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I've often read that the stuff we buy as denatured alcohol is "wood alcohol" and that Everclear is "corn alcohol". Is this true?

I do think I'd have a run at making my own shellac solvent if I didn't have to make corn mash and go through the fermentation process.
 

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I've often read that the stuff we buy as denatured alcohol is "wood alcohol" and that Everclear is "corn alcohol". Is this true?

I do think I'd have a run at making my own shellac solvent if I didn't have to make corn mash and go through the fermentation process.
It isn't just a fermentation process. After your mash ferments, you distill it. The moonshiners have their secret "stills" hidden in the woods. When I worked a summer in West Virginia in the 1970s, the family I lived with warned me not to stray into the woods.

Ethanol is the alcohol in adult beverages. Everclear is a brand name of high proof grain alcohol. It has a high percentage of ethanol. The exact percentage varies depending on where you live and where you buy it, ranging from 75% ethanol (151 proof) to 95% ethanol (190+ proof). Corn is a common source for the grain in grain alcohol, but not the only one.

Methanol is toxic. Methanol is also known as wood alcohol because it used to be made from wood. (The process to extract methanol from wood was different, too.)

When you buy denatured alcohol, what you want is ethanol. Ethanol is cheap and easy to produce in large quantities. The government doesn't want you to go to your hardware store and buy gallons of cheap ethanol that you might drink instead of making shellac. It would damage the taxation and regulation regime around adult beverages that brings tax money to the government. That taxation dates back to the earliest days of the country.

To avoid taxation for hardware store ethanol that you buy, it is "denatured" by the manufacturer. They add toxins (usually methanol) to make it deadly to drink. The product is mostly ethanol; it doesn't take much methanol to make it toxic. There is no reason to denature the alcohol other than taxation and regulation.

You don't want to breathe denatured alcohol or allow it to touch your skin. There is enough methanol in it to harm you if it is absorbed through your skin. Wear gloves and avoid the fumes when you handle it.

(Related: Many companies started producing hand sanitizers to meet demand during the pandemic. Quite a few of them had to be recalled because they used toxic denatured (!!) alcohol as the active ingredient instead of ethanol.)
 

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It isn't just a fermentation process. After your mash ferments, you distill it. Corn is a common source for the grain in grain alcohol, but not the only one.

When you buy denatured alcohol, what you want is ethanol. Ethanol is cheap and easy to produce in large quantities.
Thanks. I knew that the mash needed to be distilled when making alcohol from corn. The distillation process seems fairly straightforward. It's actually the fermentation process that I'd be keen to avoid; it sounds time consuming and messy. Are there alternatives to fermentation?
 

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Thanks. I knew that the mash needed to be distilled when making alcohol from corn. The distillation process seems fairly straightforward. It's actually the fermentation process that I'd be keen to avoid; it sounds time consuming and messy. Are there alternatives to fermentation?
Good question, but I don't know whether there are alternative methods for alcohol production that do not involve fermentation.

Fermentation is a component of large scale ethanol production from corn. I do not know if the reason is efficiency or a lack of alternative non-fermentation processes.

There must be other members here with more expertise in this area than me.
 

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So, what was used in wood working during prohibition?
johnep
I assume that they used denatured alcohol, much like today in places where it is available.

According to this Wikipedia article, the government required industrial applications to use denatured alcohol during Prohibition:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denatured_alcohol

CORRECTION:
I want to correct my statement above about low levels of methanol in denatured alcohol. According to the Wikipedia article, which I had not read before, "The main additive has traditionally been 10% methanol..." but then they add, "In the United States, mixtures sold as denatured alcohol often have much greater percentages of methanol, and can be less than 50% ethanol."
 

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Ancient Termite
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If someone could figure out how to separate the gasoline from ethanol in E-85 we would have a solution.
 

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johnep
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Thanks Tool Agnostic,
Looks as if Polish Meths identical to UK Meths. Colour is identical. Poland uses potatoes for cheap Vodka production.
Here in UK commercial alcohol produced from molasses from sugar refining. I have visited both Tate And Lyle and nearby, an alcohol factory.
In Ireland, Pfizer produce citric acid by fermentation of beet molasses which is deficient in Biotin. I used to sell Biotin to their factory. We also sold citric acid produced in Belgium. I sold to soft drinks manufacturers in Africa and the Caribbean.
We also sold Pectolase necessary to convert starches into sugar.
Fermentation is a fascinating topic. If I needed alcohol, I would see what the local "moonshiner" can provide. The UK climate not suitable for Corn or cane sugar production, but we used to have a sugar beet factory in the town. Corn fed chickens are expensive. I used to sell carotenoids to add to feed manufacturers. I did well in Africa where corn is white in contrast to Argentina which has Red,
johnep
 

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I've often read that the stuff we buy as denatured alcohol is "wood alcohol" and that Everclear is "corn alcohol". Is this true?

I do think I'd have a run at making my own shellac solvent if I didn't have to make corn mash and go through the fermentation process.
I make my own shellac all the time. I use denatured alcohol sometimes I couldnt find it when I lived it Calif. But the big box didnt sell denatured per se Instead they sold denatured labels as window cleaner. Worked just fine
 
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