Fermentation Chamber Build Part 3

For the last week I’ve been at it working on my fermentation chamber. It’s taken longer than I anticipated, a lot of the issues cropped up in my assembly method. I think if I were to do this again, I would do a few changes to the actual wood frame of the chamber.

If you want to see the previous posts leading up to this one, you can find them here (part 1) and here (part 2).

One thing I should have mentioned with this project is the following.

If you’re not familiar working with high voltage electricity or don’t have experience, do not attempt this project. This project deals with high voltage electricity and there is a potential for electrocution if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Consult an expert or training sources for working safely with high voltage electricity if you’re unfamiliar with safe practices.

Building the Box

The last couple of posts were about getting some of the materials ready together for the setup. Now we start building! To see the general design, go to the previous post to see a CAD model.

First thing I did was remove the door from the fridge and give the inside a good clean. It took a little elbow grease, but it’s looking good to go.

Cleaned up and ready to go

The next step was to start making the cuts for the overall chamber. I had to make a few adjustments to my design in order to make sure I could make all the cuts on one sheet of plywood. I made a few mistakes, I’ve detailed them below.

After making the cuts, piece by piece I put the box together. I attached the side to the bottom of the base to try and test fit everything before I cut the foam out. See the design issues section for issues I ran into. I used some MDF board I had for the front (I didn’t have enough Plywood)

Test fitting the pieces

The last remaining piece of the enclosure was cutting the door and getting the hinges put on. I had to follow the same procedure I did for the back side, lying the fridge on it side making sure the top of the sheet was aligned with the top of the fridge. I made sure the door was wide enough to allow for a carboy to fit inside.

Door is cut. This little guy is curious!

I cut the door to have the edge slightly overlap the side of the fridge. I thought a lot about the best way to cut the door as I wanted to ensure that when I closed the door I got a good seal with the side of the fridge and the foam I put on the inside of the door. I still have to cut these pieces, the edges on the doors will be the two edges that aren’t fully taped and sealed.

Starting to come together. (The top isn’t fastened down)

Foam Cutting Time

Once I had my plywood sections cut, I wanted to try and get my foam sections cut before I installed the front and made a door. I have 1 1/2″ pink foam board for the inside insulation.

I quickly realized that cutting 1 1/2″ foam board with an exacto knife isn’t the easiest thing. The solution: a foam cutter with a hot knife. An Amazon purchase and 2 days later, I had a hot knife.

I cut the bottom sheet a little small, so I’ll need to cut a thin piece to fill in the gaps, the gap to where the door will sit is too wide to just seal it with caulk.

More Test Fitting: So far the Carboy Fits

After the side pieces were cut and checked for fit, it was time to start the wiring process.

Preparing the Wiring Box

In my past entry, I was a schematic that detailed how to connect the fridge and the heating lamp to the Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Since I wanted to minimize the number of holes going in and out of the box, I cut out a section for the outlet that would power the fridge and heating lamp.

Outlet installed in place

I wanted to check and see that the wiring was at least functioning before I put everything in place. I did a test trial to see if the fridge would come on when the software requested power.

Wiring Test

I really just wanted to see if the software was registering all the components and if the temperatures were returning temperatures. I plan to go into much more detail as to software installation and issues I ran into along the way. I made a bit of a switch as to the original plan with using brewpi, more will be detailed when I get a better chance to detail the software installation and setup.

In my next post I’ll have a few more photos as to organizing everything inside the project box.

Design Issues

One of the main issues I had with my design was the fact that I was planning on only using one 4′ x 8′ plywood sheet for the exterior of the chamber. Below were the cut dimensions of the exterior of the box.

I forgot one section…

I had to modify the height of the 2 side pieces to try and make it all fit on one sheet. What this meant was that the height of the exterior didn’t come all the way to the bottom base.

This was a huge pain in checking the fit and alignment for the top of the refrigerator. I had to lean the whole assembly on the side to make sure I got the side sheets aligned with the top of the refrigerator. There’s about a 1″ gap from the bottom of the base to the side sheet.

In the future, I really should make sure I make the sides are long enough to reach the bottom. Assembly would be way easier. This might mean buying more than one sheet of plywood.

Another issue I ran into is I forgot to include cuts for the front!! I got all my pieces cut, only to realize there was a big gaping hole in the front of the chamber. I was hoping I could use the remaining parts of the plywood to piece together the front, however I didn’t have enough sheet. Luckily, I had some extra MDF I used for the front.

Issue #3: When I built the base, the width was slightly too small. So when I did my trial fits of the sides, the plywood bowed outwards, meaning the top didn’t exactly line up as I’d hoped. I had hoped I could use some liquid nails to keep the plywood aligned to the side of the fridge, however this turned out to be a poor decision. Even after clamping, it still bowed outward.

Make sure your base is wide enough…

I’ll put some L-brackets in on the inside of the walls to try and pull the side and top together. From a functional perspective, I don’t think it will be a huge issue because I’m putting foam board, caulking, and aluminum tape on the inside, so any crevices will be sealed. Once it’s all put together, I may add a rim around the edge to try and make it look a little nicer, since right now since the sides may not perfectly align.

Issue #4: When I went to install the door locks, I realized the screws for installing the locks were too long, as they are longer than the width of the plywood. The edge of my door slightly overlaps the side of the fridge, hence I would have to thread the screws through the side of the fridge. Bad news!

The door edge overlaps the fridge.

The action I used instead was to use superglue versus screws to hold the locks in place. I recognize this is a bit of a redneck approach, but it worked pretty well!

Next Steps

The majority of the construction is over with the exception of having to cut the foam to size and fasten everything together. There’s going to be a lot of little finishing tasks that will likely take longer than I anticipate, but I’d like it to look decent rather than a big unfinished wooden box.

Below is what’s left:

  • Finish cutting the interior foam
  • Wiring and Sealing the inside of the chamber
  • Organizing the wiring box
  • Software installation and configuration
  • Finish and Painting
  • Lessons learned and first brew trial!

Hopefully it won’t be too painful putting it all together, but I’m making good headway.

Thanks for reading!


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Fermentation Chamber Part 2: Design and Planning

Since I wrote the first post, I’ve made some progress in developing what will be my final chamber design. While I don’t have the design fully completed in a 3D model, I’ve gotten a general idea of what it’s going to look like. There could be some improvement on how the sidewalls are constructed. Right now it’s a little big, and I only wanted to purchase one one sheet of plywood and one sheet of foam board. It’s likely to end up smaller than it appears. In the grand scheme of things, I’ll only be running one beer in the chamber at a time, so it doesn’t need to be as big as shown.

If I have time I’ll put it all together in 3D before I start, but I’ll probably get too antsy to wait and I’ll probably just go at it.

Last time I spoke about the design of the chamber and a little bit of the science behind it, since then I’ve done a few home depot runs to get some components.

Component Discussion

One of the components I was debating quite frequently was the use of a heating element in my chamber. Some other builds had suggested using a small space heater, but after some reading online, I found a number of people indicated these put off WAY too much heat and make it difficult to tune the controller to work properly. The one I originally got was 1,500 Watts. I found from forums something between 40 watts and 100 watts is more than sufficient, especially for a small space.

The goal is to keep the temperature as steady a state as possible. If the heater gives off too much heat, the system swings back and forth between heating and cooling. The beer is constantly heating up and cooling down.

For the heating element, I decided to get a reptile heater that’s rated for 75 watts, along with a cheap metallic lamp holder at home depot. I agonized a lot over whether the bulb rating was too high for the holder, however I checked the socket and it’s rated for 660 Watts and 250 Volts. The indicated that only a 60 Watt bulb should be used, however I’m thinking this is because of the plastic lamp cover, any larger than 60 watts could melt the cover. I took this cover off since I don’t need it. The socket gets fairly warm to the touch, however I checked it against the heat generated with a 50 watt bulb and the temperature isn’t that much larger.

There’s probably a chance that before this is over I’ll find another socket, I struggled to get good information on lamp socket ratings. My biggest worry is a fire, hence I want to make sure I’m not overheating the socket.

IR Light! I only put it on the laptop for illustration purposes.

Wiring Planning

I was trying to think up a few different ways to package the relays, the Arduino, the Raspberry Pi, and the outlet for the heating and cooling elements. I need to wire the chamber like the schematic shown below, the only difference being removing the ground between the low side of the relay and the outlet. I’d read that mixing AC grounds and DC grounds could be a potential issue.

Credit goes to the brewpi community for the schematic.

I had thought about putting my 3D printer and printing a case to use. The results came out OK, but I decided that a junction box at home depot was likely going to be a little more robust to work with, plus I wouldn’t have to use ten tons of filament to get it printed correctly. The junction box size is probably overkill, but I wanted to make sure I had enough room for all the wires and the electronic boards.

Outlet box design was found on Thingiverse. It’s a little too small.
Junction Box for Setup…Might be a little big 🙂

Next Steps

Now that I have the majority of the materials, I plan to detail the build, wiring, and installation process. There’s still a lot of do, I’d like to make sure I get it done right. In the following posts I’ll go through the following:

  • Building the chamber
  • Wiring Setup
  • Brewpi Setup and Configuration (Expect a long post…)
  • Tuning and preparation for the first brew.

Thanks for reading!




Building a Fermentation Chamber

It’s been a while since I’ve done a homebrew, I’ve gotten sidetracked with a multitude of projects. First is was a 3D printer, then it was a robotic arm, then it was a workbench, then there was pegboard, then…life got in the way. These were all projects I probably could have written up and maybe in the future I will. I’d like to expand on the capabilities of the robotic arm before I write up a post, right now all I did was put together a kit. I put a small video of it working, I’d like to get it a little more repeatable and maybe add a computer vision system. (It sounds cool in theory…but I have some learning to do as to how to implement it.)

Lynxmotion AL5D Robotic Arm

My list of possible posts continues to get larger and larger, but my plan going forward is to focus on the projects I’ve thought about for so long but have gotten caught up in the stalled in the planning department.

I decided it was high time to get to work on a my fermentation chamber project.

Fermentation Chamber

In my efforts to get back into beer brewing, I wanted to control the brewing process a little more by adding temperature control once I finish a brew day. These days when I finish the brew day, my beer goes in the fermentation chamber, then it sits in the basement while it ferments. Sometimes I transfer it to a secondary chamber (the carboy) after primary fermentation, but the more I’ve been doing this, the more I see it as a step that filters the final product. Some fermentation takes place after primary fermentation, but it adds risk to infection by exposing the wort to the open air.

One of the other issues is that the fermentation occurs at whatever the ambient air temperature is where I stick the beer. While I can keep it somewhat constant if I wrap the fermenter, this only slows the transitions in ambient air temperature. I’m still at the mercy of the ambient temperature.

What I want is temperature control. Temperature control is a wonderful thing when it comes to fermenting, since it gives you more control over the final brew. Also, certain brew types ferment at certain temperatures, for instance a proper lager needs to ferment at a lower temperature for a longer period of time (think over 3 months versus the month it takes for a typical ale).

Meet the fermentation chamber, an answer to the above problems. While there are many commercial options available, they’re expensive, and not conducive to a cheap bastard like myself, especially when there’s a chance to do hands on work.

So how do we make one?

The Design

There’s a number of different examples out there of DIY fermentation chambers, ranging from a simple pre-built controller, to complex automated monitoring systems.

While my system is not the simplest out there, I don’t think it requires a super in depth knowledge of electronics or refrigerators to implement. There are some builds out there that involve hacking the refrigerator circuit on the donor refrigerator (more on the parts below) however mine does not. It does require a knowledge of stripping wires, wiring relays, setting up an Arduino, Raspberry Pi’s, and some woodworking.

I’ve taken info from a few of the builds found in the links below:

https://www.brewpi.com/fridge-hacking-guide/

https://dotps1.github.io/homebrewing/2018/01/22/brewing-your-own-brewpi.html

http://diybrewpi.wikia.com/wiki/DIYBrewPi_Wikia

The above are only a few of the sources used for this build, I expect the list to grow as I get further into the build.

In short, I will develop a temperature controller for a mini fridge to control the temperature of the environment. This uses an Arduino and 2 DS18b20 Temperature sensors. The Arduino will employ PID (proportional, integral, and derivative) controls to get the temperature to a specific point that’s dependent on the beer type. From a very simple view, the beer target temperature is measured versus the actual temperature, we take the difference between these two temperatures, then adjust the system to decrease the system until we reach the target. (A more in depth and science-esque explanation is here.)

Basically, if the temperature in the chamber is too high, the refrigerator turns on and cools the chamber. Once the target temperature is reached, the refrigerator shuts off. It stays off until the ambient temperature rises enough for the refrigerator to turn back on.

Below is an illustration I made that sort of explains what’s supposed to happen. The green line is the chamber temperature and the red line is the target temperature. The temperature decreases when the chamber is on. Below the target, the fridge is off until the temperature goes above the target. The cycle continues, keeping the temperature inside the beer in a tight bound. 

The diagram below gives a simplified outline of the chamber and the parts. 20181231_182909.jpg

The Components

There’s a number of both hardware and software components needed to make the system work. Below is a list of the parts I plan to use.

  • Mini-Fridge
  • Arduino Uno
  • Raspberry Pi
  • DS18B20 Temperature Sensors
  • Heating Element (Light, or mini-heater)
  • Solid State Relay
  • Power Cord (with solid state relay)
  • Enclosure Box for electronics
  • Plywood
  • Foam Board
  • Miscellaneous fasteners to put everything together

As of now I only have ~$90 put in to the electronics. The mini fridge was free, so the only thing remaining is the heating element and enclosure materials for the carboy and for the electronics.

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Next Steps

In the next post I’ll start detailing how I put it all together. I still have at least one trip to home depot along with some quality time with CAD to design the enclosure and where all the wires will be routed.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next post.

Building a Skateboard Rail

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.

Bill of Materials

Material Unit Cost Quantity Total Cost
2″ Steel Pipe (7 ft)  $   50.59 1  $   50.59
2″ Steel Pipe (1 ft)  $      7.23 2  $   14.46
3/16″ Carbon Steel Plate (12″ x 24″)  $      1.00 23.59  $   23.59
Black Spray Paint  $      1.03 1  $      1.03
UPS Ground Shipping  –  –  $   30.96
Total Cost  $ 120.63

All the steel was bought at The Metal Store.

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 🙂

The Build

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.

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First time notching a tube. Perhaps I need to practice…

While I notched the bottom tubes, Jon cut out the bottom supports on the plate.

Plate Dimension
Bottom Support Plate Cut Dimensions.

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Jon Cutting the Support Plates

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Grinding to my Heart’s Content!

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.

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Tube notches finished. Not perfect, but they work!

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.

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Jon welding the supports.

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.

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The gussets were 2″ long and 2″ high.

 

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.

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Almost done! Just needs some paint.

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!

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All finished! Boy it looks pretty, 🙂

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.

What’s Next?

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.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

The All Grain Brew Setup and Long Overdue Updates

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.

3 tier gravity feed rig w equipment.jpg

Side View 3 tier.JPG

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.

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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.

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Burner’s working!

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!

DSC_0036.jpg

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.

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Strike water added

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.

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Ready to mash

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:

  1. Once the mash was complete, I drained the wort from the mash as quickly as possible. This was the first “batch” of liquid.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Wort Boil

 

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My Amber Ale Fermenting Away!

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.

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Everything needed to make a sparge arm

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Copper Cut to Size

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Copper drilled out.

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Soldering copper! I learned something today.

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My first copper solder joint.

The Finished Sparge Arm

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Sparge Arm Testing

I’ll report back on how it works, hopefully it doesn’t disturb the grain bed.

Other Updates

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.

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Another Example of the Value of My Truck 🙂

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BBQ season is in!

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.

Thanks for reading!

The Keezer Build: Pt 2

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.

 

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Collar Fitted with Taps in Place

 

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!

 

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Corners and Edges Sealed with Silicone Caulk

 

Test Fitting

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.

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Even with only 2 kegs, a 3rd wasn’t going to be an issue 🙂

Insulation

Prior to adding the insulation, I mounted the manifold to the back of the collar so I could cut my insulating pieces to size.

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Manifold in place (I took this after the build was complete, realizing I’d forgotten to take the picture)

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.

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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.

 

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Centrifugal Fan Wired up and Ready to Go

 

Finishing Touches

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.

 

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A Good Retaining Solution for ~$3

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.

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Temperature Controller Mounted and Ready for Action.

 

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.

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Temperature Probe and the Dehumidifier on the Compressor Hump

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!

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Inside All set up (I only have  beer on at the moment. More to come 🙂 )

 

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The Keezer. Finished at Last.

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Producing Wonderful Draft Beer

Future Upgrades

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!

The Keezer Build: Pt. 1

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.

Planning

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.

Isometric View
Isometric view of Keezer

Overview of Keg placement
Better Idea of Spacing Between Kegs

Pipe System
View of PVC Network for Air Movement

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.

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Keg Cardboard Templates in Idylis 7.1 CU Freezer

 

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Loaded and Ready to Go

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.

Material/Component Cost
2 x 6 Lumber  $          5.83
Beer Line (15 ft, 3/16″ thick)  $           13.13
Beer Line Disconnect (x 3)  $           15.87
Beer Shanks (4-1/8″, SS)  $           79.47
Carbonating Beer Line  $           16.42
Castors  $           11.51
CO2 Tank (10 lb) – Reconditioned Tank and Fill  $           90.10
Computer Case Fan  $             5.17
Computer Scroll Fan  $             7.09
De-Humidifier  $           31.75
Double Body Regulator  $         105.99
Fasteners  $           11.26
Faucets (Perlick, 630SS)  $         114.48
Freezer  $         109.88
Gas Ball Locks (x3)  $           15.87
Gas Line (12 ft, 9/16″)  $           10.05
Gas Manifold  $           41.33
Hose Clamps  $           11.72
Insulation  $             5.81
Miscellaneous  $           17.30
Oak Trim  $           31.86
PVC  $           18.54
Shelving  $             5.24
Swivel Nuts (1/4″)  $           12.69
Tail Piece Assembly (x 3)  $           15.87
Taps Handles (x 3)  $           12.69
Temperature Controller  $           61.42
Wall Wart  $             5.30
Weatherstrip  $             3.47
Wire Connectors  $             2.52
Grand Total  $         889.61

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.

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My Trip to Adventures in Homebrewing

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.

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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.

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Oak Trim Installed

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 🙂

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Silver Linings Cracked Trim

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Test Fitting the Faucets

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!

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Test Fit of Faucets.

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.

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Staining the Collar

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Urethane Coat Drying

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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.

Air Movement

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.

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Cutting the PVC

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.

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PVC Network All Assembled

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!

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Shelving Sections Cut to Shape

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The Shelving Fits Perfectly!

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!

More to come soon!

Looking Ahead

Once again, I’ve let my blogging lapse due to the trials and tribulations of a busy life. It has been far too long since my last post. Other than being able to say I’m 1 class closer to getting my master’s degree, not too much is new. …only 7 more courses to go…

If there’s anything I’ve discovered in the last four months, it’s that as a mechanical engineer, I certainly did not get the background necessary during my undergraduate degree to fully understand all of the content involved in signal processing. While the course is meant to be a signal processing course in the context of being for mechanical engineers (AKA “For Dummies”) I found that to really understand the significance and theory behind concepts such as Discrete Fourier Analysis, Fast Fourier Transforms, Short Time Fourier Transforms, or Wavelet Transforms, a background in higher level mathematics, complex algebra and mathematical functions is really helpful.

What I struggled with in the course is the deeper understanding of what’s really happening with some of the concepts. Take for example the concept of convolution. This is the basis behind the short time Fourier Transform, because the mathematical definition of the short time Fourier Transform is understanding that in order to get a closer look at a signal time segment, we “convolute” the window function times the complex exponential with the original signal to get a windowed segment of a signal. This allows us to see the frequency contents of a smaller section and we can see how the signal contents change over time.

Don’t worry if absolutely none of the above made sense (in fact I sure some savvy engineer with a strong signal processing background could call me out on this. Please be kind 🙂 ) All I was trying to get at is while I can talk to it at a basic level, I still really don’t have a good understanding of what “convolution” in a mathematical sense is. There’s many, many resources online which will try to break down in layman’s terms what it is, but right now, while I can implement what I’ve learned into a nice Matlab script that will punch out a beautiful looking spectrogram of the frequency contents of a signal, I still struggle to understand the mathematics behind some of the concepts (I will say Daubechies wavelets made my head explode in this sense). In short, a couple higher level math courses would have been really helpful.

So now that I have a few months with a bit of extra time, what’s the plan?

During the last month, I built myself a nice little subfloor in the garage of the place I’m renting. What I found this last winter is that the absence of having a good place to skateboard was one of the few things that makes me really crabby and disgruntled in general. Since my garage doesn’t have the smoothest surface, I decided to build a little subfloor to skateboard on.

While I had planned on doing a write up on it, it’s actually really quite simple. You take a bunch of 2 x 4s, some OSB sheets, masonite sheets, and a whole crap load of screws, and basically build a frame from the 2x4s. Then you lay the OSB sheets on top, and then masonite on top of that.

I probably didn’t need nearly as much lumber as I used, but it’s nice and sturdy. It’s not perfect, you can tell where the 2 x 4 sections are separated as it creates a bit of a hump in the masonite. That being said, it works pretty well for my purposes.

Garage Skate Pad
Sketchup Rendering

Garage Skate Pad 2
Sketchup Rendering

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Building Phase

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It’s Finished! There’s space for my truck and for skateboarding.

The nice thing with this setup is now I have no excuse not to do some kind of skateboarding. Even if it’s only a couple of kick flips or 360 flips for 20 minutes at the end of the work day, I have a place to go. I’ve discovered that sometimes at the end of the work day, I either need something else to focus on or just some way to get rid of some of the pent up energy I get from sitting at a desk all day.

Upcoming Projects

As I’ve constantly referred to in the past, I still do have plans to make my homebrew draft system (or “Keezer” as it’s referred to in the homebrew community). What I’m struggling with at the moment is figuring out exactly what I want. While I have a pretty good idea of the quantity of kegs, types of faucets, CO2 tank size, etc… I’m trying to figure out what kind of overall design I want. One style is the “collar” design, which is pretty easy to implement. You remove the freezer lid, take some 2 x 4 or 2 x 8 wood and create a square collar in between the lid and freezer, then drill holes to mount the faucets on the collar. An example is shown below.

Collar Keezer – Source: http://www.homebrewtalk.com

The other style is known as a “coffin” keezer. In my opinion, this style looks a lot more refined and more like a bar setup, however it does come with some challenges. One is that you have to take a bunch more steps to ensure you have a low temperature difference between where the taps are and the bottom of the freezer. If you have a higher temperature at the taps than in the freezer, you end up with a lot of foam when you pour your beer. This equates to lost beer (not cool!). This usually means you need to insulate the coffin box really well and you need to wire a fan to move some air through the bottom of the freezer up to the coffin box to keep it cold.

Coffin Keezer with 3 Taps – Source: http://www.homebrewtalk.com

Also, I know if I went this route, I’d want it to look polished and refined, more like a bar setup. This would probably mean more money put into materials to make it nice and a lot more construction work to make it look nice. If I’m going to go to all the trouble to construct a coffin style keezer, I want it to look nice as well.

So while that’s coming up at some point, I want to hash out exactly what I want to do with it before I start putting it together, as I don’t want to be changing my mind after I’ve started down a specific direction.

As per usual, it’s a balance figuring out what to do next as I only have so much money to work with. While I have a pretty good idea of what the keezer is going to cost, I am constantly trying to get over the fact that it costs a decent amount of money and jump in.  We’re not talking thousands of dollars, but enough to stop and think. The usual questions of “maybe this money could be better used elsewhere” come up. Maybe I should buy the TV first while it’s on sale at Bestbuy. Maybe I should focus on paying off my truck. Maybe I should get a Tonneau cover for my truck. Maybe I should invest in the stock market.

What I constantly forget is that material possessions are not the basis for happiness. Money, possessions, and wealth do not equal happiness. So while it will cost some money up front for the keezer project, it’s the planning and execution that’s the fun part. Plus I know the end result will grant me many a good pint.

Photography, Electronics, and the rest of my life.

My photography has taken a bit of a back seat in the last couple of months. At some point I hope to get that back up and running as I still want to work on my time lapse rig that I spoke to in previous posts. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done anything with my Beaglebone Black, so if I look into that again, I’ll probably be starting from the beginning while I refresh my memory on how to program it and make it work.

Going Forward

As I go forward, I probably will find that it takes me longer than normal to get my projects up and running. I only have 4 months until classes start up again, so my goal is to make the best use of my time since once school starts, the posts will stop.

Thanksgiving, Beer Brewing, and a bit of DIY

Thanksgiving in Texas

Even though it’s been some time since Thanksgiving, I found myself in Dallas during Thanksgiving (or the day before Black Friday, depending on what’s more important). Despite the fact that I got sick the night before, I found my first experience in the Lone Star State quite enjoyable.

I’m guessing to no one’s surprise, everything is over the top in Texas. While I didn’t get a chance to experience everything that’s “bigger in Texas”, I did get a chance to enjoy the new James Bond film Spectre the way I want to experience all movies on the big screen in the future.

Like a lot of places in Dallas, typically ordinary venues can be quite extravagant. Take for example your typical driving range. Nothing too exciting, right? Well, it can be quite the event in Dallas. We stopped at the Top Golf facility just to see what it was like. It’s by far one of the most lavish driving ranges I’d been to. How could you go wrong with a restaurant, a bar, and electronic chips in golf balls all in the same place? Sadly, we only checked out the facility and the amenities. Even though the stalls were heated it was quite chilly outside, so we chose not to play. If (AKA when) I go back to Dallas, I’ll be hitting some golf balls at this high tech driving range.

When I went to see Spectre, I saw it at the iPic Theatre. While watching a movie on the big screen is always a good time, watching a movie on the big screen in a plush recliner with a blanket, a nice pint of beer and an appetizer (or main course, if you desire) is the best way to watch a movie. I really wish I was watching the upcoming Star Wars that way. While it can be a bit pricey, it’s well worth the additional cost in my opinion.

My mom (bottom right), Aunt (bottom left), my sister (top right) and me (top left) getting comfy for Spectre.
My mom (bottom right), Aunt (bottom left), my sister (top right) and me (top left) getting comfy for Spectre.

That pint of beer was mighty delicious.
That pint of beer was mighty delicious.

All in all, Texas is quite the place. I didn’t get to experience everything it has to offer since I was only there for 3 days, but I look forward to heading back in the future.

Upcoming Brews

My beer supply has been (not surprisingly) diminishing. Prior to Thanksgiving I hadn’t been able to brew much, since I’ve been back I’ve upped my soon to be ready supply. So what’s on tap?

Almond Joy Porter

This one was a bit of a nuisance since the recipe called for orange peel and coriander during the boil. Transferring the wort to the primary fermenter was a mess, since the pulpy remainder of coriander, orange peel, and hops kept clogging up the siphon hose. Also the fermentation called for hazelnut flavor, which I added to the primary and shredded almond, which I put in a grain bag and added to the secondary. It’s in bottles and should be ready in the new year.

Almond Joy Porter in Secondary
Almond Joy Porter in Secondary (The bag contains coconut)

Belgium White

The Belgium white taught me a valuable lesson: If I’m pouring malt extract into the brew pot, take it off the heat. I’m not sure how I didn’t figure this out before, but I scorched the malt extract. As least I learned how to clean a scorched pot. 1 part water, 1 part vinegar, and a lot of elbow grease.

A Nicely Scorched Pot
A nicely scorched pot. Guess where the burners were?

All Clean!
All Clean!

The scorching might give the ale a bit of a different flavor, though I can market it as a “toasty” flavor. I have yet to see if this completely throws off the flavor of the beer. If so, lesson learned. The real test will be not making the same mistake twice.

Detroit Steam Pale Ale

This one was a pale ale and I enlisted the help of a friend to assist me in brewing this batch. A helping hand makes things go a lot quicker and it makes it a lot more fun. Right now it’s primary fermentation, I’ll be transferring it to secondary very soon.

Differing Specific Gravities
Differing specific gravity of the water and the wort.

I got the chance to try out my new hop spider, which I’ll take about in the upcoming section.

A Bit of DIY

The Hop Spider

After my experience with the pulpy mess making my almond joy porter, I discovered that some home brewers use what’s called a “hop spider”. This is basically a mesh bag that allows the hops and additional ingredients to break apart and absorb into the wort while keeping them contained in the bag. It keeps the pulp at bay. Some purists may argue that you lose some flavor, though for now I’ll go for less clean up.

It was pretty easy to put together. The parts list is below.

  • PVC Pipe Reducer (I used a 4″ to 3″)
  • Worm gear clamp
  • 3 stainless steel carriage bolts, nuts, and washers
  • Paint straining bag

Everything needed for a Hop Spider
Everything needed for a Hop Spider

I picked everything up at home depot. All that’s required is drilling holes through the PVC reducer to fit the carriage bolts through. The only tool needed is an electric drill. Once I put it together, I tried it out while making the Detroit Steam Pale Ale recipe. It worked like a charm!

Hop Spider in Action
Hop Spider in Action

It held back the hoppy pulp that’s created after the hops break apart during the boil. It made transferring the wort into the primary fermentation vessel a heck of a lot easier, considering that it didn’t clog the siphon hose.

Garage Floor Containment Mat

In an effort to keep my garage floor somewhat dry during the winter, I decided to put a garage floor mat together. There are garage floor mats you can purchase for +$300, whereas I figured I would make my own. It’s not the best solution by any means, but I figured it’s a good temporary system for holding any melting snow and water at bay that falls off my truck in my garage. At least then just maybe I can keep the other side dry for some workshop space.

I used the following for the mat:

  • Large Tarp (20′ x 30′ tarp from Home Depot)
  • 2″ x 4″ lumber
  • Staples

There should be enough of a lip to keep the water at bay. The materials themselves were about $60, so if it turns out to be an utter failure, well at least I learned a few things along the way.

The Frame:

I used 9′ sections of 2″ x 4″ lumber to make the frame. I left ~2″ between the two side sections so that the mat can be sorta folded to contain the water should I try to drain it during the spring when the snow starts melting.

Frame of the Garage Mat
Frame of the Garage Mat

I laid the tarp underneath and lined up the tarp with the lower right corner. I left some of the tarp hanging over the side so I could roll it over the 2″ x 4″ and staple it into place. I put staples into the frames at about 1′ apart.

Tarp Laid Out
Tarp Laid Out

I cut the tarp to size and stapled it to the frame. There was a good amount of extra tarp left over, which I would discover I needed later on.

Flipped Over and Stapled
Flipped Over and Stapled

It Fits my Truck
My Truck Fits!

I learned a few lessons the hard way. The first one is that I should have assembled it right side up. I assembled it upside down, then tried to flip it over by myself. That was a really bad idea. The corners of the tarp ripped during the process of flipping it over. I ended up doing some patch work with the tarp I removed. I cut some sections of the leftover tarp and stapled them over the sections that ripped. I also got some silicone caulk and sealed around the sections that were ripped. I did some sealing around the rear and left side edges since the water tends to flow that way. We’ll see how it works for the time being, it ended up being a bit of a hacked up DIY. Knowing what I know now, I think I could make another that looks a bit cleaner in the future. But I only have plans to keep it for short term, so it doesn’t have to last forever.

The Near Future

I’m hoping to get back into my Beaglebone Black as I’ve got some ideas for projects in the near future. I keep telling myself I’m going to get better at using sensors for controls based projects. The timelapse project is still on my mind. The temperature logger I put together was going to be used for beer brewing, however I never got around to getting myself a better soldering iron or making myself a decent work station for electronics projects.

I also plan to build a keezer! For those who don’t know, this is a chest freezer that’s converted into a refrigerator to hold kegs and a CO2 tank. Here’s an example of what I’d like to do. I’ve discovered that even though kegging might be a bit more costly initially, it saves a lot of time considering there’s no bottling to do. The perfect at home draft beer system.

I’ve got lots of ideas for the New Years. I’m starting my Masters in January, so it looks like life is about to get really busy!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Looking into the Future: The Pursuit of Cheap Speed

In my previous post, I had eluded to the difficult pursuit of cheap speed. (Read it here.)

Briefly stated, it’s really challenging to get high performance on a budget. For the most part, if you want a fast car, plan on forking out some money for it.

So What Am I Trying to Do?

I’m trying to figure out a way to get a “fun to drive” car at a relatively low price. While this is difficult, it’s not necessarily impossible.

Basically, you build your own car. This can also be considered the “kit car” approach, however in my case, I’m not looking to make a replica of a Ferrari, or Lamborghini, or any kind of high performance car out there. The amount it would cost to make a comparable replica of one of these cars, you’re almost better just to buy an actual brand name car and save the time putting it together.

The real trade off is the monumental amount of time you will spend building and customizing the car. For a lot of people, the amount of time spent building this kind of car is not worth the difference in terms of buying a car that already performs to your hearts desire.

Note: If you’re looking for very high performance in terms of top speed, very high horsepower, and sub 3 second 0-60 mph times, a great alternative to a $300,000 Lamborghini is the Factory Five GTM. While it’s technically a kit car, sourcing some high performance Chevrolet Corvette Drivetrain Parts and using a donor Corvette C5 can get you a Supercar that costs less than $100,000. But I digress, that’s not the point of the discussion.

What I would like to Build?

After a lot of research, my plan is to try and take on building a kit car that is commonly known on the internet as the “Locost 7”. This is a design that’s based on the Lotus 7 designed by Colin Chapman back in 1957 as a basic, lightweight race car. It was designed to race on the Formula 2 circuit. As always, there’s way more info on the original Lotus 7 here.

1970 Lotus 7

The reason I’m looking into this car is it’s relatively simple design. It was designed to be a basic sports car, one that hardly packs any weight. When looking at performance, if you can’t increase your engine performance, you can decrease your weight.

A “Locost 7” is a replica design of the Lotus 7, jokingly named “Lo cost” because it can be built for a relatively small amount of money. Many people have managed to build these for well under $10,000. A book by Ron Champion is called “Build Your Own Sports Car For As Little As £250 and Race it!“. The main premise of the book is finding a suitable donor car and selling the components you don’t use from your donor to offset the project car. I think £250 in today’s terms is unrealistic. By the sounds of it he’s coming out with an updated version that sets the limit at £1,000. While this sounds challenging, it seems a little bit more realistic.

The frame is a simple space frame made of steel square tube, which is relatively cheap. Then if you can pull a lot of the parts out of an inexpensive donor car, the overall cost becomes fairly reasonable. From the LocostUSA forum, most builders indicate that their costs can be from about $5,000 to $9,000, depending on how you source your parts. If you can keep the design as basic as possible, you can end up with a fun car to drive that is fairly unique.

The Plan

A few things need to happen before this project goes forward:

I need more workshop space.

Typically a project like this requires a garage that can house not only the kit car as it’s being built, but also the donor car being used. This means at least a two car garage is required. As much as I’d like to start right away, I simply don’t have the space.

I need more tools.

To take on a project like this you need a serious assortment of tools to complete the build. Tools are a key part and like so many things in life, you get what you pay for. If you want good tools that don’t wear out, you’re going to have to pay higher prices. I have yet to build any kind of major tool collection. Tools = $$$.

I need more workshop skills.

While I’ve turned a couple of wrenches in my life, a project like this requires a lot of workshop skills. A lot of people who didn’t have much for workshop skills have completed these kinds of projects and treated the project as a learning experience, building the skills as they go. I’m certainly ok with that approach, I just need to budget for the inevitable set backs from making mistakes from not having the best workshop skill set.

I need to figure out exactly what I want.

If I start something like this, I want to have a good vision of at least what I want the end result to be. I understand there are always inevitable changes that occur throughout a project like this, but I still want a good vision of the end result so I’m not changing what I’m working on halfway through. A lack of vision is usually a recipe for failure, since you end up abandoning a project when you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve.

I need to set a financial target.

With projects like these, the sky’s the limit in terms of how much you choose to throw into this project. There are a lot of costs to consider however.

  • Donor Car Cost
  • Performance Part Costs
  • Tool Costs
  • Costs of hiring an expert for certain jobs
  • Time (not necessarily financial, but there are convoluted ways of arguing that your time is worth money…)

Of course, all these amounts differ depending on what the end result is. There are a number of questions that need to be answered:

  • When do I want this completed?
  • How well do I want the car to perform?
    • What kind of specs do I want to have?
    • How do I plan to use this car? (Race or just have fun?)
  • How much time am I willing to put in to completing it?

The Conclusion

Overall, I know this is something I want to do in the future, however for the time being there’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered. I don’t foresee myself starting the actual building for quite a while since it’s likely going to be a while before I have the dough to start. In the meantime, I can get a better sense of what I want. This will make it easier to figure out a timeline and an approximate cost of the project.