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Right, this idea is not intended to be useful for anything other than a stopgap situation. I made mine because I had a brew planned and all my hops were suddenly only available in pellets. I use a standard looking drilled copper pipe filter in my copper – a Brupaks style gadget attached to my tap with tubing. It would have struggled to have handled all those Challenger, Mount Hood and Willamette pellets from Down Under.

I’m soon to have a new boiler and when I do I will ask a friend to help make a proper Hop Stopper, but if you get caught short – steal a 10″ stainless steel sieve from the kitchen or ironmongers, bend up the expensive looking handle at a right angle and squish on a flat surface until you have made the sieve sit square. Get a Dremel (or kitchen scissors, razor blades, welding torches, hangnails…) and cut a small hole with side slices, so you can shove a standard squished 12mm copper pipe hop filter through it.

Anyway, you can get the idea and the sieve is still usable.

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To the layman it’s just a big cooking pot and a load of plumbing spares. But this little lot could soon become an extremely exciting new addition to the Boxshed Brewery. Not only will it allow us to boil 50L+ brewlengths sufficient to fill proper pub kegs, it will also free up the old 32L stainless boiler to become a proper HLT.

So far the brewpot (thanks Nadine), immersion elements, stainless ball valve and sight tube bits (thanks Garth) have all arrived here in a postage dripfeed, but the 64mm/20mm holesaws have yet to arrive (yeah, cheers Tool Shop Direct). The whole project will take a while to complete as time and money allows (need a new tiered stand thingy too), and we’re going to need someone to help out with the mains leccy, but it’s all VERY shiny and VERY exciting nevertheless. Woohoo!

Here’s a rapid snap. It’s quite hard to tell in this photo, because the sheer shine of the thing is obliterating the bottom half of the vessel in the sunlight, but this new copper is mahoosive. It’s half a metre in all dimensions. To give you an idea, it happily covers all four hobs if you sit it on an electric cooker. Probably not such a bad idea actually… …just kidding!

The new boiler equipment is so shiny you need to wear shades even to walk into the same room

The new boiler equipment is so shiny you need to wear shades even to walk into the same room

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Finally I managed to find the time and gather the equipment to put together a shiny new stainless steel mashtun, and I’m very pleased with the results (although the first brew with the new beast will be the real proof of my amateurish construction skills.)

I bought a 50L stainless steel Thermobox from a German company called Nordic Optical around six months ago, since when it has been sitting about in a carboard box looking ominous and neglected. A Thermobox is a double-walled stainless steel vat with styrofoam insulated walls and a latch-locked lid. They are designed to carry hot food for function caterers, but can be (and have been) turned into fantastic mashtuns suitable for batch or fly-sparging just by adding a tap of some sort and a grain filtering device. My problem was to work out how to practically and affordably build a straining manifold (or false bottom) and fix a tap on to the thin twin walls.

I put the project off for some time not only because I needed the money to buy decent tools (especially holesaws) capable of cutting stainless efficiently, but also because I didn’t really know how to use the correct plumbing components and get the thing done without wrecking a valuable stainless tub. As it turned out, all I needed to do was buy some quality kit, digest a huge amount of valuable advice from homebrewers more practically minded than myself on JBK and latterly The HomeBrew Forum, then get a day off work and bite the bullet. Fortunately all went well.

I’ve attached a dozen or so photos of the process below which should be self explanatory. I began by making a mashtun manifold out of 15mm copper pipe and fittings. This is a tried and tested method of extracting the sugary wort from the mash and one that is still generally favoured over false bottoms among the UK brewing community, although I wouldn’t discount buying a US stainless FB one day if I’m lucky enough to get over there. I started cutting slots with a hacksaw and found it a complete nightmare, so after some advice I began using a Dremel 300 with cut-off wheels to cut as many slots halfway through the pipe structure as possible. The standard wheels managed about 15 cuts each before grinding down to nothing and shattering across the room, but I had more luck with the heavy duty versions (still burnt through about eight of these though!) Once done I had a nice size manifold with a lot of cuts. I realised I was maximising drainage while increasing deadspace with the extent of these cuts, but figured it would amount to no more than two litres which I would compensate for in future brewdays.

Cutting the actual Thermobox had been my biggest worry. Forums abound with tales of holesaws perishing on stainless walls and slippages wrecking that all important shiny surface. I bought the best quality holesaws I could source from a great traditional hardware store – Partridge’s of Hadleigh, Suffolk. The Bahco Bi-Metal Sandflex holesaws and arbours weren’t cheap but looked the part. Following the lead of other brewfacturers on the forums mentioned, I made a punchhole and then cut a 25mm hole in the outer skin as low down as I could to meet the internal floor. I made sure the arbour pilot drill pierced the inner wall so that I could then easily line up and cut a 22mm hole in the internal skin. So far, so good – the saws went through the steel like butter.

The next step was to fit the tap. I used the Dremel to take of any slight burrs then tried fitting the assembly. Essentially I was using a standard 15mm ball valve lever tap, a 15mm female-to female socket piece, a nylon/rubber washer and a standard 15mm tank connecter. The idea was to emulate a forum idea to leave the lip of the socket connecter outside in order to add strength to the tap connection, while its 25mm length body would span the void between the thin stainless walls and tighten to the tank connecter. In practice I had to Dremel off the lip ridge on one end of the socket connecter as well as two ridges on its body before squeezing it into the 25mm hole and fitting it tightly on to the tap (using synthetic lubricant) and into the outside hole. In order to allow the tank connecter to tighten properly from the inside, I then had to reduce its length by about 15mm and replace the washer before lubing up the thread and tightening until the walls pinched. It all looked great.

With the tap fitted I turned to the manifold. I had left a t-piece positioned at one end of the manifold grid and then attached this directly to the aperture on the back of the tank connecter with a piece of carefully bent 15mm copper pipe. The whole assembly not only comes apart for cleaning, it also pivots vertically around the t-piece, which is handy for removing moisture before storage. And that’s it really – it all looks the part. I have further plans to install a unique permanent sparging device into the lid of the tun so I can fly sparge without unlocking the tun at all, but more of that another day! Here are the pics.

 

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I’ve had a big project in mind for some time to upgrade various bits of my brewing kit to higher capacity stainless steel. I’m not looking for anything electronic or flash at this stage, but I do want to make cleaning easier and brewdays less messy by using vessels with a little more headroom. The first vessel I’m looking to upgrade is my mashtun, but the others will follow as and when – probably HLT next, then the boiler when I can afford to shop about a bit. The refurb will also give me the excuse I need to re-organise the staging that holds my vessels and make the whole area a bit more elegant and shiny.

The mashtun I’m looking to make will be a conversion of a 50L thermobox – one of two tubs I shipped over from Germany about six months ago. I’ll be looking to drill the steel walls for a lever tap ball valve, and maybe add a sparging system to the lid, but to start off with I’ve begun knocking up a mashtun manifold to filter the grain bed. I’ve watched dozens of people make these on brewing forums, especially JBK, and finally I’ve started making one of my own. I chose 15mm copper pipe and fittings, rather than 22mm, to minimise dead ton space, and an HSS hacksaw. Here it is so far. Not looking forward to hacksawing a hundred little cuts in it though!

 

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