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Wolfy's 3v Stainless Home-brewery Build Details

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Wolfy

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It's taken more than 6 months, but my new brewery is at the stage where things are happening and I have enough photos and details to make it worth sharing.

Introduction:
In this thread I hope to present - with the help of lots of pictures - the process I've followed to build my new home-brewery. The main purpose is to show how I've done stuff and essentially prove that if I can do it, anyone can. While there is not much new, different, special or unique, I'm presenting the info in the hope of inspiring others with some of the ideas or to DIY their own brewery setup.

Posts here will be a condensed, appropriate for AHB version of the various rants on my blog: http://blog.bracio.com/
If you need more information or details, it's probably included on the corresponding blog-post.

Disclaimer:
  • Most ideas, designs, concepts and information were borrowed, copied or learned from others on these forums or other online resources. i do not claim such as mine or suggest they are, but present them here as what I've done for my own needs and purposes.
  • I have no skill with power tools, handy-man stuff, measuring shit or building things, so no matter what level inept skill level with such things, anyone can do this.
  • My delicate office-worker hands get blisters just at the thought of manual labour, so again, if I can do it anyone can.
  • There are probably other/better ways to achieve the same results, especially when working with tools and stuff. It may be that I overlooked or did not know better, so any/all advice is welcome for future improvement, especially in regard to tools, techniques or build methods.
  • Use some common-sense and practicality if you decide to follow any suggestions or advice. While I honestly feel that if I can build stuff like this, anyone can, never try to do more than you can manage, always use appropriate tools, appropriate protective equipment and don't do anything that could injure yourself or others without first carefully considering the consequences.
  • At the time of posting, I have not injured myself or others in any major way, however, if you do follow any suggestions or advice, please realize that you do-so at your own risk and nobody but yourself is to blame for any adverse consequences, damage, injury or worse.
 

Wolfy

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#1 Planning and Overview
Blog post

My old home-brewery setup has done me well over the last few years. However, I've been thinking about upgrading my home-brew equipment for some time.

Objectives:
  • Appropriate equipment to brew the best and most consistent beer possible (for me at home).
  • Keep build costs to an absolute minimum.
  • Maintenance and cleaning easy and hassle free.
  • Able to brew double batches if required.
  • Minimise or eliminate the need to manually lift hot wort/water.
Major build decisions:
  • 3-vessel system
  • All stainless construction (based on 2nd-hand 50L beer kegs)
  • All electric
  • Silicon hose and stainless cam-lock connections
  • Pump for liquid transfer
  • DIY for everything possible
  • Careful consideration of each component, source and cost (tight-arse shopping)
Initially I was planning to build a single-level system with a single pump, something very simple and easy like Cortez's Brew Stand. However, since I prefer to fly-sparge, the design quickly evolved into a 2-tier setup and over the last six-or-so months, the sketches on backs-of-envelopes and other bits-of-paper have evolved a little:


Plan includes 3x 2nd-hand beer-kegs, plate-chiller (was very cheap at Keg King), a hop-back (design/build pending), a little-brown-pump, and a HERMS.

With my old setup, I often had trouble both hitting and maintaining the correct mash-temperature, which meaning quick additions of boiling or cold water, having to do random on-the-fly decoctions or other stuff. So while the HERMS adds a deal of complexity and additional expense, it should allow mash temperatures to be controlled and stepped in a much more precise and accurate way and make the brew-day easier and more relaxing.

No doubt things will change and evolve as the brewery is built, but since the kegs in the fridge are starting to get empty, its about time it was built and used, especially since I've sold the old system to help pay for the new one!
 

Wolfy

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#2 Keg Cutting
Blog post

To convert the used beer kegs, they need the tops cut out of them. Google and YouTube show all kinds of complicated ways to do this, including using a jig or a plasma cutter. Since I had not done anything like this before, I did try to follow some of the advice, but found most of it pretty useless and the actual procedure (outlined below) much simpler and easier than I imagined.

Note: In the pictures below, the top collar of the keg has been removed, this makes them lighter and easier to work with but the handles still retrain their full strength. Removing the collar before cutting the top off the keg gives more working space, which is useful in keeping the grinder upright, but the collar does make a useful guide if you don't have a specific lid to fit. I was planning to use this keg as both the HLT and still-pot, but SWMBO had other ideas, so I decided to cut the top out of this keg too - and took the pictures as I did.

The only major tool needed to cut the keg-tops is an angle grinder, a thin steel cutting disk and a thicker steel grinding disk, however the $1-2 disks (shown below) worked well (Note: The last time I visited the big-green-shed they had Makita brand Stainless cutting disks that were thinner and better again).


The first thing to do is depressurize the keg, I did that by putting a rag over the valve and pushing down with a heavy screw driver (the keg shown below has the spear removed so no chance of pressure-buildup). Then mark out the top of the keg, I found a 30cm glass-fry-pan lid at an Op-shop for $4 which will make an ideal lid, so I just traced around the outside:


Attach the thin metal cutting disk to the angle grinder and run it -lightly- around just inside the marked line:


Now that we have a groove to follow, continue to run the angle grinder around that groove. If you have not yet removed the top collar of the keg - and especially if you don't plan to use a lid of a specific size - there is no need to mark the cutting circle, simply place the shield of the angle grinder against the collar and use that as a guide as you cut around the top of the keg.

Continue to work the angle grinder around the groove, keeping the cutting depth even all the way round, this should help preserve the cutting disk and if you do not concentrate on one section for too long it allows the stainless steel to cool before you come back to cut on that location again:


After running the angle grinder around the top of the keg a few times, it will eventually cut through the top:


At this stage, it's best to keep the keg-spear in-place (but ensure the keg is totally depressurized) that way the section of keg-top has something to balance on as it's cut out:


Change to the steel grinding disk and clean up the hole and edges, if fitting a lid ensure that it correctly fits the hole. Run the grinding disk over, around and under the hole to smooth it of and remove any jagged bits of metal. I found that by resting the guard of the angle grinder on the edge, guiding it backward grinding and smoothing the edge gradually around the circle allowed a good level of control and ensured that the (generally) circular hole remained (pretty much) circular:


Once the edges have been cleaned up with the grinding disk, its useful to smooth off the edges even more using a file, dremel tool or wet-dry sandpaper. Continue working around the edge until it is smooth and clean and you can run your hand around without cutting yoruself or getting metal-splinters. After a bit of work (maybe 1/2 hour all up) the top of the keg has been cut out, smoothed off and lid fitted:


Note:
Stealing beer kegs is bad (and illegal), however they can be purchased legitimately at various places. Keg King (Vic) currently have 50L kegs in stock (around $50ea), The Local Taphouse (Vic, NSW) often have 2nd hand (International brewery) kegs for sale (around $40 I think), so check with vendors where you live and you might be able to get 50L kegs at good prices. There are often brewery-kegs sold on Ebay, however they are not always legitimate sales, so even if you pay for one there it might not actually be something you were allowed to purchase.
 

Wolfy

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#3: Perforated Stainless filters/false bottoms

A commercial-keg-mash-tun false bottom does a good job solid job, but they cost about $60-70. Since I decided to drill holes in the bottom of the kegs for the outlet valve (more on this when I take some hole-drilling photos) I essentially needed two false-bottoms and a filter for my hopback design. Unfortunately I don't have access to cheap/scrap perforated stainless, and buying even small amounts of it is difficult to find or expensive. Linked from one of the threads here was the RS Online Website, which has 2mm hole-size 47% open area 0.55mm thick stainless sheets. The hole-size is the same as commercial-type false bottoms, but the open area was a little greater and the steel was also thinner.

The good thing about the 500x500 sheet was that I should be able to make the mash-tun false bottom, kettle filter and the two hopback filters from the single sheet:


With a little care the perforated stainless was relatively easy to cut with a cutting disk on the angle grinder:


After cleaning up the edges with a grinding disk and a hand-file, the false bottom fitted in the keg mash-tun well. However, since it's thinner than the commercial false bottom, it can't easily be bent into a dome, and it may struggle to hold the weight of the mash. I plan to use a 1/2 inch threaded pipe-connector that will attach to the outlet-nipple and support the center of the DIY false bottom.


The bottom-draining-kettle-filter was a little smaller and slightly less round, but it still should do it's job more than adequately:


Filter-plates for the hopback were more time consuming to make due to the smaller size, my inability to measure the required width exactly and the fact that they must fit inside the container exactly:


But with some time and patience, I was able to make two round filter plates that fit exactly inside the stainless container:


I'll post more details on the hopback design/build when it's finished. :)

Edit: I still have 1 unused sheet of the perforated stainless, if anyone in Melb wants to buy it (at the price it cost me), send me a PM. ;)
 

Wolfy

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#4: Electricals / Control Box
Blog post here and here.

The addition of 3x electrical heating elements, HERMS, PID, SSR and HLT temperature controller, combined with the fact that the house's electrical wiring does not include RCD's (Safety Switches), means that the electrical stuff was much more complicated than I really wanted.

The various electrical bits ended up as follows:
1x 2200W Electrical heating element for the HLT.
1x 'Fridgemate' temperature controller to control temperature in the HLT.
2x 2200W Electrical heating element for the Kettle (with the option of controlling one via the manual setting on the PID).
1x 2000W 'cheap-kettle' element for the HERMS.
1x PID to control HERMS/mash tempeature
1x SSR between the HERMS element and controller
Other bits for the electrical control box include:
2x 20A RCD/MCB
2x DPST switches
2x DPDT switches
8x 240V LED control lights
Wires, cables, cable joiners, cable glands not shown in the photo and a box to put it all in:


Except the elements, which were purchased directly from Keg King, electrical items were sourced from Ebay, purchasing 3x RCD, a 60A switch and plastic control box was cheaper than buying just 2x RCD's. So everything will be housed in the control box, but if things get too hot I'll buy a bigger metal one.

After a few rough sketches the circuit diagram ended up something like this:


There are a number of reasons - legal and safety - why 240V DIY is not recommended, or even legal in Australia, so get someone with the appropriate certificate to help you out or do the work for you.

When completed the control box looks like this:

The control box uses cables instead of GPO's (Power points, that would have made it look neater) because I had an abundance of left-over computer type cables, which the electric kettle (HERMS), heating elements and pump 12V adapter all use - so it was cheaper and easier to use those, especially in the small sized control box.


As for how things work: Power-in via the two middle gray power-cords directly through the RCD/MCB's. The white and middle black cords are switched (two central switches) for the pump(s) or anything else needed. On the left is the HLT power, controlled by a TempMate digital controller - I had an unused one and they allow for 20A relay, which makes it more suitable than cheaper STC1000 type controllers. On the right is power for the HERMS element, controlled by the PID via the SSR. The last two black power cords (lower outer edges) are direct power for the two kettle elements, switched (via DPDT switches) so that only one of those or the HLT/HERMS can be on at any one time.
 

Wolfy

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#5: Plumbing - fittings
Blog post

Since I can't weld, the decision to use weldless fittings was made for me, as was to use all stainless and since 1/2 inch size is standard for home-brewers that was a default choice also. However, I did decide to use NTP fittings (U.S. standard thread) based on cost. NTP fittings -purchased from the USA or China (via Ebay) are significantly cheaper than similar local items that have a slightly different thread, luckily at 1/2 inch size, it should not matter if I need to mix in a few locally purchased fittings.

When I purchased them last year (Chi Company, USA) the 'SnapLock' brand camlock fittings were about half the cost of similar local products.


The two 1/2inch thermowells (Ebay: mainlandvf) have both a 1/2 inch thread that screws into the keg and also a 1/2 inch thread to fit a probe - most other thermowells are designed differently.


After checking the prices from four local vendors, and two USA based websites, Chinese Ebay fittings (which are probably exactly the same as all the others anyway) averaged out at about 20-40% cheaper (Ebay: av-rf, dailyappliance2010), with the ball valves - 3piece valves for kettle and mash tun, 2piece for HLT and pump - about 1/3 to 1/2 the price than I could find elsewhere.
 

Wolfy

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To come:
Drilling holes/attaching fittings (when I do some and take photos).
HERMS (when it's finished).
Hopback (when it's finished).
Other stuff: Sight gauge, insulation, etc (when I do it)
Complete setup (if/when it ever gets finished)
Brew stand (no hurry for this one, need to brew first) for now I'll use the topless-table that one of my neighbours was throwing out:


Obviously one of the major problems with drilling the bottom of the kegs is that you can't put them on a normal table once the fittings are attached.
 

troopa

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Gonna have to read through this when i get home... but Wolfy dont you sleep mate :)

Gratz on getting there and i look forward to tasting one of your superb beers off the new system
Btw if your after any other tools let us know mate i probably got them on hand
 

PhantomEasey

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This is shaping up to look like my intended 3V build, can't wait to see how you finish this bad boy off Wolfy!
 

DarkFaerytale

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shit hot Wolfy, lovely, well thought out setup. hope it brings you many years of happiness

-Phill
 

stux

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If I were to build a 3V it'd look like that :)

Can't wait for more updates, good luck :)
 

JaseH

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Looking good! Cant wait for more progress updates! :icon_cheers:
 

Wolfy

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#6: False bottom/filter stand-offs

As mentioned in Update #3, the 0.55mm thick perforated stainless used to make the mash false-bottom and kettle filter, is not as heavy duty as the commercial false-bottoms and might not easily hold the weight of the mash (or even sit in place with vigorous stirring). The two threaded pipe fittings arrived today, and after a little bit of work with a grinding disk on the angle grinder, they fit under the false bottom, provide support and should allow the wort to easily drain.

Obviously they'll be installed on the inside of the keg (but would be impossible to photograph there), and the false bottom will sit between the two washers.

Unfortunately my Australian-purchased (via Ebay) 1/2 inch washers don't actually fit 1/2 inch fittings (even though I asked the vendor before buying them), so I'll have to send them back and source some of the right size from overseas. So far, I have gotten and more accurate communication and faster delivery by getting stuff from China than from Australian shops selling stuff on Ebay (and they're about 50% cheaper than retail shops here).
 

Malted

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#6: False bottom/filter stand-offs

As mentioned in Update #3, the 0.55mm thick perforated stainless used to make the mash false-bottom and kettle filter, is not as heavy duty as the commercial false-bottoms and might not easily hold the weight of the mash (or even sit in place with vigorous stirring).

Unfortunately my Australian-purchased (via Ebay) 1/2 inch washers don't actually fit 1/2 inch fittings (even though I asked the vendor before buying them), so I'll have to send them back and source some of the right size from overseas.
I had a commercially sourced dome false bottom and it used to flex or invert with the weight of grain on top if I ran the pump too hard. It did not after I put a support such as yours in it. If recirculating, don't run the pump flow too fast.

Get a silcone baking sheet and cut it into donuts to use as washers. You can get a piece of metal pipe and sharpen the end, place over baking sheet and whack other end with a hammer. Repeat again with a smaller piece of pipe and now you have a silcone washer factory happening. Most silcone washer made in this manner will be slightly smaller than the object they are going over, you will have to stretch them on to fit. It is probably done this way to get a better seal. You may have had incorrectly sized fibre washers so my answer is not a one size fits all answer.
 

Wolfy

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Silicon baking sheet is a great idea, and I have one cut-up for making custom-washers (and will use it for the hopback seal also), using a metal pipe is a good idea, because I tried cutting it with a knife and couldnt get them very round. ;)
However, I have a number of silicon flat and o-ring type washers, I just need some more Stainless ones so the fittings will sit correctly when installed (one disadvantage of the NPT fittings is they don't screw all the way up like parallel threaded fittings do).
 

matho

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looks good wolfy can't wait to see it finished

cheers
 

vykuza

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Wolfy, it looks great. Thank you for taking the time to share the process in detail with us! I know it takes a lot of time, but it will no doubt help a few along the way!

:beer:
 

keifer33

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Thanks for sharing Wolfy its given me more inspiration to just order more parts to get my rig closer to being finished and a more permanent setup.
 

Wolfy

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looks good wolfy can't wait to see it finished
Unfortunately, when it's finished, I suspect it's gong to be rather ugly and not look 'good' at all. :wacko: I picked up a flap-disk in Bunnings just the other day - thinking how 'good' nice shiny stainless bling looks - but put the disk back on the shelf - realizing that it's there to make good beer not look 'good'. At this stage, the plan is to wrap it all in duct-taped insulation, which will be practical, but ugly.
 

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