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Colonel Wilson Still Mods


Charles@AEppelTreow

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I have a Colonel Wilson 20 gal still with the Georgia Ridge head. I'm working my way through several modifications, and thought I'd share my experiences as I go.

I think the Colonel's stills are most notable for affordability. And that the price comes with several hefty limitations. So I'm trying to work out ways to improve the operation of my little still, and not break the bank. I'm looking at 3 mods to the still itself. Improved rectification, improved condensation, and variable reflux.

I've just finished some detailed data collect on the first mod.

Improving rectification / Adding a bubble plate. This has taken several tries before I've found a solution I'm happy with. I tried loosely packing the GA Ridge head with copper scrubbing pads - and pulled them out the first time I decided I needed to clean them - because I couldn't do it in place. And the state of the pads was simply scary. The second attempt took more brazing skills than I have. The third try is made out of two pieces of sheet copper and slips into the bottom on the column. It can be easily removed for cleaning. I'll post a picture here, or on my cidery's facebook page. (Aeppeltreow.Ciders)

The test wine was an 11%ABV pear wine. I have some nice curves, but the summary is that without the plate, 62% of the proof gallons collected comes out above 130pf (133pg average) and with the plate 83% are >130pf (148pf). So 15 proof higher, and less than half the tails to rework. The plate run took 15 minutes longer.

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Brilliant!

Wasn't sure from the photos, but clear from the drawing. From your bench testing, do you have any idea how deep the puddle of refluxed spirit is in the bowl? what i mean is: the photo indicates the return is scissor-cut slots - do they offer enough resistance that the spirit puddles deeply enough to make a "mini-kettle" that re-boils?

I guess this means that it would be relatively easy to make a new cylinder column and stuff a stack of these guys in there. Any plans for that?

Let us know how the next mods go.

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No plans to stack more. One - it turns out I'm not good enough at brazing to make something that fits the existing pot and doesn't leak (at the same time). Two - since I'm focused on brandy, the proof I'm getting is fine, now that the tails are reduced.

And I think that the results show it must puddle. At least half an inch. At least once the reflux is flowing - it does't hold anytthing when the flow stops. I put it under a tap in the sink and play around with it. I was also concerned that the outer edge, wedged against the side wall, would leak. And it must - but I suspect that there's enough reflux to fill up over that edge, too - and the leaks just go to more bubbling.

I made this with a pattern laid out in powerpoint. Sized to the real column. Taped to sheet copper and then cut it out with tin snips, bent it to shape and tacked/brazed the two pieces together.

I collected apparant proof and weight data every 15 min for the 5 hours it takes to run. The proof drops in a nearly linear fashion for almost the entire run. The weight/min stays nearly constant. Well - two phases. I set one heat input for hearts and step it up for tails. So two weight/min and two delta-proof/min. I think it takes the variable reflux to hold the proof flat (so the weight/min drops instead).

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  • 2 months later...

I haven't run without it after a deliberate control experiment. It boosts proof by 5-10 points. But it has a bigger impact on the hearts to tails ratio. It reduces the proof gallons of tails per run. With the same number of proof gallons going in, you get more out as hearts (cut by falvor and proof).

My observations on running my Col. Wilson still with a GA ridge head:

The lbs/hour coming out depends mostly on the heat going in. It's nearly constant for any portion of the run.

The proof drops nearly linearly with time for a given heat imput. It has a slight downward curvature, starts to be noticable toward the end of a phase.

The proof gallons of tails is fairly constant, whether run faster or slower or with a higher ABV in the wash. (If the starting wash has more ABV, you get more hearts and the same pf*gal of tails. If it's too low, you get far fewer hearts - and the same amount of tails.)

The bubble plate reduces the amount of tails by about half. Maybe more.

The still appears product-cooling limited. Try to turn the heat up to run faster and at lower proof, and the spirits come out hot.

I've built a new condenser, but haven't finished the lyne arm. The new condenser will let me run a higher heat input and still get cool spirits out. The could let me do something like a stripping run.

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...and that new condenser will likely also allow you to do something like a spirit run as well. when we tried running light spirit through a CW still, it just blew hot vapor all over the place.

I have a theory that if CW would make the condenser just a bit longer, and run the vapor through the housing (that currently carries water), and run water through the inside tube (that currently carries vapor), then the existing condenser dimensions would have a better chance. this might mean using the cross-tubes only as mounting points instead of as water inlet/outlets.

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Work in progress. Reversing the shell and tube might work - if it actually gave you a bigger cross section - and hence a lower gas velocity.

I made a parallel tube in shell. Twice the length, I think it was 4 times the cross section, and 10 times the surface area. That's from memory. I have the figures around here somewhere.

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Work in progress. Reversing the shell and tube might work - if it actually gave you a bigger cross section - and hence a lower gas velocity.

I made a parallel tube in shell. Twice the length, I think it was 4 times the cross section, and 10 times the surface area. That's from memory. I have the figures around here somewhere.

Charles,

Nice work on that condenser. It looks great! I was wondering how much you have invested in parts on that? Reason I ask is that I just built another FS-600 just yesterday. It is sized for up to a 1000 liter still, but can easily be down sized and the price goes with that. Its fairly pricey, but has roughly three times the cooling capacity and by the looks is the same diameter and roung length. MIne measures about 5 Feet long and is 3" TC connections. regaurdless, Beautiful work on that!

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  • 1 month later...

Jester, I haven't added it up recently, but I think it's about $800. It's crept up becasue I had to order a hunk of 2" goodyear nutriflo when I wanted about 2 feet. (And then found the lost spool elsewhere. Finagle's law in full force.) And I kitted out the condenser with a nice vent at the outlet - all in 1" triclamp. And those parts add up.

Anyway, I finally got the lyne arm put together and tried out the new condenser this weekend. Worked like a charm. Flow of spirits was dead smooth. No pesky surging. I run cooling water in a recycle loop (270 gallon IBC). The temperature of the spirits at the outlet was almost exactly the same as the input water temp. 71F, to within a tenth of a degree. Which was great, because over the summer, the temp of the spirits had crept up into the mid eighties with the Colonel's condenser. The output temp was also much cooler than I expected. It was only just perceptably warmer than the input. I seem to recall that it was about 75F. I could probably reduce the gallon-per-hour a lot.

On the other hand, I hadn't realized just how much those through-the-column condenser supports affect the reflux. I lost about 20 proof. I had to reconnect them. So water in to new condenser at bottom, then from condenser output to bottom of CW condenser, and output of CW condenser back to IBC. At that point I gained back the 20 proof, and about 5 more. I think that the water going through the top line is a lot cooler now than it was.

During the tails portion of the run, we cranked up the heat. I have no good way to measure this at the moment - but we were able to turn it up ALOT, without taking a hit to the output spirit temp. The output water temp went up to about 103F. The IBC warmed up about the same as it usually does. Putting some active refrigeration into the loop is a future project.

I've got pictures I'll post within a few days.

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