Instructables
Picture of Sous Vide Oven Controller
2014-06-22 16.09.31.jpg

Instead of cutting apart a perfectly good Crock Pot this build will show you how to build a controller your appliance you can plug into. This modular approach means you do not need to buy a second appliance. If you have an old rice cooker in the cabinet you can make it a sous vide oven.

The tricky part of sous vide cooking is keeping the water at a precisely regulated temperature. Most cooking appliances have the ability to turn the heat down but regulating it with any accuracy is not possible without automation. Fortunately temperature controllers are not expensive and they are as easy to use as a regular oven. An eBay search for temperature controller 58 194 should give options under fifteen dollars ($15USD). Amazon also has the same controllers. The advantage these devices have over a dial on the side of a slow cooker is that the temperature controllers use a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

The versatility of these controllers is also impressive and since this build is being made very modular it is possible to use this appliance for things other than cooking, such as automating a window fan. A short list to get the brain gears turning is shown at the end of the instructions.

The goal of these instructions is to help you build a device that is highly functional, rugged, and looks good on your counter. All the wires are hidden away and sealed up so a few errant splashes from the sink are not cause for an emergency.

Materials:

  • Temperature controller. eBay. Amazon.
  • Slow Cooker*
  • Old computer power cord*
  • 6x6x4 PVC enclosure*
  • Duplex receptacle
  • Receptacle cover
  • Cord-tight connector
  • Electrical lock nut for cord-tight connector
  • Thermometer for comparison
  • 3.5mm plug, mono
  • 3.5mm jack, mono
  • Small wire whisk
  • 2 #8 nuts
  • Shrink tubing 3/32inch diameter
  • Wire nuts. Preferably lever locking nuts
  • Electrical tape
  • Solder
  • Timer
  • Wide masking tape
  • 100% silicone sealant

*Alternatives to these devices are given on the last page

 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Electrical Cable Preparation

Picture of Electrical Cable Preparation
2014-06-19 23.14.10.jpg
2014-06-19 23.14.25.jpg

The PVC enclosure will have three holes. The easiest to cut is the 7/8 inch hole for the cord-tight connector. The second easiest to cut is a rectangular hole for the receptacle. The most difficult to cut is the rectangular hole for the temperature controller.

  1. Cut and strip the electrical cord so that there are three exposed and stripped wires on one end and a plug on the other end
  2. The wires should be black, white and green
  3. If they use different colors identify them as HOT, NEUTRAL, and GROUND
  4. Put the cord-tight connector on the cord eight inches from the stripped end
  5. It should be facing so the rubber seal is closer to the plug end than the stripped end
  6. Tighten the cord-tight connector onto the cord
  7. If necessary, bulk up the wire by wrapping it with electrical tape

Step 2: Power Cord Entry

Picture of Power Cord Entry
2014-06-19 23.03.27.jpg
2014-06-19 23.14.26.gif

The only hole drilled into the base of the enclosure is to let the electrical power cord into the box. I like to keep this cord coming out the back of the enclosure so it is hidden but it also makes sense to have it come out the side so the control box can be pushed up against a wall while cooking.

  1. Measure half way across the PVC enclosure
  2. Measure 1-1/2 inches up from the bottom
  3. Pilot a hole at the intersection
  4. Drill a 7/8 inch hole
  5. Insert the cord-tight connector
  6. Tighten the electrical lock nut from the inside of the enclosure

Step 3: Receptacle Hole

Picture of Receptacle Hole
2014-06-18 21.15.12.jpg
2014-06-19 17.23.28.jpg
2014-06-19 22.46.04.jpg
2014-06-19 22.54.52.jpg
2014-06-20 20.57.47.jpg

The holes in the enclosure lid are marked and cut from the inside so all the scratching and abrasions from the tools are on the inside and not visible once the unit is sealed up. The hole for the receptacle should not be a stressful step because the receptacle cover will be large enough that any imperfections will be hidden. The most important thing is to make sure the receptacle is squared up to the edge of the enclosure lid. A crooked receptacle will look sloppy more than a few scratches.

  1. Put down some wide masking tape on the inside of the enclosure lid
  2. Lay the receptacle cover face down against the lip of the enclosure lid
  3. Align the receptacle cover so it is centered on the enclosure lid edge
  4. Trace the holes of the receptacle cover onto the tape
  5. Draw a rectangle 1/4 inch[6mm] larger on each side around the marked area
  6. Keep the rectangle square with the enclosure lid
  7. Draw a second rectangle 1/2 inch[12mm] smaller on each side
  8. Make divots at the corners of the smaller rectangle
  9. Drill pilot holes through the divots
  10. Drill the holes out to 1/2 inch[12mm] diameter
  11. The holes should occupy the corners of the receptacle but not be exposed by the sides of the cover
  12. Cut out the plastic between the holes
  13. Position the receptacle in the rough hole
  14. Square it up with the edge of the enclosure lid
  15. Mark the locations of the receptacle mounting holes on the lid
  16. Drill to 11/64 inch[4.5mm]

Step 4: Temperature Controller Hole Part One

Picture of Temperature Controller Hole Part One
2014-06-23 Temperature Controller Cut Out.png

The hole for the temperature controller is the trickiest step in this project. Any large imperfection in the hole may become visible around the lip of the controller face. Sloppy measurements will be the most obvious with this hole. Be careful when using a saw on this hole because a line that is not true may be an eyesore later. Give yourself as much time as you need to do this step neatly.

Option 1

  1. Print the attached PDF at 100% scale
  2. Align the template to the inside of the enclosure lid using the spaced lines
  3. Tape the template in place when it is square to the edges and suitable distance from the edge
  4. Use the line closest to the cut-out region when using the 6x6x4 enclosure
  5. Use best judgment when using an alternate enclosure
  6. Make divots at the holes outlined

Option 2

  1. Apply wide masking tape to the inside of the enclosure
  2. Draw a lengthwise rectangle 2-3/4 inch[70mm] by 1-1/8 inch [29mm] one inch from the edge of the enclosure lid
  3. Shrink the rectangle 1/2 inch [12mm] on each side
  4. Make divots on the corners of the smaller rectangle

Step 5: Temperature Controller Hole Part Two

Picture of Temperature Controller Hole Part Two
2014-06-20 20.30.17.jpg
2014-06-20 20.35.01.jpg
2014-06-20 20.57.47.jpg
2014-06-20 21.03.06.jpg
  1. Drill 1/2 inch [12mm] holes into the divots
  2. Use a saw to cut away the space between the holes and make a rounded edge rectangle
  3. Use a saw to square off the corners
  4. Square up the cuts for true lines
  5. Remove the plastic clips from the side of the temperature controller
  6. Make sure there is a good fit for the temperature controller
  7. Insert the controller into the face of the enclosure
  8. Install the plastic clips on the side of the temperature controller
  9. The top of the display should be next to the receptacle hole

Step 6: Electrical Wiring

Picture of Electrical Wiring
2014-06-20 22.05.22.jpg
2014-06-20 22.20.41.jpg
2014-06-20 22.23.34.jpg
2014-06-23 13.29.45.jpg

A quick couple of notes about wiring. I have a diploma as a Construction Electrician so I have training and experience with wiring. If you do not feel comfortable wiring ask for help. The second note is an anecdote from those college days. My electrician teacher would identify amateurs who tried to do their electrical work by how much wire slack they afforded themselves in the boxes. Amateurs would only give themselves a few inches to conserve a precious scraps of wire. Electricians would pull a generous amount into the electrical box and give themselves enough to work with and to have some extra for the future. He charged stingy amateurs more because it was a hassle. Lesson: give yourself enough wire inside the box.

  1. Observe the electrical diagram sketch
  2. Break off the tab between the darker bolts
  3. Follow the schematic or look closely at the picture which shows all the wires
  4. The wire for the inside of the box can be salvaged from the cord being used for this project
  5. It may help to read the literary connection list
    1. Common wire, white, was hooked to:
      1. Terminal 4 on controller
      2. Silver bolt on receptacle
    2. Line wire, black, was hooked to:
      1. Terminal 3 on controller
      2. Terminal 2 on controller
      3. One brass bolt on receptacle
    3. Ground wire, green was hooked to the grounding lug on receptacle
    4. Terminal 1 on the controller was hooked to the other brass bolt of the receptacle
  6. Fasten the receptacle so the support feet rest on the outside of the enclosure lid
  7. Put the bolts through the holes drilled for them
  8. Finger tighten the #8 nuts
  9. Make sure the receptacle is true to the edge
  10. Tighten the #8 nuts all the way
  11. If someone can check the wiring have them do so
  12. Put the cover on the receptacle
  13. Plug in the device
  14. It should display LLL
  15. One outlet should have power. This can be tested by plugging in a lamp to see if it turns on

Step 7: Thermometer Protection

Picture of Thermometer Protection
2014-06-20 23.31.51.jpg
2014-06-20 23.48.28.jpg
2014-06-20 23.48.30.gif

To keep the thermometer off the heated bottom and away from cool food it has been enclosed in a small stainless steel whisk. The whisk is a great shape since water can freely flow through the tines without obstruction. Strictly speaking it is not necessary but since precision is the name of the game it is recommend to keep the thermometer probe protected.

  1. Grasp the metal disk of the whisk with pliers
  2. Drill a pilot hole in the center of the disc
  3. Drill the hole out to 3/16 inch [5mm]
  4. Pass the thermometer through the hole into the head of the whisk
  5. Hold the thermometer lightly with tweezers or pliers
  6. Apply a generous amount of silicone to keep the disc in place and the thermometer in place
  7. Take care to keep the silicone off the tip of the thermometer
  8. Allow the silicone to dry according to silicone directions

Step 8: Thermometer Connection Outside the Box

Picture of Thermometer Connection Outside the Box
2014-06-22 15.40.23.jpg

The NTC (Negative Temperature Coefficient) thermometer is not a polarity sensitive device which means it cannot be hooked up backwards. The wires on the temperature probe may need to be clipped and stripped so that wire are able to be soldered. These instruction makes the assumption that the builder knows how to solder. If not, there are many fine tutorials and YouTube videos which can assist.

  1. Clip away any terminals which may be on the thermometer wire
  2. Strip the wires if they are not already
  3. Tin the wires if they are not already
  4. Tinning means to coat the exposed wire with a layer of solder
  5. Disassemble a 3.5mm phono jack
  6. Place the wire through the shell
  7. Put a short piece of heat shrink tubing on each wire
  8. Solder one wire to each of the two terminals of the 3.5mm phono jack
  9. Slide the heat shrink tubing over the solder joint
  10. Use a heat source to shrink the tubing
  11. Screw the shell into place

Step 9: Thermometer Connection inside the box

Picture of Thermometer Connection inside the box
2014-06-22 15.15.37.jpg
2014-06-22 15.20.56.jpg
2014-06-22 15.25.10.jpg

The modularity of the project will hopefully give people other ideas for how to use this controller. All kinds of home automation is based on temperature sensing. It is possible to hook up a different NTC thermometer using the 3.5mm jack and have a different application altogether. One temperature probe could go outside to see what the temperature is outside and turn on a light bulb when there is a risk of the garden being frostbit.

  1. Drill a 5/16 inch [8mm] hole next to the left side of the temperature controller
  2. Placement is not critical
  3. Strip the ends of two small wires 8 inch [200mm] long
  4. Tin the ends
  5. Put a short piece of heat shrink tubing on each wire
  6. Solder one wire to each of the two terminals of the 3.5mm phono socket
  7. Slide the heat shrink tubing over the solder joint
  8. Use a heat source to shrink the tubing
  9. The other ends of the wire go into the NTC terminals of the temperature controller
  10. Tighten the screws of the temperature controller
  11. Push the receptacle of the 3.5mm socket through the 5/16 inch [8mm] hole
  12. Glue the 3.5mm socket in place
  13. Put the lid on the enclosure
  14. Screw the lid down securely

Step 10: Testing

Picture of Testing
2014-06-22 20.54.33.jpg
2014-06-22 21.08.12.jpg
2014-06-22 21.11.03.jpg

At this point the unit is ready for testing. Since the temperature controller does not use a digital thermometer it is possible that the readings may not be 100% accurate so it is important to verify the readings against an accurate thermometer. If the temperature controller allows the water to remain too cool when cooking food may be undercooked and hazardous. If this is the case it would be prudent to make a note of how much hotter the oven should be set in order to maintain sufficient temperature.

A note about how the temperature controller works. The relay closes when the temperature is below the set point then opens when the desired temperature is reached. If the temperature falls below two degrees of the set point the relay closes again and remains closed until the desired temperature is reached.

  1. Plug the 3.5mm jack into the 3.5mm socket
  2. Power up the temperature controller by plugging it into the wall
  3. Plug a lamp into the switched outlet
  4. Experiment by putting the thermometer into different temperatures of water, ice water, hot water, and tap water
  5. Watch the behavior of the lamp as the temperature controller compensates for the changes in temperature
  6. Compare the readout to a reliable thermometer
  7. Make a note if the oven needs to be set to compensate for discrepancy
  8. Now is the time to test the oven by actually cooking something. Eggs are a good place to start, if you eat eggs, because they are inexpensive and cook quickly
  9. Sous Vide Supreme recommends that soft boiled eggs be cooked for fifteen minutes at 167ºFahrenheit
  10. The egg yolk should be thick and the egg whites should be slightly solidified

Step 11: Closing Thoughts and STUFF

Picture of Closing Thoughts and STUFF

This unit can be used for other automation projects in the home. It can heat a room with a space heater or cool a room with a fan whenever it is temperate outside. It could be used to control an alcohol still but check your local laws first. I think it is legal to distill alcohol if it is ONLY used to power vehicles but better check just to be safe.

  • Alternative use for controller
    • Still controller
    • Cooling fan for window
    • Space heater controller
    • Frost alert

Alternatives to some of the devices used in this example

  • Alternative to small slow cooker**
    • Rice cooker
    • Hot plate with an appropriately sized pot or kettle
    • Oven roaster filled with water
  • Alternatives to mini whisk
    • Large whisk
    • Single blender blade
    • Large diameter compression spring
    • Tea ball
    • Tea spoon
  • Alternative to 6x6x4 PVC enclosure
    • Wooden box
    • Rubbermaid tote
    • Handy box with receptacle next to controller
    • Mount directly in or on a cooker
    • ABS enclosure
    • 3D printed enclsoure
  • Alternative to 3.5mm plug and jack
    • Direct wire
    • 2.5mm plug and jack
    • Molex connector
    • 0.1 inch spaced header pins
    • RJ11 plug and socket

**Whatever device is selected it needs to have simple controls. Analog controls, often the less expensive model, are compatible with this controller. To test, plug in your appliance and turn it on, it should get warm. Unplug the device for a few seconds and plug it back in, if it continues to heat without touching the controls again it will work with this controller. The reason is that the temperature controller cuts all power to the device and digitally controlled devices will lose their memory.

This build took me less than fourteen days and almost that many trips to the hardware stores and thrift stores. I was inspired by other people and their builds but I did not like the enclosures they chose. Some people had the temperature controller sitting on the counter while a water bath was inches away. Please do not do that. An enclosure is less than fifteen dollars and an ambulance ride is more expensive.

I run a blog where I talk incessantly about the things I build, including an unabridged version of this project where I talk about all the things I did wrong as well as what I did right and what I plan to do with it after the build. There is also a day I talk about how to calibrate the thermometer to get very accurate readings from these inexpensive controllers. There are other neat things there like a device that lets you hear temperatures and a keyboard you can use from inside your pockets.

Hmm a very interesting concept, nice Job!

24Eng (author)  TrollFaceTheMan3 months ago

Thank you. A lot of your 'ibles have caught my eye.

dushu4 months ago

Have made something similar:

http://dushyant.ahuja.ws/2013/12/standalone-temperature-and-humidity-control-v2/

24Eng (author)  dushu4 months ago

I had originally planned to make this with an Arduino Micro Pro and a 16x2 that you used but once I saw inexpensive temperature controllers I went that route to simplify the project. Mine doesn't have the humidity sensing of course but in a project at my last job I went into excruciating detail with a temperature and humidity sensor for grain drying. Your code is very clean and straight forward, nice job.

dushu 24Eng4 months ago
Thanks, also, as mentioned in my blog - I can use this as a framework to make a bluetooth controlled switch / or a motion controlled switch....
gafisher4 months ago

Very nice work, and an excellent ible! The only suggestion I'd offer would be to add some sort of circulator, perhaps an aquarium pump or similar, as the temperature of the water in the area of the food, the heating element, and the probe is unlikely to be the same if you depend on convection alone. Lacking that, a quick stir with a spoon every few minutes would be a good idea, especially the first 15 minutes or so after adding food. But that's just icing on a very nice cake.

24Eng (author)  gafisher4 months ago

The idea of a circulator occurred to me but I couldn't think of a suitable method. An aquarium pump seems iffy because they are not meant to handle near-boiling water. But I agree that right after adding food the water temperature will not be even.

gafisher 24Eng4 months ago
Your very creative use if the small whisk gave me the idea of putting a small motor at the handle end of one of those, driving a small propeller ar the basket end, perhaps using a piece of plastic tubing as a shaft. Just a thought.

This is a rip off of a different instructable. Correct me if I'm wrong: http://www.instructables.com/id/Sous-vide-cooker-f... from the user burkelashell. Don't get me wrong. It's a nice ible, good work, but you need to give credit to the original user who thought this up.

24Eng (author)  nathanaloysiusbash4 months ago

I hadn't seen that one but we certainly had the same ideas for parts. I'm glad you posted because people can see that a single receptacle is all that is needed whereas I used a duplex and wired the second one to be hot all the time. Receptacles are at a premium in my kitchen and finding covers for a duplex is simple and inexpensive.

I hadn't seen burkelashel's build before you brought it up. In fact I drafted and printed a 1:1 paper model of the controller so I could find a suitable enclosure at the hardware store.

Really nice work. I love the 3.5 mm plug and the whisk. I'm going to link to your ible from mine so everyone can take the best ideas from both.

--Burke

24Eng (author)  burkelashell4 months ago

Thank you. You do nice work, I guess great minds...

My bad. Guess I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions when I saw the enclosure box. I made the controller from burkelashel's ible. Thinking back I guess that was the only appropriate sturdy box I could find too. Again really nice ible. I actually like yours better. More detailed There really cant be enough sous vide ible hacks out there. That square hole I cut out with a dremel. Very useful tool.

theboz14194 months ago

Should look at a Heatermeter, they are a lot smaller and you can get a 3d printed case for them.. I had made an older HM to control my smoker and recently I upgraded to a newer version. So, I took the old one added a SSR to it and it can now be used to Sous Vide or anything else. The following pics show how big they are.

20140610_215100.jpg20140616_213733.jpg
24Eng (author)  theboz14194 months ago

That is a really robust system! And very compact.

dgateley4 months ago

Thanks, especially, for the whisker idea and for the wiring diagram. Got all the parts already but wasn't sure how to wire the controller.

carlos66ba4 months ago

Thank you for sharing this. Is it sufficient to have a controller like this (on-off) or is it necessary to have a PID controller?

24Eng (author)  carlos66ba4 months ago

Excellent question and I go into some of that in my blog. The short answer is that a PID loop is overkill for a project like this. Another issue is that a PID loop, which can apply throttled power similar to a light dimmer, would only work well with resistive loads. I think that one of the charms of this build is that it can work with so many different types of 120V appliances like fans which do no play well with light dimmers.

carlos66ba 24Eng4 months ago

Thank you for the response. Note that a sous-vide pot is essentially resistive, so would work well with throttling. Also, in amazon there are PID temperature controllers for as little as $25 (not much more than the one you used). So, is it necessary for sous-vide?

$25? Type in 'digital temperature controller' on ebay. A lot of PID's for under 15 dollars.

24Eng (author)  carlos66ba4 months ago

True, the heating elements in kitchen appliances like rice cookers and slow cookers is resistive so a PID controller utilizing a triac would work. It would provide better heating so if you only want to use it for resistive loads it is a good choice. There is a trade off, you can't use the PID model with motors so you lose the versatility of using this with a fan but you will get a more even cooking temperature by using the PID controller.

Would you post a link to these controllers so other people can benefit? Some of the PID controllers on Amazon even have two displays so it is possible to view the set point of your temperature and the current temperature reading.

carlos66ba 24Eng4 months ago

Here is one for $25:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007MMOEWY/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=2V4VTNROGAUWW&coliid=I151W7C3Y2HNWR

24Eng (author)  carlos66ba4 months ago

That is the one I was thinking of too but when I read closer it still uses a relay. The PID must calculate how long to keep the relay on as opposed to how much of the wave form to chop. This controller would be excellent but you still have to buy a thermometer sensor and the programming would be much more intense. Like a sliding scale, the high functionality of this controller comes at the sacrifice of simplicity. Thank you for putting this link up, now others can decide on their own.

robothead4 months ago
good job
Shanem214 months ago

The whisk is a stroke of hacking genious...

carlos66ba4 months ago

Congratulations on appearing on hackaday!

http://hackaday.com/2014/06/26/precision-temperatures-for-cooking-or-whatever/

24Eng (author)  carlos66ba4 months ago

Thank you!