Just another WordPress.com site


Magnetic Stir Plate – DIY Build

Once I had success with the temp controller, I was amped to embark on another DIY homebrew project.  For the last year or so I have been making yeast starters and nurturing them by the “every now and then” shake the flask or growler method.  Like that of the controller, I wasn’t too excited about spending a bunch of money on a magnetic stir plate.  For example, More Beer sells theirs for $99 bucks.

Again, I turned to Home Brew Talk and found a plethora of DIY builds.  I learned that almost everyone had their own style and preferences on how to mount the fan, but all the other mechanical components were basically the same.  This post on HBT was helpful for me:  Stir Plate

List of what I used:

  • Project enclosure ($6.99 – Radio Shack)
  • 3″ 12V computer fan ($15.99 – Radio Shack)
  • Rheostat 25 ohm-3 watt ($4.99 – Radio Shack)
  • Panel mount coaxial power jack Size N to match the power supply connection ($3.19 – Radio Shack)
  • Rocker switch ($3.19 – Radio Shack)
  • Silver Tone Knurled Knob ($2.99 – Radio Shack)
  • 8-32 2″ screws to secure fan to enclosure ($2.99 – Home Depot)
  • 9V power supply (Free – Old power supply from work)
  • 1 washer (Free – Had on hand at home)
  • 1 hard drive magnet (Free – Taken from an old hard drive from work)
  • Wire for additional connections (Free – Had on hand at home)
  • 1″ stir bar ($6.22 including shipping – Chang Bioscience Ebay Page)

Total cost: $46.55

I was happy with the cost savings with exception of the computer fan.  After I bought the 3″ from Radio Shack, I found that they could be had for much less online.  I stuck with the one I got and went ahead with the build.  $46 still seemed better than spending $100.

I used a step bit to drill the holes for each component.  This allowed me to make a perfectly sized hole without needing to swap out drill bits and spend time figuring out which size would be best.  The rocker switch is mounted on the left side and the rheostat is on the right.  I soldered all of the connections and wrapped with electrical tape.

Since I had no clue on how to wire this thing up, I turned to the net. This is a diagram I used to first make sure I could get the switch wired properly.

I mounted the coax power jack to the rear of the project box.  Again, used the step bit to drill a perfectly sized hole.

I centered the washer as best as possible and mounted to the fan 4 small drops of liquid nails.  After it was dry and secure, I mounted the magnet.  Although the magnet stuck pretty well to the washer, I decided to use a small amount of liquid nails to get a more solid mount.

I used 8-32 2″ flat head screws to mount the fan.  I inserted the screws from the bottom of the project box and had plenty of height to get the fan close to the top of the box.  I secured the screws to the box with 8-32 sized hex nuts and then also used washers to keep the fan raised off the base of the project box.  Lastly, I used hex nuts to complete it all and further secure the fan.

Rocker switch and rheostat installed.

Completed stir plate.

For the test run I used 1,200 ml of water.  I was pleased with the results and got a good vortex going on the first try.  Pretty stoked for the next brew day and not having to try and remember to shake the yeast starter.

This build was a little more involved for me because it had parts I had never heard of before; plus, the wiring looked more intimidating because it included a switch, fan and rheostat.  You Tube proved very helpful and also my online searches for wiring diagrams.  I was stoked that all the electrical was working perfectly the first time.


Dual Stage Digital Temperature Controller – DIY Build

I am upgrading my fermentation chamber to a new chest freezer and wanted to save a little bit of money on a new digital temperature controller.  I started out by checking prices at More Beer and just anywhere on the net that sold Ranco , Johnson or other controller options.  I learned that the approximate minimum I could expect to pay was $100 and didn’t want to pay that much.

So, I turned to Home Brew Talk and a home brew buddy of mine, Big P Brewing for some suggestions.  It was recommend to me that I should look into the DIY build with the ever famous STC-1000 digital temp controller from Hong Kong and follow one of the many builds from Home Brew Talk.  Here is a link to just one of the many – DIY Temp Control.

I am by no means qualified to be doing really any kind of electrical work, so I relied on some other more mechanically talented friends to help out.  Therefore, my post is not to actually demonstrate or provide a wiring diagram of the build.  Rather, my intent is to share that someone with no skill in electrical wiring can save some cash and have a little fun building their home brew equipment.

List of what I used:

  • STC-1000 digital controller ($23.50 including shipping – Ebay)
  • Project enclosure (7x5x3″) ($6.99 – Radio Shack)
  • 14 gauge power cable (Free – old computer power cable from work)
  • 14 gauge wires for connections (Free – taken from a portion of the power cable)
  • 20 amp duplex outlet ($4.99 – Home Depot)
  • Plastic outlet cover ($0.25 – Home Depot)

Total Cost: $35.73

A look at the guts of the build. I did not solder any of the connections.

The temperature controller will come with two orange clips to secure it inside the project box. The temperature probe can also be seen exiting the box.

The 14 gauge power cable exits through the bottom of the project box with a rubber grommet installed to help secure it.

I decided to have the temperature probe exit from the top right side of the project box. I installed another rubber grommet for this as well.

This is my finished product.

Whirlpool Install to Boil Kettle

I have been wanting to have the ability to more easily return wort to the boil kettle from the counter flow chiller and also try to get some whirlpool action at the same time. Over the course of a couple months, I scoured posts at Home Brew Talk, looked into Jamil Zainasheff’s whirlpool set up and a few other renditions of DIY whirlpool builds. For the most part, what I found is that most of the builds out there are set up for immersion chillers. Since I already use a counter flow chiller, I definitely didn’t want to be shopping for a new chiller set up just to incorporate a whirlpool into my brew day.

I decided to turn to the guys at More Beer in Riverside. I reached out to Rob in their shop and asked if he uses a set up on their sculpture for when they do weekend demonstrations. After a few emails, he set me up with all the right fittings. Below are some photos of how it all ended up working when installing to the boil kettle.

Boil kettle before any welding.

Here is the list of fittings and quantities I purchased from More Beer and Lowe’s:

  • Male quick disconnect with barb (2)
  • 1/2″ full coupler (1)
  • 1/2″ street elbow (2)
  • 1/2″ x 1.5″ threaded nipple (1)
  • 1/2″ mpt x 1/2″ compression fitting (1)
  • 3/8″ x 2′ copper pipe (1) was purchased at Lowe’s.

All the fittings, minus the 1/2″ stainless coupler that was welded into the boil kettle.

1/2″ stainless coupler and 1/2″ inch male quick disconnect. The barb on the quick disconnect will be removed and filled to create a cap on the front of the kettle.

Coupler installed 1 inch from the lip of the kettle.

1/2″ female quick disconnect installed into the coupler.

1/2″ male quick disconnect with the barb removed and filled (left).

Cap inserted on the front of the kettle.

Inside the boil kettle.

3/8″ x 2′ copper pipe attached with 1/2″ stainless compression fitting.

The first run-through seemed to work well with only a few small leaks from the fittings that are inside the kettle. I will add thread tape the connections and am confident that will remedy that with no problems. The whirlpool is not nearly as vigorous as I expected, but nonetheless, it definitely gets some good action and I can now just “click in” when returning wort to the kettle from the counter flow chiller.

Weldless Sight Glass Failure

After getting frustrated and tired of “eye-balling” boil volumes and marking the boil kettle with a Sharpie, I decided to get a weldless sight gauge kit.  I chose to buy the one from Midwest Supplies and it arrived in just a few days.  The package came with one sight gauge, one stainless elbow, one flat stainless washer, one stainless lock nut, one stainess coupler and one red silicone gasket.  Since installing plumbing fixtures is not an area of expertise, I wasn’t too sure on the proper way to attach the sight gauge to the kettle – and there were not instructions provided.

I started by drilling a 1/2″ diameter hole just above the bottom of the kettle and then sanded it to remove any excess burs or sharp stainless that remained.  With a clean hole in the kettle, I put thread tape on each of the connection points and started to think about the correct position of each piece on the inside and the outside of the kettle.

The order I decided to go with was: flat washer and coupler on the inside of the kettle and silicone gasket, lock nut and elbow on the outside.  I hand tightened the pieces and had leaks immediately upon testing.  I decided to really crank down the connection with pliers to the point where I had gashes and scratches all over the coupler.  This definitely didn’t seem right, but I went with it.

Well, it wasn’t right and after two brew sessions, I had a problem.  A problem that lead me to not being able to think on my feet quick enough.  So, here’s a look for yourself.

More Beer 1550 Tippy Brew Sculpture

1550 Tippy Brew Sculpture

My shift into all grain brewing came relatively quickly.  After about six months of partial boil, extract brewing, I increased my equipment profile with an eight gallon boil kettle and ten gallon Rubbermaid cooler mash tun.  I was then on my way to full boils and batch sparging.  With a little help from Beer Smith, I was brewing pretty damn good homebrew.

The More Beer metal shop did a great job on the entire sculpture. And, they even threw in this plaque.

Enter, the More Beer 1550 Tippy Brew Sculpture.  Since finalizing the intial set up, I have brewed four batches.  The first was terrible, followed by a terrible second and, what do you know, a mediocre third.  I have come to the conclusion that I mastered all grain brewing in a cooler by batch sparging and now am working to dial in and master the 1550.  Brew number four, an ESB, seems to have been a success thus far and is not fermenting slow and steady.

The mash tun is 15 gallons, stainless steel with a stainless false bottom.  The false bottom sits about an inch off the bottom and has two gallons of dead space underneath.  The 1550 mash tun arrived with an electronic temp control, thermowell and sparge arm.

15 gallon mash tun with thermowell and sparge arm.

Sparge arm during the ESB mash session.

Ranco Digital Temp Controller. It had this mash set perfectly at 152 F.

The HLT is situated below the mash tun and the set up uses a heat exchanger to maintain temperature during the mash.  There’s nothing to it, set the temp you need, sit back and watch the pump do all the work.  The pump also recirculates the wort during the mash for clarity and setting the grain bed.

Unlike the mash tun, the HLT is my former boil kettle: 8 gallons, stainless steel.

15 gallon stainless brew kettle with sight gauge. Ya, that sight gauge is a little big.

The entire system sets up great in the garage and the small footprint of about 2′ x 4′ makes for easy storage and I’m still able to get two cars in the garage.  This thing has got a pretty big learning curve me as I never fly sparged before it showed up.  With brew number four under my belt, I’m already stoked for the next brew day.

Mash Tun Thermometer Kit

I have quickly learned that as with any hobby, I can spend as much or as little as I like on just about anything related to home brewing.  It seems that each brew day comes a new “need” for my set-up to make the day a bit more convenient.  Yes, convenient but not always necessary.  After brewing Lewy’s Silk Stout compliments of Lewy Brewing, I decided to make tracking my mash temperature slightly easier by installing a thermometer just above the ball valve. 

At this point in my home brewing career, I happen to like using the 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler for my mashes and in fact, have been able to maintain temperatures spot on with only 1-2 degrees of heat loss during the last 5 to 10 minutes of the mash.  Not bad, right. 

10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler with ball valve

I chose to buy this thermometer kit from More Beer which is set up to work with this cooler and with a little help from my friends over at Big P Brewing, it turned out perfect.  These are the tools I used:

  • Drill
  • Pilot drill bit
  • 2 ¼ inch hole saw
  • 1 ¼ inch hole saw

Depending on how much extra cash you want to spend, you might want to try and track down some saws from a friend.  The 2 ¼ inch was $16 and the 1 ¼ was about $10 at Home depot.  This entire install process took about 10 minutes. 

The insulation through the orange plastic was about 1 ¼ inch thick so be careful not to also drill through the inner white layer.  I used the 1 ¼ inch saw to complete another hole through the white layer, threaded the thermometer through, tightened and was done.  I used the gasket on the outside of the cooler and had no leaks.  Simple and now I can avoid heat loss from opening the lid to check temperatures.

Additional photos below:

Thermometer Kit

Thermometer face. 3"

Remove the 1.25 inch foam insulation to get to the inner white layer

Foam removed, pilot hole through inner white layer

Drill second hole through inner white layer. Once this is done, insert the thermometer, gasket and tighten. Test for any leaks.

Time to get brewing!

Chillin’ with Son of a Fermenter

Over the last 4 months, I have learned a lot about brewing and steps I can take to brew better beer.  Unfortunately, since I recently moved, I don’t have the space to transition into doing all grain brews, but wanted to at least take one more step to improving consistency with my partial mash sessions.  After moving, I was confronted with having to deal with higher fermentation temperatures in the new location.  In the past, I could ferment between 69 and 72 degrees which weren’t terrible, but now I was faced with 74 degrees and higher.  I needed a solution to have more control over this problem.

I headed to a fellow home brewer’s house and the guy who got me started on all this, to do an all grain silk stout and asked him what he was doing, if anything, to control fermentation temps.  He said nothing and his beers were now reaching 78 degrees too.  I mentioned wanting to get a chest freezer and temp control and he told me about the Son of a Fermenter.  What a great idea.  Plus, it sounded like it could be an economical solution.  Also, I needed something smaller than a chest freezer because of significant space constraints.

The fan is vital for getting the temps down quickly

 After brewing, I headed home and was all over the net and You Tube searching for the infamous Son of a Fermenter.  I found the site and plans by Ken Schwartz and a killer video which gave me a good visual on how this thing should look and piece together.  With a good idea on the looks of it, I figured to go with this set up and try to mimic it as closely as possible. 

Thermostat is mounted in the center and allows access while a carboy is in the front section. Wiring is routed through the insulation and connected to the fan in the rear section

We followed Ken Schwartz’s directions closely and were eager to get started.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have any of the parts lying around the house, so we ended up having to buy most of the materials and parts.  I am certain that if you have this stuff around, you can save a good chunk of change.

Here is the list of what we used:

  • One (1), 2 in. 4ft. x 8ft. Thermasheath insulation
  • ¾” x ¾ “ wood molding
  • ¾” x 5/16” weather stripping
  • Rite Temp (Model 6022) thermostat
  • 12V/500mA AC adapter from Radio Shack
  • 12V, 4” cooling fan (273-238) from Radio Shack
  • Liquid Nails
  • Titebond II Premium wood glue, water resistant
  • DAP Kwik Seal Tub & Adhesive Caulk
  • Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish (Clear Satin finish)
  • Two (2), ½ in. 5ft x 5ft. Baltic birch plywood (this was for the case)

We were able to have Home Depot make the first long cut on the insulation which helped me get it home. The problem I ran into was that they cut it one inch off of the correct measurement.  So, now I had to compensate for the remaining pieces and I ultimately had a box that was smaller.  No big deal, because I needed it to fit in a smaller space anyways and my 6.5 gallon carboy had no problems fitting in the front chamber.  The Liquid Nails worked great and the insulation pieces had a good strong bond.  Before gluing in the baffle, so I would have room to work, I filled the interior edges with the clear caulk.  The seals turned out perfect with no leaks.  Then, I glued the baffle in place and sealed the remaining interior edges.

Front section can hold up to a 6.5 gallon carboy.

 Next up, I cut the wood molding so the front and top pieces would fit snug and create a good seal, glued them in place with wood glue and attached the weather stripping.  I wired up the fan and thermostat, fired it up and tested for air leaks.  I had a few, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with minor tweaks.  Once I was able to get the leaks under control, I placed two, 1/2 gallon jugs of ice in the back chamber and fired up the fan (I use 1/2 gallon Gatorade bottles because they are skinnier and I can fit 2 side by side in each of the ice chambers without having to stack them).  Within 20 minutes, I had the air temperature down to 39 degrees and holding great.

Molding and weather stripping to contain cold air

 Like a lot of home brewers I hear and read about, I don’t have a basement or even a garage where I can store my Son of a Fermenter.  So, the next step for us was to build a simple box or case to make it look a little nicer for the house.  We measured the dimensions and used a 5 ft. x 5 ft. x ½ in. sheet of Baltic birch plywood.  The finish was smooth and with a little more sanding, it was perfect.  We dry fit it to ensure the measurements were right, drilled and counter sunk holes for the screws and put 3 to 4 coats of Polycrylic protective finish on each of the panels.  The final step was to screw all the wood pieces together and slide the insert the entire foam piece into place.  Time to get brewing.

Additional photos below:

Bottom with metal feet

Fan, molding, weather stripping

Fan, thermostat, molding and weather stripping

View from above. Front section, all parts installed

Left side

Outside on my patio. Plenty of room and I'm achieving good fermentation temperatures!