DIY Kegerator: Moving Beyond Functionality
Posted Nov 09th 2012 | By:
This post is addressed to us brewers who are looking to fully integrate kegerators into our homes and move past the beer fridge / keezer aesthetic. I set out to convert a piece of furniture (any piece that struck my fancy) into a kegerator. A good looking final product was key to my significant other allowing it inside the house.
I scoured the internet and many brewing boards, before I started this project, for any posts describing how to make a completely custom kegerator and not just a modded home appliance.
What I found:
Custom Coffin Box
Custom Draft "Tower"
There aren't many examples to pull from, and that is partially due to each furniture/kegerator conversion being completely unique. So when creating your own, use your imagination liberally and approach your project as an experiment. (This is certainly not a one weekend ordeal.)
I started with a 2 tap requirement and the box needed to fit (hide) the 25lb CO2 tank I already owned. I also wanted "high" efficiency and decided on using a minimum of 2" extruded foam insulation panel for the cooler box. This ideally provides an insulation value of R10, whereas rumor puts mini-fridges at R6 or so.
I didn't own any corny kegs at the time, so was flexible to the use of ball or pin lock. MLHBS only had converted pin lock, so that's what I ended up with.
Then comes the hard part: Find a suitable piece of furniture. A few weeks of trolling Craig's List and local classifieds led me to finding an antique washstand. A solid wood frame is important to provide enough strength to hold 2 full kegs, 25lbs CO2 and the guts of a refrigerator.
Agonize over the layout. Gut the whole thing. Verify the layout by test fitting and measuring. Remember to account for the thickness of the insulation. As I mentioned, I chose a nominal 2" thickness and was working with 9" diameter pin lock kegs. So I needed an absolute minimum of 22" width (2+9+9+2) and 12" depth (9+3) just for the kegs alone. The Co2 tank is 9" wide bringing my minimum internal diameter to 31". My washstand was 36"w x 30"h x 20"d and plenty of depth & width for the internals. The 30" height is deceiving since the 25" keg and 2" + 2" (29" total) of insulation seems adequate, but you need to account for the pin/ball lock connectors as well as the dynamics of actually loading the kegs. I know I can't perfectly squeeze 30" of equipment into a 30" space, so I have a few inches of head space. Thus I needed to increase the height of the washstand.
Build up the structure. I needed to add a base and cleats / spanners to reinforce the base. Don't rely upon the insulation to support both 5 gal kegs. You'd hate to be wrong after putting all that work into your custom kegerator.
The entire volume of the wash stand is required for the internals, so I cut the fronts off of the drawers and nailed them in place. If you have a large enough piece of furniture, you could always leave some drawers intact and make them into wine, liquor and glass storage or even a dry bar!
You'll notice that I lost my photo-journalism diligence and we just skip to the near finished product. I became engrossed in the project (and had my doubts that I could pull it off).
Cut to fit all of the foam panel and create the cooler box. Don't glue the panels together until after you decide how to put the refrigerator evaporator into the cooler. I used Good Stuff Gap & Crack filler. This product is great for gluing together the foam panels and filling voids. Not so great for any sort of detail work. Also, use a whole can at once and keep lots of acetone handy. Otherwise the internet says PL300 adhesive will work. You know what won't work? Elmer's glue. The great thing about extruded foam insulation is that it has a nearly zero water absorption but your standard glues rely upon water evaporation to set. VOC may not be ideal, but are apparently the only things that work reliably.
As for insulation, you can choose whichever kind is available. Fiber insulation has a lower insulation value per inch than extruded foam, but if you're converting a piano or something massive, this may be adequate. Pure spray foam also has an R value lower than extruded foam, but conforms to any void. You could also go up to an insulation stack of R30 or more, but I just didn't have the space. (If you haven't guessed by now, the larger the R value, the greater the insulating efficiency)
I now had a mini-fridge to tear apart and fit in place. It was a really old GE model. The refrigeration units are fairly delicate near the connections between compressor, condenser and evaporator. (The evaporator is the cold plate) You could build your own from OEM parts, but a compressor costs approximately $150 and the remaining plates / copper line could be an additional $100. You would also need to vacuum evacuate the system and then fill it with refrigeration gas. (Using automobile AC gas would work, but wouldn't be ideal.)
At this point I broke the first refrigerator. One of the welds snapped, which is how I know they're DELICATE. Luckily I buy all of my junk equipment through CL or thrift stores and quickly found another. As a rule of thumb, give a compressor 10" space on all sides and the cold plate can only be 5" from the side of the compressor. Yes, this creates a cramped space. And another rule of thumb is to put the condenser (the hot coils on the outside of the refrigerator) on the outside of your kegerator for air circulation. Ideally the condenser goes on top of the unit, since heat rises (check out the GE monitor top refrigerator).
Lessons learned: buy the newest, most awfully constructed, cheapest refrigerator possible. The OLD GE model had a rusty steel frame and took its toll of hours, and skin from my knuckles. The old units are just too well built to be deconstructed easily. What I ended up using was a Haier HSB02-01 1.8 cuft model. Much easier to tear apart. Screw driver to pry off the housing. Box knife to cut through the cheap plastic interior and scrape off the insulation. Just don't puncture the lines. You'll know if the gas escapes by the hissing sound it makes. Additionally, an old enough refrigerator may contain freon (not deadly) which is illegal to, even unknowingly, release into the atmosphere as it is a prime contributor to the Green House effect. New refrigerators use another CFC (Chloroflourocarbon) R134 or R12, sometimes called Cold Shot, which is supposedly inert.
Bar room Trivia: Very old refrigerators used compressed Sulpher Dioxide (SO2), which IS deadly.
Use your ingenuity to mount the refrigerator parts in place, with the cold plate in the cooler box. Take inspiration from the factory-style mounting of the compressor and improvise. Try not to bend the refrigerant lines too much and certainly don't put any kinks in them or the cold plate. Bending the cold plate is best done by hand (even though some folks say to do it with 2x4s), but you will never get it completely flat or have a nice right angle.
The temperature control dial keeps the compressor from running continuously. I added an on/off switch to the exterior circuitry and left the temp control dial in the cooler box. This way I wouldn't need to open the kegerator (and let all of the cold air out) if I wanted to turn the unit off.
At the top of the same picture you'll see the wood stilts I used to give the wash stand more height. The solid top is fastened with screws from the underside and the stilts are fasted to the frame. You can also see the brass sheet I used to hide the stilts. The brass is essentially a collar, the same as commonly added to chest keezers. I chose metal sheet since it required less cabinetry skill than other options and chose brass since it tied into the original brass hardware. The sheet is actually 0.010" shim stock (purchased on ebay) that was treated with gun Bluing for the patina (purchased at a gun & tackle shop). It looks okay from a few steps away and after a beer or two.
I still need to add better air circulation to the condenser coils so that I don't over heat the compartment and CO2 tank. No one wants a compressed gas bottle rocket. I will be adding a computer fan and some more holes to the base / back. Ideally I would have routed the condenser coils outside of the kegerator, but had already glued the base.
The last addition is the draft tower. The antique aesthetic just didn't lend itself to a standard SS tower. So I searched for a ceramic something or other to turn into a column and stumbled across a tourist-souvenir stein. I drilled holes to fit the shanks and a hole through the bottom for access to the cooler box. (I used ceramic drill bits and ceramic hack saw blades. Make sure to always submerge them in water while sawing/drilling, otherwise you'll burn 'em up quick) The tower is secured to the cooler box by a length of pipe (look through the references to get the idea). The stein gives access to the shanks / lines due to the flip-top and makes assembly really easy. I used some more of the spray foam to insulate the top and ceramic stein and luckily eliminated the need for a glycol or fan tower cooling system.
Pro-tip: The shank collars (which secure the faucets) are really just chrome plated brass. Don't spend the $10 for an extra brass collar, just sand off the chrome using fine grit sand paper (180 grit or higher). Use a paste of baking soda and water to bring it to a shine.
So really you could make your own custom tower from any old thing. Items that I considered were antique pitchers, vases, ceramic figurines (like an Italian plaza fount), a wine bottle or even the base of a eccentric looking lamp (a lamp is hollow inside, has holes on top and bottom and nearly a perfect beer tower). The tower is only limited by your imagination and junk finding skills! The perfect bit of advice for fragile materials is to create a sort of pillow block/washer for the shanks to screw tight to. Look close to the picture of the internals and you can see a wooden block shaped to the inner wall of the stein with flat sides for the shank nut.
Take a picture of the final piece. One that hides all of the little mistakes.
You'll notice that the thing opens from the back. I really wanted to have it be a front opening unit, but didn't have the confidence of making a decent cut down the face of the wash stand that would look natural / hidden.
So I will need to pull the stand away from the wall to get at the kegs. Just another reason to have 2 taps instead of 1.
I'll be checking back on this post and hope to answer any questions that folks may have. Good luck on your custom kegerator!
Wash Stand $25
Kegs (2) $80
Refrigerators (2) $35
Foam & Spray $25
Brass Sheet $30
Hours: Approx. 120 (10hrs / weekend for 3 months)
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