What is Wood Alcohol?

Wood is a versatile material that is not just for making paper or as a building material. After the wood is processed, it can be manufactured to make ingredients for food items, for hygiene products and even medicines. Wood alcohol is another wood byproduct. This is a fuel source that you can use at home or in your working area. It is easy to make wood alcohol but is also dangerous if you are not careful. This guide will show you how.

Wood alcohol explained

To give a quick answer: Wood alcohol is methanol and is manufactured from scrap wood and paper clippings. Wood alcohol can be used as a fuel source for a propane or natural gas burner and can also be used as an antifreeze as well.

Distilling wood is an efficient way to turn old scraps of wood into something useful. Wood alcohol is the liquid chemical that is harvested from wood when it is distilled. Wood alcohol may also be used to produce biodiesel.

Characteristics of wood alcohol

Wood alcohol or methyl alcohol is also called wood spirit, hydroxymethane, carbino, colonial spirit, Columbian spirit, and methanol. This was used by the ancient Egyptians in the embalming processes. It is also a crucial ingredient for making homemade whiskey. The chemical formula of wood alcohol was called “spirit of the box” because the chemist who discovered it in 1661 made it from processing boxwood.

Wood alcohol has a very simple structure. It has three hydrogen atoms bonded to a single carbon atom (in a cluster known or methyl group). One oxygen atom and another hydrogen atom seems to tag along. The process used in making moonshine used destructive distillation wherein slabs and slices of wood were heated inside a closed container to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius).

Wood was cooked into charcoal as its natural liquids vaporized. The precious vapor could be cooled, condensed, and distilled into a thick mixture which contained methyl alcohol, acetone, and acetic acid.

This murky mixture will now undergo a second distillation process which will separate pure methyl alcohol. The methyl alcohol harvested is clear, odorless and pure.

Another by-product was “Industrial” alcohol. This is grain alcohol (ethanol) is mixed with other chemicals like methanol, to make it undrinkable.

Methyl alcohol is considered dangerous than other liquors. Liquors contain about 3% ethanol which comes from fermenting grains, fruits, and vegetables. Whereas even small quantities of methanol can be fatal. Methanol is toxic when ingested, inhaled or even absorbed in the skin. Methanol can break down into even more toxic substances which is a process called toxification.

Enzymes in the liver initially convert methanol to formaldehyde and then this is converted to formic acid. This can take up to 30 hours from the initial exposure to methanol. This means that you won’t initially perish from the ingestion of methanol but may experience symptoms a day later.

Usually, the first sign of methanol poisoning is a loss of vision. A person can go blind as formic acid damages the optic nerve. Therefore, you should never drink or use wood alcohol for other reason ns than heating.

When making wood alcohol, you must wear protective clothing like masks, gloves, and goggles. Prepare wood alcohol outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.

How to make wood alcohol

  1. Use a heat source like a fire pit, propane gas burner or an electric burner.
  2. Use a large pot with a cover over the burner and place a thermometer in the pot to track the temperature of the wood and the water mixture. The thermometer will keep track of temperature throughout the distillation process.
  3. Use a condenser tube. Create a hole in the lid of your pot similar to the diameter of your tube.
    A condenser tube is a metal tube that the alcohol will move through as it evaporates. Attach the condenser tube to the lid of your pot.
  4. The other end of the condenser tube should be attached to the lid of an additional pot. This will be your holding container. This container is kept covered all the time to prevent the evaporation of alcohol.
  5. Place the wood chips in the pot and fill this with water. Heat it until you reach temperatures of 78.3 degrees Celsius. Use your thermometer to keep this at this level. Wood will ultimately break down and release alcohol into the condenser. It will slowly drip down into the holding container.
  6. You may distill the finished product again to improve its purity.

Conclusion

Wood alcohol is a byproduct of wood. It was initially introduced as poison with the distillation process very dangerous. However, as time went by, the harvesting of wood alcohol is now simpler and can be done even in a kitchen. But no doubt, extraction of wood alcohol is dangerous because you are working with a flammable substance. Make sure to maintain safety at all times when manufacturing wood alcohol.

  • December 29, 2018
  • DIY
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