How to install a ball valve and thermometer in your brewpot using a weldless fitting…

There are a lot of options out there for brew pots. They range from very inexpensive aluminum turkey fryers up to the Rolls Royce quality Blichmann brew pots. For those of you that have the cash to lay out for the good ones, congratulations! For the rest of us, we may need to get a little crafty. My first brew pot, which I still use, is a 7.5 gallon stainless steel turkey fryer I got from Bass Pro Shops for $99.99, on sale. It even came with a propane burner which, with some modifications, I still use when I’m brewing outside. The existing spigot wasn’t anything I could use for brewing, but it already had the pre-drilled hole which made things easy. With a little work I changed it to a weldless 1/2″ stainless ball valve from Homebrewstuff.com. All I had to do was take a file and enlarge the hole to accommodate the new bulkhead fitting.

After much research and debate about what kind of pot I should get next in order to increase my brewing capacity, I bought a 15.5 gallon Bayou Classic Stainless Steel Pot from Canadian Treasure Seekers for $200 after tax. (they offer free shipping in Canada which is why I went with them, instead of dealing with potential import duties and crazy shipping charges from south of the border) I thought it might be a fairly thin walled pot like my 5 gallon one, but it’s actually not bad. It’s not the optimum, double walled, thick gauged bottom like some of the better brewing pots, but so far it’s worked great, and as long as I give things a stir every once on a while, I haven’t seen any scorching whatsoever. Only thing is, it doesn’t have a spigot installed. So off I go into the workshop to see how I can remedy that. I also received a nice gift from my sister & brother in law for my birthday; a 3” Stainless Thermometer with 2.5” probe! So I’ll be installing that as well. Thanks guys!

I was a little concerned abut drilling through stainless steel because I deal with it at work, and it can be a real pain in the butt to get through. As with anything, you just need to have the right tools for the job. After researching, I decided that using a step drill would be the best option. I looked around and most of them either don’t go up to the 7/8″ size I need, or are at least $69.00 each! I instead picked up a cheap Mastercraft 3 piece step drill set at Canadian Tire for the outrageous price of $9.19! It usually retails for $41.99, but apparently it goes on sale quite often, so if you need a set and you’re not in a rush, keep checking your local Canadian Tire store for it to go on sale. The largest bit goes up to 3/4″, but I can just use a file to round out the last few points.

When you’re drilling through stainless steel, there are a few important guidelines you need to follow:

  1. Mark your center with a center punch to prevent drifting
  2. use a little oil to prevent burning
  3. Use a sharp drill bit
  4. drill slowly

Follow these few simple rules, and you should be fine.

First, measure out where exactly you want to drill your holes. For the ball valve, take into consideration how much trub and hot/cold break you’ll have left in the kettle on average. I chose to drill mine 1.75″ up from the bottom of the pot, and this position seems to work well for my setup. I don’t use an immersion chiller, so I imagine I end up with less break material in the pot, so keep this in mind for your setup. For the thermometer; measure out where your lowest water level will be, where your ball valve and handle are positioned, and where the full face of the thermometer will sit. (In this post I will show drilling the hole for the thermometer as I have already drilled a hole for the ball valve.) Remember, measure twice, cut once. In fact, measure 5 times before you cut and then double check by holding the fittings in place to see how things sit. You don’t want to screw up your expensive brew pot!!

 

Using a center punch, mark where the hole will be with a mild tap of a hammer. This keeps the drill bit centered and prevents it from sliding around.

 

 

 

Next, add a little bit of oil to keep the bit lubricated and prevent it from burning. (any oil will do, I used grapeseed oil) NOTE:  I first drilled a 1/8″ pilot hole to get things started.

 

 

Now, the step drill will locate easily in the pilot hole. Drill slowly while at the same time adding some pressure. The bit should cut step by step as it goes. Take your time, stopping to let things cool if necessary. Add more oil as needed.

 

 

 

In the end, you should have a nice, even hole.

 

 

 

** Be sure to clean up all the little bits of stainless so you don’t track it all over the house and so your children or pets don’t cut themselves on it.

This step drill only goes up to 3/4″ and we need 13/16″ for the bulkhead. A regular circular file and a little elbow grease will open it up the extra 1/16″. Just try to apply even pressure as you go around to keep the hole circular otherwise you’ll end up with an odd shape that may cause sealing problems with your gasket.

Do the same thing for your ball valve opening, if you haven’t already, and you should end up with two holes like this:

Now, you just have to assemble your weldless thermometer and weldless ball valve (be sure to wrap teflon tape on all threaded parts to prevent any minor leaks:

Tighten everything up, and there you have it! Brew on!

Cheers!

9 Responses to How to install a ball valve and thermometer in your brewpot using a weldless fitting…

  1. Pingback: Your Questions About Does Pot Noodle Work | Gluten Free Guide

  2. Jeff,
    The description of your process was excellent. When I made one last year it was exactly as you mentioned. The slight difference was that I used soap as the drill lubricant. Then I filed the hole to fit and sanded it smooth to make sure the washers were not damaged. Really, anyone could do it.

    B

    • Cheers Brent!
      I agree, it was pretty darn easy once I got into it. Like everything, if you have the right tools, you’re set.
      Good call on the dish soap, I forgot that is a good option as well….

  3. I was wondering what you’ve done for a pickup on the inside of your brew kettle. While I’ve got process issues to deal with, I’m having terrible hop trub issues and I’m not sure how others with similar kettles have addressed them.
    Aaron

    • Hey Aaron, thanks for stopping by!
      As of yet, I haven’t installed any pick up tube as I haven’t needed it.
      Question, do you use and Irish moss or whirlfloc tabs in the boil? and second, do you ‘whirlpool’ your wort at the end?
      If you use an immersion chiller, it might be a little trickier, but still doable.
      I have a counter flow chiller, so what I do is at the end of the boil, I stir the pot to get a good solid swirl going (being careful not to aerate it too much)and then put the lid on, let it settle for 10 mins, then start to chill. Works fine every time. At the end, I place a plate or something under the pot to tilt it to get the last bit of wort, but works well so far.
      What’s your process & set up like?
      Cheers,
      Jeff

  4. Great writeup! I am interested in doing this with my Keggles and have a couple of questions. As stated I’m wanting to do this, but I brew in keggles so would there be any difference in instructions since a keggles exterior wall is aluminum? If so, could you give me some pointers on where to get started with this process.

    • Hey Richard, cheers!
      Aluminum Keggles you say? hmm, I’ve only ever seen stainless steel ones, but if they are in fact aluminum, it’ll be even easier as it’s a softer metal. The big thing is to drill slowly and with some kind of lubricant, be it oil or dish soap. If things get too hot, just stop and let it cool down. Oh, and be sure that your bits are sharp or you’ll have a hell of a time!
      If they turn out to be stainless steel, it’ll be trickier as I’m sure they’ll be harder than my pot, but again use sharp bits and go slowly, hopefully it won’t be too much trouble for you.
      Good luck!
      Jeff

  5. I think this is a great idea, my question is could you put a false bottom in this and use as a mash tun? How would you get around the thermometer probe or ball valve on the inside?

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