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Immersion Chiller

March 18, 2011

Being a little cramped in the apartment, I’d taken to leaving my immersion chiller on the porch when not in use.  Though I hadn’t been too thorough, I tried to drain it before putting it out.  Unfortunately, one day I found out it had cracked due to ice forming in the coils:

When the cracks were discovered

I went to the hardware store down the street and asked what I could do to salvage it.  The guy recommended a 3/8″ compression fitting union.  I had measured the inlet prior and knew that 3/8″ was correct.  What I wasn’t expecting was that the tubing in the coils had actually expanded to closer to 7/16″ over time so the fitting didn’t fit and a 7/16″ ferrule (for the compression fitting) was still too loose.  Pics below show the offending section cut out in the hopes that I could splice the two ends together:

With offending section cut out

Despite a pretty successful bath tub cooling with my Maibock, a subsequent fiasco with my Dusseldorf Alt made me decide I didn’t want to go without an immersion chiller for another batch.  So after failing the splice, I went ahead and picked up 50′ of soft copper tubing at Home Depot for $43.16.  Searching online and at other stores told me this was a good deal, so I went with it.  I’d rather have gone cheaper of course, but it should do.

As opposed to my normal mode of operation, I didn’t research how to make 50′ of soft copper tubing into an immersion chiller before I bought it.  Instead, I watched a couple videos the day I attempted it.  The first one I saw used a keg to coil the tubing but went with soldering copper bends for the ends to connect IN and OUT.  With only that first video under my belt, I went ahead and wrapped my tubing around a keg.  That worked fantastically and left me with bending the bottom riser up to the top and running them over the sides.  Looking at a couple other videos, I got scared.  One of them wanted to replace what looked like a kind of ghetto chiller with a new one at 1/2″ diameter.  He ended up with something that was much more ghetto (in his defense, 1/2″ is supposed to be much harder to bend).  A second one used some odd pipe bending apparatus (it looked like a steel braid to me) and ended up with something serviceable, but not to the standards I was hoping for.  A little wary yet undeterred, I proceeded to try a couple ideas on my old chiller to see how they worked.  Unfortunately they were a little bit of a mess and I think I would have ended up with something very similar to what I saw on the videos if I hadn’t figured out better ways for my actual build.

For my actual build, I used an IHOP coffee mug and patience to bend the top of the coil up and then over to make the top riser.  I would put one end through the handle and bend the rest around the mug.  I chose the IHOP mug because it was sturdy and one of the smallest we have.  It ended up working pretty well (I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves, though).  For the bottom riser, I carefully straightened about 17″ of tubing from the bottom end of the coil (17″ was what I estimated it would take to get to the top and over to end at about the same spot as the top riser).  From there, I used the mug again to make an upward bend, followed by an outward bend.  In the end, I’m really pleased with the results.  Mine is much better looking than the couple videos I saw and I think is actually an improvement over the old one (though with my newfound appreciation for how difficult it is to make, I think the old one looked pretty nice).

Reading comments by Newbrewer at http://www.wortomatic.com/php/articles.php?ID=11 a couple years down the road indicates that the tubing can actually be filled with water and frozen to prevent crimping when bending.  Pretty nifty idea that could be useful in the future if I find myself making another one or otherwise working with metal tubing.

I had been considering finding a way to sell the old chiller for scrap, but now that I think about it, it should work really well as a pre-chiller.  With summer coming up, I think that could come in real handy.  Plus I think I only need one more length of tubing to make it work (to run from the outlet of the pre-chiller to the inlet of the immersion chiller).

Update

As the pictures above show, the original IC had a good clearance for my 20 qt. kettle.  Unfortunately, this was not enough for my new keggle.  Luckily I was able to use the same technique (IHOP mug, etc.) to undo about one turn of the coil to extend the risers above the top of the keggle.  Luckily my first run with it proved successful with my Pale Ale.

Adding a Wort Return Arm

With a new steelhead pump and after having a couple incidents running it in the kitchen with the chiller where the outlet came loose and shot hot wort all over, I have decided (probably later than I should have) to incorporate a wort return arm per Jamil (http://www.mrmalty.com/chiller.php and http://www.wortomatic.com/php/articles.php?ID=11).  Since I still have the pieces from the old chiller, it should be a simple matter to cut a section out of it – preferably with a good curve to it to get a whirlpool going and attach it to the existing risers with metal wire (or even a plastic zip tie maybe as Jamil shows).

I’ll add a description of how my immersion chiller broke and the steps taken to fix it

  • Frozen water burst
  • Expansion of tubing from use increased diamater from 3/8 to ~7/16.  Unfortunately it’s not close enough to either for either for a compression fitting to work (too big for 3/8, too small for 7/16)
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