Introduction: Heat Stick
This is an Instructable on how to build a heat stick to use in home brewing without using any sealants or JB Weld. This makes the heat stick serviceable in case something happens or you want to change something. Or if you goof up and dry fire the thing destroying the element.
Camco 02852/02853 1500W 120V Screw-In Lime Life Foldback Water Heater Element - Ultra Low Watt Density
Slip Joint Connection 1-1/2" x 12" Extension Tube (Dearborn Brass part number H793A-1)
1-1/2" x 6” Plastic Slip Joint Extension Tube (Dearborn Brass part number HP9792)
14/3 Appliance Cord, or Length of 14/3 Cable and NEMA 5-15P Plug
1-1/2" x 1-1/4" Slip Joint Reducer Nut (Keeney part number 916DK, got mine from Lowe's, it's important not to use one that has exposed zinc, this one is chrome plated the one at Home Depot is not.)
Sink Strainer Washer 1-3/4" OD x 1-3/8" ID (Keeney part number 85560K, again I found this at Lowe's next to the reducer nut, have not located it elsewhere.)
1-1/2” PVC DWV Spigot x FIPT Female Street Adapter (Mueller Industries Model # 05922H)
1-1/2” PVC DWV MIPT Cleanout Plug (Mueller Industries Model # 05938H)
1-1/2" PVC Threaded Adapter (Oatey part number HP9000A)
12" of 14 AWG Stranded Wire (preferably green)
2 16-14 AWG Ring Terminals
2 to 4" Heat Shrink Tubing
1" NPS Stainless Lock Nut
1" Silicone O-Ring
Soldering Iron, Solder, Flux (or a Butt Splice)
Heat Gun/Hair Drier/Lighter/Match/Candle
GFCI Outlet Tester
1-1/2" Drain Extension Tube with an elbow on the slip joint end in place of the straight one above.
1-1/2" plastic elbow/trap (changes how you create the end cap), in place of the 6” plastic tube above.
Other water heater elements can be substituted. Many suppliers of home brew equipment are selling elements with a stainless base in several wattage and watt densities now.
Be extremely sure you know what you are doing, we are coming close to mixing electricity and water here and there is no room for error. Do not use this unless it is on a GFCI outlet that is capable of handling 15A. Just be careful, check your connections for leaks both hot and cold conditions before plugging this in.
Step 1: Unneeded Stuff
Remove the included washer from the water heater element, we will not need it and it will prevent the 1" NPS lock nut from threading together.
Remove the included nut and washer from the 12" extension tube and set aside, we will not be using these either.
Remove the included washer from the 1-1/2” to 1-1/4” slip joint reducer nut and set aside, we will not use this.
Step 2: Modify Element
File the points of the nut down with a bastard file so that the element will slide into the 12" extension tube. This allowed the end of the tube to reach the gasket and make a good seal. This was not as hard as I was expecting as the material that the nut is made of is soft and easy to file, I think it took me about 30 minutes. Elements with a stainless steel base may prove more difficult.
Step 3: Assemble Element
Now assemble the element module, make sure it's in the order pictured. Snug the reducer nut and lock nut good and tight with the slip-joint pliers.
Slide the element assembly into the 12" extension tube and hand tighten snug. We can now test for leaks.
Step 4: Test Seal
Fill a bucket, sink, tub, brew kettle, etc. with enough water to cover the element/tube joint and then some but not so full that water will over flow into the open end of the 12" extension tube. Insert the heat stick, element end down and watch for water coming through the joint with your flashlight. Usually, if it was going to leak, it would leak within a few seconds. If you don’t have a leak, awesome, let it sit for a while and come back and check on it, do this for about an hour. If you have a leak, dump the water out, apply some more torque to the reducer nut and try again. If you are still having a leak, disassemble and reassemble the parts with less torque this time. On my first leak test, I had used my pliers to tighten the nut too much causing the washer to twist allowing water in. My second attempt I hand tightened it and then put maybe 1/16 or even less turn on the nut with the pliers and the seal held.
After you are confident that it is not leaking with cold water, turn up the heat. Get the element into a vessel that you can boil water in, and let it boil for at least an hour. We need this to maintain a seal through ramp up from mash temperatures through at least a 1 hour boil.
Next, after it has cooled down, check it again. My first version was sealed with JB Weld and stayed dry though a 1 hour boil test. Later when I was testing the plastic extension seal, it started to leak. I thought at first it was the plastic to chrome joint, not so. It was seeping past the JB Weld, I guess the JB Weld shrunk after the boil. I was able to seal it with aquarium silicone, but I was disappointed in this as I did not want anything like silicone in contact with the wort.
Note: Ignore the cable and the 6" plastic slip joint extension tube you see in the photo, the picture is a bit out of order.
Step 5: Cable Prep
If you purchased an appliance cable or acquired one from an old appliance, your work is pretty much done here. If it is used, inspect the outer insulation and plug area for cracks, cuts, etc. and be sure that it is a 14 AWG 3 conductor cable (14/3) in order to carry the 15A load we will be putting on it. You can confirm this by checking the markings on the cable insulation; it will have something like 14/3 or 14-3 to indicate 14 AWG conductors, 3 in number. My first version of this I used an appliance cord ready made from Home Depot, my second, I used an old cable from a server that we were not using any more at work. Free was great!
If you will need to install a plug on the cord, choose one that will seal against some water intrusion. I used one that has LEDs built in to tell you if you have a good ground or not. I found this a Home Depot it is a Pass & Seymour model PS5266XGCMCCV4 15 Amp 125-Volt Straight Blade GCM Plug. Totally not necessary, but I like knowing my ground is good. You can actually wait to install the plug until after the rest of the project is done if you like, not so with the pre-made cord.
Step 6: End Cap
Assemble your end cap. The parts I am using are not the only things you can use for this step, just find something that you can secure and seal the end of the heat stick which will allow you to drill a hole to pass the cord through. My first version used a 1-1/2" to 1-1/4" PVC bushing and a 1-1/2" PVC cap. The bushing was only sold at one Home Depot in the area and did not exactly fit on the plastic extension tube without some extra work. Later I found the parts listed here that I think will be easier to find and work better. Others have used a short section of PVC pipe and a slip-on end cap cemented in place. Use what you like and what works for you.
Take the PVC threaded adapter (Oatey HP9000A) and the PVC drain clean out adapter, using the PVC cement, glue these two together per the instructions on the PVC cement. I used a kit that had the primer and the cement in one box. Given that we are not after a seal that will hold pressure, epoxy, JB Weld, Aquarium grade 100% silicone, etc. could be used in this step. Next drill a hole just slightly larger than your cable in the PVC drain clean out plug and thread the cable though from the top (raised square part). I started with a pilot hole and then drilled the full size hole.
Step 7: Assembly Order
Thread the cable through the end cap from the previous step, then the 6" plastic slip joint extension tube and then the 12” extension tube, make sure you have everything in the right order and the right orientation, and test assemble as needed.
Note: ignore that washer. It belongs on the element assembly step, not here. Sorry.
Step 8: Terminals, Ground Wire
Strip about 1-1/2” of the outer insulation from your cord and then strip about 1/2” of insulation from the hot and neutral wires.
Crimp a 16-14 AWG ring terminal to the hot and neutral wires. Use a ring terminal that has the correct size hole for the screws on the water heater element.
Strip about 3/4" of insulation from your 12” long piece of 14 AWG wire and from the ground wire of your cord. Solder these two wires together (you could use a butt splice if you choose, I just don’t like them, or you could actually just strip about 6-8" of the outer insulation so that the wires are long enough to reach the top of the 12" extension tube). Slip the heat shrink tubing over the 12” long wire, center over the splice and play some Frank Zappa (heat shrink tubing with a hair drier), a.k.a. shrink the tubing down with your heat gun, hair drier, lighter, match, candle, whatever you choose. Fold the ground wire back against the cord; it will need to go up through the 12” extension tube to be attached to make our ground.
Remove the screws from the water heater element and attach the hot and neutral leads to the element. I bent the terminals to a right angle to make them clear the wall of the extension tube. Push comes to shove, you can just attach the bare wire, I just don’t like doing that.
Step 9: Retest for Leaks
I repeat, we are dealing with water and electricity here. After wiring the element, attach the element assembly to the 12" extension tube and retest for leaks. We just cannot be too sure that we have a good seal. Safety first.
Step 10: Final Assembly
When you are confident that you have a good seal, we can attach the ground and finish the assembly.
Remove the slip nut and washer from the 6" plastic slip joint extension tube; slip them over the 12" extension tube.
Strip about 1” of insulation off the ground wire and spread the individual wires out like a fan. Hook them over the end of the 12" extension tube and slip the 6" plastic slip joint extension tube over the end of the 12" extension tube pressing the wires between the two making a connection to create our ground. Test for continuity with your multimeter between the ground pin of the plug and the 12" extension tube, should be a good connection. If not, remove the 6" plastic slip join extension tube and reposition the ground wire and retest.
Slide the washer up and thread the nut on good and snug.
Attach the end cap made earlier to the 6" plastic slip joint extension tube.
Step 11: Re-retest for Leaks
Now we want to test for leaks between the 6" plastic extension tube and 12" extension tube. I had no issues here as these parts were designed to fit together and create a water tight seal. Again, we cannot be too sure.
Step 12: Safety
Before we plug this thing in and put it in water, we need to test our electrical circuits we will be using. If your house/dwelling was built since the 90’s it should have two 20A GFCI protected circuits in the kitchen by code (I'm assuming you will be brewing in the kitchen of course). If you are unsure, check your breaker box to see what the circuit breakers are rated for. We will be pulling 15A with just this heat stick alone, if you have other appliances connected to the same circuit, use a different circuit or unplug them, otherwise you could overload the circuit.
Take your GFCI tester and plug it into the outlet you will be using. If your tester is like mine, it will tell you if you have a good ground also. Press the test button, the GFCI should trip and the LEDs on the tester should go out. Reset the GFCI and the LEDs should turn back on. You can also use this to find out what else is connected to this circuit without running to the breaker panel, tripping a breaker and coming back to see what has turned off.
Step 13: Test Boil
It’s time to test our heat stick for functionality. Fill your kettle with water, insert the heat stick and plug it into a GFCI protected outlet. Do not connect the heat stick to power unless the element is completely submerged, you may damage the element doing this.
You should hear the water start to heat up now. It makes sort of a hissing/groaning sound as the water around the element begins to rapidly heat. Let it do its thing, heating the water to boiling. Once you are at a boil, let it boil for about an hour.
Step 14: Cooldown
After the boil, unplug the heat stick and inspect inside the tube for water. If the GFCI did not trip during the boil, most likely you did not have a leak. If you did have a leak and it was enough to reach the terminals of the element, the GFCI should have tripped instantly. If you have water in there touching the terminals and the GFCI did not trip, you have some wiring issues and you need to call a professional electrician before you proceed further.
If all went well, you can brew with your heat stick with confidence. The element I chose is a ULWD meaning it should not scorch the wort. I have found that a single heat stick is not enough energy to boil or even maintain a nice rolling boil for a 5 gallon batch in my kettle so I will be using two. Eventually, I will add PID’s and a temperature probe to control the system leading up to a fully electric brewing system. In the meantime this along with my stove will provide enough energy for a nice rolling boil on brewday.
Now, relax, have a homebrew!