Introduction: How to Build a Talladega Nights Inspired Six Cheese Fountain

About: I'm "Perpetually Gruntled"
Inspired by a comment in the Will Ferrell movie Talladega Nights, the Ballad of Ricky Bobby, my son (Seth) just HAD to have a Six Cheese Fountain at his October 2008 wedding. After exhaustive research we determined first off that the fountain is only mentioned in the movie but never shown, so we were actually entering uncharted territory. Join us as we chart the steps we took to build our glorious Six Cheese Fountain, including:
  • Fountain Design
  • Fountain Construction
  • Cheese Pump Design
  • Cheese Pump Manufacturing
  • Heat Source Solution
  • Cheese Choice and Prep
  • Power for the Cheese Pumps
  • Lights, Camera, CHEESE!

The Tools used to produce this masterpiece include:
  • Shopsmith Mark V as a Table Saw, a Horizontal Boring Machine and as a Drill Press
  • Jet Mini-Lathe
  • Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
  • Shopsmith Bandsaw
  • Shopsmith Over Arm Pin Router
  • Hitachi Chop Saw
  • Hafele Hole Cutter
  • Bench Grinder
  • Shop-Made Sheet Metal Break
  • Miscellaneous Hand Tools

Don't miss the VIDEOof the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 1: It All Starts With a Biscuit and a Design

Over bacon, egg and cheese biscuits everything becomes clear: There is no way we can make a single fountain that will hold and dispense six different cheeses without mixing them, so we decide on a design that incorporates six individual fountains arranged in a hexagon. This design will allow us to rearrange the fountain for future use as a single cheese, three cheese, or even to line them up along a wall for a Wall-O-Cheese!

The fountain will be made from 3/4" x 4" pine lumber (which is called "1 by 4") and simple butt-joints. This means no fancy joinery or complicated tools are needed for this step, though a pocket hole jig is used for a few of the joints. This is a specialized fixture that allows the user to drill an angled pilot hole for a special screw, which will add strength to what might otherwise be an unsupported butt joint. The pocket hole jig we are using is manufactured by the Kreg Tool Co.

We decided to use a 12" x 10" x 2.5" aluminum foil chaffing dish as our bottom cheese reservoirs, so the footprint of each fountain segment will have a 12" x 10" inside dimension. These are the aluminum pans that are used for lasagna, and we found them two for a dollar at Dollar Tree.

The 1/4" plywood bottom was almost an after thought, but we realized that we needed to protect the table from the heat source. These pieces were cut a hair under size so they wouldn't be seen, and were attached with a bead of glue and a few brads.

The last photo below shows how the back braces are pocket-screwed in place. Later we will attach the pumps to these braces.

For this step we used a Chopsaw to cut the boards to length, a Bandsaw to safely cut the long taper on the angled board, and a Kreg Pocket Hole jig for some of the joints.

Don't miss the VIDEO of the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 2: Some Ideas for How to Make the Cheese Pumps

Our pumps are made from off the shelf PVC pipe and fittings. Each pump uses a 23" length of 1 1/4" Schedule 40 PVC pipe. PVC is made in several thicknesses for various applications, and we chose Schedule 40 over the more-common Schedule 20 because it is thicker and stronger. In addition to the pipe we need a matching 1 1/4" Tee, a Cap and two Plugs per pump.

Inside each pump is an auger made from a 24" length of 1 1/4" wooden dowel rod, which is also found at the Home Center. (See more on this in Step 3)

Our investigations led us to a variation on the classic Archimedes screw, which has been used to raise liquids for several thousand years. We were further inspired by the US Patent from 1930 shown below.

We start the pump construction by working on the PVC pump body. We epoxied a hardwood plug into the PVC plug to be a food-safe bearing. The trick is how to drill the hole dead-center on this plug. Making a jamb-chuck on my mini-lathe was as simple as mounting a chunk of pine lumber to a faceplate using wood screws. A recess (hole) is then turned into the block that closely matches the O.D. (Outside Diameter) of the plug. This is then turned true with a parting tool and a dimple is turned to help center the drill bit. The bit is mounted in a drill chuck and is pressed through the spinning plug. If the bit drives in without wobbling, it's centered properly.

For this step we used a Chopsaw to cut the PVC pipe to length, a Shopsmith Mark V as a horizontal drill and a Jet Mini-Wood Lathe.

Don't miss the VIDEO of the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 3: Time to Make the Cheese Pumps

In this step we convert a wooden dowel into an auger for the pumps by using a Table Saw and a tool called an Over Arm Pin Router. In retrospect the auger could have been made entirely on the Table Saw with a Dado blade (which is a wide-cutting blade) but I think I just wanted an excuse to use my Pin Router.

A board is clamped to the Table Saw table to act as an angled rip fence. The standard rip fence (straight edge) on a Table Saw normally guides the board straight across the blade, but our temporary fence will allow us to guide the dowel past the blade at an angle, which will automatically produce a spiral. Play with the angle to change the pitch of the auger. A shallow angle will produce more twists on the dowel, while a steep angle will produce fewer.

Using the groove which the saw blade produced as a guide for a narrow pin on the Pin Router, we cut a wider groove in each dowel. This wider groove ran between the narrow groove from the Table Saw, so we repositioned the pin and ran the dowel though again to make the narrow groove wide as well.

The dowels were sanded smooth and the ends were bored-out using a 1/4" drill bit on a Shopsmith Mark V set-up as a horizontal boring machine. This could have been done by hand with a hand drill and a shop-made drill guide; or using a vertical drill press with another shop-made fixture, but heck, what's the point of owning a Shopsmith if you don't use it to the max?

After cutting the augers to final length we epoxied a 6" long 1/4-20 bolt which we cut the head off with a hack saw, into the hole in the top end of each of the dowels. The smooth, formerly head-end of the bolt was glued into the dowel leaving a smooth shoulder as a bearing surface, and threads at the top where we will attach the pulley.

When we insert the dowel into the pump, we first insert a 1/4" steel ball bearing into the hole in the bottom of the dowel. We also added a dab of Crisco shortening to act as a food-grade grease. The dowel comes to rest over a 1/4" bolt which is epoxied through a hole in the bottom of the cap at the bottom of the pump.

Next we used a 1" Forstner drill bit in a drill press to drill three partial holes around the bottom cap to allow the melted cheese to enter the pump. A Forstner bit is a special drill bit that cuts extremely smooth and flat bottom holes without the need for a long pilot tip like those found on an auger bit. One of the most unique tricks that a Forstner bit can perform is that they can be used with almost half of their diameter hanging off the edge of the stock they are drilling. This comes in handy on this step as we need a hole that is on the bottom edge of our pump to allow maximum cheese flow. The results are seen in photo three below.

The dowels were then finished with shellac, which is a naturally food-safe finished which is made from the secretions of the female lac bug! We investigated every finish on the shelves at our local home center, and it came down to shellac or mineral oil. We've used mineral oil on wooden kitchen utensils and cutting boards in the past, but we decided that we wanted something hard. Either finish would have been a fine choice, but in the end we wanted to be able to gross-out our wives with the explanation of where shellac comes from. Of course, we could have mentioned that mineral oil is sold for use as a laxative...

Only a few joints are glued with PVC adhesive, so we can disassemble the pumps for cleaning. We glued the cap onto the bottom of the pipe and the Tee onto the top of the pipe. The other openings are fitted dry with 1 1/4" plugs, which are inserted into the Tee with a hammer. If you are new to working with PVC I recommend that you view the How To Solvent Weld PVC Pipe and Fittings Instructable.

For this step we used a Shopsmith Mark V set-up as a Table Saw with a standard saw blade and Overarm Pin Router, and a grinder to remove the head off the bolts.

Don't miss the VIDEO of the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 4: We've Come This Far, Now How Will We Drive the Cheese Pumps?

Our original plan was to drive all the cheese pumps with one continuous drive belt as shown in illustration 1. below. Based on this plan, and based on the rotation of our motor (counter-clockwise), we made our pumps run clockwise. Once we had the pumps made we realized that there would be too much resistance from the semi-fluid cheese, so we decided to go with a three belt design. The problem with thee belts driven as shown in illustration 2. is that the pumps will be driven counter-clockwise, and because our pumps are already made we will need to twist the belts, as shown in illustration 3. Luckily the round belts we've chosen will do this little trick with no problem.

Round belts are commonly found on vacuum cleaners, but are also sold by the foot at motor and bearing supply houses. We paid .99 a foot for 12 feet, and from this we made four belts. We stretched a string around the pulleys to determine the proper length of our belt, then we cut the round belt to this length minus 1". We did this because we knew that the belt would stretch once it gets warmed-up, and we want a tight fit.

To make a belt, cut the round belting to length with a razor blade, and using a Bic lighter, slowly heat the cut ends until they become soft and wet. Press these ends together firmly and align so as not to produce a step where the ends meet. Hold the joint firmly for a minuet and allow to cool for ten minute before stressing. The ends can be cleaned-up with a razor blade to smooth the joint.

The motor was salvaged from a planer and features a variable speed rheostat, so we should be able to get the speed just right. We bolted it to a slab of OSB (Oriented Strand Board) and screwed it into pre-drilled holes in the top of each of the fountain segments.

We could have purchased the pulleys, but it felt right to make them. We cut them with a tool called a fly cutter (aka: holesaw) on the drillpress, and then spun them on a lathe and added a shallow groove for the belt. The motor pulley has three grooves as it is driving three belts. The pulleys are mounted to the 1/4-20 bolts using nylock hex nuts, while the motor pulley is fixed to the motor shaft with Fastcap 2P-10 CA glue (aka: Superglue) and a set screw. We often drill and tap threads into wood for jigs and fixtures in the shop, and we find that after tapping drizzling a few drops of CA glue strengthens the wood threads. Also we use as long a setscrew as we can without risking that it extends beyond the rim of the pulley, in order to spread the stress over more threads. A short setscrew will easily strip the wood threads even when reinforced with CA glue.

For this step we used a razor blade and a Bic lighter, a hole saw on a drill press and a wood lathe. Oh yeah, and a piece of string.

Don't miss the VIDEO of the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 5: Making Pulleys for the Cheese Pumps

Our fountain would need seven pulleys: six for the cheese pumps and one triple-groove pulley for the drive motor. To make these we choose laminated Baltic Birch plywood scraps from a previous project. Baltic Birch ply is very dense and stable due the it's multiple wood veneers and glue layers.

The first step was to mount a hole cutter in the Drill Press. The cutter we used is known as a fly cutter. A hole saw would also work, but the disk can be damaged as it is removed from the hole saw, which gets clogged with the disc after drilling the hole. To down-side of a fly cutter is it has an square shaft that holds the cutter, but also extends beyond the tools rim. This is a notorious knuckle buster as it is invisible as it spins around. To protect myself and to remind me of it's presence, I added a little masking tape to make it visible as it spins.

Next the board will need back-up. This is something you learn quickly after you drill your first hole through the table of your drill press. The other reason for this is my drill press (Shopsmith Mark V) has a fence/straight edge that will be impacted by the knuckle-buster mentioned above. By raising the board off the table the cutter will do it's thing long before it reaches the height of the fence.

The photos below show this process, which goes quite quickly.

One last tip when using a fly cutter; Stop the drill press as soon as the cutter penetrates the top board, and without raising the cutter. Again, forget to do this once and you'll learn that the fly cutter is an excellent discus thrower!

Next the plywood discs are mounted on my Mini-Lathe. I've turned a scrap block "Jamb Chuck" out of sacrificial pine, and have drilled a 1/4" hole through the center using a drill bit held in a chuck. I've turned a tight recess that matched the diameter of the discs and from the faceplate side of the "chuck" I've driven a 1/4-20 Tee-Nut. A loose Tee-Nut is shown in one of the photos below. Tee-Nuts are a simple hammer-in threaded insert that provide excellent strength, just make sure that the Tee-Nut is BEHIND the wood that it is driven into, and not on top. Under stress the Tee-Nut will be pulled tighter into the wood.

The plywood discs are now attached to the jamb chuck using a 1/4-20 eye bolt with a nut mounted near the top to act as a stop to keep the eye bolt from sinking-in.

The disc is turned true using a round nose scraper, then a small round nose scraper is used to turn the groove for the drive belt. Because I didn't have a small scraper on hand I modified a cheap scraper from a set my son trained on as a kid. (Yes, it runs in the family) By the way, a flat-blade screw drive is another excellent option for a small scraper.

This step utilized a Shopsmith Mark V as a Drill Press, a Fly Cutter, a Jet Mini-Lathe and Lathe Scrapers.

Don't miss the VIDEO of the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 6: Sheet Metal Is Bent to Form the Fountain Layers

For a Cheese Fountain to have any awesomeness we concluded that the cheese must cascade down a minimum of three drops. Counting the fall from the pump as the first drop, we are still two short. Our design requires us to fabricate a two sheet metal plateaus per fountain segment and it's time to stop procrastinating this step.

We used cardboard to mock-up the basic size and shape of each piece, and using these as templates we cut the sheet metal to size. We knew the edges would be sharp so we added a 1/2" to all edges and planned to fold these over. This is where we hit the wall.

Being woodworkers we don't own a sheet metal break, which is the proper tool for accurately folding sheet metal, so we had to improvise. (Using wood of course.)

To fold the metal we used a shop-made sheet metal break, and from there we were able to fold the metal over the balance of the way by hand and with a dead-blow mallet.

Notice how the top piece must straddle the PVC pump, so a notch was required in the back edge of the top pieces.

Don't miss the VIDEO of the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 7: Mixing Cheese Sauce for the Cheese Fountain

The choice of cheese for the cheese fountain is crucial. We knew from previous fondue experience that using solid cheese for our cheese fountain would likely lead to something less than the desired "cheesetacular" results that all this effort deserves. Our research led us to choose a "real" cheese sauce sold by the gallon at Sam's Club. This cheese comes in two stock flavors: Cheddar and Nacho, which we thought would be a good start for the six flavors we need. Our fountain would dispense:
1.) Cheddar Cheese,
2.) Nacho Cheese,
3.) Spicy Cheddar Cheese, (Cheddar Cheese Sauce with added Tabasco)
4.) Spicy Nacho Cheese, (Nacho Cheese Sauce with added Tabasco)
5. Hot Cheddar Cheese, (Cheddar Cheese Sauce with added Tabasco and Salsa)
6.) Liquid Hot Magma. (Nacho Cheese Sauce with added Tabasco, the juice from sliced jalapenos, red and green Habanero Sauce and Salsa)

Before adding any cheese to the fountain we made sure that all of the parts that would be exposed to cheese were coated with either PAM cooking spray or shortening. This was done to prevent contamination (not a fun prize at a wedding reception) and as a bonus it made cleanup a breeze.

Tools needed for this step include an excellent OXO can opener, a serving spoon and aluminum foil.

Don't miss the VIDEO of the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 8: How Will We Heat the Cheese?

Another hurdle we had to leap was the pesky "How ya gonna heat the cheese?" question. You should have seen the first plan! It involved lots on copper tubing and a steam wallpaper stripper. But cooler (literally) heads prevailed. Enter the Engineers: Seth and Josh. Ok, so Seth isn't actually a full-fledged Engineer, but he did finish one year of Engineering at NC State and he also slept at a Holiday Inn Express, so it counts. Anyway, Seth and his Engineer friend Josh hit upon a two stage plan:

1.) Heat the cheese apart from the fountain then add it to the fountain. Sounds reasonable. We need to mix the hot stuff into the cheese anyway so we might as well mix it, heat it, then add it. Great, but what happens once we remove it from the heat?

2.) Along with the cheese we heat several bricks which will go into the base of each of the six cheese pumps. To make this plan even more effective and to help cut back on cheese we'll break a few bricks and double wrap them in aluminum foil, then after heating we'll add them to the cheese receptacles themselves. This will raise the cheese level, which will insure that the cheese level will rise above the inlets at the base of each pump. Brilliant!

So where did said "hot brick" come from? You'll notice in the beginning of the video below a large upright oven which is used by caterers for warming stuff being rolled into place. It just so happened that one of these sweet things was waiting for us in the reception hall, otherwise we would have had to heat the cheese and bricks in a kitchen which was located in a separate building.

Now the last problem...

My father, another Engineer, pointed out that if someone had hired us to design a "cheese cooler", with the exception of the hot bricks our design would have remained mostly unchanged. Move the hot cheese vertically up a PVC pipe, then allow it to cascade down across two inclined sheet metal shelves. It was only a matter of time before our cheese would begin to thicken and become unpumpable. (It's a word. Trust me.) This made thinning the cheese sauce a critical step and at the final moment we decided to ad a small ceramic heater deep within the fountain to preheat the parts prior to adding the cheese. You'll notice in the final video that the fountain was unveiled just before we add the cheese and move the pumps into place. The plastic covering was actually there more to trap heat than to hide the fountain.

For this step we used a Square Drive (AKA Robertson) Screw Driver.

Don't miss the VIDEO of the Six Cheese Fountain in action on Step 9!

Step 9: The Moment of Truth. the Worlds First Six Cheese Fountain Roars to Life!

This is the Six Cheese Nacho Cheese Fountain on the big day. The moment Seth throws the switch is the very first time the fountain was ever tested with cheese, so we were all crossing our fingers. The switch has a variable speed rheostat, so when the switch is first thrown nothing happens. Finally Seth turns-up the speed and things begin to flow.

A minute or so later we begin to thin-out the cheese with hot water and that really gets her flowing.
The cheese we used can be thinned with 1 cup of water or up to two cups of warm milk. We opted for the water for safety's sake, because we weren't sure how long we would need to hold the milk prior to thinning, but if we do this again we'll start by thinning the cheese ahead of start-up and we'll use warm milk.

As for clean-up, we coated all the parts that we knew would be exposed to cheese and following a last minute wipe-down these parts were coated with either PAM cooking spray or shortening. This made cleanup a breeze.

Make sure to watch the Cheese Fountain in action and please give us your questions, comments and cheap-shots! Oh yeah, leave a comment!

UPDATE:  Our Cheese Fountain was featured on Geekologie

One last bit of cheesy inspiration for you

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