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Austin Homebrew's SS Bulkhead review - Igloo mash tun

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nostalgia

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I had been at my local hardware stores and big orange box stores looking for bulkhead fittings to put a ball valve on my Igloo cooler. I'd seen the threads on here using a pipe nipple, but it never seemed right to use the pipe threads as both a sealing surface (which they're designed for) and as a way to hold the fitting in place on the wall of the cooler (which they're not designed for).

So I needed a bulkhead fitting, which has threads on the outside to hold it in place and threads on the inside to put your valve and hose barb on. Austin Homebrew's SS Bulkhead appeared to be exactly that. The description read, "This is a stainless steel no-weld bulkhead for kettles, and for cooler mash tuns with a factory spigot." So I bought one along with my last order. Here's what I got:



Looked good to me until I looked a little closer. It turns out this is not a bulkhead fitting at all but nothing more than a 1/2" pipe nipple with a loose nut on it.



Ugh. False advertising aside, I decided to go ahead and try to install it. Following the directions, one thick washer and O-ring go on the outside, while an O-ring and two thin washers go on the inside. Not a whole lot of thread for the stainless sleeve to grab:



I managed to get the sleeve on, but as I tightened it I noticed something strange - the O-ring was oozing out the top of the washer.



No matter what I did I couldn't get it to stop leaking. I tried tightening it, loosening it, using O-ring lube. Drip, drip, drip.

Until (next post due to picture limit...)
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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...until I had the idea to re-use the rubber and hard plastic washers from the original cooler valve. The hard plastic washer prevents the soft rubber sealing washer from squishing out all over the place.



This fixed the leaking.

So I'm beyond disappointed with this mislabeled and poorly designed "bulkhead" fitting. I'm going to write to AHS and find out if I can get a refund.

-Joe
 

flyangler18

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That's pretty much the standard weldless bulkhead fitting as we know it in the hobby.
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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I'll take your word for that. It's still not a bulkhead fitting. I had these exact same parts in my hand at the hardware store but put them back because it seemed like a kludge.

I guess my expectations are too high :p

-Joe
 

Bobby_M

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You're preaching to the choir on this one. Check out https://www.homebrewtalk.com/f11/no-leak-mlt-bulkhead-design-87197/

Any design that suggests an Oring on the outside wall of the cooler is instant fail in my mind. Creating a seal around threads by packing the valleys with teflon tape is equally lame. Also, that oring might have worked a bit better if it were the next diameter smaller (cross-sectional).
 
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Well first off something is wrong with your camera because that "Stainless Steel bulkhead" looks like there is a lot of brass from those pictures </sarcasm>

If the o-ring is not captured or restrained it will twist out of postition and leak no matter what you do. That's the one thing the good 'ol Zymico kit had going for it, the nut was machined to capture the o-ring in place. What we really need for this application is a draft shank machined and then tapped for 1/2"NPT. That would be an actual bulkhead.
 

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I wouldn't really blame AHS for this collection of spare parts because as flyangler said, it's the standard and people accept it from all of the vendors. I guess the reason it's proliferated is that although it's far from ideal, it can be made to seal and it's cheap.

One way to easily correct this inherent problem is to weld or silver solder the washer to either the flat of the nipple (unthreaded portion) or to the face edge of the washer. I also like the silicone washer idea vs. the Oring.
 

flyangler18

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I wouldn't really blame AHS for this collection of spare parts because as flyangler said, it's the standard and people accept it from all of the vendors. I guess the reason it's proliferated is that although it's far from ideal, it can be made to seal and it's cheap.
Yeah, I don't doubt that Forrest will refund your money if you are dissatisfied with the 'bulkhead' but it's pretty ubiquitous among homebrewers. I've used one of largely that design for my cooler MLT (the exact number escapes me at the moment but it's well over 20 batches) with nary a leak.
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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I wouldn't really blame AHS for this collection of spare parts because as flyangler said, it's the standard and people accept it from all of the vendors. I guess the reason it's proliferated is that although it's far from ideal, it can be made to seal and it's cheap.
That may be, but if this were advertised as a "Cooler conversion kit" or "MLT port kit", I wouldn't have made the mistake of buying it.

How is the average consumer like me, who's never seen this product before, know it's not a bulkhead when companies advertise it as a bulkhead?

Regardless, I'm not here to complain about AHS, just to share my feelings on the product. I've contacted them already and we'll leave it at that.

-Joe
 

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For what it's worth, I've used the following setup in a 48 qt ice cube:

barb with 1/2" female npt, stainless washer, dash 314 oring, cooler wall, 1/2" close nipple, stainless washer, ball valve

....for the last 3.5 years, and have never had a leak. I wrapped the threads 2-3 times maybe once or twice a year. I used the existing valve hole in the cooler, but again, never had a leak. Maybe 40 or so batches. I think I might have changed the oring once, but that's it. YMMV.

Basically the same setup is used in the BK, although I may have an oring on the outside as well. Can't remember.
 

flyangler18

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How is the average consumer like me, who's never seen this product before, know it's not a bulkhead when companies advertise it as a bulkhead?
Alright, I'll admit ignorance here. How is this weldless fitting not a bulkhead? I'm not being arsey, this is an honest question.

If it's an issue with nomenclature (which it seems to be), then maybe it's one worth clarifying.

Jason
 

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A "proper" bulkhead fitting has the inner tube and interior sealing surface as a single piece either machined or welded. As liquid tries to push past this setup, it can either go into the tube or try to go around the sealing flange where it hits the gasket squeezed between the flange and the vessel wall.

Here's an example:


These spare parts systems all have the problem of the sealing flange being a washer. The liquid can get in the inside diameter of the washer and gain access to the threads on the nipple. The reason why these seal some of the time is if you wrap the threads with teflon, you can sometimes have the oring seal against them as if it were unthreaded pipe. To make sure this works 100% of the time, the Oring MUST sit on an unthreaded portion of the nipple. When compressed, it seals against the vessel was AND the flat of the nipple giving liquid no path out.
 

Stinkonamonkey

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Well, I got a very similar set of parts from Bargain Fittings

It took me hours to get it to stop leaking. I think I ended up using a little food grade silicone to make it stop leaking. I just figured for that kind of money, I expected it to be a hassle.

Its been leak free since though. One of these days I'll get off my ass and find a welder.
 

samc

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1. My low tech cooler has slightly over sized tubing pulled through. Cheap & no leaks, could not see putting a heavy ball valve on a plastic tub. If I was to go with a ball valve it would be plastic.

2. HBT is a lot classier forum than others I have visited. I complained about a vendor elsewhere and was massively flamed for stating in simple terms the truth about a product I received. Kudo's to all !!
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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A "proper" bulkhead fitting has the inner tube and interior sealing surface as a single piece either machined or welded. As liquid tries to push past this setup, it can either go into the tube or try to go around the sealing flange where it hits the gasket squeezed between the flange and the vessel wall.
Well said, Bobby, thanks. Based on the product description and teeny picture on the website, this is exactly what I expected to get.

I'm also glad things have remained civil with regards to the supplier. I'm hopeful that AHS will be receptive to the feedback on this item and will either find a proper replacement for it or at least update their website.

-Joe
 

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For my Igloo 5gal I dismantled the spigot and drilled the hole for a very tight fit with a piece of copper tubing. For the outside I used a compression fitting, which then leads to a a 1/4" ball valve and a 90degree barb fitting. Works like a hot damn and hasn't leaked since day one.
 

android

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i cut some silicone washers out of silicone funnels that have worked well for me.
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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AHS got back to me today with two sentences. They thanked me for the feedback and said the item I purchased has been widely accepted as being called a bulkhead.

Maybe I'm too sensitive, but I feel like I've just been blown off. I'm not sure what I expected, maybe something like, "We're sorry you feel deceived" or anything addressing the fact that a frequent customer just told them he felt disappointed and cheated.

-Joe
 

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I don't know what I would have expected them to do but as I mentioned, it's the general users who are to blame. There's no known source for a proper stainless bulkhead for the odd $15 people are willing to pay. I do agree that the words "weldless bulkhead" in the homebrewing community absolutely means: nipple, coupling, a couple washers, orings and locknut.
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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Ok, so who's going to order the first 1000 units when I start manufacturing one-piece bulkheads?
:)

I was originally going to use one of these from John Guest, but the acetal is only rated up to around 155F. I sent them an email a few weeks ago but they never got back to me.



-Joe
 

Anthony_Lopez

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While I understand what the OP is saying, I don't think that you have been blown off or jipped by AHS. What you bought is a homebrewing weldless bulkhead. What I'm curious about is all the brass when you stated your ordered stainless.
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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While I understand what the OP is saying, I don't think that you have been blown off or jipped by AHS. What you bought is a homebrewing weldless bulkhead. What I'm curious about is all the brass when you stated your ordered stainless.
The only parts that are stainless are the close nipple and female-to-female pipe adapter. The shut-off valve and two barb fittings are not part of the bulkhead package.

And I'll still argue that I didn't buy a homebrewing weldless bulkhead. I bought a pipe nipple and washers with o-rings that don't seal because they're seated on threads. Whether or not suppliers have tricked us into believing that's a bulkhead is another story.

The reason I feel blown off is I don't think it's right that AHS feels that telling me it's "accepted" is good enough. But again, that's just my opinion. I'm not trying to change anyone else's mind.

-Joe
 

Anthony_Lopez

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Well then return it... What you bought is a "homebrewing weldless bulkhead" according to what is accepted by the community. If your definition is different than the general consensus, thats not really AHB's fault. Don't get me wrong, I understand where you are coming from - the one I made leaked until i used different Orings. I think arguing over terminology and definitions is pointless.
 

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You could always buy a real bulkhead. But I think your problem will be price. PVC bulkheads very common in the aquarium hobby, so from the first time I saw the "spare parts" idea I knew that wasn't a bulkhead. The problem is that I don't know how many people would be willing to pay for a real bulkead.

For examples, here are some CPVC bulkheads that are actually pretty decently priced:
Hayward Safe-T-Loc CPVC Bulkhead Fittings - US Plastic Corporation

This is probably the route I will be going when I build my MLT.

The only other issues is that I don't think a real bulkhead will fit into the already existing spigot hole of most coolers. It would probably require some kind of counter sunk hole in the outside insulation to make it work. I know I saw a picture of a MLT that had a thermometer in a CPVC bulkhead recently and that's how they had installed it.
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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Hey, somehow I missed this guy over at McMaster-Carr. 3/8" NPT female threads on both sides and requires a 7/8" hole, which is exactly right for the Igloo.

The only question is the black delrin. Does this description imply it's not food safe? I'll have to call them and find out.

McMaster said:
Delrin is for use with water, air, antifreeze, and isopropyl alcohol. Temperature range is -40° to +180° F. Vacuum is 25" Hg @ 72° F. White fittings meet FDA (food and beverage). Black fittings are more rugged for heavy duty use.
edit: they've also got one in brass, but it requires a 1" hole.

-Joe
 

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Infidel

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oh please explain why you don't want the PTFE bulkhead?


Hey, somehow I missed this guy over at McMaster-Carr. 3/8" NPT female threads on both sides and requires a 7/8" hole, which is exactly right for the Igloo.

The only question is the black delrin. Does this description imply it's not food safe? I'll have to call them and find out.



edit: they've also got one in brass, but it requires a 1" hole.

-Joe
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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oh please explain why you don't want the PTFE bulkhead?
oh please show me where I said I didn't want it.

I was just looking at other options. Going back and looking at the PTFE one linked, it appears to only be threaded on one side.

-Joe
 

KYB

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We put together a ball valve setup collecting parts from Home Depot, and honestly I don't know how it doesn't leak. I'm sure it's a matter of time. The one I went to didn't have exactly what I wanted, had to make do with other parts and make it work.
 

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It would be really interesting to find what percentage of weldless bulkhead users had:

1. no leaks upon install or over time.
2. early leaks, later fixed.
3. no leaks early, but leaked later.
4. always leaked, gave up.

I'd also break the data between metal vessels and coolers.
 

Infidel

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These instructions might help with the installation of the bulkhead. As you can see, there is an o-ring over an area without threads. From the pictures posted earlier in this thread, it would help if the original poster didn't use the thicker washer up against the brass nut, but one of the thinner ones provided. It is not necessary to use all of the washers, they are provided as spacers to make up for people using pots that are extremely thin.
Austin Homebrew provides a product that works for a wide range of applications at a competitive price point. It is easier to provide one product that is adjustable by allowing customers to discard washers if their application does not require them. There is more than one company out there making coolers with removable spigots, and not all of them have the same wall thickness. These will not work with Max-Cool coolers because of the wall thickness at the spigot (I could go on with why a regular cooler would work better than a heavy duty one, and it has nothing to do with the wall thickness where the spigot is removed).
Addressing the description that was something to the effect of "a loose nut on a pipe nipple", the nut should not be loose at all - if it is then the person that put it together (at Austin Homebrew) was ignoring assembly instructions. The stainless pipe nipple is put in a vice with copper jaws and the brass nut is tightened with a large wrench to the point that the threads should be destroyed. The over engagement of the threads deforms the threads on the brass since it is the softer of the two materials. This provides a permanent and leak-proof seal between the nipple and the nut, it also discourages customers from trying to incorrectly assemble the part should they fail to read the instructions.
As far as the issue of the rear o-ring deforming, that is due to over tightening. The larger o-rings are less likely to deform from over tightening than smaller diameter o-ring.

Suggestions on how to build a better homebrew bulkhead? A compression ring (a stainless washer that has the same ID as the OD of the o-ring) that surrounds the o-rings would help prevent over expansion or distortion, but would add a few dollars to the cost. The problem with that is if is used on a small diameter cooler, such as a 5-gallon one it wouldn't work because the edges of the compression ring would hit the wall of the cooler creating problems. Completely unnecessary, but why not... I have also found that using a titanium backing washer to the internal o-ring to be a nice bonus in this situation. Since titanium flexes quite easily it conforms to the inside curve of a round kettle and when removed for cleaning or replacement of o-rings it springs back to its original shape. I'll see if I can find the one I have for a picture... but really, once someone adds all of these options they might as well have paid for a kettle with welded fittings.
If you are simply looking to do this as cheap as possible then a grommet (food grade EPDM) that fits the hole with a tight fitting piece of tube passing through the middle works just fine. It will leak a little and you couldn't put it on a burner. You would need a pinch clamp attached to softer tubing to control the flow rate.
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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Thank you for the lengthy reply. If I may talk a bit to your post...

As you can see, there is an o-ring over an area without threads. From the pictures posted earlier in this thread, it would help if the original poster didn't use the thicker washer up against the brass nut, but one of the thinner ones provided.
Not on the inside there isn't. If I use the thick washer and o-ring on the outside like the instructions (which I read, thank you) show, as you can see, there is no area without threads for an o-ring.



Maybe if I use one of the thinner washers as you suggest?



Still nothing. What if I ignore the instructions and don't use an o-ring on the outside?



So close.

It is easier to provide one product that is adjustable by allowing customers to discard washers if their application does not require them.
Understood. Perhaps the instructions should say something about that? The part comes pre-assembled and the instructions show all parts in use, so first time users (like myself, for example) may think there's a reason to use all of the parts.

Addressing the description that was something to the effect of "a loose nut on a pipe nipple"
By "loose nut" I mean a nut that is not secured in any way, like by a second jam nut or solder. Forcing the nut on a tapered pipe thread is not a substitute for this. In fact, the first time I had to take the mess apart because it leaked, the nut fell right off because there's nothing to grab but the nut when loosening the NPT sleeve:



As far as the issue of the rear o-ring deforming, that is due to over tightening. The larger o-rings are less likely to deform from over tightening than smaller diameter o-ring.
You're absolutely right. I overtightened it because I was trying to get the thing to seal after it leaked the first few times I tried it in various configurations. This is the problem I have with this setup - you have to play a game with different thicknesses of washers and o-rings to hit that magic spot where both the o-rings and the tapered pipe threads all seal at once. Read that: a giant pain in the butt.

Suggestions on how to build a better homebrew bulkhead?
Easy. Produce or source a bulkhead fitting like Bobby showed above with 3/8" NPT threads on the inside.

-Joe
 
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nostalgia

nostalgia

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So should I assume my fitting is defective because the "permanent and leak-proof" nut fell off?

And I have to say, telling me to RTFM really rubbed me the wrong way. You posted the sheet with the instructions saying I should follow them, then in your post say I should mix-n-match things and not follow them.

I wrote a PM to Forrest 9 days ago but haven't heard back from him.

I'm trying to be patient and understanding, but I'm really not liking the way this has been handled by AHS's staff. I buy almost exclusively from AHS because I appreciate the support they give the HBT community, but I expect a little respect in return.

-Joe
 

bad coffee

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Hey, somehow I missed this guy over at McMaster-Carr. 3/8" NPT female threads on both sides and requires a 7/8" hole, which is exactly right for the Igloo.

The only question is the black delrin. Does this description imply it's not food safe? I'll have to call them and find out.



edit: they've also got one in brass, but it requires a 1" hole.

-Joe
I'd go with the nylon one on that page, 3/8" needs a 1" hole. Easy to stretch the hole on a plastic cooler. Easier yet with a unibit.

B
 

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FWIW, the SS ball valve kit from Bargain Fittings has a machined washer that keeps the silicon O-ring from squishing out. I have a few other weldless fittings including one I made myself and they all leak if you over tighten them. I've found it you really crank down on the fitting from BF it doesn't cause any problems AND makes for a more sturdy feeling ball valve. I'm seriously considering ordering just the nut itself to replace on my other valves. You could always just buy the nut to go with your existing "bulkhead".



 
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