False Profit Labs built itself a wood-powered on-beach hot tub as a side project. After all the blowingstuffup that we do, we decided that we needed break.
Basically, we took an inflatable hot tub out to the Ocean Beach here in San Francisco, filled it with salty ocean water, built a bonfire, set a heat exchanger up on top of the fire, and pumped the saltwater through the exchanger until we had a nice, hot tub to lounge around in.
Here's how we did it!
Note: Thanks to our photographer friend Loren for taking some pictures at the beach. The well-lit nighttime photos are his. Naomi Dabby took our intro photo, below, at Priceless.
Step 1: Build the Heat Exchanger
The heat exchanger is basically a coil of copper tubing that spirals up the inside a vertical chimney. We're trying to get as much heat from the fire as possible, including the hot air and smoke that rises up from it.
We made our heat exchanger out of 3/4 inch tubing, various fittings for the ends, and 12" diameter cylindrical sheet metal duct. The whole thing ended up being about six feet tall. Click through the photos to see the exchanger under construction. Whit coiled the tubing, stuffed it up into the duct, and then brazed the connections onto the ends.
Whit says the copper got work-harded as he coiled it, so that first step was more annoying (and resulted in a less-regular coil) than we expected. But it worked just fine.
Step 2: Mount It on a Frame
Next, we welded the heat exchanger onto a frame that would sit neatly on top of a bonfire. Brett donated an old steel end table that gave us the basic shape. Ben cut a hole in the top with an oxyacetylene torch, welded angle iron to the legs for stability in the wind, and then welded the exchanger on top.
The whole contraption made resembled some sort of crazed steampunk sleigh. In the last photo, Ben demonstrates the "crazed" part.
Step 3: Head to the Beach!
Get your Materials together and go. Photos of the other pieces of the puzzle are below: An inflatable hot tub, a small generator to power our pump, the pump, and a bunch of hose to hook everything up.
We brought a bunch of firewood, too, of course. We stuff everything into a couple cars and headed over to the beach around sunset.
Step 4: Fill Your Tub With Ocean Water
The photos on this step show what should have happened: We'd pump ocean water into our hot tub.
In actuality, we hit the beach at low tide and the water line was more than 200' from where we were allowed to build bonfires. Our hoses wouldn't reach, and we were worried about our pump choking on sand.
Thus did a saga of bucket-hauling begin. It took six of us a few hours to hump 200-300 gallons up the beach to our hot tub. We used big buckets, coolers, etc.
Next time we'll figure out how to use a pump, because... damn. This step definitely made the eventual soaking in the hot tub that much more awesome, however.
Step 5: Bonfire!
Next, we set up the heat exchanger and built a nice big fire underneath it. We had to make sure to get our water running before the fire got going. Otherwise, the exchanger would get absurdly hot, and we didn't want to risk our fittings melting off or the tubing itself getting slagged.
Note that our exchanger would have worked better if it had some partial windscreens on the sides of the frame. A lot of the heat was getting blown out from under the exchanger, so we would periodically add sheets of plywood to block some of the wind. The plywood would continually burn, of course, so it was a bit of a chore to keep adding more.
On the plus side, the water in hot tub was getting warmer by the minute. The stuff coming out of the exchanger was scalding hot!
Step 6: Explain Yourself to the Authorities
As you can imagine, our steampunk-sleigh-electric-generator-inflatable-hot-tub contraption attracted some attention. It wasn't long before a ranger cautiously approached to ask us what the hell we were up to.
Brett was ready for him, though, armed with a stack of printouts on beach usage regulations and email correspondence with various bureaucrats discussing said regulations. He unleashed a torrent of minutiae at the ranger, somehow still maintaining total politeness.
The ranger, bewildered, simply said, "Look, I just want to know that you're not going to try to use that inflatable thing as a raft."
"Ah," we said, "No."
He was satisfied with that, so our hottubbing was on!
We didn't take a picture of the alarmed ranger, for obvious reasons. The photo below is by Flickr user psychofish (Some Rights Reserved).
Step 7: Enjoy!
The pictures tell it all. We spent an hour or two soaking in the hot, hot water (we got it up to 104 degrees!)