Making a simple survival still is not an extremely complicated task. Even the old-fashioned and low-tech devices can take undrinkable and foul-smelling water, even ocean water, and turn it into safe drinking water.
When Louis and Clark spent years exploring what was to become the United States as we know it today, the explorers often garnered their drinking water straight from the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The pair likely just used wood barrels to hold their liquid, letting the silt drift to the bottom and drinking the cleaner water on top. Unfortunately our rivers, streams and creeks are mostly far too polluted for us to drink as Louis and Clark did.
A lightweight simple survival still is fairly portable and provides peace of mind during a long-term emergency or for daily use at an off-the-grid homestead. There is a “watering trough” in my little hometown in rural Ohio that folks come from miles and miles around to fill up their jugs and barrels. Although the local health department maintains that the water from the spring-fed source in the hill is not safe to drink, residents pushing 100 have ingested no other type of water their entire lives. Maybe we just got lucky and have one of the few clean, openly flowing watering holes left in the state.
But staking your life and the lives of your loved ones on luck during a survival scenario could surely spell nothing but doom and gloom. Knowing your water and routinely testing the sources available around your home in advance will help you determine what type of contaminants it contains, and this will help you stockpile the right kind of filter to keep you safe. A simple still at your homestead or retreat is a good start, but follow the backup rule and carry a portable water filtration system with you when in the woods, at work, and in your vehicle.
People most commonly use copper in still-making. The attractive and shiny material is not cheap, and commercially purchased stills can run into the several thousand dollar range. For our simple still, aluminum will do the trick just fine.
Simple Still Supplies
- A 5-gallon plastic bucket
- Aluminum pot with a firm-fitting lid
- Power drill
- 3/8 inch drill bit
- 1/8 inch drill bit
- A cooking thermometer
- Hot glue gun and sticks – rated for high temperatures
- Metal file
- Teflon tape
- 20-foot-long refrigerator coil
- A consistent heat source such as a house stove, wood stove, or a well-regulated fire
- Two 3/8-inch compression adapters from the plumbing section in the hardware store
How To Make A Simple Survival Still
Using the power drill and the 1/8 inch drill bit, drill a hole in the aluminum pot lid a few inches in from the edge lip of the lid.
Wrap the thermometer with the Teflon tape in order to create an airtight seal. Make sure that you slide the thermometer snugly through the hole and sit it flush on the lid. In addition, you can use some of the high-temperature hot glue to help secure the measuring device even more securely in place after you situate it in the hole drilled in the top of the aluminum lid. You must use high-temp hot glue because the glue will ultimately come into contact with the steam from the still. This type of glue stick has a melting point higher than that of water. You can also use high-temperature resins and silicone when making the simple still.
Using the 3/8 inch drill bit, put a second hole in the lid. This hole should be opposite of the hole drilled for the thermometer. If necessary, use the 1/8 inch drill bit to do a starter hole for the larger bit. Use sandpaper or a metal file to lightly file off any rough edges left around the hole. Such “burrs” could pose a problem when the compression fitting is inserted.
Insert the compression fitting into the 3/8 inch hole drilled in the lid of the simple still. Place the threaded male nut of the fitting into the opening by twisting it through the lid from the bottom. The fitting might wiggle around a bit, but that is alright. The ferrule part of the coil looks like a grommet and aids in creating an airtight connection with both the male and female ends of the nuts.
Screw the male-threaded nut poking out from the lid onto the female-threaded nut. Make sure to secure firmly.
Use the 1/8 drill bit to start a hole in the 5-gallon bucket. The hole should be about two inches from the bottom base of the bucket. Now use the 3/8 inch drill bit to widen the original hole.
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Screw the male-threaded nut on the compression fitting into the bucket. Secure the fitting into place as before to create an airtight fit.
Make sure that the refrigerator coil attachment is still firmly affixed. Reshape the coil to the best fit by coiling it by hand or around an object temporarily slid between the coils – like a paper towel roll. Press down upon the coil rings to “collapse” them into the desired fit.
Attach the unused coil end to the bucket to complete your simple still. You should allow the device to dry for several days before utilizing it to cleanse drinking water.
Use the high temperature hot glue, resin, or silicone to seal the compression fitting to the lid. The fitting needs to be airtight to prohibit steam from leaking through the lid. Put the adhesive on both the outside and inside of the hole around the fitting.
Grab the refrigerator coil and place the female-threaded end of the nut around the end of the coil.
That’s it. You now have a simple survival still that can filter just about any type of water.
Have you ever built a still for drinking water? Tell us your tips in the comments section below.