Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to Build a Keezer Collar

After eight years of valiant service, my original third-hand fermentation chamber turned kegerator was still working, but looking worse for wear. The interior was rusty, and mold was growing down where condensation invariably pooled (despite the rechargeable dehumidifier). In addition, shoehorning three kegs and a CO2 tank in there was a pain, and I didn't love serving sour beers from a party/picnic tap. It was time for an upgrade! I opted for a similar design, a larger chest freezer (so technically a keezer) with a wooden collar attached to the body of the freezer.

Woodworking and brewing share a few commonalities, both: require precision, benefit from shiny tools, can be called creative, and you end up with something you could have bought for half the price. While the skills aren’t transferable, my friend Mat (you may remember from the mead pit) was kind enough to spend a few Saturday mornings lending his skills and hands.

2 – 2X6s
1 – Wood glue
20 – 1/4" x 1" lag screws
4 – 2" x 4" 12-gauge L-angle brackets
2 – Spray paint (chalkboard)
12-16 – #8 1 inch wood screws
12 – Washers
Weather stripping
1 – Silicone caulk

Tape measure
Miter saw
Corner clamps
Drill (with various bits, sockets, etc.)
Screw driver
7/8” Hole saw or spade bit

1. Buy a freezer. I opted for a 10.6 cubic foot chest freezer from GE (Model# FCM11PHWW). It is big enough to comfortably fit five kegs, and a 20 lb CO2 tank (plus a 5 lb beer gas tank on the compressor hump). There is enough room for one more keg if I wanted to squeeze it in.

2. Measure. Use the tape measure to determine the dimensions of the freezer. This will let you know how much wood you’ll need for the collar. The dimensions of my freezer (50.5" by 25.25") were such that we could get a long and a short side from each 96" board, with some scrap leftover.

3. Buy materials. As I learned after my solo trip to Home Depot, buying really straight pieces of lumber is essential (especially for larger freezers). Place the board on a flat surface, turn it, and press down on the ends to judge how warped it is each direction. Also avoid wood with lots of knots, or cracks (unless they are near the ends and can be trimmed). You don't need many boards, so be picky. This is a good opportunity to get the rest of the materials and tools as well.

4. Cut the wood. Use the miter saw to perform a 45 degree cut to remove a few inches from one end. Then measure and mark the wood. You want to cut slightly over on the "waste" side of the line to ensure the result is long enough. If you are getting two sides from each board, wait until after you cut the first to measure the second. Place the pieces together on the lid of the freezer to ensure they fit correctly.

5. Drill holes for the taps. Measure and mark where you want each tap to be located. Use the 7/8" hole saw (or spade) to cut a hole for each shank. Do your best to make these holes as vertical as possible.

6. Assemble. Glue two cut edges, clamp them together, and then drive in the brackets with the lag screws to hold it. Repeat on the remaining three corners. You can pre-drill, but we didn't run into issues skipping this step. Allow the glue to dry for 24 hours before proceeding.

7. Sand. Smooth any rough spots, edges, corners, splinters etc.

8. Paint. Spray paint the collar with two coats, with 30 minutes in between. Even if you don't mind the look of raw wood, paint (or stain) will help to prevent moisture from seeping into the wood. Allow the paint to dry completely, at least 24 hours, before proceeding. 

9. Detach the hinges. Unscrew the hinges from the freezer body (they should remain attached to the lid). Be careful when doing this as they can spring up violently. Have someone hold the hinge down until the last screw is removed, then raise slowly.

10. Apply the weather stripping. Stick the self-adhering weather stripping to the bottom of the collar. This will compensate for any slight warps in the wood.

10. Position the collar. Place the collar between the freezer and lid. Make sure everything sits the way you want it to. Check that the lid's gasket touches the collar all the way around. Attach the hinges to the collar using wood screws and washers. Reinsert the bolts that came out of the hinges into their original holes.

11. Optional, mount the temperature controller and probe. Drill a hole for the temperature probe and add screws to hang the temperature controller. I'm also planning on mounting the CO2 manifold to the back of the collar when I get around to replacing the gas lines.


12. Apply caulk. Caulk the interior seams to provide another seal in addition to the weather stripping. A wet finger does a serviceable (if slightly ugly) job smoothing the caulk. This will prevent moist air from entering the freezer. This reduces condensation, which would eventually lead to rust or mold.

13. Kegerator-ize it! Insert the shanks, kegs, tanks, and connect all of the fittings. I added neoprene gaskets between the collar and the nut to block air from finding its way in around the shank. Another new addition, Velcro zip-ties to tame the 15' of line I'm using for each tap. The tap on the far left is for carbonated water, and the tap on the far right is the beer-gas stout faucet you were introduced to last week. The other two new faucets are flow control Perlicks.

14. Attach drip-trays. I used neodymium magnets rather than screws this time to allow me to mount the drip trays below the collar (a rivet gun would be another option). However, I need a few more magnets to support a glass on the drip tray.

That's it! Not too tough of a beginner's woodworking project, although I was glad to have someone with more experience to help me through it.


CRUSADER1612 said...

Nice write up - How do the Perlick flow controls handle? I have the european flow control ones on my kegorator, and they work great.
Is there a dedicated faucet for your sour beers? I'm thinking of adding a third faucet to allow for this, (I've got interchangeable beer line on a couple of my faucets, so this miught be possible.)

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Not blown away by them so far, they seem to pour a bit foamier than the stock Perlicks given the same setup. They seem to work better when I open the tap, then open the flow control. One of them and a line will be dedicated for sours (I have sour-only kegs as well).

Bill said...

Is the weatherstripping the only thing holding the collar to the freezer? No issues with slipping?

matthew_machine said...

Looks nice! Why separate the water and stout faucet? seems like one long drip tray under all five would make more sense.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The weather stripping is all I had holding my old one and never had an issue. The caulk around the interior of this one will add a bit of extra grip.

I'm hoping separating the taps will make it easier to keep all the lines from getting tangled. The nitro tank in on that end, and the water isn't on the manifold with the beers. With the chalkboard paint, it also gives me a bit more room to write the names.

raharper said...

Nice Work! I recently built one and wanted to attach the drip tray with magnets as well. I played with the neodymium too but couldn't get them to keep up the tray with a glass on them. I did end up getting some welding magnets (triangle shape) which helped support the tray from underneath.

Birchwood Brewing said...

Do you have issues reaching the bottom of your keezer with the 2x6 setup? I want to start on mine but I currently use my freezer to store both kegs and bottles and I'm worried it'll be tough to reach the 12 oz bottles at the bottom of the freezer with an extra 6 inches attached. Great write up and just in time as well!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

No problems for me reaching the bottom of the freezer (the collar on my old one was 10 inches, which was a huge pain for cleaning). I'm 6'1" though, so not everyone will have the same experience. You could put a crate of bottles in the compressor hump for easier access?

Jerad Traudt said...

Any risk of carbonating and pushing your sour beer from the same tank, and manifold as your other beers? Are you planning to have a dedicated sour C02 line as well as the sour beer line?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Your manifold should have check valves that prevent CO2 from moving between the kegs. However, it is best practice to use the same fittings/lines/taps for all sour beers. That's what I've been doing, and have yet to have any issues.

graymoment said...

We have a very similar setup, except I put my hinge on the collar to allow me to pull all of the lines off of the kegs when opening (in theory, anyway), I put all 5 of my taps in the center, used 1x with 1" insulating foam instead of 2x wood, and I used an industrial strength mounting tape to mount the trip tray angle brackets to the freezer, then used velcro for the drip tray to the brackets.

Unknown said...

I'm considering the same freezer with a very similar setup. I plan to have 5 kegs (ball locks), a 10lb CO2 tank and a beer gas tank (don't know the size yet). I'd also like to be able to put one more keg in there to carbonate and be ready to go when one of the 5 kicks. Based on your setup this will all fit?


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I think you'd have enough room. I've never tried a 6th keg, but there looks like enough room (might be a tight squeeze though).

Unknown said...

Did you go back to using the rechargeable dehumidifier, or have you opted for another option. What, in your opinion, is the best bet for reducing humidity/damp conditions when using a chest freezer for this purpose?

resolvingconcerns said...

Q: Isn't a 2"x4" (=3.5" actual width) high enough? Or do you need the full 5.5" of a 2x6?

Q: Isn't 5' of line enough for each keg?

Q: I've not seen those internal corner brackets for sale - is that what Home Depot calls them?

Thanks for the great article.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

1. It'll depend on your kegs and freezer. I think it is nice to have a couple extra inches as the fittings/lines often come up slightly above the kegs. Measure if you aren't sure.

2. It'll depend on your line diameter, serving temperature, and pressure. I'd rather have longer lines and a slower/smoother pour for flexibility.

3. The link on the name "2" x 4" 12-gauge L-angle brackets" of the part is to the Home Depot listing.

oneninefive said...

I am currently building a keezer. Your design is very much similar to what I am doing, one question about the temperature controller, what do you do with the probe (where do you locate it)? I was thinking of getting a piece of styrofoam or insulation and poking the probe through it, maybe use velcro stickers and stick it some where on the wall of the freezer, but where? 1/2 way, 2/3 way up from the bottom?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I hang the probe down between the kegs. You want it down about half way, too high and it'll likely read a bit warm (and lead to over-cooling).

Unknown said...

Where did you get the Velcro ties?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I couldn't find them in my Amazon history (maybe I bought them at the local Home Depot?), but they do have them.

Unknown said...

Thanks! Did the weather stripping have adhesive on both sides or just the side you attached to the collar? I got some from Home Depot that seems to have adhesive on one side. Did you have to get it just right when you put the collar on the freezer or did the lack of adhesive on one side allow for adjustment?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The weather stripping was only sticky on one side. I attached it to the collar, the weight of the collar maintains good contact with the freezer (and you can move it without issue... until you caulk).

Unknown said...

Do you know what brand the weather stripping was? I got Frost King. Removing it is very difficult.


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I've used Frost King, but I don't remember if I got it for this project or not. Difficult to remove after you applied it?

Ward said...

The 1.25" Frost King Rubber foam isn't impossible to remove and adjust, but once you put the collar weight on it, it's not going anywhere. I have the exact same freezer and I didn't take the plastic drop-down on the underside of the lid into consideration when I drilled my holes for the shanks. I figured it out too late and had to flip the collar over (after having applied the foam) and man that Frost King had to be scraped off and the collar re-painted.

Ward said...

I'm adding two 110V AC variable speed 120mm fans to the setup to continuously circulate the cool air up from the bottom and the warm air down from the top. Mounting the top fan in the back corner of the collar over the compressor hump. Made a small wooden block with Frost King foam pads for the second fan to sit on the floor of the freezer for the second. Fabricated a temp probe holder/box out of the foam padding the fans shipped with also.

Mike said...

Are you using 15' of 3/16 beverage line?

Also, the cable that attaches to the back of the door(Im assuming its for the light on the door), was that an issue with the size of the 2x6?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Yep on the line. No issue on the wire for the light.

Unknown said...

Love this write up. Almost done doing this myself. Curious though, on what side did you mount the temperature controller? I was thinking of putting it on the back side but wanted to be able to back it up into a corner still for serving during parties, but didn't want to put it on the front since it would stand out and I've never seen one mounted on the front.

Any suggestions?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I mounted mine on the side, works for where it is (tucked out of the way, but easy to access when I turn it down a few degrees for the summer)!

Luiz Fortunato said...

Great write up. I'm doing my keezer here in Brazil and will follow most of your ideas and suggetions. One doubt: my freezer has a kind of a step where the original rubber in the lid fits. does yours freezer has this step too? how do you deal with this?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The gasket is attached to the lid on my freezer. I didn't remove it, it just rests on top of the collar now.

TommyXu said...

Great write up... I'm looking to build a similar unit for two 16 gallon kegs and hope to use the same GE Unit (Model# FCM11PHWW)but can't locate one in stock here in my small town. The dealers and GE are of no help as this seems to be mystery information. Would you be willing to share the internal dimensions including the size of the compressor box down below? As I'm sure you are aware, the dimensions of a 16 are 16-1/8" x 23-3/8". Thanks

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

18" wide, 32" until the compressor (which is 9" itself). Sounds like a tight fit! Hope that helps!

TommyXu said...

Wow! Tight alright. I laid it out in CAD and even with shifting the kegs from side to side I still come up with a 0.139" overlap. If all the data is correct, I might have to take the BFH to it. I'll let you know what transpires if I move forward with the project. Thanks again for your help!