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Old January 11th, 2014, 10:32 PM
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Default Need Help with my Homemade Rig

Hi Folks,

We're still a few weeks away from tapping, but I could use some help figuring out a better design for my evaporator rig.

Last years "design" started with four 8x8x16 cinderblocks two deep and two across with one large roasting pan stradled across the middle.

xxx xxx
PAN
xxx xxx

I quickly figured out that wasn't going to be large enough for a firebox the wood or enough boiling capacity, so I stacked the blocks two high and added two more pans. It looked something like this:

xxx xxx
P P P
A A A
N N N
xxx xxx

The problem was, I still wasn't able to get the fire pit hot enough. And I noticed that as the fire got hotter, the cinderblocks began to break in half. So with some bricks I enclosed the back of the box and created a chimney with all the half pieces. Now my back pan boiled nicely, but I wasn't having much success with my two front pans, even with blocking up the firepit "entry". I used the front pans as "warmers" and ladled this sap into the back pan that was boiling. This all proved to be very time intensive, allowing me to only boil down about 20 gallons of sap in a 10 hour period, not to mention finishing the sap in the house. Rewarding, yes, but exhausting.

I've got the book "Backyard Sugarin'", but I'm kind of at a loss to figure out how to get a more consistent boil. I'm planning on tapping 30 trees this year (compared to 10 last), so any help would be appreciated. I'd like to be able to boil at least 40 gallons of sap per day. I'd love to buy an actual evaporator pan, but with money being tight, we will probably be looking at a deep buffet style pan. That should help things along as well.

I'm thinking the secret is in the chimney, but no idea how to properly lay or connect the pipe. I've purchased more cinderblock this year (another producer suggested putting sand in the holes to prevent overheating and cracking?) as well as firebrick - but I have no idea what to do with the firebrick. Everyone just keeps talking about it, so I figured, "why not?"?

I'll try to upload a picture of last years rig if I can figure out how to upload it.

Southern Harmony
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2014: 25 taps w/ buckets & jugs. Cinderblock Arch w/ Half-Pint Pan. 4.25 gallons finished.
2013: 10 taps w/ buckets, milk jugs, cans. Cinderblock arch with roasting pans. 2 gallons finished.
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Old January 11th, 2014, 11:54 PM
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SH First you need to get a good boil then lets get the arch to last, Your fire door is one of the most important parts of your arch then a grate to get the wood off the ground and get air under the fire. Your front pans should be the hottest with the heat and flames hitting them. Without a door a sealed door your incoming air is blowing the heat away from the bottom of the pans. If you add another row of 4" block in the combustion chamber 1/3 of the height of the arch to hold fire grating front back and sides. Do you have the back of the arch built up to get the heat going up to the first pan. If the combustion chamber is the entire arch without it being built up all your heat is being blown back by the natural draft not allowing the heat to get to the front pans. you need a fire door and a door to regulate the air to get the fire at its best. The ash/air door can be as simple as a brick that you cover an opening at the base of the arch. Make a door out of a plate steel and lean it up against the brick keep it tight.

Now as stated fill brick ith sand and if you can get some boiler/refractory cement and plaster the combustion chamber area for this year as thick as possible.

You can make grates out of the thickest Rebar you can find criss cross the heck out of it and weld it if possible.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 12:08 AM
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They say a picture is worth a 1000 words... this was the final setup last year:



Hope this helps clarify my description.

Southern Harmony
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2014: 25 taps w/ buckets & jugs. Cinderblock Arch w/ Half-Pint Pan. 4.25 gallons finished.
2013: 10 taps w/ buckets, milk jugs, cans. Cinderblock arch with roasting pans. 2 gallons finished.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 12:26 AM
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Your wood is way oversized. You want a raging fire, to get that small wood. Arm size is a good goal to reach for that setup I think. You will have to fire more often but you will get more heat under those pans. Try to dig up a set up grates to set the wood on so you can draw air in from under the fire as well. Raise the grate up off the ground with a couple rows of firebrick, fill the firebox 1/2 maybe 3/4 full with small wood and you will see an improvement for sure. Also set the blocks far enough apart that the pans are just sitting on them safely, the more surface area exposed to the heat the more gph you wll get.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 01:03 AM
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OK perfect. What I see is 1/3 of your pans bottom surface is being blocked by the arch rails. The wood has no under air so its chocking to death. Without a door you are allowing most of your heat to be drawn out the stack before it ever hits the pan.

Take the time to do it over and were talking easy peezy. Dig down and make a gravel base to set the block on to make stable. Make it wider and longer so the pans can sit down inside the blocks with the lips on the arch. Make a complete square with the front block on its side so air can enter through the webs. run 4" blocks at the same level as the front bottom row inside for a grate system. You need the wood up off the ground so coals form at the bottom to help with combustion. you need to shut off the air from entering above the grate so the heat both hits the pans as flames and also radiantly. You will want to regulate the incoming air and that can be done with bricks hoved in the openings in the front block. You need to build the walls straight and tight overlapping them like any wall. A block chimney is a lot of engineering so I would get some simple sheet metal and stove pipe from HD and make it about 6 ft tall to get a good draft and get the smoke away. You really want as much pan surface in the heat so make it stable and strong. Do you weld?
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Old January 12th, 2014, 08:15 AM
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This is all very good advice. One other thing to remember is that without a door on the front all your air is coming in and cooling the first pans and that is killing the boil there. As said get the air coming in under the fire and block the air coming in just under the pans.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 08:48 AM
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And a door could be as simple as a piece if heavy tin like corrugated shed metal
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Old January 12th, 2014, 11:03 AM
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SH if you have the ability to weld or have someone that can I would scrounge up a old bed frame or some more angle like you have setting in the combustion chamber. I would weld up a frame that allows the pans to sit inside of. Having a stable platform for the pans will allow you to keep things straight and level. I would have the angle iron so one side sets on top of the blocks and the other on the inside edge. make it so there is no possibility for the pans to slip off into the fire. If you van get enough material you can also strengthen it but having a piece of angle between the pans for support. If this is doable you can also accommodate a door frame without much work that will help keep things stable. Remember that your working with block that is a predetermined size so you want to lay it out like building with Lego's
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Old January 12th, 2014, 07:02 PM
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What you saw in the picture was a result of watching numerous youtube videos, reading websites, and reading Backyard Sugarin'. And lots of trial and error. I was happy with what we did last year, but know it would need to be tweaked. Your advice will greatly help with that tweaking. Thank you!

For clarification: I had removed the cinderblocks from the front of the arch to take the picture. I had 1 full and 1 smaller cinderblock covering the front. The blocks were stacked oddly one on top of the other because my pans dimensions did not match. I lost one pan of sap when it slipped into the fire. The wood size - ugh - I had a bunch of hickory that the axe would not split. I started the fire with much smaller sizes of maple (down to finger width), and then added bigger pieces as I went. I'm afraid I still have a lot of this hickory out back. And I did have the fire off the ground (see the bricks with the iron rails spanning it - but apparently not enough.

So if I'm understanding you all correct, in collaborating your suggestions:

1. Use smaller pieces of wood.
2. Get a grate and move the fire higher off the ground (would heavy welded galvanized cage/fence wire work if I secured between the first and second layers of cinderblock?)
3. Get more of the pan surface over the fire.
4. Build on top of gravel/crushed stone, and add one or more levels of blocks
5. Drop the pans into the arch, instead of on top of it (again, would heavy welded galvanized cage/fence wire work?)
6. Fill the blocks with sand, cover the inside with boiler cement (I should know where to get some - a client of mine runs a combustion business).

Unfortunately, I don't know how to weld (I'm fortunate enough to know how to get a fire going most days - no Boy Scout training here). But I can obtain some rebar.

Finally, I still don't know how to lay out/connect pipe for the chimney. Can anyone direct me to a diagram?

On a somewhat related topic, I really liked this guy's video. It's kind of what I was shooting for with my rig this year, but perhaps you can find places for improvement here as well:


Thanks again for everything.

Southern Harmony
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2014: 25 taps w/ buckets & jugs. Cinderblock Arch w/ Half-Pint Pan. 4.25 gallons finished.
2013: 10 taps w/ buckets, milk jugs, cans. Cinderblock arch with roasting pans. 2 gallons finished.
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Old January 12th, 2014, 07:45 PM
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SH Every person I know without exception know someone that welds Its imperative that you get a frame welded up. Get the metal even a old bed frame cut it with a hack saw if need be but dry fit a frame that will hold all the pans if its 4 like the picture or 3 in a row. It should cost $20 to weld. A few problems I see in the picture. To many holes all around the arch. Holes allow cold air into the pan area cooling it off. You might say BUT Chuck the fire needs air. Yup your right but not outside the combustion chamber area. You only want air entering under the fire and you want to regulate it depending on the wood weather and the sugar concentration in the pans. Wood is the fuel that makes it all happen and burning what you have because its wood wont do it. Scrounge up some pallets and supplement your bad wood with dry pallets.

The stack is easy 8" pipe, 8" collar and a flat sheet and make a transition piece that will lay over the block in the back. If your pans take up 4 feet are make your arch 5 feet long. That will give you 1 ft for the transition. I'm talking inside dimensions.

The fire grate is going to get hot and old fencing wont do it. Rebar is iffy but will work but you need a lot of it.
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