Intro: Build Your Own Kegerator for Homebrew
If the title of this instructable peaks your interest, then you probably brew or have brewed your own beer. If so, then you probably get tired of filling and cleaning all those bottles. Building a kegerator is the best way to step up your beer game and impress your friends, not to mention it will save you a bunch of time. You only have to fill a few kegs rather than dozens of individual bottles and carbonating the beer in the kegs can be a lot quicker than conditioning your brew in bottles - READ - you can drink and enjoy your beer a lot sooner!! It may cost a bit, but it's worth it if you're into brewing for the long run!
There are other how-to's and instructables on building kegerators - I'll go through one using a top-loading freezer as that's what I used and it seems to have worked quite well - converting it is quite easy, there's plenty of room inside and it's been great for the last 4 years.
My brother and brother-in-law (with whom I brew) decided we wanted a 2-tap system since we were already brewing 2 batches at a time and we liked the look of 2 separate taps, so that's what I'll be going through as well. You could just as easily go with a single tower with dual faucet.
If you're ready to take the next step then check out the supplies and equipment listed below and read on! Once you have all the equipment and tools, this should only take about an hour (maybe less) to get your kegerator ready. It will take a bit longer if you want to complete the extra bonus round integrated drip tray though!
-Refrigerator or freezer (we went with a top loading freezer - more room and easier to modify!) Specifically the Holiday® 5.0 Cu. Ft. Chest Freezer from Lowes
-Homebrew kegging kit* - we used a Dual Cornelius Keg System similar to THIS
-Tap handle(s) (we made a 2 keg, 2 tap system) THESE
-A few extra worm gear clamps (probably available from wherever you order your kegging kit from OR your local hardware store)
-Digital temperature controller (if you go with a freezer) like THIS
*You can break these kits down into individual components if you'd prefer to do it that way (possibly cheaper) For us it was just easier to get the kit and modify it for our needs. Also getting used kegs and gas tanks will reduce the overall cost.
TOOLS / SUPPLIES
-Drill and drill bits
-1" Hole saw to match tap pipe diameter (may be different for other taps!!)
-Small tube of silicone caulk
-sheet metal screws
-1x Poplar furring
-1.5" wood screws
-white paint + brush
-CAD drawing for laser-cut kegerator 'bar top' and drip tray
Step 1: Get Your Equipment and Measure!
Actually, you don't really need to measure since we did all that for you - that is if you're using the same top loading freezer as we did. Just for reference then, a typical Cornelius keg measures 8.625″ in diameter by 24.9375″ tall. This means you will have more than enough room for the 2 kegs and the 5 lb CO2 tank with a dual pressure regulator which comes with your kit.
If you put your system together piece-by-piece, then I suggest you go ahead and get a 10 lb CO2 tank as it will fit as well, albeit a bit on the snug side. It lasts much longer than the 5 lb tank. If you already have the 5 lb tank, I still suggest you get the 10 lb tank and just use the 5lb as an emergency backup - nothing kills a homebrew party quicker than a keg with no pressure!
We saved some money by going with used Cornelius kegs, but they cleaned up quite nicely and some added vinyl decals make them look really spiffy!
Step 2: Layout,spacing, and Fit
Again, this step is slightly redundant with the last step and a bit unnecessary since we've done the leg work, but if you prefer a different spacing on the taps or are using a slightly different freezer then you'll want to go through this step.
The first image is of a quick 3D model I did to check fit even before buying any of the supplies and equipment - this was simply based on the manufacturers specifications.
We went with placing the taps 6" O.C. off the rear of the freezer and 8" O.C. off of each side - feel free to adjust to your compositional intuition!!
Step 3: Measure, Mark, Punch and Drill
OK - finally, let's begin. Grab your sharpie marker and the tape measure and the square (I use a nice machinists square since I have a metal shop, but any square that has a dependable 90 degree edge will do). Measure and mark your distances from the back and sides - again in our case it was 6" O.C. off the rear of the freezer and 8" O.C. off the sides. Try to keep the tick marks to a minimum so you don't have to clean marker off of your kegerator surface.
Next, use a center punch to mark the exact place where you'll be drilling so the bit doesn't wander when you start your pilot hole. Use at least a 1/8" bit to start and be sure to use one which is 'jobbers length' so it will go all the way through the freezer top. When drilling also try to stay as vertical / plumb as possible. After your pilot holes are finished, it's time to use the hole saw. We used a 1" hole saw, but if you're using a different tap then you may need to adjust the hole saw diameter accordingly. Start by drilling the top and do both holes. You won't get all the way through so you'll have to finish by coming up through the bottom. If you kept your pilot nice and straight, this should be easy - just use the pilot hole on the underside to guide the hole saw pilot. At some point you'll break through and a cylinder of sheet metal, insulation, and plastic will pop free.
You should have two nice clean holes through the top of your freezer - congratulations, you've just successfully voided your warranty!!
Step 4: Tapped
You only need an adjustable wrench for this step and it's completely straightforward. Just pop the taps(Chrome AXIS Tower w/ Faucet and Knob - found HERE) through the freezer top, slide on the large washers and tighten up the nuts (be careful not to tighten too much as you can crush the lining and insulation!)
At this point you can also cut the tap lines to a length which suits you. Probably don't want too much extra length, but you don't want them too short either - we cut ours at around 24" - 30 " - enough to let us have the kegs outside of the freezer, but remain hooked up (sometimes necessary when cleaning the beer lines and taps) If you cut the lines to length, then you'll have to re-hook up your gas ball-lock disconnects, whether you are using barbed or thread on. Use worm gear clamps to secure them in place. Done!
Step 5: Regulate
So....while the choosing a freezer over a compact refrigerator has some advantages (more room generally and easier to modify) you do have an additional piece of equipment required - you'll need a temperature regulator to keep your beer from getting too cold! You simply plug the freezer into this regulator (which has a sensor on the inside of the freezer) and it cycles the freezer on/off as needed to maintain a consistent temperature within a certain range (set by you). There are a few options for doing this, but we went with THIS digital version as it is really easy to read, set and monitor.
Installing is really simple. We mounted it to the back, though you could mount it anywhere on the freezer really depending on how visible and accessible you might want it. We didn't think we'd need to access it all that often, so we put it on back for obvious aesthetic reasons. We found once we got it dialed in, we didn't need to adjust it all that often. Once you decide where you want it, mark your screw holes and use a drill bit smaller than the sheet metal screws you'll be using to drill the mounting holes. You'll also need to drill a hole to allow the temperature sensor to slide into the freezer. Again, only drill as big as you need to push the sensor through - you don't want to have too much space as it's a gap in the insulation. Also use caution so as not to damage any cooling elements when you drill - i.e. take it slow and 'feel' the bit through. If you have a lot of resistance, then you might be hitting something! Once it's in, you can seal the hole with a bit of silicone sealant. We also tidied up the extra wire and cords with some cable ties to keep everything neat, in place and out of the way!
One thing which may be helpful we found was that the sensor gave a much more consistent and accurate reading when the tip was in a glass or bottle of water. There's room for it on the shelf in the freezer. I highly recommend you do this!
When you're force carbonating your beer in the kegerator, you'll need to pay attention to the temperature to CO2 pressure ratio as this affects how much/how soon your beer will take to carbonate. Different beer styles require different amounts of carbonation too. We use this chart as it's pretty straightforward and easy to use:
TEMPERATURE / PRESSURE CHART
Step 6: Ready for Beer!
That was easy wasn't it?!! If everything went smoothly, you now have a working kegerator ready for beer - congratulations - get brewing!!!
As a designer though I wasn't quite satisfied at this point. I wanted to take it a step further - more custom, more fitting in a nice apartment. If that sounds like something you might want to pursue, then read further......
Step 7: Integrate
You can get a number of drip trays to place on top of your kegerator - you can find a few HERE or HERE. Like I said, we wanted it a bit cleaner, so I designed a complete stainless top for our kegerator with the drip tray flash and integrated. For this step you'll need some experience with some sort of CAD software. I use RHINO for just about everything so that's what I used to draw the pattern which was eventually laser cut from 16 gauge stainless steel. While I'm not providing the exact file, I can point out the main things to consider when designing and installing this top!
1. Measure, measure, measure - so that you have the existing top and locations of the taps perfect before designing. If you're spending the money to have custom pieces cut, then you want to make sure the dimensioning is right on!
2. Give a little tolerance to your dimensioning so the fits aren't too tight!
3. The top will have to be cut as 2 pieces to slip around the tap columns. As you can see, I made that seam interlocking so the edges would 'self-align' or 'self-register'
4. The perforation pattern can be whatever you want it to be, just don't cut away too much material or you could destroy the structural integrity of your surface! (I used a simple gradient hole pattern that I made in Grasshopper for Rhino. The holes are larger beneath the beer faucets and get smaller moving away.)
5. The catch tray below, should be slightly lower than the 1X poplar furring strips so it can be slid out for cleaning. The furring strips are .75", so make the drip tray at least .0625" less than that. I had the same fabricator make this tray that did the top. You may be able to find an existing stainless pan which could work, but it may be easier to just have one made perfect to your dimensions if you're going to the trouble to cut the top!
6. Furring the top is pretty straightforward. You want furring around the whole top, to both the front and back of the taps, and you want to leave one edge open where the drip pan is to slide out. Cut those pieces to length and drill and countersink so the screw heads are below the surface and don't interfere with the stainless top.
7. Use a router to remove enough material on the pieces which collar the tap columns. We also used the router to rabbet the underside of the edge strips to give a nice reveal where the wood touchs the top of the freezer.
8. Paint the outside edges of the furring strips to match the freezer - we used a glossy white latex.
9. As always, do a dry-fit before using construction adhesive and screwing down the furring.
10. When designing the top, assuming it will be laser, waterjet, or hi-def plasma, then you should probably design in all the fastening holes - it's much faster than drilling them afterwards - especially in stainless. You'll probably want to coutersink the holes after cutting so flathead screws can sit flush. You'll need to use pretty small flatheads if you're using 16 gauge material. We used #1 square drive wood screws to fasten our top to the furring strips.
That's it I believe. Seems like a bit of work, but I think that's the fun part - really making it a nice piece!
Step 8: Enjoy!
Whether you decide to end the process with a working kegererator at Step 6 or you decide to put in some extra design and making time to trick out your kegerator with a slick top you'll be enjoying cold homebrew from the tap in no time at all. Enjoy the process and definitely enjoy the fruits of your labor - CHEERS!!