But those of you who want to do more research, Google searches are more successful when searched as "hot pot", since the rest of the world misspells the name.
Here's a simple hack (well... maybe not so simple) that enhances the performance of the HotPot:
For those of you who are not familiar with the legendary HotPot™, the original pot assembly comprised a 5-liter black-enameled steel pot, supported by its rim inside a covered, clear, tempered glass bowl. There is a half-inch of air space between the pot and the bowl. The heat retained inside the glass bowl creates a miniature “greenhouse” effect and maintains cooking temperatures.
The pot assembly rests inside the polished aluminum reflector. There is also a less expensive standard reflector, made of aluminum foil bonded to heavy cardboard, but is not featured here. Both reflectors are shaped to concentrate the solar energy onto the pot, they are equally efficient, and both fold easily for storage.
The aluminum reflector model, featured here, also known as the "Morning Star", is made entirely of aluminum: Aluminum reflector plates, aluminum hinges, aluminum hinge pins, and aluminum rivets. It is more durable, more alluring, impervious to termites and unappetizing to goats, but the aluminum reflector is not rugged enough to routinely expose to buffeting winds. But it is easily collapsible: The reflector panels quickly folding together to a flat, 14"x14-1/4" size, allowing for more compact storage overall.
The HotPot™ Solar Cooker, specifically, the original 5-liter model, with the folding polished aluminum reflector was primarily designed for the third world and developing countries, to function most effectively in the Tropics, between the Tropic of Cancer at latitude 23.5°N and the Tropic of Capricorn at latitude 23.5°S (=11.75° average latitude). This amazing device allows for a 6 hour cooking window, on a typical day, in impoverished areas that often have meager resources for fire and cooking.
But most of those who purchased the solar cookers, specifically the original 5-liter model, partially subsidizing HotPot™ ownership in the third world, live in the Temperate Zone (=45° average latitude). And we are often frustrated with the short 2-4 hour cooking window, and that is usually only during the summer months, as well as difficulty in reaching optimum cooking temperatures (at least 180°F / 82°C).
But we're not crybabies on this Instructables.com site. Right? We fix things and get them working!
The issue here is that the optimum solar cooking angle of the HotPot folding aluminum reflector is about 65° (90° is the sun directly overhead, 0° is the sun on the horizon, shining into the front of the HotPot cooker), as measured from the shiny flat aluminum base the HotPot rests on. And tilting the HotPot and reflector together to focus on that optimum 65° solar angle, to really get things cooking, is a messy and dangerous juggling act. For example, where I live, I have to often tilt the reflector, with a full HotPot, about 30°, until the hinge of the angled front reflector is parallel the the ground.
But it's not as simple as latitude. Refer to the handy global map below, which shows the amount of effective solar energy, in hours, received each day on an optimally tilted photovoltaic panel surface during the WORST month of the year (based on accumulated worldwide solar insolation data). But, with the HotPot solar cooker, the hours posted on the global map can, conversely, be taken loosely as the effective daily cooking hours, during the BEST/WARMEST month of the year. This quickly explains why HotPot™ owners in Arizona and New Mexico give glowing reviews of this device, while HotPot™ owners in America's southeast states (same latitude), or Brazil, or Spain or China, quietly repack their HotPot™s and ship them back the their retailer.
But to get to the point, be sure to heed the "world_solar_insolation_data" chart. If you live in a region that has 3.0-3.9 solar cooking hours a day, or less, during the BEST/WARMEST month of the year, taking out and using your HotPot will be a rare, and disappointing, culinary event.
You also have to understand that, in the Tropics and Third World, the typical HotPot user will prepare a dish to cook that is basically a pre-cooking temperature of ambient temperature: Fresh vegetables from the garden, and a freshly killed chicken, or freshly caught fish, and freshly drawn water. Whereas the typical HotPot user, in the Temperate zone, even those who live off-the-grid, will usually prepare a dish to cook, with a combination of fresh, canned, as well as frozen vegetables, plus refrigerated meat. And, as such, it's not uncommon for Temperate zone users to start out with a HotPot cooking temperature of about 38°F (3°C), that has to fairly rapidly be brought to above 140°F, or the food may spoil, putting them at a serious solar cooking disadvantage, besides latitude.
The "world_solar_insolation_data" chart indicates, for example, 3.0 - 3.9 solar cooking hours, a day, during the BEST/WARMEST summer month of the year, for my area. Not a good sign. So, with my special four-leg / tilting rig, I should be able to cook, at best, through May, June (warmest month), July, and halfway through August. But for simply heating up ambient temperature tap water, the HotPot season is from April - mid-September.
When using my HotPot, I really want to make the decision, to cook, the day before, so as to be able to plan my meal, and maybe invite dinner guests. And that decision is based on living in a suitable zone on the "world_solar_insolation_data" chart, the time of year, and favorable weather forecasts. Using an out-of-the-box HotPot, in my 3.0 - 3.9 solar cooking hour zone (referenced from the map below), that requires: A 2-quart meal maximum, sunny and clear skies, a minimum high noon temperature of 85°F (29°C), a minimum high noon UV Index of 11 (= extreme), no wind, and a minimum high noon solar elevation of 75°. I know that the 75° minimum high noon solar elevation seems to conflict with the 65° optimum solar angle of the reflector, but I'm trying to make the best of a bad situation. And the out-of-the-box HotPot, simply, will not get hot enough to cook on 65° high noon solar elevation days in my area. This information is also transferable to those who live in other latitudes. And that leaves me with only the month of June for solar cooking. So it's obvious that the standard 5-quart HotPot kit definitely needs to be modified and enhanced, for use in the Temperate zones. Hence the need for this Instructables article.
If the "world_solar_insolation_data" chart indicates that you live in a region that is favorable HotPot cooking, you'll then need to find out what months of the year that you can use it: For your seasonal altitude of the sun, the University of Oregon offers their "Online sun path chart program". It's the simplest, and most intuitive, I've found:
Enter the information for your area:
Step 1: *Latitude (decimal degrees)
*Longitude (decimal degrees)
*(south latitude and west longitude are given in negative degrees)
or... ZIP code, instead of Latitude and Longitude
Step 2: Time zone (for simplicity, American time zones are noted)
Step 3: *Plot dates 30 or 31 days apart, between solstices, December through June
*Plot dates 30 or 31 days apart, between solstices, June through December
*(only select one at a time)
Plot hours in local solar time
Step 4: I simply use default:
Extend azimuth axis from 0° to 360°
Extend elevation axis to 90°
Show hours in AM/PM style
Step 5: I generally title it:
"Noon Solar Altitude for"
"(your City, your State)
Default: Places label in upper left corner
(Step 5 is handy, if you also plan to use your HotPot in different places around the world)
Step 6: PDF (Portable Data Format)
Step 7: Simply enter the posted verification code
Two passes through the above steps (changing only Step 3) will generate two landscape, 11" x 8.5" charts that show the angle of the sun, at high noon (solar time), in your area, for different months and days throughout the year. Don't be distracted by the hours on the chart, as high noon is the only position you should be concerned about.
Both printouts will now serve for years of use, as the information on them will not change. When referencing these charts: 90 degrees, on the chart, is directly overhead. 0 degrees, on the chart, is on the horizon.
With this information, the optimum solar elevation, as well as optimum cooking window, in the Temperate Zone will usually begin at about 9:00am, solar time, and end at about 3:00pm, solar time. But afternoon temperatures are usually warmer than mornings, so on hot days, cooking may continue until 4:00pm. 9:00am may seem too early to begin solar cooking, as the solar altitude is quite low (40°, for example), but the temperature in the HotPot will often rise 40-45°F, by 10:00am, giving the cooking process a head start.
Well aware of the performance issues, a new HotPot™ solar cooking kit is now being manufactured, and introduced to those in the Temperate Zones. It includes the original reflector, but now a much smaller, 3-liter black enameled steel pot. The clear glass lid seems to be the same size as the original 5-liter kit, but the 3-liter steel pot (= 2-quart cooking capacity) and clear glass bowl is much shallower, and with a much lower profile. If you live in the Temperate Zone, just be sure that you're ordering the new 3-liter version. Many HotPot™ enthusiasts, in the Temperate Zone, report success when cooking in a half-full 5-liter HotPot™. But, still, many online vendors have temporarily suspended, or dropped the product because of 5-liter HotPot™'s inability to perform well in the temperate latitudes. In fact, when I received my 5-liter HotPot™ shipment, I noticed that the protective plastic film had been removed from the polished aluminum reflectors, indicating that it had been a returned item. But I didn't complain, since it was a discount purchase.
So, to cook at my house, in the Temperate Zone (latitude: 37.5° north), I have drilled out a 1/2" diameter hole, in the center of the flat reflector base, 3" forward of the very center. I then drilled out a 3/8" hole in the center of a sturdy four legged wooden foundation, from an old chair, and inserted a 6-1/2" long, standard 3/8" threaded rod, vertical (perpendicular to the ground), with the HotPot resting on very top of the pipe, on an inverted round black steel lamp base, bolted to the top, that conforms to the glass bottom of the HotPot. The jet-black makeshift lamp base actually is the hottest spot in the cooking process, as the water begins to boil there, as well as intense heat rises up from the metal base and into the 1/2" double-wall area of the bowl. Capitalizing on this effect, I spray painted the upper 1-1/2" of the threaded lamp pipe, as well as the supporting nut and washer, jet-black. The folding aluminum reflector can now safely be periodically tilted and turned to focus the sun's rays, while the boiling HotPot firmly and safely remains stationary. This provides a potential for a 3-5 hour cooking window, depending on the time of year and latitude.
With this setup, I am able achieve the best results possible, for the latitude. For example, on a sunny day, no clouds, a very light breeze, April 5th, northern hemisphere, 37.5° latitude, I poured a gallon of 60°F water into the HotPot, the ambient temperature was also 60°F. I chose to test one gallon of tap water, just to put the HotPot through a demanding test:
Above times are solar time. And, with these results, it's obvious that, where I live, I'll only be able to solar cook, maybe, 2 months out of the year (June - July). The solar altitudes were included on the chart so anyone can apply these results to wherever they live on the planet. And while one can always tilt and rotate the HotPot to track the sun at the optimum 65° solar angle, the solar cooker becomes less and less effective as one moves away from the equator, since the sun's rays are filtered out and weakened by more and more of the atmosphere as the elevation (angle) of the sun decreases. Ambient temperatures were also noted, as that will prove to have a major effect on cooking temperature, as well as cooking times.
I have now settled into 3 quarts (or 3 liters) of water, for HotPot cooking in the temperate zones. This seems to be a good trade off, an adequate meal, that has a better chance of success. And even though the HotPot™ has a 5 liter capacity, 4 liters (or about one gallon) is just too full to stir, handle, and move the pot around, although hot water can be force-fed through the HotPot, a gallon at a time.
That said, on a sunny / partly cloudy day, a very light breeze, April 21st, northern hemisphere, 37.5° latitude, I poured 3 quarts of 63°F tap water into the HotPot, the ambient temperature was 57°F:
* The above heating test actually ended at 3:00pm solar time. But, on a lark, taking the advice of another HotPot owner, I took two 19" x 23.5" clear plastic oven roasting bags, and slit each open to form flat 38" x 23" sheets, then clear taped them together to form a single 38" x 46" sheet. The sheet was snug-fitted over the reflector, for an additional hour. The oven roasting bag trick worked exceptionally well, pushing the HotPot temperature up to 181°F in the afternoon sun, and shows great promise, even though the trapped air in the reflector area did not get that hot. I will soon fashion a lightweight wooden frame, to stretch and staple the clear oven roasting bags (up to 400°F) over it, as they will provide a long service life, if handled with care. This simple rig will allow one to cook on days with a minimum UV Index of 9 (= very high), expand the months of the year that the HotPot can be used, as well as spread its use through the cooler latitudes of the planet, giving its users ample cooking temperatures and extended cooking times.
3 quarts of tap water weighs about 6.42 pounds. This is a convenient reference, as a small chicken, vegetables, and water can be planned so as to not exceed the 6.42 pound solar cooking limit, in the temperate latitudes, and have a better chance of success.
I suspect that the maximum heating capacity of the HotPot, filled with 3 quarts of water (or food) is, mavbe, 110°F above ambient temperature, since the HotPot is not an insulated type of solar cooker. But with the oven roasting bag rig, mentioned above, that limit may well be pushed up to, maybe, 125°F above ambient temperature. Many Temperate Zone HotPot™ users report that their solar cookers can maintain temperatures of 250-300°F, and even a maximum of 350-400°F, but I've found that those temperatures are only possible in an empty HotPot, and pointless information to post and circulate. Wind conditions also reduce the heating capacity of the HotPot.
The sun's rays warm the ground at approximately 1,000 watts, per square meter, at high noon, for a surface perpendicular to the sun's rays, at sea level, on a clear day. And, at the 65° optimum solar angle for the HotPot, that amount is reduced to approximately 906 watts, per square meter. The HotPot relector, at 65°, still presents about 3.5 square feet directly into the sun's rays = 326 watts shining into the reflector. The HotPot+relector combination probably has a solar energy efficiency of maybe about 15-20%. Compare this to a typical 5 foot diameter parabolic reflector solar cooker, commonly used in the temperate latitudes, and priced at about one-third more than the HotPot™ (but the parabolic reflector does not include a pot), with a 19.6 square foot area aimed directly into the sun's rays = about 1,826 watts of solar energy shining into the reflector. The point I want to make is: With the HotPot solar cooker, in the temperate latitudes, careful planning is everything.
Compare this to my 5-quart electric Crock-Pot™ slow cooker. Like the HotPot™, it cooks continuously. After starting off, for about an hour, with a 250 watt "high" setting, the contents warm up to about 142°F, the electric cooker is then switched to the 165 watt "low" setting, slowly heating up to a maximum of 185°F at the end of the day (about 12 hours of cooking). Likewise, with the HotPot, the trick is to get above 70°C (158°F), but stay below 100°C (212°F), as steam is just a waste of energy. But, unlike my electric Crock-Pot slow cooker, the HotPot doesn't have the luxury of extended cooking times. My electric Crock-Pot slow cooker, on the 165 watt "low" setting, compares to the performance of the HotPot+relector combination.
But the HotPot+relector+oven-roasting-bag combination, plus careful pan and tilt tracking, raises its solar energy efficiency and compares to the performance of the Crock-Pot slow cooker on the 250 watt "high" setting (170-205°F). We now have a solar cooker that will reliably function in the temperate latitudes.
The hot water, from the solar cooker test, was poured into a one gallon glass-lined vacuum airpot. A stainless steel-lined vacuum airpot, while far more tough and rugged, simply does not hold their heat for more than a couple of hours. But a glass-lined vacuum airpot will keep my hard-earned hot water, hot: Scalding hot 24 hours later, hot 48 hours later, and warm 72 hours later. A 3/4 gallon airpot of warm water may not sound like much of a resource, but someone in a developing country would be able to completely bathe, shave, and rinse off, and also hand wash and rinse their from the day before. 3-day old warm water can also be much more quickly brought back up to boiling temperature by pouring it back into the HotPot and reheating it. A real convenient feature of airpots is that they have a convenient push-button, or lever-pump, top that allows it to function as a portable hot water faucet, to be placed throughout a summer cabin in the kitchen, dining room, bathroom, or generously loaned to a neighbor.
As mentioned, some HotPot™ owners, in temperate latitudes, report success by fashioning a clear plastic oven roasting bag and stretching it over a lightweight frame, forming a reusable, snug-fitting cover over the reflector. I have tried that method, and it actually does raise the HotPot temperature to where it needs to be, as well as providing strength and rigidity against wind gusts. Other HotPot™ owners suggest preheating the black metal cooking pot and its contents to a full boil, on the kitchen stove, and then taking it outside and placing it inside the clear glass bowl and lid, inside the reflector. Oh puhleeze! What's the purpose of solar cooking, if one has to burn fossil fuels to prepare their meals. Really. But one way to get a legitimate head-start on the cooking process is to use scalding hot water in your recipe, preheated up in a HotPot the day before, and stored in a glass-lined vacuum airpot.
But one still has to respect the heat output of the HotPot reflector. Always wear sunglasses when using the device, and it's sometimes necessary to turn the reflector 180° away from the sun when stirring the pot and making certain adjustments. The raw sunlight radiating out from the reflector sometimes feels like a blast furnace, not to mention the insanely bright sunlight in the face. And never leave the HotPot solar cooker unattended, as children are naturally attracted to it. The HotPot solar oven is an excellent first solar cooker project for the beginner, allowing one to practice the basics of solar cooking safety and precautions, before moving up to larger, and potentially more dangerous solar cookers.
Stay posted for late spring, summer, and early fall boiling tests, as I'm eager to test out some of my tried-and-proven crock-pot dishes on the optimum cooking days, once I find out which days, and weather conditions, are most promising for my area. I have also posted details for a solar powered DC geared motor tracking mechanism that will greatly simplify the solar cooking process.
Step 1: Solar Powered Pan & Tilt DC Motor Drive for the Hot Pot
The heart of the device is a Dayton Model# 2L004 Parallel Shaft Permanent Magnet DC Gear Motor. Powered by up to 12VDC, the 1634:1 gear box turns its 5/16" diameter shaft at a slow and controllable 1.5 RPM, under load, with 46 inch/pounds of torque.
Although the drive motor (a Mabuchi RF-500TB-12560) is designed to run on on 12VDC, with 0.30 Amps draw, it actually has a voltage range of 1.5 - 12 Volts. And to power the tracker, a small 6.3VDC, 120 mA solar panel, 3.125" x 4.25" (80mm x 110mm), was used for the 1/900 horsepower motor, reliably, and with ease, at a no load 1.7 RPM. Unlike the other Dayton 12VDC geared motors, this motor must have been designed to be powered by a relatively weak solar panel, as the 6.3VDC mono-crystalline solar panel, mounted on the advancing side of the HotPot solar cooker reflector, will power the motor, under a no-load condition, even when the panel is turned away, with its back to the sun, since the motor will run with as little as 20 mA. In fact, a much smaller, (55mm x 55mm) solar panel, 2.5V, 85mA, also ran the Dayton gear motor at a no load 0.5 RPM. In comparison, a 12 Volt, 5 Amp battery ran the Dayton gear motor at a no load 3.3 RPM. And with its 1634:1 gear ratio, there is no need for an electronic circuit controller, as the motor easily activates and advances the HotPot solar reflector, to faithfully track the sun.
The 6.3 VDC solar panel is mounted on the advancing side of the reflector, oriented perpendicular to the sun. I also added a 3.25" (83mm) deep corrugated board around all sides, jet-black inside, to block out stray sunlight that sometimes caused the reflector to advance too far ahead of the sun. The north-south ends of the jet-black corrugated board were flared out 0.5" (13mm), since timing wheel is round (my original plans called for a more complicated elliptical timing disk), to compensate for the tilt being off almost 5° at 10:30am and 1:30pm. The center of the solar panel is 5.5" from the edge of the flat reflector base, and 3" forward of the center of the flat reflector base. Of course, make adjustments on your solar panel, as needed. The 6.3 VDC solar panel was mounted on a 5/16" arrow shaft, and snugly inserted into a 5/16" I.D. brass pipe, to allow for quick adjustments.
Weighing in at 1 pound (450g), the geared motor provides much need ballast, to stabilize the reflector against buffeting winds.
Dayton, the manufacturer of the Dayton Model# 2L004 Parallel Shaft Permanent Magnet DC Gear Motor, was bought out by Grainger, who continues to offer the Dayton line, under their name. The geared motor can also be purchased for about $ 70.00 (includes shipping), from Amazon.com:
I actually picked up four of these at a yard sale, for a $ 1.00 each, and I could kick myself for not buying all twenty of those Model# 2L004 geared motors.
The Model# 2L004 gearbox has four mounting screws, all standard 10-32 threads. But to mount the motor/gearbox onto the plywood parallel-o-gram, I removed all 4 screws, careful no to let the gears fall apart, and then drilled out and tapped 3 of the holes for 10-32 threads, but the 4th hole, oddly, was already a 10-32 thread, from the factory. The gearbox was then mounted with four 10-32 thread flat-head screws (1" long), countersunk and flush-mounted to the 5mm plywood.
My plans call for five, round plywood timing disks, 5mm thick. Living at 37.76° latitude, after experimenting, I decided to build one timing disk for the following noon solar altitudes: 65°, 67.5°, 70°, 72.5°, and 75°, since solar cooking with the HotPot on days with a noon solar angle of less than 70° is just not worth it, unless the weather forecast for that day is to be an unusually hot one. I will experience a maximum solar altitude of 76° in my area, and 65° is set as the lowest noon solar altitude that is worthwhile cooking with.
Each tracking timing disk will be from about 4.5" to about 5.25" diameter (subject to change), and will allow the HotPot reflector to pan and tilt, and follow the sun. Each disk is carefully ground down, on a router, to a perfect circle, the circumference will be hollow grooved to accept a black rubber o-ring "tire" with a 1/8" round cross-section. The circumference of each tracking timing disk is determined by the degree sweep of the azimuth of the sun, from 10:00am, to 4:00pm, for a day with a specific high noon solar altitude (65°, 67.5°, 70°, 72.5°, or 75°), and using the 5.34" radius arc travel on a 11.75" diameter tracking base.
To mount the plywood tracking disk onto the 5/16" DC gear motor shaft, I silver brazed a 5/16" allen set screw steel collar onto a 1-5/8" diameter steel washer, drilled and counter-sinked four screw holes, and then mounted the improvised fitting to the disk with flat-head wood screws.
To hold the timing disk on track, as well as hold fast in buffeting winds, a ballast, weighing 4.5 ounces (130 grams) was added to the very center of the disk, and projects out 4.125" (10.3 cm). In such a position, the HotPot reflector will be more stable in gusting breezes, while not placing a heavy load on the geared motor drive. Unfortunately, the eccentric cam action, combined with the ballast, creates excessive drag during its off-center tracking. To greatly reduce this drag, a 28mm diameter wheel (from a toy car, complete with a 5/8" wide rubber tire) was placed directly on the 11.75" diameter plywood tracking base, right under the pivot of the timing disk, on a hinged arm to the lower lazy-susan base, to eliminate the upward tilt drag. It works great, and although the entire parallelogram mechanism will have to be raised 28mm, to keep the HotPot reflector tracking at the optimum 65° solar angle. The 28mm diameter of the wheel is not that important, it's just simply what I found and used, with minimal rolling resistance, keeping the profile of the HotPot solar cooker low enough to stand firm in buffeting winds. I have actually replaced the 28mm wheel with a more robust 40mm (1-9/16") diameter wheel, and will raise the entire parallel-o-gram mechanism 40mm to compensate. Earlier, I had erroneously posted that the clear oven roasting bag cover (details in next step) had somehow changed the optimum solar angle of the reflector, from 65°, to 55°, but later discovered that the low afternoon sun was reflecting off my light-grey cement driveway, bathing the reflector in intense sunlight, causing the HotPot to heat up to its hottest temperature of the day. I just wanted to post this correction. So the optimum solar angle of the HotPot reflector still stands at 65°.
After successfully experimenting with several sizes of timing disks, throughout the season, I plan to redesign the pan&tilt mechanism (yet again) featuring one elliptical disk only, designed for 85° high-noon solar angle, mounted on a extendable, but locking arm, progressively marked for high-noon solar angles of 60° through 85°, to allow more flexibility and greater ease of use. Also a much larger diameter tracking base will be needed, to accommodate the extended locking arm, for those low solar angle days and latitudes. Stay posted.
The solar powered DC geared motor shaft / timing disk turns, on a given day, about 324° in 6 hours. But the HotPot reflector needs to aim much higher in the sky, at high noon, than it does at 10:00am, or 4:00pm.
To accomplish this, an off-center axis was bored into the plywood timing disk. This disk design enabled the pivot base to track the morning and afternoon sun, as well as fully tilt the reflector into the sun. At solar noon, the timing wheel pivot will be at its highest point, turning the reflector 1.75x to 4.33x faster than it does at 9:00am or 3:00pm, as well as reducing the tilted reflector to a more level attitude. The exact position of the timing disk pivot is determined by plotting the overhead speed of the sun, at noon, and comparing it to the travel of the sun at 9:00am, or 3:00pm (these two will always be the same). As the original timing disk, just described, was designed for a windup clock drive, but the details will soon be posted for a timing disk, slightly re-designed for the solar powered geared motor drive.
The DC geared motor drive, with timing disk, is mounted on a simple hinged parallel-o-gram, 4.75", top-to-bottom, and 5.125" span.
For those of you who don't want to bother with building this sun tracking mechanism, the simple parallelogram pan & tilt base will work just fine without it. Built with two 4" lazy-Susan bases (ball bearing) and 10 small hinges, everything pivots on a standard 3/8" threaded rod. It should be a good platform to later add a geared motor tracking device, as going outside every hour or so, to adjust the HotPot reflector, will easily monopolize one's day.
A 11.75" diameter plywood disk serves as the tracking base, marked off in degrees, for a total maximum sweep of 180°, where the timing disk is carefully set down at a specific azimuth, at 9:00am (but starting out at later times will also work), to begin the solar cooking process. In my latitude, the mechanism will do a 140° sweep (on 65° noon solar angle days) to a 163° sweep (on 75° noon solar angle days). As my HotPot DC motorized tracker / oven roasting bag solar cooking rig is intentionally designed for cooking temperature overkill, the 11.75" diameter plywood base will also serve for temperature adjustment: Simply lifting up the tracking timing disk, and re-positioning it forwards, 10 degrees, or so, will skew the vertical tracking angle and effectively position the reflector slightly out of direct sunlight, allowing one to easily, accurately, reduce the cooking temperature of the HotPot, in a controlled manner.
To facilitate the setup and accurate positioning of the timing wheel, a 3-position, "Advance-Off-Reverse" DPDT electrical switch (Radio Shack #275-664) was mounted and wired to just below the sun-facing edge of the solar panel. This streamlines the setup of the HotPot cooker: Removing the solar panel from its holder, it's held up to the sun and the Advance-Off-Reverse switch is activated to turn the timing disk to the high noon position, and then the switch is set to the "Off" position. The timing disk is then lifted up and moved to the 270° high noon position (the 40mm wheel will automatically follow), with the axis of the 40mm wheel directly over the 270° mark on the 11.75" diameter tracking base. Again, holding the solar panel up to the sun, the "Reverse" switch is activated to slowly turn the HotPot reflector into the morning sun, and then turned off when aligned and positioned at the correct angle to the morning sun. This can to be accurately done by standing behind the HotPot reflector, and, using the "Advance-Off-Reverse" electrical switch, turning the reflector until the sun, reflector, and its shadow are in alignment, and then switched to the "Off" position. But actually, it's easier to simply turn the reflector past the solar alignment point, and let the solar-motor bring itself back into correct alignment. The solar panel is then placed back in its holder, and switched to the "Advance" position, to begin automatically tracking the sun.
If, later in the day, an unusually strong wind blows the HotPot reflector upwards and out of alignment, it is repositioned, again, from the 270° high noon reference position, and then Advanced or Reversed into correct solar alignment. I've found this method to be much quicker and reliable than the initial confusing reference marks I scribed on the timing disk.
The rotating and tilting base for the HotPot reflector has a 19" long x 1/8" wide x 1/8" deep groove, for the center hinge of the aluminum reflector base to nest in, to make accurate positioning quick and sure, as well as four wide-head aluminum screws to hold the reflector in place, as it steeply angles and to also hold fast in buffeting winds.
In an effort to initially cut costs on the tracker, I unsuccessfully experimented with using the gears / generator, from a hand-cranked LED flashlight, using the generator as a DC motor. Powered by the small 6.3VDC, 0.12 Amp solar panel, 3.125" x 4.25" (80x110mm), its 94:1 gear ratio struggled, but still sometimes stalled when it began the rapid upward tilt, towards high noon, caused by the off-center torque (creating drag) from the o-ring tire on the 11.75" plywood tracking base. Even with all those reduction gears, it's still not geared down enough. Even when the tiny generator/motor was replaced with a small 3VDC high-torque motor salvaged from an old VCR camera, but it still tended to stall on the rapid upward tilt, towards high noon. But I suggest checking out another Instructable that features a simple capacitor-based circuit board that should provide enough intermittent torque to do the job, if combined with the LED flashlight gearbox and "motor":
And I also unsuccessfully experimented with an Intermatic™ 6-hour wall timer, Model# FD6H, windup clock drive. While it worked perfectly on my workbench, it couldn't stand up to the buffeting winds in an outdoor environment. Also, while converting the HotPot over to a solar powered geared motor drive, I discovered that the lower lazy-susan base had become contaminated with airborne dirt and grit, and no longer rotated freely, completely explaining the problem in getting the original clock driven mechanism to function properly during the outdoor testing phase. I cleaned out the greased ball bearings of both upper and lower lazy-susan bases with solvent, and then lubricated them with an aerosol graphite lubricant, commonly used for lock mechanisms. And as a further precaution, loosely tied a pipe cleaner around both the upper and lower lazy-susan bases, to prevent any further contamination. The tracker now freely rotates, as it did during the initial indoor tests. For you experimenters out there, it's also important to note that these Intermatic™ clock timers are now in short supply, as the Intermatic™ website no longer seems to be running and hardware stores no longer stock these reliable and well-made devices. There are other brand(s) of household windup clock drive wall timers on the market, but they are not well made and are unreliable, and are, simply, false economy. I'd really prefer to run this rig with the 6-hour windup clock drive, and will make more attempts to eventually get it to work. Call me sentimental.
But this DC motor-driven tracker is still not enough for solar cooking in the temperate latitudes, as a clear plastic oven roasting bag needs to cover the reflector to bring the HotPot quickly and reliably up to proper cooking temperatures.
The HotPot, full and quite heavy with 3-4 quarts of water or food, resting on top of the 3/8" threaded rod, is completely stationary, and stable, throughout the entire process, as everything, reflector and all, revolves around it.
See the next part of this Instructable for the oven roasting bag details.