Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

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Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Tue May 15, 2018 7:22 pm

Hi community!

I have a couple of 12 gallon bucket/barrel ferment vessels that I've picked up a wrap heating kit with a thermostat and controller for. It came with the little thermostat and I need a thermowell because otherwise it just attaches to the side, and I want the temp to be sensing from inside my wash.

Typical thermowells all come with stoppers, which I don't use, and is so unnecessary for my application, and they're also only 15" long. I want something longer. So I'm hoping someone might help who has knowledge of, well, steel and metal/metalwork/plumbing?

So here's a link (I'm not selling this, I'm using it for reference) to my 'reference' thermowell:
https://www.amazon.com/The-Weekend-Brew ... 2FZ1JQ19CM

It has a .274" inside diameter.

Here is what I'm considering buying:
Stainless Steel 304L Seamless Round Tubing, 3/8" OD, 0.277" ID, 0.049" Wall, 36" Length

It's inside diameter is enough to take my probe with some extra space. My probe is just under .25", and the 3ft length is just what I'm looking for to dip down into my deep 12 gallon ferment vessels. I thought I would either bend shut and seal off with a dab of silicon or something food safe the bottom end. Is the thickness of this considered stainless steel tube a barrier for my use, will it transmit temperature fine to my probe as a thermowell?


Thanks in advance for any assistance!
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby pfshine » Tue May 15, 2018 10:45 pm

The SS tube will work just fine, you could also use copper tubing. If you can't weld the end of the SS you can solder it shut after cleaning, fluxing and, crimping quickly.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby still_stirrin » Wed May 16, 2018 5:32 am

+1 to what pfshine said.

I used 1/4” soft copper tubing for thermowells on my stillhead. Crimped and soldered shut. The copper material is a very good heat conductor so the temperature reading reacts very quickly to temperature changes (quite responsive).

You won’t need near the sensitivity in your fermenter as I have on the stillhead. So, which ever material you use will be fine. Use what you have...or, what ever is easiest to work with.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Wed May 16, 2018 6:53 am

Oh man, I'm glad I asked! I have soft 1/4" copper tubing because I needed it when I set up my still. So I don't even need to spend the $22 on this 3ft of stainless. Super!! Thanks pfshine and still_stirrin, I appreciate the tips a lot it saves me a bit of cheddar and I know I can use what I have on hand.

So I don't have a welder or a soldering iron; what's the best and food-safest (mash safe) way for me to seal up the other end of the copper tube? Could I maybe squeeze it flat with pliers with a bit of a rolled 'wad' of plumbing/teflon tape in that end (squeezing on the teflon pad I make), and then 'roll' it up tight like a toothpaste tube?
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby still_stirrin » Wed May 16, 2018 7:14 am

Get a torch, a small roll of solder and some water-based flux. Tools are always a wise investment. Do your builds proper.

Trying to “cheat” when building is just a world of hassle and rework. Build it right...crimp and solder the tip.

Incidently, the thermocouple sensors I have are roughly 3mm in diameter, so they’ll fit inside the 1/4” soft tubing. Obviously, you’ll need tubing large enough so your thermocouple will slide into the homemade thermowell.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby pfshine » Wed May 16, 2018 8:51 am

+1 Stillstirrin

Take that $22 you were gonna spend on the SS tube and get a torch. They are very useful for lots of things not just still building. While rolling it up like toothpaste might work, it might just fill the tube with wash and short your probe. Then you're sol and have to solder it anyway AND buy a new probe, if you can replace it.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Wed May 16, 2018 9:20 am

Any way a soldering iron, or some silicon in the tip (but just the tip, lol) would work as well (either)? I've never used a torch, but I have used a soldering iron and soldered before, and obviously silicon would be incredibly easy to squeeze in there and let dry...

The torch would be kind of next level for me, my handiness quotient is basic plumbing/disassembly and reassembly, installing a new toilet tank or garbage disposal, even some work on a car engine. So if either of those other two would be viable?

Otherwise I guess I'm going to need to figure out how to use a torch, will I need goggles?
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby zach » Wed May 16, 2018 10:05 am

distiller_dresden wrote:or some silicon in the tip (but just the tip, lol) w?



Silicon is not a safe material in your still. You should read the rule 8.

viewtopic.php?f=35&t=5090
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Wed May 16, 2018 10:14 am

Right; this isn't going anywhere near my still or in any step of distillation. This is a thermowell for my fermenting tub because I use large plastic 12 and 15 gallon barrels that are food safe, but typical thermowells are only 15" long. The heat wrap kit I got will heat, but the thermostat sensor I got only has a suction cup, I want the sensor IN the mash, which requires a custom thermowell as 15" ain't getting it down into 15 or 12 gallon deep barrels that are at minimum 3ft tall. So I'm making a 36" thermowell out of 1/4" copper tubing I have left over from assembling my still setup.

My sensor fits perfectly into the tubing and I have a 36" section already cut, so I'm looking for alternatives to a torch to seal the sink/bottom end so that wash doesn't get into it and ruin my sensor. I was asking about a soldering iron, or at simplest silicon. Again, silicon isn't going anywhere near my still.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby still_stirrin » Wed May 16, 2018 10:44 am

distiller_dresden wrote:Any way a soldering iron...would work...? I've never used a torch...would be kind of next level for me...viable?

Otherwise I guess I'm going to need to figure out how to use a torch, will I need goggles?

A soldering iron is for soldering electrical connections. It won't have enough heat (high enough temperature) to melt the lead-free solder for copper pipe/tubing/fittings. You'll need a torch, propane, mapp, or even butane, to get hot enough.

For goodness sake, it's time to get a torch...and learn how to use it. Search Youtube for some "copper sweating" videos...it is really quite easy. Fear not.

Goggles....are you planning on splashing? I suppose proper protective equipment would be good. But, I've never worn goggles when soldering...and I have soldered many, many joints. I used to work as a plumbing contractor in the 70's & early 80's.

Tools, man. You've got to invest in them...especially the ones you'll use again. Go for it.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Wed May 16, 2018 11:09 am

s_s - splashing? Buddy I really appreciate the help and tips, but go with the assumption I have zero idea what you're talking about. You say torch and I'm picturing episodes of car shows where they put the goggles on and spark up the welder and are putting new sheet metal into part of a car they've cut out due to rust destruction.

I have a big propane tank that I use for cooking when I distill. I'm guessing that the torches I get take the little 'camp' propane tanks and if I wanted to use the big one I'd need some kind of down-fit adapter, so it'd be easier to buy the camp stove propane tank. They make torches that are, like, already part and parcel of the tank and everything in a package right? Is that the kind of thing I should get, they have the tank about 10" tall at the bottom, a little gas knob crank handle, and further up it turns into the nozzle of the torch, that what we're talking about?

I have tools; hammers, wrenches, pliers -- all kinds of all these you'd ever need or want. Screwdrivers, socket sets up the wazoo, drivers of course. Couple drills, lots of bits and various other stuff. Like I said there's just a 'line of demarcation' where my tools/handiness level has stopped. It's about at torch/welding, power saws, stuff like that. The torch I think we're talking about though is small, simple enough, and it sounds like I'm not doing the kind of 'welding' I thought you were talking about, I'm more or less heating the copper with an orange or blue flame. I'll check some vids out, read some, but I think I can handle that.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby still_stirrin » Wed May 16, 2018 11:15 am

distiller_dresden wrote:... I'll check some vids out...

Here's one for starters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyVbjDsric4
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Wed May 16, 2018 12:01 pm

So, maybe dumb question... Since I'm not making a 'joint', am I just crimping the end shut hard with pliers, then folding it back against itself, and then soldering shut the barely open little slit of the copper tube?
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby pfshine » Wed May 16, 2018 12:05 pm

A dab of silicone will do, but it would be much better if it were soldered. If you have a gas stove or BBQ, those will get plenty hot to solder that 1/4" copper. You just need solder and flux at that point.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Wed May 16, 2018 1:05 pm

I think I'm going to use silicone inside, up about a 1/2", then squeeze it shut, and since my propane gas burner will work, use that to solder and flux at the crimped shut and bent over little slit. Then it's not only soldered shut, but also inside above there is about a 1/2-1" of silicone sealant. I ordered a tube of aquarium sealant which is 100% food safe and can be submerged for, obviously, extremely long periods of time and has a proven temperature range, as well as the solder and flux I'll need. It arrives Friday, so until then I'm working on smoothing my copper tubing. It's kinda hard to get perfect, which I know is obviously not necessary in the least but...

Damnit, non-diagnosed and not really OCD, but still, OCD... I want it like perfectly straight lol.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby pfshine » Wed May 16, 2018 1:27 pm

Just stick with one way or the other, you can't do both. The silicone will foul the joint and the heat will fry the silicone.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby johnsparrow » Wed May 16, 2018 1:41 pm

zach wrote:
distiller_dresden wrote:or some silicon in the tip (but just the tip, lol) w?



Silicon is not a safe material in your still. You should read the rule 8.

viewtopic.php?f=35&t=5090



It is going in a fermenter.

Some people are pretty quick on the draw here :)
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby zapata » Wed May 16, 2018 5:13 pm

So I'm hoping someone might help who has knowledge of, well, steel and metal/metalwork/plumbing?

Lol, you pretty much described like 80% of our members :)

A soldering GUN of say 100 watts would likely do it, a small soldering iron probably not.

But I'm going to be a bit contrary and suggest you NOT use the copper. It is not unheard of for people to report issues after having copper in their ferments. I won't go so far as to say it's a terrible idea, but I personally wouldn't do it. A lot of copper dissolves readily in acidic wort. Bad things can happen with copper and various nitrogen compounds either excreted by yeast or found in nutrients. If nothing else, that shit is just going to build up in your backset / dunder and who knows what it will do if you eventually want to go infect your super copper backset, or add your dunder straight to your rum a la bucaneer bob.
I vote for stainless. It's foolproof. Copper has too many ?s to me to use in a fermenter. Maybe Google HD search "copper in fermenter" to make up your own mind though, as admittedly I havent given it that much thought because I just wouldn't do it.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Wed May 16, 2018 5:46 pm

Hey zap, I found this excerpt on a normal Google search, so I have ordered my original stainless option:

In a nutshell, drinking water in copper pipes, or boiling wort pre-fermentation in a copper vessel (or with a copper pipe in the boil pot). the amount of water contacting the copper is limited to the time the water is passing through the pipes or boiling in the kettle. The pH is pretty neutral (though it drops as the boil goes on). There's not a lot of contact time, so not a whole lot of copper goes into solution. What small amount does, the yeast take it all out during fermentation. (The copper is a good nutrient for yeast). Using copper in the fermenter or afterwards is during a period of lowered pH and the copper will continue to dissolve into solution as fast or faster than the yeast can consume it. Sulfates in the water will bind with the copper producing copper sulfate, a poison.


I'm glad you chimed in to be contrary! Damn...
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Wed May 16, 2018 9:35 pm

So now that I'm getting the stainless steel tube...

I cancelled the solder and flux, since I don't even know if it was the same for ss as copper, and it's going to be harder to bend and fiddle with ss than the copper. I'm just using the food safe aquarium silicone, it will be much easier and cheaper. I've been reading up on it and the sealant is freaking industrial grade too, so in addition to being food safe and approved for aquarium use, it's also fine for constant submersion in acidic or basic solutions, and durable/guaranteed from -62 to 350F! Stuff is crazy.

Here's what the company says about it -
MEETS SPECIFICATIONS: ASTM C920 Type S, Grade NS, Class 25; TT-S-00230C, TT-S-01543A, MIL-A46106A,
FDA CFR 177.2600, USDA Approved, NSF 51, UL Recognized Component.


It actually meets a military specification lol - "This specification covers three groups of one-part, room-temperature-vulcanizing (RTV), silicone adhesive-sealants which cure to durable, rubber adhesive-sealants upon reaction with moisture in the air." I went on to look up an actual PDF of the huge military terminology of all this and it further codifies that when said silicone adhesive-sealant cures it must withstand ridiculous standards - like the temps the company states, and so on and so forth, which military testing subjects it to. So I'm pretty confident this silicone will keep my sensor safe, I'm just going to squeeze it into the end of the ss tube and let it cure 48 hours.

It only calls for 24, but I'm in no hurry especially. I'll use the suction cup for temp sensing until the thermowell is ready. Once it's cured I'll plier-squeeze shut and bend back against the tube, and re-squeeze, trim excess silicone that 'expresses' from the squeezing without being too aggressive around the end/edges to allow some mushrooming. Unless of course the 0.049" ss is tougher than I am able to squeeze and manipulate with pliers, then it'll just have to do with a 'plug'.

If this sounds still especially like a danger to my sensor - anyone? Seriously, speak up!! I'd also like to thank everyone who's stopped in and shared thoughts and suggestions and advice with me, I really really appreciate it and thank you very much. I love this community!
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby zapata » Thu May 17, 2018 10:19 am

I think the pinching and squeezing post cure may well cause leaks, so make sure you test it. I'd probably pinch before curing while it's still gooey and will conform to the tube.
Or solder it. Gotta learn sometime, right?
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And a standard propane torch from the hardware store or even a solder GUN if you have one. Apply flux inside the tip of tube with a solder brush, maybe a bit on the outside too. Crimp shut. Cut off a length of solder as long as the crimp. Drop it in the pipe. Heat pipe just above crimp, moving flame around until the flux sizzles and solder is visible flowing out of the crimp. Let cool and clean thoroughly. Then you'll be able to solder any copper or stainless joints in your future...
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Thu May 17, 2018 1:07 pm

Well shit that's a good point on the crimping while curing.

So if I am going to do the weld I need to spend another $40... Hmm. I'll think about it tonight and sleep on it. I can tell you my uses for a soldering gun or torch are going to be limited to none, unless I (torch) want to make some really big or overkill some creme brulee. I'll be 41 in July and I'm just being realistic and from my life's experience to this point I have never once in my entire life had any opportunity or need for a torch, maybe once or twice a welding iron (lesser than gun) which I borrowed. That was back when I built computers.

I'm nearly convinced it would be a one-time purchase and collect dust after this use, but I guess if i have one I can 'create' uses for it. Although I don't know the uses for it (torch), welding I guess! No desire or need to create or have a larger still, so there we're looking at a terrible scenario where something happens and I need to repair mine. I just knocked on my wood side/end table, because MY BABY!! I don't do the kind of auto work or engine auto work where I would ever need use of a torch there, and I wouldn't undertake or attempt to undertake it because I would now have a torch; nope.

Same for plumbing where a torch would be required, for more complicated plumbing beyond replacing a disposal, toilet tank, shower head... Even then I rent, so.


zapata are you convinced/concerned that the silicone sealant I'm getting which is food safe, acid/base and long-term submersion safe, freezing and past boiling temperature safe, that it is not a viable/safe solution and the only safe solution for protecting my sensor in the thermowell is the welded end of the stainless steel pipe?
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby zapata » Thu May 17, 2018 3:16 pm

No worries about the sealant, I would trust it's safety in a fermenter. I wouldn't necessarily trust it's longevity at maintaining a seal, but I don't know how much of a problem that is, if it leaks you just put more sealant on, right?

I would also trust a food safe epoxy, something like JB Weld. That would seem to have more physical integrity.

I'm a sucker for DIY, and having tools collecting dust is akin to having money in the bank you don't need to spend. But if you really wouldn't ever use a torch, then yes it's probably a waste. Unless you can borrow one, almost any halfway handy person I know has one. In a pinch you could use virtually any heat source, even a kitchen gas stove probably.

But you're comfortable with the sealant, go for it.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Thu May 17, 2018 4:06 pm

I hadn't even considered that there would be any food safe epoxies. Damn zapata, you are a well of knowledge my man!

That is a BETTER idea than silicone because it's pretty much permanent, and you're right and I knew the silicone wouldn't be permanent, I was thinking like every 6 months I'd be changing it. But epoxy, huh...
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby still_stirrin » Thu May 17, 2018 4:10 pm

distiller_dresden wrote:That is a BETTER idea than silicone because it's pretty much permanent...

Next thing....you’ll be “thinking” silver solder, as it is even MORE permanent.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Thu May 17, 2018 5:42 pm

Well, sort of, kind of, not really more permanent, more harder though! Epoxy is pretty damn permanent, especially in a 0.277" hole, you'd have to work pretty g/d hard to get it out of a stainless steel tube.

The silicone, though, not so much; I knew going into that it wasn't a permanent solution and fully expected I'd be scraping/cutting it out of the end every few months to replace the plug even if it wasn't visibly degrading because I want to protect my sensor. The sensor is wired into my thermostat, so if it's damaged I'd either need to replace the whole setup or buy a new sensor and then take apart my thermostat housing and get a soldering iron/gun to undo the solder points for the sensor, then replace with the new one. Not something I want to get into!

Although with the epoxy I am thinking I'll still put silicone, a bit further in, and then after it's cured (about an inch into the tube bottom) I'll do the epoxy plug and fill in the remains and have it flush with the bottom.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby zapata » Thu May 17, 2018 6:57 pm

Hehe this thermowell is gonna be waterproof as shit! (And then you're gonna spray some water down the uphill end and fry it that way!)

Belt, suspenders, AND seal the top? Well maybe just a dab of silicone, at least then it'll still be removable.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby cob » Thu May 17, 2018 8:35 pm

distiller_dresden wrote:So now that I'm getting the stainless steel tube..


are you buying the ready made thermowell ? or are you buying a piece of stainless

to build a thermowell ? if you intend to build why not have a tig welder close the end for you

it's a very small job, besides silicone, and epoxy are very good insulators, and you want

conduction. besides the ready made is already closed.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby distiller_dresden » Thu May 17, 2018 8:48 pm

No not buying ready made, they're only 15" - I talked about this upthread in my reasons for custom thermowell. I use 12 and 15 gal barrels (buckets? more a barrel) to ferment, and they're minimum 3ft and deeper, so 15" ain't getting in there.

So I'm buying a ss tube on Amazon. No option to have it customized through Amazon. I guess if I'd shopped the Googles, maybe spent more money, but I just found the exact piece of tube with dimensions I needed and bought the hardware/tubing.

Maybe I could always just call auto body shops nearby and ask if they'd do a pinch and weld of the tip for me for a few bucks since it would take them a couple minutes and cost them nothing. I like the idea of silicone on the top end as a just in case, just a wee bead of it for protection, but I'm not sure if the silicone is acidic? Many of them I've read don't apply to wires because it may eat the coating while it cures; once cured it's de nada but whatever they put in there to cure it isn't super awesome fun time stuff I think. I could always wrap the part of wire that will be where that bead is with a couple wraps of electrical tape, then do the bead, and if it does any eating it'll be tape-- yeah, there we go!

Hehe, when I'm done with this thermowell it's gonna be ready to sink the Mariana Trench and it'll only be pressure crush kills it before water leaking.
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Re: Custom thermowell - opinions/knowledge?

Postby Oldvine Zin » Wed May 23, 2018 7:39 pm

Seems like way too much work to put into a couple of small fermentors.

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