How to Build an Electric Homebrewing Heatstick
v1.5

Updated 04/05/10

HEY HOMEBREWERS!
Wanna learn more? Listen to my new podcasts of how to build a heatstick!

How to Build an Electric Homebrewing Heatstick Podcast - 25 minutes:
Learn dozens of tips, how-to's and safety info I don't have room for below while you follow along step by step with the construction photos below as I describe in detail how to build a electric homebrewing heatstick, making building a solid, reliable stick for yourself safer, faster and easier!

Click the Play Button Above to Listen to the Heatstick Tutorial*

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Download the Heatstick.mp3 Podcast File (18.2MB)


Email Question and Answer Podcast
of How to Build an Electric Homebrewing Heatstick - 20 Minutes:


I answer emails of questions, plus read tips from other homwbrewers from around the country. This Q&A podcast is loaded with even more tips and great info, including a whole new technique for sealing your heatstick better than ever!

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Download the Heatstick-emails.mp3 Podcast File (15.5MB)


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Parts Required:

 

  • Screw-In Hot Water Heating Element. Choose based upon your home's electrical system and how much liquid you intend to heat. I bought a 2000watt 120volt element made by Camco. Two of these heatsticks can bring 6.5 gallons of 64 degree water to a HARD boil in 37 minutes. Stepping down to one heatstick holds a strong boil from then on.
  • 12 gauge, 3-wire Rubber Electrical Cord
  • Heavy Duty 20 amp Armored 3-Prong Plug
  • 12" Long X 1 1/2" I. D. Chrome Plated, Brass Drain Pipe
  • 6" Long X 1 1/2" I. D. Plastic Drain Pipe Extension Tube with Compression Fitting
  • 3/4" PVC Coupler
  • 1" PVC End Cap
  • 1ea. 3/8" long #6 brass machine thread bolt, #6 brass nut, #6 brass washer
  • J-B Weld Epoxy (not pictured)

Notes:
  • NEVER - NEVER - NEVER - RUN A HEATSTICK DRY!!!
    A heatstick must ALWAYS have the heating element FULLY submerged or it will overheat and burn out very quickly! The rest of the heatstick does not need to be submerged, but the heating element itself MUST ALWAYS be completely submerged in liquid. Failure to do so could result in serous personal injury, fire, or worse!!!

  • A single heatstick sucks a lot of power! Be sure the electrical circuit you run your heatstick on has little or nothing else running from it, or you'll almost certainly blow a fuse or pop the circuit breaker. Also, be sure your house's wiring can handle a big load. Older home wiring insulation may already be dry and brittle and not be up to such a high load and could cause a serious fire.

  • ALWAYS - ALWAYS - ALWAYS - PLUG YOUR HEATSTICK INTO A GFI PROTECTED OUTLET!!!
    If your heatstick should develop a water leak, any electricity going to the ground (i.e. the metal pipe, then wort, then kettle then you!) will automatically trip the GFI circuit and shut the heatstick off. GFI adaptor outlets are readily available for about $10 at most hardware stores if you don't have an available built-in GFI outlet.

  • EACH heatstick requires a SEPARATE 15 or 20 amp circuit, depending upon the heating element you use. Do not exceed 50% of your circuit's rated amperage when choosing a heating element. Don't follow my example, my elements are too big - I should have used 1500 watt elements instead. See notes on Electrical Load, below.

  • Be sure to allow the epoxy to cure for AT LEAST 24 hours before submerging and or testing.

  • Next, water test your heatstick WITHOUT electricity! I slid the end cap down a bit on the power cord and shined a flashlight down the tube as I submerged my heatsticks to full water depth in my brew kettle. Look for any signs of water or leaks. I then also tapped mine upside down to see if any water came out.

  • Once you know it's waterproof, test out your power circuit(s) by heating some water with the heatstick. If you pop a circuit, refer to second note point above.

  • The heating elements DO NOT GET RED HOT IF SUMERGED IN A LIQUID! Not even close to red hot. Remember, they're made for heating water.

    HOWEVER...

    THEY DO GET RED HOT IN OPEN AIR - so never plug them in until fully submerged or a fire could (will) easily be started!!! That said however, when submerged in wort, don't think of them like stove-top or oven elements - they're not nearly that hot. If fact, I've been pleasantly surprised to discover that it only takes about 15 seconds or so after unplugging to be able to remove a heatstick from the wort - at which time both the heating element and metal drain pipe are no hotter than the wort temperature. Scorching or caramelization, even in light brews, has not been a problem for me at all.

  • NEW TIP (3/17/05) - If your building only one heatstick, use a 90 degree, right angle drain pipe for heating shallow liquids. If you're making two heatsticks, make one straight (great for heating and stirring a mash) and one right angle. The photos below show me making the second of two straight heatsticks however, building a right angle stick is identical.



  • Encasing the Electrical Connections (03/08/07) A NEW MUST READ/MUST DO - After I had problems with both a new and older stick developing leaks in the silicone seals, I decided to try a new approach. I used to work in the tropical fish industry many years ago, and knew that all the good submersible electrical devices were encased in a epoxy or plastic resin material so I decided to do the same with my heatsticks. I first experimented with Alumalite plastic casting resin. Alumalite worked out, but my original two sticks had been filled with aquarium silicone first, then I had poured Alumalite on top of the silicone to encapsulate the inner contacts. After almost two years of use, both sticks suddenly died! Upon ripping them apart, I discovered the silicone had failed and caused a leak.

    I have now completely re-built both of my sticks, including new 2000 watt elements and heavier 12 gauge wire. This time I chose J-B Weld epoxy as the connection encapsulate and sealant. J-B weld is non-toxic, non-conductive, and can handle temps up to 600 degrees - plus it's extremely strong stuff.
    I now consider encasing the electrical connections a necessity!


  • New Electrical Load Info (04/05/10) IMPORTANT!
    I was recently informed by a licensed electrician that on a continuous load application - like a heatstick - you should try not to exceed 50% of your household's circuit load potential or in other words, 50% of the circuit's rated amperage. The reason he explained, is you can overheat your circuit breakers and cause them to become weaker over time to where they won't support their rated load. While I have not had any problems - yet - I felt it was important to pass this info along.

    What this basically means is on a 20 amp circuit, 1500 watts is about a big as you should go.


  • Lastly -
    Heating elements generate an invisible, high-density plasma stream from their tips. It is best if you try not to allow the plasma streams to cross. Actually, the streams should NEVER cross. In fact, ALWAYS keep the tip's pointed in separate directions within the brew kettle or a thermal electric plasma reaction will occur resulting in the instant vaporization of your hard-earned, precious, sweet wort! (Just making sure you're still paying attention!) Seriously folks, while a heatstick works great - if built and used correctly for heating water, step mashing and boiling wort - like any power tool, please respect it as the potentially dangerous device it is and everyone will be able to relax, not worry, and brew MORE homebrew!

    Prosit from Milwaukee!

    Tom Bardenwerper
    Homebrewer - Cedar Creek Brewing Company
    Thiensville, WI



Image 1

Completed heatstick


Image 2

03/08/07 - Parts Needed
Ignore the aquarium silicone. I am now using J-B Weld for the sealing encapsulate


Image 3

Cut cord insulation


Image 4

Expose wires


Image 5

Cut wire insulation


Image 6

Mark the ground nut hole at the threaded end of the drain pipe


Image 7

Tap an indent for drilling the ground nut hole


Image 8

Drill the ground nut hole


Image 9

File the edges of the ground nut hole


Image 10

#6 Brass bolt, nut and washer for making the ground nut


Image 11

Screw in #6 brass bolt.


Image 12

Grounding nut from the inside


Image 13

Thread power cord into pipe and attach green ground wire to brass ground nut


Image 14

Water heater element


Image 15

03/08/07 - I used 80 grit sandpaper and roughed up all the surfaces of the base of the element and the inside of the drain pipe so I'd get maximum bonding with the J-B Weld epoxy. Next, attach the white and black wires to either screw on the heating element


Image 16

03/08/07 - IGNORE the aquarium silicone pictured here. Apply thick layer of J-B Weld Epoxy to completely coat the entire base of the element. Also completely coat the pipe's inside ground wire connection. I used a wooden tongue depressor to spread the epoxy inside the pipe and on the element.
I REALLY gooped it on as heavy as possible!
Next, quickly attach the pipe nut to screw down the element and hold the assembly together.

03/08/07 - A good seal is absolutely critical to success and long-term reliability!

My first pair of sticks used aquarium silicone to seal them. The silicone failed after about two dozen uses or less: the sticks started leaking and thus instantly popped my GFCI outlets. Then I poured Alumalite plastic casting resin inside the pipes to completely encapsulate the contacts (on top of the old silicone - not exactly ideal). One stick worked great for about two more years, while the other stick was consistently flaky, popping the GFCI outlet about half way through a boil. Just before I wrote this update, both sticks completely died. When I ripped them open, I discovered the first (original) layer of aquarium silicone had failed and allowed wort to get inside and create a short. Nothing would seal these sticks at this point so they had to be completely rebuilt, including new elements and a new right angle drain pipe - as the Alumalite was not about to come out of the right angle pipe elbow!

A trip to Schmo Depot and $60 later - my two new sticks use J-B Weld for the inside contact encapsulate and sealant. As mentioned above, I used a wooden tongue depressor to spread a thick coating on the entire base of the elements, then I spread as much epoxy on as possible before screwing the elements down on to the drain pipes. J-B Weld is too thick to pour in from the top of the pipes like I had done with Alumalite, so I really wanted to get as much epoxy in there as possible to encapsulate the entire element base from the inside. Time will tell if this revision improves the sticks long-term reliability.

FWIW: I know of at least one homebrewer who is using electrical-grade epoxy as the encapsulate with good success. Others have reported good success using just high-temperature automotive RTV silicone, like Permatex Ultra BLue Gasket Maker. If you use another compound to seal your sticks and experience good long-term success with it, please e-mail me and let me know what you use and I'll add it here. There's probably many products that will work well.


Image 17

03/08/07 - Center the element on the the pipe end. I found small remaining gaps a the base of the element allowed a small amount of epoxy to drip through. I stuck plastic shipping tape around the edges of the element's base to hold the epoxy in, then stood the stick upright - element-end facing down and allowed it to cure overnight.


Image 18

Mark center for cord hole in PVC cap


Image 19

Drill center hole in PCV cap


Image 20

Thread plastic end-screw and compression ring onto metal drain tube


Image 21

Thread plastic pipe on and tighten end screw


Image 22

Connect PVC coupler to PVC cap


Image 23

Thread PVC cap and coupler onto power cord


Image 24

Synch cap down tightly - I did not glue end-cap in so I could disassemble the heatstick if needed in the future


Image 25

Cut chord insulation on remaining end


Image 26

Cut wire insulation


Image 27

Heavy duty 20amp plug


Image 28

Remove plastic shroud from plug (cord is too large) and thread cord through end of plug


Image 29

Attach wires the plug - BE SURE green wire is attached to ground prong!!!


Image 30

Tighten plug end to clamp down on cord


Image 31

It's Done!
Your heatstick should look something like this


Image 32

03/08/07 - My (original) two heatsticks - ready to mash. I have since made a right angle stick using a right angle drain pipe. The right angle stick allows me to heat much shallower liquor and wort which really speeds things up!
(BTW: These are my first two sticks which are now dead and buried due to leaks.)

Brewing with Heatsticks

I have found heatsticks to be very versatile tools that I use to apply heat at virtually all stages of my brewing process. Below are pictures I recently took while brewing a creamy Irish stout and will give you some ideas of where to use a heatstick in your brewery!


Image 33

Maintaining the 150 degree infusion mash temp by stirring with a vertical-element heatstick


Image 34

Maintaining 170 degree sparge water in the hot liquor tank


Image 35

Checking temp while bringing wort to boil with two, 2000-watt heatsticks


Image 36

Reaching a quick and VERY hard boil with two heatsticks!

 


Image 37

Holding a strong boil with one heatstick

 
If you find this website or the podcasts helpful, I'd sure appreciate your donation to help me keep this page up and current.

Questions / Comments? Feel Free to Email Me at: heatstick@cedarcreeknetworks.com
Thank You For Your Donation!
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