Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Brew Kettle

I've been wanting to get my brewing out of the kitchen. Beth, my wife, isn't as enthusiastic as I am with the beer brewing, and it fills the house with the wonderful aromas of malt and hops. After many hours looking up info on the web, I decided on the electric keg kettle as the brewpot I will be making/using.

I scored the 15.5 gal sanke keg from my uncle. He found it abandoned. It wasn't the most desirable keg, since it has a rubber coating on the top and bottom. It wouldn't have worked at all for a propane heated pot, but I think that it will be ok for electric. This was the only straight sided keg that found.

Here is how it went. I took the keg down to my uncle's shop and had my cousin Larry help me:

1. Cutting the top. This proved to be the most difficult. I wanted an approximately 12" opening in the top. We started by removing the top layer of rubber. Scoring it with an utility knife, and prying it off with a large screw driver. Then we drilled a starting hole and used a reciprocating saw to do the cutting. It was not going very fast. Actually it wasn't going at all. We discovered that there was a layer of metal, then a 1/4 inch layer of rubber, and then the keg wall. I gave the OK to use the plasma cutter, we filled the keg with water to prevent the slag from messing up the inside, and less than 15 minutes later we had a ragged smoking flaming hole in the top of the keg. The rubber was burning and it was really awful smelling.

2. Cleaning up the top. This took a lot of time. Larry, finally got it so it wasn't like a razor blade all the way around the top. The OCD in me wishes that it was more perfect. It is 11.5" in diameter and has a 1/2' rim so if anything was to spill or condense it will not run in the pot, it will run off. Since this keg was rubber coated, it realy complicated this process, as we had to fiddle with the rubber.

3. Prepping the couplings. I decided to put three couplings in the keg. One 1" for the 4500 watt electric water heater element. I chose a RIPP style element, and this made the process more difficult. The 1" coupling had to be cut shorter because it would not slide around the curves of the element. We cut about a 3/4 inch piece off with a bandsaw and faced it with the lathe. Next was a 1/2 inch coupling for the drain. And last, a 1/4 inch coupling for a thermocouple. These didn't require any modification.

4. Drilling the holes. We drilled the keg with a slightly smaller bit than the actual coupling. We didn't want to make the hole to large, as I wanted a really nice weld job. The element hole and the drain hole we enlarged with a reamer in a die grinder, and then pulled the coupling through from the inside. This yielded a thight fit, but the last coupling turned out perfect. For the 1/4 inch coupling we drilled a 5/8 inch hole for the coupling that measured 3/4 inch. We didn't enlarge the hole, and pulled it through. It was hard to pull through, but it was perfect.

5. Welding. We chose TIG welding as the means of welding the couplings in the wall. Larry did this while I wasn't there, and did a nice job. He said that he burnt through a couple of times, and had to use filler in those places. We didn't have the necessary equipment to back gas, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I told him that I didn't want chunky bumpy yucky weld on the inside. This is bad because it can harbor bacterial and is impossible to keep sanitary. I was impressed with what he did, the only less than perfect spot is where he tried to TIG it on the inside around the element coupling. He did all the welding on the out side, and it looks good to me.

6. Leak test. We cleaned up the threads with a thread tap, and screwed in the element, valve, and a plug in the thermocouple coupling. We filled it with water and it didn't leak a drop. We drained ti through the drain, and I'm glad I used a 1/2 in valve, as a 3/8 inch valve would take forever!

Lessons learned:

1. Don't try to use a rubber coated keg, it isn't worth it. We would have been done in less than half the time and had a much better looking finished product if we had used a all stainless keg.

2. Use a straight folded water heater element. We could have left the 1 inch coupling full length. (and saved even more time)

3. Leave the holes 1/16 inch smaller than the object you are putting in, and pull it through with a bolt, nut, sleeve arrangement.

When all was said and done, I had a 15.5 electric brew kettle for only the cost of:

$ 0.00 - Keg
$10.00 - Stainless Steel Couplings
$ 3.00 - 1/2" Brass ball valve and coupling
$24.99 - 4500 watt RIPP water heater element

and the welding and machine work cost me our old coffee maker.

There will be more costs for the electrical stuff needed to drive the element. I have a few things on order, and will do another post when they get here and I get that part finished. I also am going to make a dip tube for the drain so it will empty the kettle.

Fixed Screen Resolution on Ubuntu 9.10

I restarted my ubuntu machine today and was presented with a glorious 800x600 screen resolution. After a few minutes of looking for the xorg.conf file and not finding it, I found this which got things working again:

Now if it were this easy to fix the mac keyboard that the cats spilled water on...