Saturday, July 14, 2012

Keezer Build

As a frequent homebrewer, I found that I had managed to outgrow my two-tap mini fridge kegerator in the 2 years since I built it.  Since I brew 1-2 times a month, that meant that I had to have (at least) monthly bottling sessions to bottle off what was currently on top to make room for the new stuff.  This was time consuming, and frustrating for both my friends and myself.  "Hey, where'd that good beer from last month go, and what's this crazy thing you've got on tap now?!?!"

So, with that admittedly weak justification, I set off to build myself a five tap keezer (kegerator in a freezer).

Very important first step: Get the wife's permission.  Very important.  Don't forget this step.  I found that persistence pays off, but your mileage may vary :)

Having secured that, I started by measuring deep freezers to make sure I'd have enough room for six kegs.  My goal was to have 5 on draft, and room for a sixth to lager.

I found that my pin-lock kegs have a diameter of 9", so I started looking for freezers that were at least 18" deep and 27" wide.  I found one at Lowe's, a 12.9 cu ft Frigidaire that they had on sale. I didn't care how tall it was, because I knew I'd be adding a wooden collar to it.  This wooden collar sits in between the body of the freezer and the lid.  The taps themselves are drilled through the wood, so that you don't destroy the freezer (as the freezer's cooling coils are in the front wall).

What follows is the work that I wound up doing in order to wind up with the keezer you see above.

1. Take the lid off, and remove the seal.

I put a nail into the hinges on the back of the freezer to prevent them from flying open, and used a ratchet screwdriver to take the hex screws out of both the top and the bottom of the freezer hinge on the back.  Once the lid was free, I took a screwdriver and popped off all the clips that were securing the seal to the lid, and the plastic top to the lid.  You can see here that a keg sitting on the compressor shelf is just a little bit too tall for the freezer in its original condition.
The lid's plastic underside and the seal, set to the side.

2. Paint the lid with chalkboard paint.

I knew that I wasn't going to want to invest in whiteboard or chalkboard tap handles for five taps, and I really liked the look of chalkboard paint.  A quick trip to Lowes later, and I had sandpaper, priming paint, and a quart of chalkboard paint.

Part of the problem with chalkboard paint is that it requires a smooth surface, but the freezer lid had a dimpled surface.  I started by sanding it down as best as I could with a rough grit (60), which turned out to be a very time intensive process.  Unfortunately after quite a bit of sanding, I still had not reduced the dimpling entirely down.  Still, I moved forward with primer paint.

I let that sit overnight, then applied the first coat of chalkboard paint.

This is where I made my first mistake.  I used a standard paint roller, and it left a "spackle" style surface.  You all know the type - the bumpy surface on walls in a house.  As it turns out, I needed a high density foam roller, which I eventually discovered after a significant amount of searching online.  So, yet again, it was time to sand.  This time I used a finer grit (220) in an attempt to get the surface as smooth as possible.

After another day of letting the paint dry, then sanding, I took the foam roller and applied several coats to the surface, and set it aside.  I wound up using the entire quart of the chalkboard paint just on the lid, which means I may have used too much.

3. Prepare the boards for the collar.

I wanted a dark collar, approximately 8" high, and made out of 1x8 wood.  I came to these measurements by looking at how much additional space I would need to fit kegs with clearance on top of the compressor shelf, and by the assumption that I wouldn't want 2" thickness because of the additional weight it would add.

I picked up some Aspen wood and cut it into a frame shape.

Next, I took a jigsaw and cut out a 2.5" x 2.5" inch hole in the front piece so that I could mount a digital thermometer. I then stained the wood with a dark mahogany stain.  I really like the look this gave the wood.

After letting that dry for a day, I applied polyurethane to the boards to seal them.  This is where I made my second and third mistakes.  The second mistake was that I should have sanded down the boards after I stained them, as the stain raised the grain slightly.  The other mistake was that I used too much polyurethane, and I didn't notice where it ran down to the underside of the board and pooled.

To correct both of these mistakes, I took some 220 grit (fine) sandpaper and gave the whole boards a wet sand.  I also took a razor blade and sliced off the bumps where the poly had pooled.  Once that was done, I applied a final coat of polyurethane.

Once that had dried, I took a couple pieces of paper and built a guide for where the taps would go.  I wound up placing the taps in the exact vertical center, shifted slightly to the right horizontally (to make room for the thermometer), and spaced exactly 4" apart.  Once I had measured and marked my guide, I drilled pilot holes at the center location for each spot.  I followed that by using a 7/8" hole bit, using my pilot holes as guides.  One thing I found that helped was to go about halfway through from one side, then flip the board over and meet in the middle from the other side.  This prevents it from exploding the board outward when you punch all the way through.

4. With my boards prepared, I need to frame them up.  I wound up using the base of the freezer itself to make sure I had the correct positioning.  I used a strong professional grade sealant to make the seals, and then clamped the boards together to cure overnight.  I also screwed in corner brackets in each corner to make sure the corners stayed square.

Once that had dried, I placed the collar on the underside of the freezer lid and repeated the process, gluing the plastic underside of the freezer lid to the top of the freezer and the freezer lid to the collar.  I made my next pair of mistakes here - I should have made sure the chalkboard paint had fully dried before I did this, and I also should have used bigger boards on the top side of the freezer as locations for the clamps.  What these two mistakes caused was a slight pinching of the two sides of the freezer lid together, and the chalkboard paint on the top stuck to the boards I used under the clamps, causing some imperfections on the paint when I popped the boards off.
From there, I bought foam insulation and cut it to fit the inside.  I secured the insulation in place on each side with the same glue, and clamped them into place.  I also mounted a small digital thermometer that measured temperature and humidity to the hole on the front, securing it with glue.  

You can also see here the hole in the back of the lid where the power for the fan and the probe for the temperature control will be run.

Once that had dried, and the freezer lid was secured to the collar, I ran a bead of silicon caulk around all of the seals.  This meant everything from where the foam met the wood to where the wood met the freezer lid.  As that was drying, I located the seal that I'd originally taken off the freezer lid and secured it to the underside of the collar I'd built, essentially turning the whole thing into a large freezer lid.

5. Affix the taps and run the lines.

I found that it was easier to run the lines with the lid off, as it kept me from working while upside down.  So I took the 5 Perlick 525 SS faucets and the 3.25" stainless steel shanks I bought from Farmhouse Brewing Supply and screwed them into location.  The 7/8" holes I had drilled allowed for a squeaky tight fit - I had to actually thread the shanks through to get them through the holes, and they secured tightly into place.

Next, I picked up 30 feet of 3/8" inner diameter vinyl tubing, and cut it into six foot sections.  I secured one end of each piece to the tailpiece of each shank, and held it into place with a 1/4" hose clamp that I tightly screwed down.  I ran each line across the top of the underside of the lid, and secured them to the back of the lid with a pair of O-rings and a velcro strap running between them.  Basically I created a velcro loop to hold them against the back, which keeps them out of the way when opening and closing the lid.  The other end of each of the lines was secured to a barbed pin-lock liquid post, and again secured with hose clamps.

On the gas side, I already had a 5 gallon CO2 tank and regulator, but I needed a six port manifold.  This was so that the one tank could keep all six kegs carbonated and at serving pressure.  Technically I only needed 5, but I decided to get the sixth port in case I ever wanted to add a sixth tap.

Again, Farmhouse came through for me with the necessary parts, and I hooked up the manifold to my regulator using the gas hose I bought from them at the same time.  Then I hooked five feet of gas line to each of the six barbed check valves and hooked the other end to barbed gas-in pin-lock posts.  As before, I secured both ends tightly with hose clamps.

Now that I had the gas and liquid lines ran, I re-attached the lid to the freezer itself.  Essentially I just flipped it over to be upright, set it on the freezer, and re-attached the hinges.  The weight of the lid was holding the seal onto the freezer body appropriately, and it all aligned flush.

6. Finish up.

I mounted a temperature controller to the side of the collar, and ran the probe through the hole in the back.  I also ran power in through this hole to a fan, designed to keep the air flowing throughout the freezer (keep a consistent temperature between top and bottom).  I mounted the fan to the rear of the collar using a L-shaped shelving bracket, so that it was suspended out and pointed down.

I also taped the probe from the temperature controller to a bottle of water. This was so that the temperature controller wouldn't cycle as frequently.  I wanted to make sure the compressor didn't burn out, and the water bottle would allow the controller to not read temperature changes quite as quickly - thus not turn on and off as much.

Next, I took some heavy duty double-sided adhesive tape and mounted three more mounting brackets to the front of the freezer, under the taps.  Part of the reason I only spaced the taps 4" apart originally was so that the total width was 16", and would be compressed together enough that I could use my existing 19" drip tray under them.  I secured the drip tray to the shelving brackets using velcro on both side.

While this was going on, I took a keg and filled it with sanitizer.  I then ran sanitizer through each of the taps, running out anything that would have gotten into the lines.

Finally, I took a piece of chalk and "seasoned" the chalkboard paint by running the chalk across all of the paint.  I let that sit for a few minutes, then took the eraser and erased as much as I could.  This also served to give the top an even appearance, and have the chalk dust compress into some of the crevices caused by my imperfect paint job.

7.  Enjoy.

I had a keg cold from my old kegerator, so I moved it over, hooked it up, and poured myself a beer to celebrate.  I'd earned it.

Lessons learned (things I could have done better):
1. Take your time.  I tried to get everything done in one week, and I really should have given the paint and polyurethane more time to dry.  Due to my impatience, I wound up with some imperfections.
2. The right tool for the job is very important.  I wound up cutting the wood for the collar with a jigsaw, because that's all I had.  This caused very uneven cuts, and I had to spend a lot of time sanding it down.
3. Don't buy a thermometer sight unseen.  What I really should have done is gotten one with a temperature probe that was separate.  This one is all one piece, with vents on the inside that I assumed would read the internal temperature.  But, where it's mounted reads about 10 degrees too warm.  I'm guessing this is due to the ambient room temperature where it's exposed to the monitor face, even though there's no air vent on that side.
4. Give plenty of thought to where you're going to mount everything before it's too late.  The kegerator is now completed, and foam sealed all the way around, but I didn't make a spot to attach the CO2 manifold and I did a poor job of mounting the fan - it should be more centered to help with airflow.
5. Read the right way to do it BEFORE you do it.  I should have done a better job reading about staining and polyurethaning.  With that said - I was able to find a ton of tutorials online that helped me clean up my mistakes.

Even with these minor issues, I'm proud of what I built.  The wife was even impressed.  I believe her exact comment was "Wow!  It even looks professional!"  A buddy of mine came over, not knowing I'd built it, and stopped talking in mid-sentence to just stare at it.  That was a pretty cool feeling.

I spent a chunk of change on this build, but I firmly believe the enjoyment and educational value I've already gotten out of it was well worth it.  The techniques and tools I learned while making this will pay off in a number of other projects around the house.  Plus, I feel I should be able to more than recoup my investment if I ever decide to sell it.  This is by far the biggest project I've ever undertaken around the house, and it took a good 30+ hours of manual labor to see it through (not to mention the 10+ hours tracking down parts, techniques, and figuring out my design).

Worth it.


  1. Paul "Impressive"
    Jeanine "Money"

  2. Thanks guys :)

    You're more than welcome to come sample next time you make it through these parts.

  3. How did you handle the wire going into the lid for the built in light? Does the freezer have any issues with that wire removed?

  4. If I recall correctly, I just disconnected the wire from the light when I had the lid taken apart. It hasn't caused any issues - the whole seam around the lid was glued to the collar, and then sealed with silicon, and then foam board put in place, so it's a solid seal all the way around.