Creation of a Village Level Essential Oil Distillation Unit

Note: This unit can also be used to purify drinking water


Essential oils are the aromatic oil based compounds produced by many common herbs, flowers and trees. EOs exhibit well documented anti fungal and anti microbial properties.

They add value and help to preserve cosmetic products and soaps, and can aid in the daily battle against skin fungus in developing regions.

The under $100USD EO distillation unit grew out of a USAID funded Farmer to Farmer assignment. Our mission was to increase the quality and marketability of locally produced Alata soap, made in villages through out West Africa. Locally grown and wild-crafted plants such as eucalyptus, ylang, lemongrass, mints, and citrus peels can be used to make a high quality aromatic oils using this simple tool. It’s use is easily assimilated as it is somewhat similar in design to the classic Palm Wine still used in villages through out much of the region.


  1. 1 heavy duty 55 gal steel drum, drained and burned clean
  2. A second drum can be used to hold cooling water, or a natural water source can be utilized
  3. 1 roll 5/8″ flexible copper line for cooling coil
  4. 15′ of 3/4″ copper pipe and a 45 degree elbow
  5. 30′ 1/2″ metal rod (rebar) to make the inside bench
  6. 3’X3′ square of stainless steel screen to cover bench
  7. Uncoated mechanics wire
  8. 6″ diameter metal pipe (1/4″ thick) about 4″ long, threaded on the inside
  9. A second metal pipe 5 3/4″ in diameter is threaded on it’s outside, so it will screw into the 6″ pipe
  10. 6″X6″ 1/4″ plate steel welded to top of the 5/3/4 pipe as a cover plate These three pipe and plate pieces make the portal or steam tight door into the unit.


Carefully remove lid from drum. Cut a 6″ circle in the middle of the new lid made from 1/4″ plate steel, and weld the 6″ pipe into the hole, flush with the top. Cut a small drain hole at the bottom of the side of the drum.

Fabricate the bench from rebar, so it sits 2/3 of the way down from the top of the drum. Wire on the stainless steel screen and insert into drum.

Weld the plate to the top of the 5 3/4″ pipe, and then weld a U shaped piece of rebar onto the plate as a handle. The pipe is screwed into the 6″ pipe to seal the portal.

Weld the top back onto the drum.

Fabricate the copper cooling pipes as per drawing. Design may be varied to suit your situation.

Fill the machine with 10 gallons of clean water. Layer plant material onto shelf, bruising slightly in the process. You can layer clean plant material (no grass) 1 to 2 feet thick. Less for woody material and peels, more for flowers and herbs. The boiling water creates steam, which goes through the plant material and picks up the fragrant oil molecules. The steam/oil vapor goes up through the copper tubes and cools. The resulting coolant is collected and the oil rises to the top. Remove from fire when only steam (no oil) is coming out of your cooling tube. Remove the water from the bottom of your collection jug, leaving the aromatic or essential oil behind.

Clean and drain between uses. The guts of the machine can be reused when the drum burns out.

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