Monday, May 26, 2014

Selkirk Gets Off The Island And Contemplates An Infernal Device

I completed my last chemo treatment on March 21 of this year, and had a PET scan and CAT scan last Friday. No residue was found and I an now officially a cancer survivor. Get stuffed, lymphoma.

Which led to work on a project I've been thinking about but holding off on, and that is what is known in the world of hillbillies as an ugly drum smoker.

It amounts to a repurposed 55 gallon drum, suitably modified, to convert it into a serviceable slow cooker/smoker, which should annoy the hell out of vegans everywhere.

I started with the Popular Mechanics design and studied a couple on Instructables, but since there are plenty of youtube videos and blog posts that show various and sundry spins on the subject I'm not going to reinvent that particular wheel but I will ad my own observations that may be helpful to the next builder.

For the most part I used the PM article as a template for my project dimensions with a few design changes. As there are no critical dimensions here you can make do with a yardstick, a fabric tape measure and a sharp punch for starting your holes. Get them in the wrong place? Plug them with a nut and bolt or a snap in hole plug. Remember no galvanized..

DO NOT use galvanized, zinc coated or cadmium plated hardware. When heated these can release toxic fumes. Use only stainless steel, inconel if you have it, or mild steel fasteners and hardware. The occasional washer or nut that is not exposed to direct flame or heat is probably OK, but limit it. Also, do not use a galvanized pan for ashes as this can create the same problem with toxic fumes.

Cad plated hardware has a yellowish-gold color to it, and it too can release nasty fumes when exposed to high temperatures.

With that said, here are a few things you need to obtain.


A good clean 55 gallon mild steel or stainless steel drum with few dents and a detachable lid and no epoxy or rubber coating internally is a starting point. I got mine from ebay, shipped here from Minnesota for $39, which is about average. It's a clean drum that carried some sort of tankage from the smell of it, probably for pet food.

If you're in the upper midwest in an area served by Spee-Dee Delivery, this is a pretty good bet.

DO NOT use an epoxy lined drum.

Then, you will need to obtain a 6 foot fabric tape measure from a craft store to do your layouts and locate your holes properly.

For making 1 inch holes, if you have a step drill that goes out to 1 inch, that's fine. My step drill only went to 3/4 inch so I used that, and finished the holes with a knockout punch kit from Harbor Freight, which I already had for punching tube socket holes. Either way you need to bore 4 one inch holes.

You will do very well to acquire a donor Weber 22-1/2 inch silver series charcoal grill for the lid and the two grilles,and I got one off of Craigslist for $25.00. There was one advertised thereon for a Grant, but when I emailed the guy he said that a guy at his wife's workplace was going to give $75 for it but if I wanted to give him the $75 I could have it. I'm from Jersey and I know when I'm being hustled, I found one for a lot less, and there's a moral here-when you name your price, stick to to your price or lose your customer.


Once you've got a suitable steel drum, take it out in the back yard and build a fire inside it with scrap lumber, and let it burn for a couple of hours. This will take care of any varnish or paint, inside and out. Then you can prepare the surface, inside and out, with a palm sander and 40 grit sandpaper by removing what's left of the paint and the coating. It's a dusty job so get yourself a particle mask or two.

Once you're done with that, wipe the outside down with dry paper towels, and blow out the residue with compressed air. Then, you can give the outside a coat of high temperature barbecue paint. On the inside, you can wipe it down and clean up any remaining residue with clean paper towels and vegetable oil.

Now you're ready to start mounting your hardware and fittings. You'll need some straight short 3/4 NPT pipe nipples, some Ridgid conduit nuts (here, you're stuck with galvanized but it's out of the combustion zone, some 90 degree 3/4 NPT elbows, some 24" 3/4 NPT pipe nipples, some 3/4 NPT caps and some stainless steel U-bolts to fit. Remember NO zinc coated or galvanized pipe or fittings.

PM calls out four brass ball valves, but they're kind of pricey. I figure one for fine tuning and three pipe caps would do fine.


You'll need to make a charcoal basket out of 2 pieces of 24x12 expanded metal, bolted together with stainless hardware and formed around a propane tank or other suitable round object. To attach this to the grate salvaged from the Weber 22-1/2 grill, I used inconel safety wire but you can use iron baling wire or u-bolts. The basket stands off the floor of the drum using 3-inch screws and washers for feet.

You'll need some sort of a pan underneath this to catch the ashes and odd drippings. I tried using a cheap round barbecue grill but it was so pathetic I tossed everything except the pan. You could probably use an 18 inch steel pizza pan if you like.

The Weber lid is a bit too small for the drum I used. Maybe your drum will be smaller and you'll be lucky, but if not you can carefully bend the flange out with a pair of duckbill pliers. Wear eye protection here because the Weber grill lid is porcelainized and it shatters. Then, when you have it flattened out you can mount a couple of eye bolts to the drum and attach the lid with a couple of springs.

The Weber chrome steel upper grill was serviceable after wire brushing the heck out of it.

You'll need a thermometer for monitoring the temperature inside the drum-around 250 deg. f is desirable, and I had an old bimetal candy thermometer I mounted through a small hole in the lid.

After a good cleanup you're ready to season the completed smoker before wasting some expensive proteinaceous material of the animal variety. A couple good burns with charcoal will allow you to get familiar with temperature control and ought to get the smell of paint out of your drum cooker.

The total for all the parts, the drum, the donor Weber grill and stuff I ended up not using or tossing in my tool box was around $200 all told. You should be able to bring it in for a bit less.


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