Brew Fridge – Part II: The Sourcing, The Tearing, and The Swearing
I spend more time than I’d like to admit browsing Craigslist. Just two weeks ago, a local decided to clean out his shed of brewing equipment and move on to a new hobby. He had three corny kegs, bottling buckets, carboys, pots, fittings, measuring equipment, wort chiller, bottles, and more that I can reasonably list here. $100 was his asking price. The haul was worth it for the kegs alone. I turned around and assembled a good kit from my renewed collection of equipment and sold it for $120. With enough time and patience, anything is possible on Craigslist.
I’ve been keeping an eye out for side-by-side fridges on the cheap, (for those not keeping up with this train of thought, start in Part I), but they had to meet three requirements. 1) Actually work and cool the freezer, 2) cost under $100 (or free), and 3) be close enough that I could reasonably borrow our work truck to haul it. Finding a listing that satisfied all three would be hard enough, so I relaxed any requirements for aesthetics. Lo and behold, a family on the move-out in Los Gatos put up their garage fridge in the free section over the weekend. I snagged it!
Here’s the obvious suck about refrigerators. They are big, heavy, leaky, and unlike most furniture, look like they’re on the landfill Green Mile if you attempt to store them anywhere but your kitchen. I thought I could leave it at work do do most of the build, but realized our shop wouldn’t tolerate it for longer than a day, so I decided to haul it back to our hell-incarnate domicile and embody Freezus Chrice to lug it up a flight of stairs. My buddy Jason was there to help, and we found the best solution was to slide it up the stairs on a blanket rather than pull it on the dolly. No recollection can adequately describe the suffering and frustration of this ordeal, but it was worth the sacrifice and an ascent to a higher plane. Now the common man can live down in their brew garages and ground levels in sin. Let’s take a look at the result.
The fridge is a fairly old GE model with the expected reliability and looks one would expect from this era of fridge design. That is to say, I’m not entirely sure how much life it has left, but I am certain it’s the ugliest thing I’ve moved into this apartment (other than my roommate). I’m hoping that once I let her hair down and take off her glasses, she’ll be a beautiful goddess of a fridge; not that a little plastic surgery won’t hurt. I’ve adapted the plans to my head, but I haven’t done any CAD work, sketching, or diagrams. The most important first step is complete however; I plugged the fridge in and within a half hour, the freezer was ice cold! The tear down process begins with the basics: throw shit out.
Removing the shelves and tubs from the fridge is the obvious first step, but it also serves as the first date in your long running relationship with your fridge. This is where you learn about her past, present and future; whether your fridge had a hidden candy addiction, whether she held on to some loose frozen peas from the last relationship, or whether she is ready to relinquish her plastic shelf clip mementos that demand a finger skin sacrifice to remove. Take all that baggage from your fridge and toss it into a pile in the corner. Trim her down, put her on a diet. You gotta break her down to build her back up.
With shelf rails, ice maker, clips, trays, and various doodads out of the way, it’s time to GE90X. The door shelves are wasted space in a build like this. The fridge door won’t even shut with the Chronical set inside. The inner surfaces require custom skins later on to insulate the various hardware installed through the doors. The seals are held on with brackets that sandwich these molded shelves to the inner surface of the door. Bending these out provides access to the screws, and this process allows you to clean or replace the door seals as needed.
With the first one done, the fridge is beginning to look a lot more promising. The freezer side is just as easy, except the water and ice dispenser inhabits the center section. This area will eventually house our shank and faucet assembly for the kegs, so it’s imperative that it’s cleaned out well and understood. Old crumbly insulation has a habit of introducing one’s lungs to unwanted cancer-causing matter (just like when your mom introduces you to her new boyfriend), so safety glasses and masks are recommended.
Here’s a question to stump our greatest minds. Which option poses is a greater threat to your health, directly ingesting ancient insulation fibers, or wearing a cheap safety mask from Dollar Tree? The dispenser is the last large dump the fridge needs to take, and it’s peanuts after that. The door handles on this fridge are atrocious, so we are binning them completely and sourcing or fabricating our own. C&K Brewing is light on ingenuity for this project, so we gotta make it up somewhere.
This concludes our first day of tear down on the brew fridge. The architecture should be fairly simple. The plan is to bypass the thermostat completely and wire the leads together. The thermostat is a switch, so by removing that element, the compressor should run indefinitely. The ITC-308s will be installed on both doors, with custom wiring harness for the new fridge circuit. Essentially, the compressor (fridge plug) wires directly into the cold side of the primary Inkbird controller and the probe acts as the thermostat usurper. The secondary is wired for power, but controls dual fans in the divider wall for push/pull of air in and out of the fridge. A heater can be installed at a later date. I will be 3D printing the housings and shrouds for all of these components as the project continues. The adventure continues in Part III, coming soon in a reader called you.