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Grain alcohol vs. denatured alcohol


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#1 Woodland

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 04:11 PM

I'm trying to reduce the use of unnecessary and toxic solvents in the workshop. Is pure grain alcohol a realistic substitute for denatured alcohol in most situations? If I'm not mistaken, grain alcohol is supposedly less toxic than denatured?

#2 MeyerFittings

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 04:19 PM

Less toxic, more expensive.

#3 Wm. Johnston

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 05:45 PM

If by grain alcohol you mean Everclear then it had better be less toxic since people mix drinks with it. Grain alcohol is more expensive because it is non-poisonous and therefore is heavily taxed. Denatured alcohol has poisons added to it to make it non-drinkable and exempt from alcohol taxes. I'd like to think that if Everclear is drinkable then it should be pretty safe in varnish. I haven't used it myself but a lot of guitar makers who french polish their guitars say that Everclear is the best shellac solvent to use so I'd bet that it will work anywhere that denatured alcohol works.
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#4 mcarufe

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 06:26 PM

Everclear is about 75-80 ethanol. I wonder what the water content in denatured alcohol. You could theoretically get grain alcohol at 95% purity but I would not know where in the States one could buy it. I am sure this can be found other countries and would make an excellent solvent(an some very strong lemoncello)
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#5 MANFIO

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 06:48 PM

I use grain alcohol, rice alcohol, I get 20 liters of it for 20 dollars here.

#6 Seth_Leigh

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 07:06 PM

I've got a bottle of Everclear on my shelf which says it's 95% ethanol, so I'm not sure where the 75-80 is coming from. I bought it at a grocery store in the liquor aisle here in Arizona. In New Hampshire I had to go to the state-run liquor store, and it was a different brand than Everclear, but it was likewise 95% ethanol.

Woodland, if you search through the archives here there are other threads talking about this, where posters talked of horrific nervous system damage that has either been done to them or someone they know by breathing in lots of denatured alcohol. Since reading those threads I haven't touched the stuff unless I was outside so the fumes could just blow away. Hence the Everclear.

#7 joerobson

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 10:19 PM

Material Safety Data Sheet...denatured alcohol.
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#8 Salieri

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 10:50 PM

Ethanol precipitates water, therefore 100% ethanol is difficult to
come by. I was told that Everclear is 150 proof, meaning it's 25%
water, so the 75-80% ethanol would be accurate. I would imagine
that Everclear has a high water content because the makers don't
take many steps to keep air away from the ethanol, and so the water
content builds up.

#9 DonLeister

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 11:39 PM

I think I have seen two versons of Everclear, I have the 195 proof, wouldn't want the lesser one.
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#10 mcarufe

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 12:05 AM

Apparently there are two versions of Everclear here in the States. In my are I have only found 150ish proof. Other brand such as Volcov are also about 150 proof. I use it to make lemoncello with fresh Florida lemons but have not tried this strength as a solvent.
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#11 andrew weinstein

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 10:15 AM

I use the strong version of everclear myself, got it at wine chateau (mail order) I bought a whole case, think it was about $15 a bottle. I feel like it's thicker somehow than denatured, but not really sure

#12 saintjohnbarleycorn

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 11:01 AM

there may be different laws in different states as to the maximum alcohol content, that could be the discrepancy.

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#13 Darren Molnar

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 12:04 PM

I wonder if any violin maker has made a still to make
their own grain alcohol, seeing as we like to have complete control
over all other minutia pertaining to the craft. Including varnish.
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#14 Neil_004

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 12:42 PM

It is available in 190 proof and 151 proof but it is illegal to
purchase the 190 proof version in Ohio, California, Minnesota,
Pennsylvania, Maine, Michigan, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia,
Hawaii, New York and Florida.

#15 nashville violins

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 01:57 PM

190 proof Everclear (or equivalent brand) works even better than denatured. I've used it exclusively for french polishing and touchup varnish for years. I can't seem to keep it off my fingers, so I'm relieved to know that I am not poisoning myself (it goes right through your skin you know). It's not that much more expensive when you consider how far it goes. I don't use it in my alcohol lamp, though!

#16 COB3

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 02:28 PM

Personally I have never made the attempt, but, here in Oregon, it is not only quite legal to set up a still, and make your own ethanol, the government will send you a free brochure on how to do it safely. How pure your ethanol turns out depends on to what degree of sophistication you want to attain. You can produce fuel-grade ethanol quite easily, whatever "proof" that may be.

The limitations are in quantity and destination. If it is less than (some number) of gallons per year, AND for your personal use only, they have no problem with it. Go beyond, and their attitude will change drastically.

For the amount one would use as a luthier, though, I'm not sure it is worth the trouble. Varnish is the only use I would have for it, and it seems to me a rather expensive way to produce solvent. Now, if a group of luthiers worked together to produce a year's supply for all, it might be worthwhile, I suppose. But I don't know how the law looks at that...
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#17 Jacob

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 02:55 PM

That's pretty interesting - kind of reverse psychology or something. Where's the fun moonshining in broad daylight, so to speak?

#18 MeyerFittings

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 04:43 PM

There are several types of stills (or so I'm told). A pot still can only get you to 40% or so, A still with a refractory tower with baffles or a second cold water coil can get you 90% alchohol right off the bat. Since the first 10% called the heads, needs to get tossed as undrinkable this can be used for shellac and shop stuff. It's not poisonous to breath it's just kind of funky. The rest can be used to make the best lemoncello imaginable since the oil in the peels comes all the way out with strong alchohol ( or so I'm told).
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#19 COB3

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 04:59 PM

Mother Earth News magazine ran an article on the subject, specifically for producing fuel-- as I recall, it was using a tower filled with glass marbles for the distillation process, but as I didn't feel like trying it, that's about all I remember.

I don't think the lesser percentages would make good fuel in an automotive application, which was the stated intent of the article, so I reckon they must have been drawing off pretty potent juice.

With all the current emphasis on "bio-fuels", I expect there are even more publications available, and as long as you are ONLY using it for fuel or solvent, and not producing thousands of gallons, and selling them to your neighbors in mason quart-jars, I think you would be unmolested by the ATF crew here...they would help you fine-tune it, most likely.
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#20 captainhook

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Posted 24 January 2008 - 07:08 PM

If you make it for fuel legally, you have to get a permit AND you have to add methanol or other denaturant, which makes it comparable to the paint store stuff. Your operation is subject to random inspection by ATF, although you could probably get by with hiding a little of the 95%.

Alcohol does not "precipitate" water, but can absorb a little. You can't get 100% ethanol by simple distillation because 96% boils at a lower temperature than 100%. The typical method for absolute (100%) alcohol involves adding benzene, which forms an azeotrope with water that boils either higher or lower, I don't remember which, than the alcohol. Personally, I don't use enough of the denatured to worry about it.




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