Inexpensive Food Dehydrator With Recycled Parts




This instructable is designed to save you money and be friendly to the environment by reusing parts and scraps you already have laying around. Food dehydrators can save you money because you can preserve the food so that it lasts longer. You can use it to dry your own herbs or fruit for trail mixes, granola or for long term storage. You can even use them to make fruit rollups. And think how much money you can save by making your own beef jerky!

If you grow a garden, you know that what you grow tastes much better than what you can buy in the store. But you also know that sometimes you can't eat all that you produce. So why not use a dehydrator to preserve that valuable food you put so much time and effort to grow? And you can enjoy your garden produce year round!

So let's get started.

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Step 1: Tools and Supplies

Here is a list of the tools that I used for this project:

Table Saw
Nail gun
Air Compressor
Scroll Saw
Measuring tape
Utility Knife
Drill Bits

A lot of the supplies I already had on hand. You can probably also find enough parts from what you have lying around, or from what most people are just willing to give away.

1 80mm computer fan
12 volt AC Adapter
1 Lava lamp base (substitute night-light(s) or Christmas lights)
4 BBQ wire trays (Measured 8 1/2" x 14")
1-2 Cedar fence planks
White Bead Board
Small clear acrylic sheet (Measured 12" x 8 1/2")
18 Gauge 5/8" Brad Nails
18 Gauge 1" Brad Nails
2 Small door hinges
1 Small knob
Aluminum Foil

Step 2: Cutting the Pieces for the Frame

The size of this dehydrator was built around the trays that I found at a local dollar store. The dehydrator dimensions are listed, but you may have to alter them based on the size of food trays that you can find (or make).

For the frame of the box, I used an extra cedar fence plank that I had lying around. You can also use square dowels if you don't have fence planks, but the fence plank will probably be less expensive (but you will have to do more cutting).

Take the fence plank and cut it into the following pieces on the table saw:

Four 11" x 1/2" x 3/4" posts for the four corners of the box
Four 16 1/4" x 1/2" x 3/4" horizontal cross beams for the front and back portions of the box
Four 7 3/4" x 1/2" x 3/4" horizontal cross beams for the left and right sides of the box
Eight 7 3/4" x 1/2" x 1 1/2" boards to hold the trays on the left and right sides.

See Fig.1

Step 3: Making the Front and Back Portions of the Frame

Take two of the 11" posts and two of the 16 1/4" horizontal cross beams and arrange them on the ground or workbench in the shape of a rectangle with the posts on the left and right sides and the horizontal cross beams on the top and bottom. Instead of affixing the bottom cross beam exactly flush with the bottom of the posts, I left about 1/8" because I planned to have a small gap at the bottom to allow air from the dehydrator to vent out. Once you have the boards arranged in a rectangle, it is a good idea to use a clamp to hold them in place. See Fig.2

Use a nail gun with 1" brads and put two brads in each corner of the rectangle.

Once you have completed the rectangle that will be the front or back of the box we are building, use the remaining two 11" posts and 16 1/4" cross beams and repeat this step so you have an identical rectangle for the other side.

Step 4: Putting the Frame Together

Now that you have the front and back rectangles completed, you will need to connect them to make the box frame.

Take the four 7 3/4" x 1/2" x 3/4" cross beams for the left and right sides and use the nail gun with 1" brads to affix them perpendicularly to the four corners of the rectangles that you built in Step 2. Use two brads for each corner. You should now have a rectangular box. See Fig.3

Step 5: Adding the Tray Holder Boards

The eight tray holder boards should still be remaining. They are wider than the left and right cross beams so that they can hold the trays inside the dehydrator.

Measure 3" from the bottom of the front left post and make a mark with a pencil. Repeat this 3 more times for the rear left, front right and rear right posts. This will mark where you will place the top of the bottom tray holder.

Measure 2" above these marks again on all four corners (should be 5" from the bottom). Repeat this 8 more times so you have four marks on all four corners which are 2" apart and the bottom one is 3" from the base.

Using these pencil marks, wedge in the eight tray holder boards into place on the left and right sides. Then use the nail gun with 1" brads and put four brads in each tray holder (2 on the front and 2 on the back) for a total of 32 nails.

Your rectangular box should now have tray holders on the left and right sides and will look like Fig.4

Step 6: Cutting the Panels

Use wood paneling or white bead board and the table saw and cut 5 panels into the following sizes:

Front door: 17 1/2" x 10 1/4"
Back panel: 17 1/2" x 10 3/4"
Top panel: 17 1/2" x 9 1/4"
Left panel: 9 1/4" x 10 3/4"
Right panel: 9 1/4" x 10 3/4"

Notice that I did not put a panel on the bottom. This serves two purposes: 1) it allows air to flow out of the dehydrator and 2) any mess made by drippings are easy to clean up by simply moving the dehydrator and wiping up the surface under the dehydrator.

Fig.5 shows the panels for the dehydrator

Step 7: Attach Aluminum Foil to Inside of Panels

Tear off 5 sheets of aluminum foil in pieces slightly larger than the panels you created in Step 5. See Fig.6a. The foil will help reflect the light and heat in the dehydrator.

Squeeze glue onto the back side of one of the panels. See Fig.6b

Press the aluminum foil onto the glued side of the panel. See Fig.6c

Repeat this for the remaining 4 panels.

Use a utility knife to trim the excess foil.

Step 8: Light and Air Holes

The dehydrator will be heated by a lava lamp that I had. I decided not to remove the light bulb and wiring from the lava lamp and affix it to the dehydrator so that I could still use the lava lamp :)

Use a pencil and trace the lava lamp and the 80mm computer fan evenly spaced and centered on the top panel (the one measuring 17 1/2" x 9 1/4").

Use a drill with large bits (2", 1", 3/4" and 5/8") to drill holes into the panel. The holes will allow heat and light from the lamp as well as air from the fan to circulate in the dehydrator.

Some of the aluminum foil on the under side of the panels may peel away. Just be careful that it doesn't peel too much away.

See Fig.7

Step 9: The Door Panel

On the door panel (the one measuring 17 1/2" x 10 1/4"), use a pencil to mark where the corners of the clear acrylic window will be placed. Since I had a couple small scraps of plastic measuring 12" x 8 1/2" (combined), I made my marks at:

Top left: 2 3/4" inwards and 3/4" downwards (from top left)
Bottom left: 2 3/4" inwards and 9 1/4" downwards (from top left)
Top right: 14 3/4" inwards and 3/4" downwards (from top left)
Bottom right: 14 3/4" inwards and 9 1/4" downwards (from top left)

With the pencil and a ruler, draw connecting lines from each marking.

Now draw a smaller rectangle on the inside of the larger rectangle you just drew measuring at least 3/8" smaller on all sides. The outer rectangle marks where the edge of the acrylic sheet will be placed and the inner rectangle will be cut away. (The acrylic sheet will overlap on the door panel allowing you to secure it to the panel).

In the corners of the inner rectangle that you drew, drill 4 holes. See Fig.8a

Remove the blade from a scroll saw. Insert the scroll saw blade into one of the four drilled holes and reattach to the scroll saw. Use the saw to cut along the inner rectangle. The purpose of this cut is to make a window in the front door panel to be covered by the clear acrylic sheet. See Fig.8b

Step 10: The Door Panel Window

Glue around the edges of the window on the front door panel. Clamp the clear acrylic sheet just over the window. Let the glue dry. See Fig.9

When the glue is dry, drill pilot holes in the corners of the acrylic sheet and use screws to affix it to the front door panel. Do not tighten the screws too much or you will break the acrylic sheet.

Step 11: Attaching the Panels to the Frame

Use the nail gun with 5/8" brads to attach the panels to their appropriate places on the framed box. Use at least 8 brads on each panel (corners and middle areas of the sides). Do not nail the front door panel to the dehydrator.

See Fig.10

Step 12: Attaching the Door

Screw in the two door hinges to the top corners on the front side of the dehydrator's frame. Then attach the door panel to the hinges. Drill a pilot hole in the middle of the bottom side on the front door panel and attach the knob. The door panel should open upward.

See Fig.11

Step 13: Adding the Light and Fan

Attach the computer fan to the top panel on the dehydrator just over the holes you drilled in step 7. See Fig.12a.

Attach or place the lava lamp base just over the other holes on the top of the dehydrator. See Fig.12b.

Step 14: Finished!

Open the dehydrator door and slide the food trays into place. See Fig.13. You are now ready to dry food. This is my first instructable. I hope you like it. Your comments are appreciated.

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    62 Discussions


    Question 1 year ago

    How can i contract a fire wood food dryer

    could you use a heat gun with a dimmer switch attached instead of a plug then to a plug ? then map the temps with a thermometer i will give it a try


    4 years ago on Step 14

    Should the fan be blowing air in, or forcing air out? TIA


    6 years ago on Step 14

    Interesting, I make jerky every year at Christmas ans spend too much time with my store bought model and cant find the proper size trays. Using some of your plans I think I will make a larger unit. You did not mention a drip tray to collect drips and of course clean up


    10 years ago on Introduction

    How do you regulate the temperature? Meat should be dried at 165 F, but veggies and herbs are much less? Also, if you're meat doesn't dehydrate fast enough, it can spoil? I have many designs for a home dehydrator, but I just can't seem to come up with a simple one that will regulate the temp.

    15 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Good question. I agree that when drying meat it is important to make sure the meat doesn't spoil. My solution is to use a simple thermometer to monitor the temperature and then add or subtract lights as necessary. This can be done easily with a string of Christmas lights or night-lights on a power strip. However, I think it is important to remember that drying food using the sun and wind to prevent spoilage has been known since ancient times. The process has been around much longer than there has been technology to regulate temperature. I've read that fruit should be dried at about 135 F. I don't think that drying fruit in ancient times was only accomplished on days where the temperature reached that high. As anybody who has been exposed to a period of constant wind can attest, the airflow alone plays an important role in removing moisture content. The fan on this box provides constant air flow. It would be easy to add more if needed. I posted a photo below of some apples and bananas that I dried that turned out great and I know that the temperature did not reach 135 F. Thanks for your comment!

    I've read that the sun has an anti-bacterial effect, would this be why meat could be dried in old times without spoiling? Also, if dry your fruits and veg at temperatures below 140 farenheit or 60 degrees C, the vitamin and enzyme content in them is preserved... great health tip!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm highly aware of the history of dehydration, however, the life span of modern man far exceeds that of our ancient brethren, due to basic knowledge of things such as this. I'm sure your banana's didn't spoil, but then again, you can't let meat sit in a basket on your counter for 4 days either. I would make it a point to note that 165 degrees is mandatory for the successful dehydration of meat. I'd hate to see a 13 year old build one of these and then die of ecoli. Any factory bought dehydrator strictly says that all meats should be dried at 165 degrees which the FDA mandates they display that. Airflow alone is not enough successfully kill off bacteria.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm going to roast a whole pig in a pit wanna come? In all sincerity, I've done some research lately and there is a product called "Sodium Natured" Has a few Brand names Quick Cure and Fast Cure also but it's purpose is to in some way cure the meat something like salting was used for hundreds of years to cure the meat. Only this is supposed to do it real fast,and not have to salt it for several weeks. You only use a small portion and mix with water. If your interested I could send you some more into. I'm not trying to stir something up here shmacky just thought you might be interested. Ken


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Ken, (AKA old timer), I actually use Morton Tenderquick, I bought a huge bag a couple years ago that seems will last me a lifetime. You may want to post links for our instructable friends, but I'm kewl as far as that goes. Good luck with the pig. May I suggest digging a 3 foot hole in the ground and build a fire until you get about 12 inches of hot coals. Then put 6 inches of packed dirt over the coals. Then wrap that pig in layers of grape leaves, drop it in the hole, then bury the rest of that will dirt level to the surface. Did it up 24 hours later for an amazing treat. Children will look up to you, women will want you, and men will want to be you.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I lived almost 50 years in Alaska and I have eaten the Natives dried salmon, I will guarantee is is not "Cooked" at 165F and it will last a lot more than 4 days on the counter too. I appreciate what the Gov't does for us but sometimes I think they are so smart that they ignore what people have done and lived on for centuries. I'm not trying to pick a fight but have we become so sanitary that we can't pick a piece of food off the floor, dust it off and then eat it or must we throw it away. What a waste, Go to a country that hasn't enough food and see if they will eat jerky that was only 100F. I might also add that our ancient brother did not have modern medicine to extend their life spans.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Fish and meat are not the same thing. Also, salmon can be eaten raw. And I would have thought that in your late age that there is no such thing as waste when you recycle...


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I have good news for you kid. Fire was discovered some time after the first mammal was eaten. I used to pick a piece of hamburger off before it went into the pan and eat it raw.I learned that from my mom who learned it from her dad who had many restaurants. Many Many people eat their steaks or prime rear very rear. You know less than 165F. People have become so sterlized merely by watching TV.. How many people would have begun turning their steaks and hamburgers into charcoal before Jack in the Box made some one sick? Even then the meat was bad or it would never have happened. PS do you consider 62 old. If you do, you have something even more to learn. Isn't finally learning something great?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Old Timer, I have great news for you, Fire was discovered long after the first mammal was eaten, in the appendix is where raw meat was once digested, over time we have evolved to not need it. I don't speak opinionated, I speak enducated. Raw meat can be eaten and digested, I do it all the time, however, raw meat sitting in a 100 degree box for ten hours is ideal conditions for starting a bacteria farm. It's basically a petre dish with a catalyst. Again, this is not my opinion. In conclusion, I'm done arguing with you, that was not my objective, I just don't like to play the meat lottery. And yes, I do consider you an old, old man.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Kid lol I just thought of something neither of us discussed and that is how thick the meat/jerky is sliced. Obviously a thick piece of meat would decay just as in the petre dish you mentioned. However a thin piece with lots of air moving across it will dry fast enough to not allow spoilage. We both know that because that's how dehydrators work. Just as a point of interest,if you are interested the way Alaska natives dry their fish is they make diagonal slices on the meat then slice it into strips probably three quarter of an inch square but not all the way off at the tail but leaving it attached at the tail. They then hang it across an bunch of small horizontal tree's tied to a couple of upright vertical trees. They make 4 or 5 of these "H" arrangements in a row about 18" apart, then cover it with plastic sheeting on top. They then build a small fire under it and continually feed wet wood on the fire. Not much heat is generated as the sides are all open. It does however add a smoke flavor. But the primary job of the smoke is keeping the fly off of the meat. Jerky is made the same way. Some time later I'll tell you about a Village that decided to make an age old dish known as "Stink Head" with disastrous results because they used a modern utensil instead of the age old utensil. Till Later "Headache" PS whata ya say we call a truce?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Kid, That cracks me up, I make 75K a year and have 2 children, but I like the spin on that. However, I will end with this. I am going to make my own large dehydrator/smoker. It will have a fan, a heat source, a thermometer, and a regulator. That is the proper way to ensure safety. I don't like to take chances, especially in the days of hormone fed animals, food recalls, and mexican fruits and vegetables, and that is the advice that I pass on to the younger, inexperienced generations. After all, experience is just a fancy term for the fact that you've made mistakes and learned from them. Tis smarter to learn from someone elses mistakes than to repeat them. Because as a wise man once said, if you don't learn history, it is destined to repeat itself. Shmacktastick.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Ok I've tried to be nice but you don't seem to be interested. I wish you the best. Old Timer and proud of it.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    All I am saying is people are and have eaten raw or meerly dried salted/meat for centuries. I see we both agree that fire was discovered after men had begun eating meat. It is not my desire to argue either guess we will just have to agree to disagree. My friend you will be my age sooner than you think, then see if 62 is old. I wish you the best and am sure you will actually learn a few things by experience rather than what a book say. Good day.