelled by wood, coal or charcoal.

This would be contained in a fire pit lined with rocks or bricks. Over which would rest your distiller, preferably made of steel or copper. The condenser would be just a long length of copper tubing bent into a coil. The coil is cooled simply by air, allowing the steam to condense back into a liquid state.

Again, there are plenty of plans available out there for constructing a still. But the real trick to making alcohol is in the mash, a watering solution containing some type of bio-mass. Corn liquor, for example, is quite popular and easy to make. The amount of alcohol produced is largely based on the sugar content of you bio-mass.

Simply dumping a bunch of corn kernels into a tub of water and using that as your mash will produce some alcohol. But if you let the corn sprout for several days, your yield increases as the sugar content is much higher. Back during the Prohibition days, moonshiners would often add bags of sugar to their mash to jack up the yield.

Selecting a recipe for making alcohol largely depends on what is available to you in the way of ingredients. Any grain will do, be it rice, wheat or corn. Some folks use horse feed, others use old bread. The art of distilling alcohol is mostly based on what you use for making your mash. In nearly all cases, you will need another heat-resistant container and a low-heat source, particularly in the case of making malt liquor.

Depending on the recipe, you will add malt and yeast to your mash and cook it at a low temperature for several days or up to a couple of weeks. All of your ingredients will effect the alcohol level, as wells as the taste of the end product. The type of vessel used to store your product also plays a role in taste and color.

Whiskey and bourbon, for example, get their amber color from being stored in wooden casks, where the length of storage and type of wood impacts both color and taste. You can certainly experiment using your counter-top electric distiller but you′ll be limited to only a gallon′s worth of mash and considerably less worth of end product.

Distilling Other Useful Chemicals

hydrogen peroxide

Aside from alcohol, there are other liquid chemicals that a prepper may find useful to know how to distill. Many practitioners of alternative health and medicine say that food-grade hydrogen peroxide is very useful for good health. Some say it boosts your immune system and others use it when they contract the flu or pneumonia.

Food-grade for hydrogen peroxide is considered to be no less than 40% pure. So being able to distill inexpensive 5% hydrogen peroxide you can purchase at any store into food grade, which costs about 20 to 30 times more from alternative health vendors, is worth knowing how to do.

Another substance, ether, also has medical purposes that should appeal to a prepper. Bad enough if you have to do some field surgery on your kitchen table on in a tent. Worse if you have no anaesthetic for the patient.

But fear not! You can distill ether from brake fluid! You can also use starter fluid that has a higher ether content as it is often used by motorists in cold weather climates. These are two sources which are readily available most anywhere that you can obtain.

One other chemical for distilling that should interest a prepper is ammonia. Again, we want to take store-bought ammonia, which is inexpensive and typically about 5% in purity and increase it 40%. From this we have something quite valuable to improve our defensive capabilities. Just filling an ordinary water-pistol with some 40% ammonia makes for a terrific non-lethal weapon.

But for real fun and excitement, our high-grade ammonia we distill can also be used for making ANTI, ammonia-nitrate-tri-iodine. Many of you probably have experienced the joys of ANTI already as it is the key chemical in ′poppers′. Those small wads of paper you tossed on the ground as a child which delivered a nice, loud bang! ANTI is unstable as heck when dry and just a small fleck of it no larger than a grain of rice can pack a nice punch. The perfect thing to use to detonate a larger explosive device on impact.

For legal purposes, I won′t go into how to make ANTI, but I will point you in the right direction if you simply must know. Believe me, you′ll want to know! This brings me to one of my favorite people in the world, Kurt Saxon, the Father of Survivalism. Before the term prepper came into use, those of us who were preparing for the collapse of civilization called ourselves survivalists. Kurt Saxon published a variety of books, magazines and newsletters on how to live a free, self-reliant way of life.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he even appeared on some national TV shows hosted by the likes of Phil Donahue and David Letterman, preaching his warnings about the potential of World War 3 or some other apocalyptic event which could threaten the end of the world as we know it.

His books, such as ″The Survivor″ series, ″The Poor Man′s James Bond″ series and ″Grandad′s Big Book of Chemistry″ are still available, both in print and digital formats. His technique for making ANTI requires a small, simple distiller using an old lightbulb and other inexpensive components are outlined and detailed in several of these publications, complete with pictures and diagrams.

He even made videos which you can still purchase. This small distiller is ideal for purifying ammonia, ether or hydrogen peroxide, as the quantities you′ll need are very small as opposed to distilling water or alcohol. So I′ll leave it to you to obtain this fruit of knowledge from the master himself. Just reading his story about the time he made ANTI on David Letterman′s show is worth the price! Its hilarious!



In closing, let me say that every prepper should know how to distill liquids. Water is obviously the most important one and can easily be done with a modest invest in a counter-top distiller. Knowing how to distill alcohol, as well as other chemicals, can definitely give you an edge if and when the proverbial poop hits the fan.

As we all like to say, “knowledge is power” and distilling is a knowledge that certainly will empower you. Whether it results in you being able to drink pure, clean water, some kick-butt booze, or packing a loud and deadly surprise for any would-be trespassers on your property, the joy of distilling will make you a happy and potent prepper.

Meet the Author

'Mountain Man' John

'Mountain Man' John is a Survival and Preparedness enthusiast who loves everything outdoors. He has a passion for learning anything and everything to help sustain his and his families way of life post SHTF. He frequently shares his knowledge on a variety of topics from his hands on DIY projects, learning new skills such as hunting and trapping along with reviews on his Survival related purchases - Prepping has been in his family for generations, it's in his blood.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jonnie Mar 3, 2016, 9:17 am

    The article is great. Yet the distilling process isn’t a quick thing to do, but I will try to set it up, and try it This article brought back a good memory for me. My aunt and I, had stopped off to visit my great-grandparents, and left to go see a cousin. The old highway was an elongated series of ‘S’ curves, and it was dark, making my aunt complain that it was my great-grandfather’s fault. When I asked how she could blame him, she told me the road crew kept going out to his farm, to buy moonshine.? Apparently, among other things, my great-grandfather, was a moonshiners. This aunt recently passed away, and I really needed some good memories. Thank you, though I know it wasn’t meant for that, but that was the result.

    • 'Mountain Man' John Mar 4, 2016, 7:00 am

      We’re glad to have brought back some fond memories for you Jonnie!

  • Grampa Jun 4, 2017, 2:52 pm

    to distill water one must have water available. many discourage of re-bottling water I use the bottles from the arizonia tea. they are very heavy and have a good solid cap. I rinse out the jug first then put some boiling water in and shake it to rinse again. then fill with water at a rolling boil. put on the cap and squeeze the bottle slightly and tighten the cap leaving no air space. you now have a gallon of water that could be distilled or reboiled the jug is made of the type of plastic that resists acid product plain water will leach very little from this plastic. the best part they are free when buying the tea. With only average consumption I now have sixty gallons of water other than my regular bottled water. I opened the first bottle from a year ago and tested for foreign objects and bacteria or other life forms I found none. I had the water tested for any elements from the plastic by a friend at a lab. while not certified to do such tests he is qualified chemist so I think I can trust his findings. taste to regular commercial bottled water and found the taste the same. even with some growth boiling would insure safety and the bottle will sustain moving around much better than the commercial ones. to be sure do as I did and try it. it will be less contaminated than water obtained from nature

  • jhenderson Apr 3, 2018, 7:14 pm

    We too stored a couple hundred Arizona Tea gallons. The only downside is the plastic jugs generally break when dropped.