Introduction: Lazy Man's Carbonating Shaker for Seltzer or Beer
UPDATE 03 August 2021: Currently designing a tabletop version of this to carbonate 1L and 2L PET soda bottles. Keep an eye on my channel for a new Instructable.
This is another old project I wanted to publish and share with the Instructable community. This one is around 7 years old, and has only needed a few minor repairs over that time. (And it has gotten continuous use over that period.)
I started making my own seltzer water after getting into home brewing beer well over 15 years ago. My advice on home brewing beer? Are you considering the hobby? Don't do it! Or at least think seriously about it before jumping in. Home brewing beer:
- EXTREMELY difficult
- EXTREMELY time-consuming
- Barely cost-advantageous over store bought
- Takes up a LOT of space
- When done properly is it better than absolutely anything you can buy? DEFINITELY!, but see points 1-4!
Here's a good contrast of making seltzer water and home brewing beer by comparing them to owning a pet:
- Seltzer Water = Pet Rock
- Home Brewing Beer = Saint Bernard Puppy with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Side story: In college (Colorado School of Mines) after Chemistry Lab on Thursdays, we would go over to Coors and take what's called "The Short Tour". Basically you skip the tour and go straight to the tasting room. And let me tell you, the freshest Coors beer you'll ever have, straight from the brewery, is fantastic! Having one after sitting in a bottle for who knows how long and gone through several huge temperature swings, exposed to bright lights? How about then? Well? Not so much, right?
And that's what you get with properly made home brewed beer, the absolute freshest and best beer you will EVER have. Its an awesome hobby, don't get me wrong, the people that do it are really great people, but IMO its just not worth the effort and especially the frustration when a batch goes wrong after waiting for weeks to try it. (Think, puppy with diarrhea! That's how much fun it can be sometimes.)
NOTE: You can actually get a PhD in Brewery Science!
Skip ahead 15 years, to a time when I can no longer eat and drink whatever I want without it "staying" with me, I no longer brew or drink beer, but all the supplies I purchased long ago to keg and carbonate that beer are still highly valued, but now used solely for making seltzer water.
After several years of tinkering with my seltzer making, mainly to improve taste and efficiency in time required to switch out an empty keg, I have a system that now takes me less than one hour to go from a totally empty keg to a fully carbonated, ice-cold, full 5 gallon keg of crisp delicious refreshing seltzer water. Come along, I'll show you how!
(I'll cover the whole process, but will not go into a huge amount of detail on the basics of simply making seltzer water. If you are brand new to seltzer making, there are a few good Instructables available to show you basics in a lot of detail. Search for "carbonated water" or "carbonation" or "seltzer".)
My main purpose of this Instructable is to show you how to make the Agitation Station (I should Trademark that.) It's something that I think even highly experienced seltzer makers and home brewers have never seen before.
I'll just list the major components in this section, later steps will have more detailed lists.
1.) KitchenAid Stand Mixer (The bigger the better. I used an original Hobart branded Model K5-A.)
WARNING: I take no responsibility if you appropriate your SO's mixer from the kitchen. I speak from experience, and though images shown herein are of a Craigslist acquired "replacement", the initial "donor" just served as a concept demonstrator and was put back to its entirely pristine starting condition. (Right honey?)
2.) KitchenAid Wire Whip attachment
NOTE: Buy a new one, as this can NOT be put back in the kitchen drawer unnoticed.
3.) Modified Cornelius Keg
(Not the best Keg out there by any means, but it has a unique handle that lends itself to this design.)
Step 1: System Overview
I know that may look daunting, but the process to make seltzer water is very simple:
- Get clean water (R.O. Filter)
- Cool the water (Fridge on the Left)
- Carbonate the water (CO2 Tank, Gas Line, Agitation Station*)
- Dispense the seltzer water (Kegerator, Tap, Ice Maker, Weight Scale**)
*This will be the focus of this Instructable.
**Weight Scale was a recent addition. It basically just weighs the Keg (after you tare the scale) so you have an indication of when the keg is about to run dry.
There was nothing worse then hearing one of the kids go to the garage, hit the tap and hear gas coming out and then them yell out "We're out of Seltzer Water Again!". With the weight scale, I can at least gage when it will need to be refilled.
Step 2: Carbonation 101
To carbonate water, you need these things at a minimum:
- CO2 Gas, 20 PSI
- Water, room temp
- Time, lots of it
This will take many many many hours (like weeks). But eventually, (maybe when we're all out of quarantine), you will make seltzer water. I'm guessing most people won't wait that long. So,
- If you want the time to go down, increase CO2 pressure. (At 60 PSI, it will only take many many hours)
- If you want the time to go down further, cool the water. (Even cooled from room temp to say 50F, it will take only several hours)
- If you want the time to go down further, wait we ran out things to change! Oh no, there's one more - Agitate!
By agitating the water, while its under pressure, the CO2 dissolves more quickly due to the increased surface area of the water exposed to the CO2 gas.
- Cold water (33F)
- Yes, 33F, about half the time, my water crystallizes to a slush when pouring into the keg
- CO2 Gas (55 PSI)
- Why 55PSI? Cuz that's the highest my regulator goes to
- Agitation (from the Agitation Station)
- Arguably, the most important factor in reducing time to carbonate
Carbonate 5 Gallons of Water in 30 Minutes!
Step 3: To Shake or Not to Shake
Most people that agitate their kegs, or any other container (even down to 16 oz plastic soda bottles) to speed up the carbonation process simply shake them by hand or in the case of Cornelius Kegs ("Corny" Kegs) I've actually seen people roll them around on the floor. I'm not in good shape, but even if I were, shaking close to 50 pounds for even a few minutes is very tiring.
Give me the hammock!
Now onto making the Agitation Station.....................
Step 4: Keg's Rocking Chair
I'd probably do this differently now, but I think at the time, I was working on the irrigation at the house and had some of these available, so its what I used then. (And like I mentioned earlier, it has really stood the test of time.)
For the "Agitator Base" (Keg's Rocking Chair) you'll need:
- The cover from this:
- Or get just a cover by itself in green
(You can also find these covers on Amazon too. Search for "NDS 111C")
- Break/cut away the webbing on the underside of the lid (last image above)
- Attach the copper tube straps using spacers and hardware as shown in the next to last image above (hardware is #10-24, with 1/2" spacers)
- The rocker bar is affixed to the ground with two saddle clamps and hammer drive pin anchors or similar attachment method for masonry (the bar is 1/2" electrical conduit, and the saddle clamps are also for 1/2" electrical conduit)
Step 5: Human Arm Replacement
The "Agitator Arm" is simply made from the wire whip mixer attachment (details in the Supplies section), two female ball joint rod ends, and a section of all-thread:
(I used these from Amazon, but Mcmaster-Carr has a much better selection now.)
- Length of all-thread, size 3/8-24 (or whatever size matches the tie rods you get.)
- Cut the wires from the mixer attachment and grind the surface flush
- Attach a female floor flange adapter (I think that's what I used) by drilling and tapping 4 holes (#10-24 again)
- (The white plastic is from those plastic beads you heat in boiling water then shape and cool. Another thing I'd change if I did this again.)
- Length of all-thread will on be dependent on your particular setup, but mine is 10.25" from the center of the two tie rod ends
- Also, align the tie rods so they are both pointing in the same direction and use 3/8-24 nuts to fix them in place so they won't move around
- Attach the tie rod assembly to the modified wire whip attachment with a 3/8" bolt. Tighten snug, but don't overtighten, and use Loctite if you have.
Step 6: Keg Modification
This part is easy. Just drill a hole for a 3/8" bolt (thread pitch doesn't matter). Secure the bolt with a nylon patch lock nut. Also, doesn't matter if its at a weird angle, as the tie rod end will adjust to it.
(I also had this working on the more traditional type kegs with the full black rubber handle. I remember it was much harder to attach, but if that's the type of kegs you have, message me and I can work with you to figure out the attachment.)
Step 7: Mixer Shelf
This might be the hardest part for some, as you need to find a rigid shelf with space underneath for the height of the keg. I already had these shelves setup many years prior to this project, so all I had to do was adjust the height of the shelf and cut holes into the plywood shelf to secure the mixer head.
The image above in the middle shows the screws. You want to separate the mixer head from its base, and copy that four hole pattern to the surface it will be mounted to.
You'll need to get replacement screws that are the length of the original screws (I don't remember the size or length) plus the thickness of the material it will be mounted to. Tighten these screws very tight. The mixer head needs to be very secure to resist the shaking it will be subjected to.
(The large oval shaped cutout in the plywood shelf was meant to allow you to reach in and mate/demate the arm, but I only reach from the underside anyway, so its not really needed.)
ALL DONE! Now let's put it use.
Step 8: Replenish Instructions (END of INSTRUCTABLE)
All the details are in the image above.
Bottom Line: It only takes 15 minutes of "involved" hands-on work to replenish the keg.
I let the Agitation Station run for a minimum of 30 minutes, but sometimes forget about it and it might run for a few hours. No difference in letting it run long, it just wastes electricity. Doesn't effect the seltzer or use any more CO2.
FINAL NOTE: While sanitation is not nearly as critical when making Seltzer as it is when making Beer, sanitation is still important. During every replenish cycle, I sanitize everything I touch, like the lid of the keg and carboy, and do a full cleaning of all the lines and insides of the keg and carboy about once a month. I use this no rinse sanitizer:
Almost forgot - Speed setting on the mixer = #2. (Watch the video at the start to get an idea of the speed.) Higher speed won't really speed things up and will just result in the early demise of your mixer due to the increased stresses on the motor and gears.
(A final tip, I use a dip tube in the gas inlet side of the keg instead of the standard short tube. This ensures that the CO2 gas going into the keg exits at the bottom of the keg and bubbles through the water.)
Thank you so much for reading through my Instructable. I hope it will be useful to others. Please let me know if anyone wants to undertake this and I'll provide as much support as possible. Stay safe and healthy!