Now that I have far too much time on my hands, it’s time for a project! Yay for spending money…so much for financial responsibility.
Having already built a grind box, I figured a rail would be a fitting addition to my arsenal of skateboarding features. I’ve made rails in the past and found that I’ve had issues with the integrity of the supports. Since I approach the rail from the sides, I found that the supports would bend after a while.
This time, I decided to do a rail that was all metal, welding the supports to the rail. I did a small mention in a previous post about what I’d wanted it to look like (find it here.) I intentionally made the supports and the rail out of schedule 40 pipe as I wanted the weight to keep it from tipping.
I could have cut my costs a bit by scrounging for scrap steel, but this at least gave me the ability to get steel where I know the composition so that it can be welded.
I thought I had a picture of the steel and the plate prior to starting, unfortunately I don’t. You’ll have to use some imagination. Think 1 big steel pipe, 2 small steel pipes, and a plate. That’s all you need 🙂
One of the things I’m missing for this project is a welder. Luckily a friend of mine offered his assistance, he had an awesome Hobart welder that was perfect for this kind of project. (Thanks again Jon!)
I used a cutoff wheel on my grinder to form the notches for the bottom supports. Considering this is my first time notching tubes, I think I did ok…I will definitely need to practice or get an actual tube notcher if I plan to do this more in the future.
While I notched the bottom tubes, Jon cut out the bottom supports on the plate.
My notches came out a bit sub par, there was still a bit of a gap when I checked the notches on the pipe. Luckily we were able to add some filler to close the gaps. (I forgot to get a picture showing the gap on the notches) The support rails are 12″ high.
With the bottom supports cut and the tubes notched, it was time to weld! I let Jon do most of the welding considering the most I done prior to this was a few tack welds in shop class and a small bead just for practice.
Once we installed the pipe on, I decided to add some small gussets at the bottom of the plate supports and the pipe support to strengthen the supports and prevent bending of the bottom plates. I retrospect, I should have left these because I think the heat from the welding caused the plates to warp upwards.
I decided to leave the weld pools as is, I wasn’t too concerned about them. If I was really concerned about the appearance, I might have ground them down a bit.
I picked up a can of spray paint from the Home Depot. It was one of the trips where a $0.97 can of spray paint turned into a $91 trip when I realized I wanted a fire pit for my backyard. Curse you Home Depot…
When it was dry out, I sprayed the rail black. All in all, it looks great!
Thoughts and Lessons for Next Time
As I’d indicated above, the gussets welded into the bottom may have caused the plates to warp upwards. The warping may make the rail slide as there’s a limited contact patch now. In the future, I will likely forgo the gussets as I think the rail would have been fine as is.
Based on how tall the rail is, I may have miscalculated how long the supports should have extended out to the side. I could have added a few more inches. I don’t think I’ll have tipping issues, but if I do, I can always add more onto the sides.
All and all, I now have a grind rail! Now if I want to practice my rail tricks and I don’t feel like going to the skatepark, I don’t have to! My laziness is the motivation for my innovation.
Below is a video of my stellar skateboarding skills (or lack thereof 🙂 ). It was all filmed on my phone.
Now that I’ve knocked off one project on my list, it’s time to start planning for the next one! Since I plan to get back into my home brewing, I figured it would be a good time to get the fermentation chamber built.
The fermentation chamber is going to help me control my fermentation temperatures a lot better, meaning I’ll be able to get a better fermentation by ensuring the temperature is optimal for the yeast I’m using for my brew. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I may even try to make lager. These however require a cooler temperature and tend to take A LOT longer than your typical ales, so that may be a while.
It’s hard to believe I would find myself here two and a half years later, finally finished with my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering at Wayne State University! It’s been a long haul of learning signal processing, multiple levels of mechanical dynamics, vehicle dynamics, vibrations, controls engineering, engines, and finite element analysis. Looking back, I didn’t exactly make it easy for myself, but in the end I came out with a greater technical background.
Now that I’m done, I have a lot of extra free time on my hands. It’s a little odd getting out of work at the end of the day, only to realize there’s no class to go to. There’s some free time now to start doing some of the things I kept telling myself I would do more of (such as getting back to my blog posts! It’s been a little while…).
I have a long list of things I want to do. Below is a sample of my plans. (By no means will I take all of these on, it’s just a lot of ideas.)
Build a grind rail for skateboarding (already got the pipe! Plan on welding later this week!)
3D printing projects
Add autoleveling to my 3D printer.
Clean up the mishmash of wiring all over the printer.
Building a plastic case for the printer.
Lots and lots of 3D prints.
Build a driving simulator.
Similar to this. Though probably not nearly as intense.
My plan is to start small with a prototype setup like this.
A lot of Arduino and Beaglebone Black projects.
Robotic Arm…I keep think about doing it and haven’t done it.
Learn a programming language, start looking for A.I. projects.
Start doing yoga and exercise. (Exercise has definitely taken a back seat…)
Do A LOT more reading and writing.
Aside from that, I’d love to be doing car restoration work or wrenching on a car, sadly those projects require more space and money than I have to work with at the moment. In due time, I’ll likely talk about the planning here and there, but for now they’ll remain in the distance future.
For now I’m going to relish in the fact that I’m done my Masters! In the near future I’ll probably just bask in the fact that I’m done.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a skateboarder. I’ve been skateboarding for the better part of 15 years, and I continue to skate as much as my schedule allows me to. How come I keep skateboarding even as I get older? I do because I love it and it’s my refocusing mechanism for life. It’s like meditation.
I figured today would be a great day to get down some writing about skateboarding and what it means to me.
My entry into the world of skateboarding was when I moved from Edmonton to Calgary (in Alberta, Canada…), I was 13 and just entering the 7th grade. My good friend (who is also named James…I swear to you I’m not crazy, he really exists!) had been doing it for a while, so quite naturally I started up and joined him. I had a skateboard in Edmonton prior to moving to Calgary, but I hadn’t really started doing tricks until I moved.
I enjoyed the fun of ripping around on a skateboard, trying to learn how progress past the basics of doing ollies. As most skateboarders will tell you, the defining moment where skateboarders get hooked is when they can kickflip. The experience of landing that first kickflip is a lot like the first time you kiss a girl, you always remember it (regardless of how bad it actually was…). I was hooked ever since.
I’m going to give a small history about myself. It illustrates the point later on.
Like most people growing up, I struggled with the regular trials and tribulations of going through junior high and high school. Grades 7 through 9 were a challenge for me, I found I struggled to develop my social identity as I wrestled with my inability to communicate with girls and understand my thoughts and feelings in social groups. I wasn’t necessarily an outcast, but I can’t say my social groups during this time were all that helpful to my growth and development. My confidence was also lower considering that I was in a french immersion school. The only thing that made sense to me was math, hence a decent math grade followed by a lot of poor grades in other subjects. Low grades didn’t help reinforce me confidence. A part of me was convinced I wasn’t book smart at all.
In high school things turned around academically. I found myself close to the top of my high school in the academic front. It’s easier to do well when you understand the language! I wasn’t right at the top, but I didn’t really need to be. I crushed the math and sciences (except for chemistry, damn I dislike chemistry). I had enough issues navigating more social development in high school.
Halfway through high school, I joined a soccer program where I played soccer pretty much everyday. What I discovered about this program is that I actually didn’t get along with any of the other people. I found myself an outcast, with my interests and attitudes being completely different. Most people joined with the prospect of playing in university and beyond. Also, while this didn’t embody all of the students, I found that intelligence wasn’t a factor at all in dictating whether you could enter this program, only whether you had the excess cash to throw at it. That’s an unfair statement though, because at the time my only barometer of intelligence what grades in school. I’ve since discovered that grades don’t mean diddly squat in a lot of cases. Regardless, my inability to get along with others and my differences typically led to bullying, which certainly didn’t help.
Long story short, my soccer skills increased exponentially, my confidence in myself decreased significantly. While I still play soccer today, I do purely for exercise and at the end of the game, I could care less what the score is. While I try not to speak ill of others, I hope I never have anything to do with those who were involved that program again.
In short, high school was a mix of playing soccer, learning that I don’t understand social circles, and dealing with a diminishing confidence in myself and my abilities. That being said, I continued to skateboard.
Sorry for the plug, but you can see the height of my skateboarding after high school at the link here: Apologies in advance, the video quality really sucks, it’s an old video, when they still had film! Good god, I’m getting old.
At some point in the future I’ll have a more recent compilation, I’ve learned some fun new tricks.
So why do I give this little history?
The reason I talk about this is because while I had all these other issues to contend with, I continued to skateboard through it all. I got better and better and it made my identity. Whenever I was feeling low, or whenever I needed a boost of confidence, I could always go skateboard. It’s always been there with me.
One thing that always irritated me about team sports like soccer and hockey is that you are always limited by the weakest player on the team. I discovered in high school that I could be one of the best soccer player on the team and it wouldn’t make a difference in the overall outcome. My success was always dictated by the shortcomings of others. As selfish as this sounds, this is one reason why any time I played team sports, I got incredibly frustrated. I could give it all it got and it still didn’t make a difference.
However with skateboarding, the only person standing in the way of progressing and succeeding is yourself. You completely control your development when in comes to skateboarding, and I love seeing that putting in the work shows results. I am the master of my own success and if I can’t do something, it’s nobody’s fault but my own. This is one reason why I naturally gravitate towards more singular activities.
As a side bar, this doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in teams. There’s a time and place for them and there are many ways to make them work. That’s probably a post for another time.
Skateboarding was a pillar in my childhood development and was something that let me escape the world when I needed to. It was a way to get out of my own head when things were difficult.
Fast forward to today, I still skateboard. I can’t say I do ledges that are as big as I used to, nor can I go as long while serious aches in my body, but I continue to improve. When life feels like it’s becoming too difficult to handle, I have my skateboard.
Even this weekend, I was having a shitty start to the weekend. I found myself incredibly discouraged in a lot of aspects in my life. From my non-existent dating life, to feeling somewhat frustrated at work like most people do from time to time, to just feeling like my life isn’t going anywhere, I was feeling pretty down on myself.
In moments like these, I tend to spiral downwards in personal confidence and negative thinking. Once I noticed that happening I grabbed my skateboard and headed to the skatepark near me.
Once I hit the skatepark, my whole attitude shifts from feeling down and sorry for myself to focusing on whatever is in front of me. It might be improving my nollie kickflips, or how to lock into that switch 50-50. It might even me discovering new tricks I didn’t know I could do, I recently started to get the board motions of nollie 360 flips. I haven’t landed one, but just knowing how they work is something for me to work towards.
I find myself in a state of flow where nothing else matters. Whatever annoyed me at work doesn’t matter. My disappointing dating life doesn’t matter. My life regrets and disappointments don’t matter. I can shut out the world for the time and just focus on my skateboarding. I can remind myself every now and then that I can still skateboard and I have a few cool tricks still up my sleeves that impress people.
What I’m getting at is skateboarding is a huge part of my life and my identity. If there’s anything that skateboarding has given me, it’s a sense of flow and a means to be at one with myself when things just aren’t going my way. I can’t say every skate session I have goes well, there are days when I can’t land anything, or when I biff really hard and have to end early really pissed off. Regardless of what happens, it gives me a chance to refocus my thoughts. It gives me a sense of clarity in my life when there’s nothing else to provide it.
In short, I plan to continue skateboarding for as long as I possibly can, hopefully for the rest of my life. I would hope my joints hold out for long enough so I can continue to provide my life the clarity it needs when times get tough.
In a future post, I plan to explore how the process for skateboarding progression can be applied to solving problems in real life, because like so many things, doing a skateboard trick is a problem that needs to be solved to land it.
Well enough time has passed that I can finally give my critique of my first all grain brew. At least I can say I have one all grain brew under my belt.
Unfortunately this post is lacking in pictures, I didn’t end up taking a ton of pictures this time. There wasn’t that much different from my first post on all grain brewing, if you want more pictures, check out my previous post here.
Amber Ale Final Results
First, a couple of figures from the recipe versus what I ended up with:
*The pre-boil gravity is the gravity of the wort just prior to the boiling of the wort. I’m a little suspect of the number I got, since I believe the number needs to be measured when the wort is closer to ~65 Farenheit. Also, this number shouldn’t be this high when the wort is at a higher temperature.
So the amber ale I brewed ended up with an original gravity that is 0.010 lower than what the recipe calls for. We can see that there was alcohol production considering the difference in the final gravity and the original gravity. At least alcohol was I got alcohol.
Looking at the final gravity of the amber ale, the consistency is close to that of water! (water has a specific gravity of 1.000). I can taste the hoppiness in the beer, and there is an amber look to the beer. Unfortunately, what I ended up with is what could be described as hoppy alcoholic water. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
What I’m thinking happened is that I rushed the sparging process. I added water to the grain bed in the batch volumes indicated on beersmith, however I think the water didn’t sit in between batches for a long enough time, leaving lots of precious sugars behind.
Oh well, I’m drinking it anyways, because, well, it’s my first all grain beer. To me, it’s still drinkable. I think of it as a very light amber ale. Perhaps this will teach me a lesson, my penance for being impatient in the sparging process. Oh, woe is me!!
For my second batch, I decided to try something a little different than what I’m used to. I picked a German Pilsner for this recipe, it’s supposed to be a little lighter and crisper. The end color ended up being a little darker than I was hoping for, but it’s all a learning process.
The brew day was nothing short of trying. Through all the issues I had during the day, I was pretty convinced this would be the first batch I spoil or infect. We’ll see what happens.
First Mishap – Expired Propane Tank
The first thing that got my day going was when I went to refill my propane tanks, I discovered one of the tanks was expired. So much for buying a half full propane tank at a garage sale. No biggie, the bar-be-Que I got with it works, that’s the important thing. Also I already had one brand new propane tank, so it wasn’t a complete loss.
Second Mishap – The Water is Yellow!
Once I got my brew day going, I noticed that once I got my strike water close to mash temperature, the water was yellow! Not entirely sure what happened, the main pot I used last time only held water I heated for mashing and for sparging. I thought I’d cleaned it out. Turns out I hadn’t…
Minor setback, I cleaned out my pot very thoroughly with SOS pads and got it nice and clean. On my second try, the water was crystal clear. Lesson learned, clean out the pot even if it only had water in it…
Third Mishap – It’s Windy Outside…
Another issue I encountered was the fact that it was fairly breezy outside. The flame on my burners kept getting blown out. It was a minor irritation, I had to keep re-igniting them.
The mashing itself when pretty well, not much can go wrong when grains and water need to sit for an hour. I tested the mash with iodine after about an hour and ten minutes and it was ready for sparging.
Fourth Mishap – Problematic Sparge Arm Attachments
For this brew I attempted to fly sparge versus batch sparging. This involved using my nifty sparge arm I made myself and alluded to at the end of my last blog post. Basically, I didn’t have a solid attachment to the hose barb on the sparge water pot and while I was sparging, the hose kept slipping off, causing the copper pipe to land on top of the grain bed. So much for not disturbing the grain bed during sparging…
On the plus side, the sparge arm worked. I tried to take a picture, but there’s a wooden board I had covering it to kind keep some of the steam from escaping and to keep the sparge arm in place. You can sorta see how high the water stayed above the grain bed, the recommendation was about 1-2″.
Fifth Mishap – Boilovers!
Once I finished the sparging, I got to boiling my wort. I stop paying attention for a little bit, and before I knew it I heard sizzling on one of my burners…yep, I had a nice boilover. Boy it sucks cleaning that sticky mess up.
The best part is, not only did it happen once, it happened TWICE. You’d think I’d learn from the first one, evidently not…
The End Result
After the boil, a lot more wort evaporated than I had anticipated so I only ended up with 4.5 gallons versus 5. I found that when I measured my original gravity following chilling, I was actually a lot closer to the original gravity than my first batch. This is good news! While the fly sparging took a lot more time, I think I captured a lot more sugars.
Basically I ended up with the following:
So looking at the numbers, I’m in a closer range to the recipe. I think if I’d let the wort cool a bit more I’d be pretty darn close.
We’ll see how much more I plan to write about in the next little bit. I have been superbly delinquent in my plans to better understand and implement microcontrollers to my brewing process. At this point, I’m all talk and no action.
Eventually I’d like to talk a little more about some DIY projects I have in mind with woodworking, I’ve got some extra lumber kicking around that I’d like to use for some practical storage purposes.
Now that my courses for the winter semester are finally complete, I now have at least the summer to dedicate to my wonderful hobby of homebrewing. Oh man, does it feel good to be done for the semester!
On a separate note, I have been thinking that considering my blog is called “My Broken Skateboard” I really haven’t provided enough writing, videos, or photos in relation to actually breaking skateboards. Does this mean I’m intentionally going to break some skateboards and take videos? Of course not! That being said, my skateboarding media could use a boost on the site, so I’m hoping future posts will incorporate my passion – skateboarding!
Now, back to business.
3 Tier Gravity Feed Stand
Like any of my projects, I like to try and build a CAD model before building. I always like to get a sense of what I’m building before I start, so naturally it’s nice to have some drawings and some plans.
I found myself getting rather frustrated with AutoCAD Fusion 360 as I was trying to make a 3D model of my brew stand. Considering a lot of my previous plans use Google Sketchup, I’m going to abandon my attempts at using Fusion 360 and start over using sketchup more exclusively. It’s what I used in the past to build the 3D models and drawings of my grind box. Plus, it seems like there’s a better community for downloading 3D models of pre-existing objects. In my case, I’d be grabbing models of a propane tank, 10 gallon Igloo cooler, and some stock pots. In the event I can’t find them, I’ll approximate the shape and dimensions considering them as basic cylinders.
Below is some CAD images of the 3 tier stand. My actual stand didn’t turn out quite as I’d expected, I made a few mistakes that I’ve made before.
Once I had the plans done, I got to work and got it done. Below is the end result, it functions, even if it doesn’t look exactly like the model.
One of the things I really need to start doing is accounting for screw and bolt lengths between my wood sections. I changed the orientation of the bottom section so I could attach the 2 x 4 pieces of lumber using screws. Even with screws, you need a screw length of 3.5 inches to joint 2 pieces of lumber together.
At some point I’ll need to figure out a better way to join lumber using glue and clamps, or biscuit joints.
Once it was all ready, I tested my equipment to make sure the cooler sealed and the burners worked.
Now with the 3 tier stand and all the equipment, I’m ready to rock on my first all grain brew!
My First All Grain Brew
I decided to choose an amber ale as amber ales are somewhat symbolic in my life. The first beer I ever brewed with the help of my dad back home was an amber ale, it was also the first time I learned fermentation produces C02, and that the gas needs to exit the container somehow. This is how I learned how much of a sticky mess beer makes when it blows the top off a sealed container!
A few more terms crop up with all grain brewing. Since we are brewing straight from the grains, we have a grain bill. This is like a bill of materials, but contains the grains used in the mash.
Since there are more steps involved in all grain brewing, the process can become really finicky and complicated depending on what kind of beer you want to make. Luckily, we live in the software age, where a generous soul has taken a lot of the complexity out of the process. The program BeerSmith has already proven to be immensely valuable in laying out the steps for an all grain brew day. Basically you take your recipe, enter the volume of wart you want to produce, along with the amounts of grain, the type of equipment you’re using, and the type of sparge method, and it punches out a nice looking recipe. I’m still on the trial version for another week, but there’s no question I’ll be buying this. For $27.95, it’s more than worth it.
Here is the recipe that I went with. It includes the grain bill and the type of hops I used. Amber Ale Recipe
Since this was my first all grain brew, I chose to go with batch sparging. Basically it means after my mash, I add a defined amount of water to the grains and drain the liquid out. This is known as rinsing the grain bed. I do this in 4 stages, which in the end gives me my pre-boil wort volume. For a much more detailed explanation of the sparging methods, check out this link.
The best part of all, my buddies joined me to partake in the fun! Of course, learning about making beer’s a whole lot easier when there’s beer to be enjoyed!
First I needed to boil my strike water. This is done on the top tier of my brew stand with the pot that’s got a thermometer and a spigot. The strike water has to be at a specific temperature as it sets the temperature of the mash. Mash temperatures basically define the characteristic and the flavors of the beer. My recipe called for mash temperature of 156 F. Based on the temperature drop of the grains once the water’s added, my strike water needed to be 168 F.
Next, the all important step of adding the grains to the cooler. It doesn’t look like much, but there’s a lot of joy in seeing what will eventually be a lovely amber ale.
After about 45 minutes, the mashing was complete. I tested this using tincture of iodine. You take a bit of the wort and add some of the iodine. If the iodine disappears, the starch to sugar conversion is compete and the mashing is complete. Something I discovered was that spilling iodine on yourself makes for a very difficult mess to clean up.
Now we get to the sparging part.
I didn’t quite understand this part because the steps that the software punched out indicated that my batch volumes needed to be done ~0.25 gal for the first batch, then 2.26 gallons for the second and third batches. I didn’t exactly understand why this was the case. I heated up the 4.75 gallons of water to 168 F and sparged as per the instructions. I did the following:
Once the mash was complete, I drained the wort from the mash as quickly as possible. This was the first “batch” of liquid.
Once the liquid was drained, ~0.25 gallons of water at 168f was added. The grain bed was stirred up and left to rest for about 5 minutes. This is the second “batch”. After 5 minutes, it was drained into the boil pot.
Repeating the above process, I added ~2.25 gallons at 168 F for the third and fourth batches.
After sparging, I ended up with a pre-boil volume that was ~7 gallons.
Now that we’ve got our wort, the process is exactly the same as extract brewing. Bring the wort to a boil, add boil hops at the beginning and aroma hops at the end, cool, add to the fermenter, add yeast, a voila! Wort is on it’s way to becoming beer.
The only downside of all grain brewing is there is a lot more prep work and clean up with the added equipment. Plus the mashing and sparging processes add at least another hour and a half to the process. It turns brewing into a full day adventure.
Planned Upgrade – Sparge Arm
Since my pre-boil gravity was lower than predicted as per the recipe, I decided to try and improve the process by fly sparging. The reason a low specific gravity is an issue is that it means I didn’t extract as much sugar as I could from the grains during sparging. To extract more sugars, I will change up the sparging process to fly sparging. It takes quite a bit longer, but it (supposedly) yields better results.
In order to fly sparge, I need a sparge arm to distribute water across the grain bed. If you just dump water in front a hose, you end up creating a channel in the grain bed which causes the water to drain unevenly through the grain bed. I decided to make my own sparge arm. A sparge arm is basically a piece of equipment that sprinkles the water evenly over the grain bed.
One of this nice things about this project is I got to learn how to solder copper pipe. It’s surprisingly easy.
The Finished Sparge Arm
I’ll report back on how it works, hopefully it doesn’t disturb the grain bed.
Being the wonderfully thrifty person I am, I managed to pass by a garage sale where they were selling a BBQ grill and a propane tank for $25! Considering an empty tank will run ~$30, I think I did pretty well. I also continue to discover the usefulness of my truck.
My Next Posts
For my future posts, I’ll provide updates for fly sparging versus batch sparging. Also, I have a lot of projects to tackle this summer, including creating some storage containers for my tools, building a skateboard rail, and getting creative with integrating electronics into my homebrewing.
Once again, I’ve let far too much time lapse from the last time I wrote a blog post. I had hoped to keep my updates a little more frequent, however life as always has made it very difficult to just sit a write a post. I’ve discovered that two engineering masters courses and full time work means there’s very little time left for hobbies. It’s tough managing my time, but I’ll get through.
Trying to be as concise as possible, I will admit these last couple of months have been a bit trying. Between getting stressed out by school, by work, and by the constant bombardment of news that encompasses the USA’s newly elected President, it’s been hard to find peace sometimes. What I’ve found is that I’ve had to work at accepting the things I cannot control and calming myself down when I’m stressed out. Deep breathing has been a great source for those times when life in general becomes overwhelming.
But enough of that, I don’t need to dictate in detail my feelings, despite how interesting and exciting they are.
What am I here to talk about today? Skateboarding, beer, and electronics! (Yes, I’m just that cool 🙂 )
We’re finally turning the bend where there should be some consistently nice weather. We had some not too bad weather a little while back, but it’s been so inconsistent. Once school ends in April, skateboarding awaits!
I plan to build a nice rail to complement the grind box I built for myself last summer. I made a lovely round bar rail in AutoCAD Fusion.
I’ve been thinking about how I would build this and I’m looking to keep it as simple as possible. So while the rail shown below uses round pipe, I’m likely going to end up using square pipe instead to make the welding process a little easier.
Now I just need to find someone with a welder…
On the homebrew front, I really haven’t has as much time to brew as I did going into the holidays. Only a couple of weeks ago did I get a Belgian White and another IPA going.
While malt extract brewing has been going well and I’ve got a good feel for it, I’ve got the itch to start upgrading my equipment and going towards all grain brewing. All grain is about as close to making beer from scratch as it gets. Only step after that would be to start a farm and grow my own ingredients!
The All Grain Brewing Process
All grain brewing really doesn’t add many more steps to the brewing process. Right now, I do the following:
Steep grains in hot water.
Add malt extract to the water and bring to a boil
Add hops a boil for an hour (add more hops at end if necessary)
Let it ferment
Carbonate and enjoy!
All grain brewing modifies the first two steps. With my current process the malt extract is already prepared, so there’s not much flexibility in terms of changing the characteristics of the wort. All grain brewing basically modifies the first two steps of the process, you in a sense create the wort by adding hot water to crushed grains and letting it sit for a while (this is called “mashing”). The liquid is then drained off, and hot water is then run through the grain bed to rinse it (called “lautering”). The wort is then boiled. After that it’s the same as Malt extract brewing.
What’s required in all grain in the beginning is the drain hot water into the grains. The vessel that holds the grains is called the “mash tun”. A lot of people use gravity to move liquid from one vessel to another, so one of my ideas is to build a 3 tier stand similar to what’s shown below. Considering it’s all wood, I figured it would make a great gravity feed system.
I have a lot of plans for modifying my boil pots, modifying coolers to make a mash tun, and possibly a few side projects, such as making a counter flow chiller for cooling my wort faster.
Before I get into all grain brewing, I want to have the equipment to make sure my first day goes as smoothly as possible. I will likely have a slew of posts for all the little modifications I plan to make to my kettles prior to my first all grain brew. I’ve got the following planned:
Site glass installation
Weldless Ball Valve
Making my own Mash Tun
Level sensors for fly sparging
Temperature Probes for Mash temperature measurement
Wort re-circulation pump
3 tier brewing system (woodworking project)
Counter-flow wort chiller
Electronics (and More Homebrewing)
As always, the world of electronics continues to peak my interest, despite the fact that I constantly get overwhelmed by electronics once I really start trying to map what I’d like to achieve with how to accomplish my end goal.
I have a couple ideas for some projects that I could apply to my homebrewing. Right now, most of them involve applying multiple temperature sensors to the homebrewing process to track temperatures throughout the process. This becomes more critical in all grain brewing since the temperature of the mash will define the characteristic of the beer. Mash temperatures influence the body of the beer, along with the fermentable sugars you get out of the grains.
Plus, going forward, I’d like to start logging more of what I did during the brewing process, and temperatures are a large part of the end result of the beer.
Oddly enough, it seems like most of my project ideas inherently turn into some kind of control system problem. The kind of control I want to have for whatever system I’m looking at eventually lends itself to some kind complex control system (think P.I.D control. If you don’t know what that is, take a look here.)
Take for instance the grain rinsing process in all grain brewing. In a nutshell, it’s pulling the fermentable sugars and starches out of the grains. At the beginning of the mashing process, you add a certain amount of water at a given temperature to the grains and you let it sit for a given amount of time. Once that’s over, the wort has to be drained from the mash tun into the boil kettle. This is called “sparging”.
There’s a few different methods to capture the sugar and starches from the mash. One method involves adding the water in batches (also called “batch sparging”). You take a given about of water, add it to the mash tun all at the same time after the mashing is complete, then drain it all at once into the boil kettle. You add the water and drain in “batches” until you have enough wort in the boil kettle.
Another method is adding the water in a controlled process and matching the outflow of the water at the bottom to the inflow of water on top (this is also called “fly sparging”). Basically you try to match the inflow of the hot water to the outflow of the wort at the bottom.
In an ideal world, there’s a perfect height (we call it “X” in my illustration below) where the height of the water will not change in the mash tun with respect to the inflow of water and outflow of wort. Now if we think about this for a second, the outflow of wort is in a sense, a function of “X”. There is an idealized mathematical relation between the speed of the outflow at the bottom of the vessel versus the height of the water call Torricelli’s law.
Note that in reality, we can’t really rely on Torricelli’s law, because we have a whole bunch of other stuff going on. The ability for the water to travel through the grain bed and out the bottom is going to highly fluctuate depending on the grain bed density, porosity, and distribution of grains in the mash tun.
Without trying to model this as a mathematical system, I’ve made a ghetto illustration with paint to show the process. In reality, we need a control system to match the inflow of water to the outflow of the wort. We want to get as close to height “X” as possible without deviating too much.
Using a given height “X” from the top of the grain bed, we can measure the upper and lower changes in height and modify our “Flow in” while keeping the “Flow out” constant. We can accomplish this by measuring the height of the water on the grain bed with a level sensor, then adjust the water flow in until we get close to the set point.
On further investigation, there are many other simpler ways to accomplish this. There’s mechanical devices out there that already attempt to accomplish this, and then there’s most other people who spend more time doing things rather than thinking about doing them.
For my first all grain batch, I’m better just to adjust the inflow and outflow valves accordingly. As much fun as it would be to automate certain aspects of the process, it’s not worth the investment in time until I figure out how to do all grain brewing from start to finish. Then I can think of nifty contraptions later on.
For now, I have my classes to finish, which is likely to hinder my ability to make new posts in the next month or so. Ideally in the beginning of May, my plan is to get an all grain brewing system up and running and document the fun of my first all grain brew! I have yet to decide what kind of beer I plan on making, but that’s part of the fun!
So in an effort to try and think of how to talk about the many topics that encompass personal finance, I’ve found it difficult as to where to really start.
The truth is there are so many resources already out there dedicated to helping people making make the best financial decisions, whether it’s buying versus renting a home, the best way to pay off student debt, whether to buy new versus a used car, the best stock investing strategies, or just general savings tips and strategies.
So what I’ve decided to do instead is put down a few resources people can check to start if they want help in certain areas. I could spend my time re-hashing what’s already been said, but I don’t see that as a productive use of your time when I don’t have the experience to talk to a lot of the issues. While I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in personal finance, there’s still a lot I have to learn.
So I’ll go with a few resources I use for my personal finance. There’s a vast wealth of information out there, so it’s not the only areas I go to. Hopefully this is a starter on places to look.
The Easiest Resource – Google.com
I realize this might seem pretty intuitive, but if you’d rather do your own hunting, this is the place to start. Got a question about the stock market? Google “how to invest in the stock market?” and you’ve got a wealth of good information.
I recently got a subscription to Kiplinger magazine and it’s been a great general resource for personal finance. It’s routinely rated as a great go-to resource for general personal finance topics. There’s also plenty of topics you can read for free on their website in regards to investing, retirement planning, debt management, and savings. This is a great all encompassing resource for general personal finance.
This one is for my Canadian friends. It’s a great resource for everything personal finance relating to Canada. This one is similar to Kiplinger, however it differs as it only focuses on personal finance topics and how they relate to Canada, so for instance any topics on mortgages or taxes will be with respect to Canadian rules and regulations.
For example: They’re reference RRSPs, not IRAs. They’ll reference TFSAs, not Roth IRAs. Then tax rules are with respect to the CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), not the IRS.
This is one of the best resources for value investing you can find in paperback. Warren Buffet has indicated that this has been one of the best resources he’s used to build his financial empire. The book uses case studies that focus on companies that are considered value stocks, which is basically another way of saying getting the best bang for your buck in terms of purchasing stocks. One of the main takeaways is to look at the price to earnings ratio (I.e. take the price of the stock and divide it by the “earnings per share” to get the price to earnings, or P.E. ratio). This lets you see how many dollars are you paying per dollar of earnings in the company?
There’s obviously a lot more than just the P.E. ratio, but the book gives a great subset of signs to look for. It’s a very old book, but new versions have updated examples that show where value investing would have paid off. (Remember, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.)
I read a Canadian version of this book a while back, but like any “For Dummies” book, they are a great resource for beginners. They provide a wealth of information for places to start, and don’t necessarily need to be read in a sequential fashion.
Here’s a link to a quick cheat sheet if you’re looking for a quick look at some tips for stock investing.
I’ve found as I do my endless research on what an affordable mortgage would be for me, Bank Rate provides a great easy to use mortgage calculator that lets you quickly see what your expected payment would be based on rates around your region. They also have other calculators for things such as automotive loans, student loans, credit cards, and personal loans.
I’ve found Investopedia to be a great resource for any general questions or financial terms I don’t understand.
For example: You can buy stocks and options on the stock market. What is a stock? What is an option? Investopedia will give you a great breakdown of both and put it in terms that make it understandable a what each actually is and the pros and cons of both.
I hope this at least provides a start to finding some places to look for information if you’re interested in personal finance or investment. I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t follow through on my plan to start providing financial articles, but it’s an area where I believe there are many resources out there and many people that are better equipped to answer questions than I can.
In the future I hope to provide information on topics I feel I’m a little more knowledgeable on. While I’d like to think I have a good grasp on personal finance, I’ll let the expert resources answer your inquiries. 🙂
Ever since I’ve built my Keezer, I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from doing anything that this blog was really meant to detail. Other than some other beer batches (2 wheat beers, an IPA and an Oktoberfest) I haven’t done much in terms of electronics, photography, or other projects. My summer has been occupied by work, a couple vacations and the insatiable need to get outside. So anything electronics related has taken a back seat. Also, now that school has started back up, I see my free down going further down the tubes. Sadly, my Arduino and Beaglebone Black will be gathering dust 😦
Lately however, I’ve been focusing on money. The truth is that I’m a budget-aholic (I’m pretty sure this word doesn’t exist). I’ve spent copious amounts of time trying to plan my monthly finances, forecast my expenses for upcoming months, and plan my overall financial status for the future based on my current circumstances. I have quite the detailed spreadsheets I use for determining my forecasted expenses and income. What’s nice about forecasting to such detail is that it lets me understand what my ability to save and invest is.
Some of the next big milestones in my financial future include purchasing a home, building a car, building a large garage/man cave and quite possibly building a kick ass home theater. By kick ass, I mean theatre style, little to no ambient light, 12 ft screen, and massive speakers that make the house shake. Try to imagine the full immersive experience of Master and Commander, feeling the rumble as the sound of the cannon balls from the Acheron hit the Surprise in the opening battle of the movie. At least it sounds cool today, give it a month and I’ll convince myself the cost is too much.
As fun as it sounds to talk about these things, I begin to die inside as I pencil out realistically how much these things are likely to cost. One of my other interests in life is building an investment portfolio. I’ve starting one and I’ve done ok, but everything I’ve read indicates that starting early and being disciplined with investing is the best strategy to building a secure portfolio that will build it’s value over time. Time can be your best friend or your worst enemy, because the later you start to build a portfolio, the less time you have to grow it. Even just with savings, it’s been shown time and time again that the earlier you start saving, the more you gain from compounding interest rates.
So therein lies the dilemma that is James Lindeman. I have quite the imagination in terms of projects to take on, but I’m kept at bay because of my desire to maintain financial security. This usually means my desire to save and reduce my outstanding debt puts the kibosh on lavish purchases and large projects.
There’s a lot of debate as to what’s a good purchase versus what’s a bad purchase. There’s also a lot of debate as to the best way to go about planning your financial future. There’s multiple ways of doing it, it really depends on the person and what’s important to them.
For the next couple of months, I’m going to be focusing on a number of topics that I’ve been thinking about lately. This ranges from buying a house, investing in the stock market, types of investing, budgeting, debt payoff, savings, and many other things. While a lot of it may be common knowledge, I want to at least get some of my ideas. Considering my next couple of months will likely not include any large purchases, it’ll be my main focus point.
It took me long enough to finally get to writing up the second part of my keezer build. What the hell was the holdup? Well, it was a number of things, laziness, life getting in the way, spending time outside versus on the computer…take your pick. I’ve got an excuse for why it took so long.
In my last post (found here) I started off with the Keezer build and gave a general overview of how I build my keezer. I left off having finished the PVC tubing circulation system. There wasn’t a whole lot more after that. It was surprising how easy it was after that to get the keezer up and running.
Placing the Collar
Once the collar was all stained and ready to go, I slid it overtop of the keezer. While I thought I had everything aligned nicely, I noticed there was a slight gap at one of the corners where the wood interface met the top of the freezer. Even though I put some weatherstripping on the bottom of the collar for a better seal against the freezer, there was still a gap. In retrospect, I should have been a bit more careful in my alignments.
After doing a bit of reading online as to the best way to seal the collar, I got some clear silicone caulk, then lined the inside edge of the interface where the collar met the freezer top. Once it dried a couple hours later, I checked the seal with the small fan that would go on top of the reducer of the air circulation piping. The seal was great!
I had to test fit the kegs and the CO2 tank along with the reducer to make sure everything fit. Luckily, it looked like everything was going to fit nicely. I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t be getting 4 kegs in, but I think I can do with 3.
Prior to adding the insulation, I mounted the manifold to the back of the collar so I could cut my insulating pieces to size.
I made cut outs for the faucets along the inside of the front face. I started placing strips of aluminum tape over the corners and the top side of the collar to seal the interface between the insulation and the wood. I had thought about covering all the insulation with aluminum tape, but figured it was more effort than necessary. 99% of the time the lid is closed.
Once I had all the cutouts for the faucet bars and the manifold in the back, I sealed the bottom each with silicone caulk to prevent any air from escaping. It seems to have worked pretty well.
Setting up Air Circulation
I initially had a few issues trying to figure out how I was going to mount the fan to the pipe reducer at the top, however, after thinking about it, I figured I would use the silicone caulk to hold it in place.
One thing I noticed with just the basic computer fan is that it didn’t move as much air as I wanted. After doing some investigation between axial fans versus centrifugal fans, I decided to purchase a centrifugal fan and mount it to the reducer instead of the axial fan. I used the silicone caulk to seal the fan and reducer interface.
There’s a lot more engineering behind selecting blower fans along with the air filtration systems, such as the draft angle of the reducer to the pump, the pressure differential in a compressor fan to move the ideal amount of air, pressure loses due to bends in the air movement system, and so on and so forth. My approach was pretty basic: take the compressor fan wires, hook them up to the correct wires on a 12 V wall wort power supply (an old phone charger) and then plug it in. So far, it works pretty well moving the cold air. Plus, it moves the cold air horizontally towards the taps versus upwards right into the lid.
What I noticed with the CO2 tank with the double body regulator on it is that it’s very prone to tipping. With a full CO2 tank it’s not much of an issue, but as it gets empty, it becomes a problem. My fix for this was to use a chain, 2 carabiners, and two eyelet screws. With the eyelet screws in the collar, the chain retains the CO2 tank at the neck to prevent it from tipping.
Then there were the last few little things to do before I prepped my first keg. With the manifold added prior to the insulation, I mounted the temperature controller at the back of the collar behind everything, so that it looked clean from the front.
The temperature controller probe was placed in a cup of water. I had read it was a more accurate way of measuring liquid temperature versus measuring the air temperature. I placed it next to the small dehumidifier in the space underneath the CO2 regulators.
Then there was attaching all the hoses to the barbs and making sure all the connections were sealed. I did this by mixing some dish soap in a spray bottle and squirted at all the connections while the system was pressurized. If any bubbles showed up at the connections, I knew there was an issue.
Hooking up the System
The way I hooked up the system was I plugged the temperature controller into the wall, then plugged the power bar into the temperature controller. The power bar had the fan plugged into it, so this way the fan only turns on when the freezer is cycled on. It’s a noisy fan, so I didn’t want it running all the time.
Prepping my First Beer
Once I checked all the connections and fixed any leaks, it was time for my first beer to be kegged! I ran some beer line cleaner through the hoses a couple of times to ensure the that the hose lines were clean, then I cleaned the keg with some dish detergent. There’s better cleaners out there, but it was a brand new keg that I’d already cleaned an sanitized.
My first keg was a force carbonation test to see how well force carbonating worked. I followed the process detailed on homebrewing.org. (Click the link to see it).
The Finished Keezer
It’s finally finished! My keezer is finished and producing lovely carbonated beers!
Producing Wonderful Draft Beer
There’s always more things I can do to tweak and improve my keezer. A few things I had thought about include the following:
Adding a dolly to the bottom to move the keezer around.
Making custom tap handles.
Adding a drip tray under the faucets.
Incorporating some nifty electronics, such as a scale or load cell to determine the amount of beer remaining in each keg.
But that’s my keezer build. If you have any questions, leave a comment!
It took me long enough, but it’s high time I wrote up my keezer build. I seemed to to a lot of talking about it, but finally it’s time to at least write up a general “how I did it”. I built my keezer in a similar fashion to the keezer that’s detailed on Homebrew Academy. It’s your best source of information if you’re looking for specifics on building a keezer.
It’s easy to drive yourself mental with the options you have when it comes to kegging your beer. I’ve discovered there’s no shortage to how much control you can have over your homebrewed beverages. For my keezer, I wanted to be able to do the following:
Serve three different types of beer
Carbonate a keg while serving with other kegs.
Keep the construction relatively simple.
After much debate in terms of whether I build a collar versus building a more elegant bar style keezer with the coffin box on top, I decided in the end to do a collar style build. This build is already a step past what I’m used to and considering I’m making a draft system for the first time, the collar style build is the easiest way to go.
One thing I find is that I try to plan things to the n’th degree. I like to know exactly what I’m getting into when I take on projects like these, since ones like these tend to come with a price tag. With a general idea for keg sizes and the dimensions of some freezers I had in mind, I made a 3D model in Google Sketchup to see what my collar build would look like in terms of dimensions.
This gave me a good sense of realistically how many kegs I was going to be able to fit in. I had tried to convince myself that possibly I could fit all four kegs on the bottom, but it was going to be really tight. Basically, I had to accept that I was likely only going to be able to fit three on the bottom and maybe a low profile or 2.5 gallon keg on the compressor hump.
Since I’m a neurotic engineer, I try to estimate my costs as accurately as possible, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from the wisdom of others would take on projects and document them on the web, it’s that no matter how hard you try, you’re always going to spend more than you think. Taking this into account, I made an initial bill of materials, then multiplied the total cost by 1.2. Not surprisingly, I spent more than this. That being said, the actual cost was relatively close to the 1.2 multiplier on the estimated cost. I was only over by about $50. Good lessons to remember for the future.
With a digital representation of the keezer, it was time to jump into the real build.
Getting the Materials
To build a keezer, you need the main ingredient: a freezer. You’ve got a number of options, there’s usually a good number of people looking to get rid of freezers on craigslist, however I have a $100 gift card to Lowes and they had the size of freezer I was looking for. In the end, I picked up a Idlyis 7.1 Cu-ft freezer for $109 after the gift card.
I had struggled to find exact dimensions of the insides of freezers online. One good way to easily determine how many kegs will fit in a freezer is take some cardboard and cut out circles the size of the keg diameter. Then, go to Lowes, or Home Depot, and put them in the bottom on the freezer. This quickly tells you how much space the kegs are going to take up in the freezer you’re looking to buy. The image below shows using the templates on the floor models at Lowes.
Considering now I had a freezer and two kegs, I was committed at this point. I took a trip down to the local homebrewing store Adventures in Homebrewing. It’s wonderful living so close to Adventures in Homebrewing, the team there is incredibly knowledgeable and helped direct me to everything I needed for the keezer build.
Below is a rough bill of materials. Since I bought some tools for the first time while doing this, my costs were a little bit out of whack, but below is a fairly good review of how much the Keezer cost.
2 x 6 Lumber
Beer Line (15 ft, 3/16″ thick)
Beer Line Disconnect (x 3)
Beer Shanks (4-1/8″, SS)
Carbonating Beer Line
CO2 Tank (10 lb) – Reconditioned Tank and Fill
Computer Case Fan
Computer Scroll Fan
Double Body Regulator
Faucets (Perlick, 630SS)
Gas Ball Locks (x3)
Gas Line (12 ft, 9/16″)
Swivel Nuts (1/4″)
Tail Piece Assembly (x 3)
Taps Handles (x 3)
The above doesn’t account for the fact that I needed some extra tools and materials as well. If you don’t do much woodworking, you’re probably going to need a good palm sander, along with a wood stain and a varnish. My total cost after materials ended up being about $100 more than what’s listed above.
There’s places you can save money, like finding a freezer on craigslist for less than $50 if you really look around, or by going with chrome material instead of stainless steel. The double body regulator is a big cost, if you don’t mind carbonating a keg then serving it separately, you can save about $45 going with a single regulator. Depending on what you want, you can probably do this a little bit cheaper. I wanted to be able to carbonate and serve at the same time, the double body regulator lets you split off two separate pressures, so I can have a high one for carbonating, and a low one for serving.
Building the Collar
The first steps involved getting the collar built. Removing the lid is a bit of a challenge because the hinges on the back are spring loaded, so I had to be careful when taking the screws out. Once they were out, I measured the top of the open freezer and cut the 2 x 6 lumber to create the base of the collar. I used basic screws to hold the collar together.
Then, I reinstalled the lid onto the back of the collar, since I wasn’t going to be putting any oak trim on the back. If you really wanted to go basic, you could stop here with the collar, seal the insides, and drill faucet holes. However, the nice thing about the oak trim is that it creates a glove for the keezer that gives it a nice polished look when combined with the staining.
Using brass nuts and screws, I fastened the oak trim to the 2 x 6s. The oak trim hangs about 2 inches below the bottom of the collar and lines up with the top of the 2 x 6 interface with the lid.
One of the issues I ran into is that I discovered after I attached the oak trim was the the front face had a crack that ran right though the center. This irritated me as oak trim is not exactly cheap. Oh well, first hangup. No biggie, back to home depot more oak.
There was a silver lining because I used the cracked piece as a template for mounting my beer shanks. I used the cracked piece to determine the size of spade bit I needed to use (I think it was 7/8″, though I forgot to take down the size I used!) & I got a chance to see what the taps would look like on the trim. I also used the cracked trim piece as a template when I made the mistake of using a spade bit for the beer shanks that was a little bit too small. As I said, the cracked piece ended up working out pretty well 🙂
Once I got a new piece of oak trim, I drilled the holes and attached the taps to test the fit. So far pretty good!
Staining the Collar
The whole reason I got the oak is that I wanted the outside to be stained. I like the stained look of oak, so I ended up getting a cherry red stain and glossy urethane finish. This took about a week to do, since I did 3 coats of stain and 4 coats of urethane.
I like the red color, and I didn’t want to go too dark with the stain as I wasn’t planning on doing anything to the fridge. I had originally thought of painting it black, but it’s something I can do in the future if I really want to.
While the collar was being stained, I built the network of PVC tubes that would move the air. In retrospect, doing the PVC tubes is overkill, but I wanted to go the extra mile. If I really want to I can always remove it later.
I wasn’t able to find the exact PVC tube sections I had in my sketchup model. So I improvised and made the PVC network a little more curved with a few extra 90 degree elbows and a four way connection.
In the end, I think it turned out alright. The PVC size I use was 1-1/2″, but the truth is you can use any size you want, you just have to make sure to account for the keg height change with respect to putting the PVC in the bottom. So if you use 2″ PVC tube, the top of the keg will be 2″ closer to the top (plus a little bit if you put something over the PVC). If you’re collar height was based on the keg sitting on the floor, the lid might not close!
Once the PVC sections were cut and fitted together, I tested out how the fan would sit on top of the reducer section right at the top of the PVC network.
For the wiring the sits on top of the pipe network, I found some cheap wire shelving at home depot. I used a dremel to cut out the sections of the shelving to fit above the pipe network. It was a cheap solution, but it worked great!
One thing I noticed (which I’ll discuss in part 2) is that the fan hardly moved any air at all. For the time being, it worked as a good surrogate part to place everything so it fit.
For Part 2
In the next post, I’ll go through some of the smaller details as I finish up the build, such as insulating, routing hoses, and sealing, along with plans for the future. I’ve got two beers finishing up fermentation, so I hope to be enjoying some nice draft out of the keezer soon!