Water is arguably one of the, if not the, most critical element to survival. Recent history has shown us that clean water is almost always one of the first items to become unavailable after a disaster.
A Water Distiller To Handle Salt Water As Well Fresh Water
Since I live within a day’s walk of the Atlantic Ocean and occasionally camp near the shore, I wanted to make a water distiller that could handle salt water as well as some of the more contaminated fresh water sources. My requirements were:
It should be portable. So that means that it must be something that I could carry inside of or strapped to a backpack and used in the field.
Rugged and Reliable
A lot of the designs I have seen require flexing of the copper coil to set it up and take it down. This coiling and uncoiling would eventually lead to failure and so could not be part of my design. I needed something more rugged and reliable.
It must be self contained. I did not want to rely on having to find rocks or logs or scrounge anything to set it up.
Easy to Set Up
I wanted to be able to easily set it up and take it down. This should be done within a minute or two.
It should be efficient. I wanted to be able to fill my 32 oz. water bottle with a single session.
99.99% Effective For Some Contaminants
I realize that this type of distillation may not be 100% effective for some contaminants. It may not remove all volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with a boiling point higher than water; contaminant particles may get carried by the steam, et cetera. However, my experience is that it’s 99.99% effective, which is about as good as your going to get with a portable, self-contained solution in a SHTF situation without either stocking a ton of activated charcoal or finding a fully functional water treatment plant. Common sense applies.
Try to avoid standing water sources from around chemical plants, airports, tank farms, et cetera. I would recommend trying it out on water sources that you will most likely use in your post-SHTF operating area and testing the output to make sure it is drinkable. For me, the big use case is that it makes salt water and other questionable sources drinkable. If you are really worried about it, you can distill the water multiple times, or run it through an activated charcoal filter after distilling. Note that by distilling the water first, this should make your filter last a lot longer since it will not have to handle as many contaminants.
Here are the materials I used. I had many of them on hand from previous projects, but I have tried to provide equivalents that can be found online or at your local home center. If you have to buy everything, it is my guess that it will probably cost around $75 or so.
- 5″ metal HVAC round duct
- 5″ round metal end cap (This one is an inside cap, but I had an outside cap so I used that.)
- JB Weld
- Single-walled 55 oz. stainless steel water bottle
- Steel lid for 55 oz. bottle
- 20′ of 1/4″ flexible copper tubing
- 6′ of 1/4″ I.D. x 3/8″ O.D. Food Grade Silicone Tubing High Temp
- 3′ of 1/4″ Aluminum rod
- 1/4″ barbed adapter
- Bolt and two large washers that fit the threaded end of the barbed adapter
- Spray paint
- Three ¼” x 20 coupling nuts
- Silicone sealant
Single-Walled Stainless Steel Bottle Boiler
I chose a 55 oz. single-walled stainless steel bottle as a boiler, since these things are never 100% efficient, and you need to discard the first few minutes of output to allow VOCs with lower boiling points and such to drain out. I figured the final result should just about fill up my 32 oz. water bottle. Note that you need to use a single-walled steel bottle, because a double-walled insulated bottle will take a long time to heat the water.
To Start, Wrap Coils of Copper
To start making the distiller, I wrapped coils of copper. I carefully spiral-wrapped the copper tubing around the water bottle, leaving the top pointing straight up (cooling tower input) and the bottom pointing perpendicular to the side of the coil (cooling tower output). If your package of copper tubing comes with protective rubber end caps, save them. I’ve made a couple of iterations of this, and I’ve found that 10-12 coils of copper tubing seem to be enough to condense most of the steam when using reasonably cool water in the cooling tower.
I pried off the carrying ring that was spot-welded on the top of the 55 oz. water bottle cap, cut open the bottom, and drilled a hole through the top to fit the threaded part of the barbed adapter. Use a couple of large washers (one on top and one on bottom) for strength and to improve sealing, Then, screw the barbed adapter through the hole (barb pointing up). I also applied some silicone sealant to the washers before tightening. Here’s a side view with that done:
And here’s a view of the bottom with the metal cut away:
Combo Cooling Tower/Carrying Case
Next, I built the combo cooling tower/carrying case. To make this, I carefully cleaned all of the galvanized metal with a weak solution of water and ammonia, followed by soap and warm water. This is necessary so the paint sticks later. I cut the duct length down to 13″, sealed the side seam with silicone, and used JB Weld to glue one of the end caps on. I also added some silicone sealant to help seal the end cap and make it water tight.
Then, I drilled a 1/4″ hole on the side at the bottom for the cooling coil output. I cut a “V” notch in the top edge on the opposite side from the output hole so that I would be able to pour more cool water into the cooling tower while I am distilling and the overflow will not spill down over the clean water output.
Raise the Cooling Tower Off the Ground
I wanted to raise the cooling tower up off the ground so the steam would go upwards from the boiler to the cooling tower and the distilled output would flow down into my water bottle. Because I did not want to rely on finding rocks or logs to set it on, I made some legs for it. For legs, I cut the aluminum rod into 12″ lengths, threaded the ends (1/4″ x 20), and bent them slightly about 2″ from the threaded end.
I glued the three coupling nuts (also 1/4″ x 20 threads) evenly spaced around the base of the cooling tower using JB Weld. To make sure the JB Weld holds, I roughed up the gluing surface of each nut and the gluing location on the cooling tower with some sandpaper.
Tomorrow, I will go over painting, why paint is important as well as how to plug leaks, my test results, packing your distiller, setting it up, storing it, and more. I will also go over some very important notes that include practical use tips and some items that will make using it safer and easier.
- A Portable Water Distiller- Part 2, by JMD (Active on 7/13/18)
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part one of a two part entry for Round 77 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Three-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $190 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 77 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.