Homebrewing in Houston, Texas

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Tuesday, May 31 2016 @ 01:59 PM EDT

Converting a Keg

An old keg makes a great kettle, hot liquor tank, or mash tun. Kegs are cheap compared to pots of the same size and are extremely hardyOnce you have your keg, a few hours and a bit of work will turn it into an invaluable part of the brewery.

Though there are many ways of converting a keg, to convert yours as we have, you'll need some string, a Sharpe, Dremel tool, heavy-duty cutoff wheels, a 7/8" hole saw, electric drill and various types of sandpaper.

The entire process takes about 4 hours -- from start to polished finish. There are a few options if you'd like to have a lid for your keg. You can use the top you cut out or cut your hole to fit an existing lid. Either way, you'll want a nice circular cut. For this, tie a loop into a piece of string and use this around the post of the keg to get a nice circle.

Now's a good time to ensure there is no pressure in the keg. Place the keg on its side and use a screwdriver or something similar to depress the ball. Hold the ball down until all pressure in the keg is released.

Using your Dremel tool and a heavy-duty cutoff wheel, start cutting the keg along the line. Please note there are heavy-duty cutoff wheels and heavy-duty fiberglass reinforced cuttoff wheels. If you can, get the fiberglass reinforced wheels. You'll need to progress slowly with little down-pressure. Too much pressure and the wheel will disintegrate. You'll go through six or so wheels cutting the keg. Move slowly and lightly score the track you want to get the best results.

I cannot stress enough the precaution of wearing hearing and eye protection. The Dremel tool is loud enough on its own and the keg will really start to sing as you cut through the top. With the Dremel wheel cutting, a lot of the wheel and bits of steel are slung up toward your face. You may forgo gloves at this point but goggles or glasses are one thing you should be wearing!

Once you've cut the top, you'll want to use some 80 grit sandpaper to dress the edges. The edges are jagged and sharp and will easily cut your fingers and arms. If you've a grinding spool for the Dremel, you can really dress the hole quickly.

With the top cut off and the hole dressed, you can safely clean that stuff in the keg that might have once been beer. Depending on how long the keg has been empty and exposed to the sun, you might need to invest a bit of time cleaning the interior. Barkeeper's Friend and a Scotch-Brite pad work well; however, you can use your favorite cleaner.

With the keg cut and clean, you can move on to dressing the exterior. If your keg has a tape band, remove the tape with a scraper and the glue with a gasoline.

If you really want the keg to shine, you'll spend the most of your time on the exterior. First, take some 80 grit sandpaper and sand the keg's exterior. You want to even out the luster and remove any rust spots. Don't worry about sanding your keg -- it is stainless steel all the way through. Sanding will not promote rust and removing any rust that is present is a good idea.

Once you've evened the luster, move to 220 grit sandpaper. Work to remove any swirls by sanding in one direction. I find it easiest to lay the keg on its side and roll the keg as I'm sanding.

Now use 302 wet-dry sandpaper. Same thing here: go in one direction and take your time.

Finally, you're ready to add final touches and make the keg a near-mirror finish. Sand the keg with 600 grit wet-dry paper. If you have a drill and a buffing pad, it works well to put a quarter page of sandpaper under the buffing pad and let your drill do the work.

Polishing the keg is not something that will make your beer any better; however, it does show your pride in your brewery and makes the keg look terrific!

The keg is now ready for any holes you'll need. Get your drill and a bi-metal hole saw. For this conversion, a 7/8" hole saw was used. This is just right to allow a close-nipple to fit through.

Determine the placement of your hole and start drilling. You'll want to ensure your hole is not directly above any of the drain holes in the lower lip. When you heat your keg, flames will come out of these holes. If you've placed your ball-valves or sight glasses over any of these drain holes, they will get extreemly hot! Stainless steel is best cut using high pressure and low speed.

Stop frequently and apply a light oil to the keg and the hole saw. You do not want to overheat either the hole saw or the keg. Using low speeds and a light oil will keep you from tempering the metals.

With the top cut off, the outside dressed and your bulkhead holes cut, you're done! Add whatever items you need in the keg and give the whole thing another cleaning. It's also a good idea to boil some water in the keg before brew day. This will ensure your fittings do not leak and will burn off any junk hiding around the bottom rolled-lip. In just a few short hours you've given a keg a new chance at usefulness.


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