Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yesterday's "Pearls Before Swine Comic" was awesome.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Two Brewers!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Phase 1: Steel Construction

It's time I start writing about how R2-DBREW came to be. Truly it came from months of brainstorming and perusing other people's home brew systems. I found what I liked about other people's systems and started to scribble out one of my own. I came up with a 2 tier system design that only uses one pump (until I get my plate chiller). First task was to lay out how I was going to build the thing and what size pieces of metal I was going to use. The metal is relatively cheap, but it's important to lay out how you're making your cuts so that you make efficient use of the pieces. All in all I ended up buying 48' of 2x2 11 gauge square stock steel, and 48' of 1x1 11 gauge square stock. The total came to about 125 bucks if I can remember. Considering a 2' section of square stock at Lowe's is $8, that's an awesome price. It's imperative to find a metal yard to get this metal from. You'll have to take a second mortgage on the house if you buy it all from the big box store.

Mite saw outfitted with aluminum
foil guard and metal cutting blade.
Next is cutting. There's a few options you can do here. My metal yard sold the metal in 24' segments, but cuts it in half for consumers for free. If you want it cut beyond that it was $2 per cut. Officially, a self lubricated horizontal band saw would be ideal, but unless you're working in a metal shop, you probably don't have one. And if you do, you're definitely not reading this for a how-to. I took my normal miter saw and replaced the blade with a metal cutting blade that you can get from Lowe's for under 10 bucks. You need to make a few modifications though. Take off the dust catcher. The metal sparks will burn through that in no time. Secondly, take off the plastic piece that directs the sawdust to the bag, this will also melt after a lot of cutting. If you can't remove it, take some aluminum foil and cover the plastic that comes in direct contact with the shower of sparks you'll be creating.

Finally we can get to cutting. It's wise to set yourself up so you can easily make your first cut and move to the next. Measure your first cut and give her a rip. Let it be known, there will be sparks. A pretty solid shower of them. Which can only be described as awesome. Don't point that shower of sparks towards anything particularly flammable. I hung a fireproof (later to be known, not weld-rod proof) blanket behind my saw while I cut. Take your first piece, file off the burrs, and measure it again. Make sure it's exactly what you want. Then using your first piece, measure out and mark your second piece. After your second piece is done, use your first piece again to measure out the next cut. If you don't, whatever small errors you make on each cut will compound to the next one. Lets say you end up cutting pieces 1/16" short when you cut. If you use the same piece to measure, each piece after that will only be 1/16" short. If you keep using the piece you just cut, after 8 cuts you'll be an entire 1/2" short. That won't work. I learned very quickly that metal is unforgiving. You have to make your cuts just right, and often you'll be hammering stuff into place.

Ratchet straps to keep metal square.
Then it's time to weld it all together. You can do this however you want, but regardless of the type of welder, plan out your stages so that the welding sites are easy to get to, and the structure can (relatively) support itself. I learned a neat trick to use ratcheting tie downs to clamp metal together. It works great and doesn't cost nearly as much as a set of large clamps. Be careful getting the metal too hot near them though. You don't want to melt the strap. Try to weld everything in the same plane at once and then you can tack the two sides together. It's impossible to cantilever a piece of metal out and expect to get a nice square weld. Also try to make it so the seams you're welding are accessible. You will eventually have to weld in tight corners as you move along, but might as well make those as few as possible. Once you have everything together, drill a small hole in each piece of steel that is closed off on both ends. You don't want the air to heat up inside and explode (it happens).

Keep in mind that you're embarking on a big project! I spent a lot of time putting this together. I started July 1st, and only just finished October 27th. A solid 4 month project. And there's still some improvements that need to be made.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bad Omens

I had a little mishap last weekend, which is why I didn't post before I took my trip to Vegas. But I'll get to that.

Last weekend I used R2-DBREW for the first time, 100% completed. R2-DBREW worked great. Everything around it was trouble. First thing, R2-DBREW is HEAVY. Not heavy like a big ol' bag of dog food mind you. Heavy like trying to pick up the tail end of a Honda hatch-back heavy. I managed to wheel it to the backyard... back is another story.

While everything heated up I milled my grain. I did nothing different than I had in the past, but my drill freaked out. Which made me freak out considering how close it was to my genitals. I started loosing the speed control of my drill, which was strange, so I tilted it up (off of my lap). What I found was thick milky smoke pouring off the battery of my drill. The only images I had in my head was those of exploding laptop batteries. I placed the drill on the ground, and I watched while I listened to the battery smoke and sputter. I wanted to get my drill off that battery. I needed to save my drill. I ran and got my welding gloves and managed to pull the battery off and place it at a distance. The battery had melted holes in the sides of the casings. The battery proceeded to smoke for about 10 minutes, but was too hot to pick up for the next 8 hours. Unfortunately... my drill didn't make it.

He was a good drill. With almost 6 solid years of service. There was no task that he back down from. No job that was too difficult. Whether it was plowing screws through plywood, or drilling holes in slabs of concrete, he never wavered. We've been through a lot together, he and I. We've been through plywood, concrete, drywall, studs, aluminum, and most recently 11 gauge steel.

He will be missed. *sniff*

*Ahem*. Excuse me. I digress. Anyway this should have been an omen. Since the only way I could mill the grain was on full speed, I had a very hard time running my mash process. The liquid did not want to move through the grain bed, leaving dry spots. Leaving me with a low OG.

I wrapped everything up and proceeded to bring R2-DBREW back to the front yard. I made it about half way when I turned around to pull R2 walking forward instead of back which is when tragedy struck. I caught my heel underneath one of the steel 2x2, 11 gauge, square stock legs. All 800+ (estimate?) pounds of R2-DBREW was unrelenting and cut into my heel. I'm no doctor, but it must have bounced off my Achilles' tendon. The blood flowed from my ankle like beer flows during Oktoberfest.

Perfect. I can't walk. The day before my 1 week vacation to Vegas. Not much walking in Vegas right? Wrong. You walk everywhere. Oh, and I forgot to mention the second half of my trip. Hiking the grand canyon. F*(%@.