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Butch's Centrifuge

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Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Butch Coolidge » Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:26 am

Sorry for all the typing. You can skip the long read, I promise there will be some pics after all the text.

A few months ago, I decided that I needed a centrifuge for spinning wort out of grains. I looked into commercial ones but I hate the standard routine you get with industrial equipment. You know, all you want to do is find the website of a company that makes an industrial product that you want and see what they make and how much it costs. However, the cost is never advertised. They always want you to "Request a Quote". You spend an hour trying to figure out what dimensions your product must be, what material it must be made of, horsepower requirements, color, etc. Days go by before they get back to you, during which time, you could have bought 5 used ones on ebay! Well, I will have to deal with that one day, but I needed to get an expirimental centrifuge to tinker with immediately to make sure it is the way to go before ordering another industrial machine that doesn't serve it's purpose as I intended it to. What's the first thing that pops into your head when you think of a centrifuge? A washing machine on spin, of course!

I scanned Craiglist and found a free machine that leaked water out of the fill valve so I thought I would scoop that up and see if it would work for me. I got to the house of the woman who was trying to get rid of it and the first thing I noticed was that she seemed to have 4 or 5 kids from 7 different men so I could figure that the machine has had a life of daily abuse. It was in rough shape but it spun just fine, so I figured with a good cleaning, it would work.

I got the machine home and began dismantling it. I tossed the outer shell, agitator, all the controls, as well as any unnecessary plumbing or wiring. I removed the basket from the tub and upon inspection, realized that I would need to spend several hours cleaning it. The basket was plastic and smooth on the inside (where the clothes go), but the underside and outer side was a honeycomb of structural webs. Imagine a grid of squares with each square being about an inch by 1/2 inch deep. Each of these squares were cloged with lint, hair, soap, and general crap. I decided that I needed to scrap this idea, and try a newer, cleaner machine, even if it meant that I had to pay a little for it.

The next machine cost me $100 and had a metal enameled tub and was in much nicer condition. I got it home and started dismantling it. I got to the point where I was ready to pull out the basket to clean the underside of it and the inside of the tub. I realized that the basket was somehow pressed or crimped into place and could not be removed (with my tools anyway). I re-assembled it and sold it for $125.

I was not going to waste any more time fucking with a dirty, used machine and went to Home Depot to buy their cheapest machine. It was a 275 dollar Roper which is a spinoff of Maytag, I think. I got it to the shop and began stripping it. I carefully removed the shell, lid, agitator, controls, and anything else that wasn't necessary and put them in my storage trailer. My intention is to put all that stuff back on someday and sell the machine. I wired the motor directly to a plug so when I plug it in, it begins to spin. It will continue to spin until I unplug it.

I have noticed something interesting. 3 out of the 4 basic, top loading washnig machines that I've worked on in the last 5 years, regardless of the make or year, are pretty much the same under the shell, to the point where components could be swapped back and fourth.

It may seem unnecessary for me to dismantle the machine. Why didn't I just leave it as is and use it? Well in it's factory configuration, there is no way to clean between the basket and tub. Also, there is no way to have access to the drain pump, which would need routine cleaning. Stripping the machine down to it's essential components is quite necessary.

Here is a pic of the machine as a finished thing. As you can see, I mounted it on a little pedestal to raise it off the floor. You'll also see how the pump is easily accesible in the front, that's nice:

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Once I was ready to use it, I made a batch of mash. I didn't want to dump it straight into the machine because I had thought that the little holes in the basket would clog up quickly. So I put a cotton game bag in the machine and dumped the mash in there. I put the drain hose in a barrel and turned on the machine. It began to spin but was severely uncentered due to the game bag slipping to one side of the central column (where the agitator originally mounted). I removed the grain bag, leaving the mash in the basket and tried again. This time, it ran perfectly. The mash balanced itself and lined the inside wall of the basket. All the liquid began to drain into my fermenter and the little holes in the basket did not appear to be cloggin up. The liquid coming out was free of any grains and super sugary. Here's a pic of the wort pouring into the fermenter:
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And here's a pic of the inside of the basket whle spinning:
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More to follow.

Butch
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Butch Coolidge » Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:29 am

Here's a pic of the outside of the machine while spinning. In this pic, you can see why it's important to remove the unnecessary parts in order to gain access to the space between the basket and tub for cleaning purposes:

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As you can see, when it comes time to clean, I can just spray a hose in the gap between the tub and basket and rinse off any residual wort. Since the tub is translucent, I can see when it's clean.

I used the machine many times in a row with flawless results. It is perfectly suited for spinning wort out of mash. The grains that are left behind are light, fluffy, and barely damp. I get almost all the liquid out of them. As far as the remaining sugars, I just dump 4 gallons of hot water into it, mix the grains up to rinse them of their sugars, and spin it again. I repeat with another 4 gallons of water to get the last of the sugars. I save the 8 gallons of water for rmaking the next batch of mash.

I did have one very messy failure that set me back several weeks. The machine literally exploded as I was standing right in front of it and flung sticky mash all over every square inch of my shop. I literally had to clean dried mash and grains of of every single thing in the shop. It was terrible and I have not had a chance to use the machine again because the disaster put me so behind with everyting else I'v had planned for the summer.

I'll explain the entire disaster in the next post.
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Butch Coolidge » Mon Jun 06, 2011 8:25 am

As I said, the centrifuge performed flawlessly several times in a row. I could not have been happier with it. Then I decided to try something different.

During lautering, we recirculate the wort through the grains in an attempt to filter them either manually or with a pump. I considered my centrifuge to be an ideal machine for lautering. Instead of pumping the wort into the fermenter, I could pump it back into the centrifuge and let the liquid recirculate and filter. That was a bad idea!

Imagine your washing machine full of wet, heavy clothes. As it starts to spin, it starts slowly and spins faster and faster as the clothes shed the weight of the water. It reaches a max speed and spins until the clothes are just damp.

When I tried lautering with my centrifuge, I was standing directly in front of it, holding the outlet hose, aiming the stream of wort directly into the basket at the grains which were suspended against the inner wall of the basket. It began to spin faster and faster as more and more wort was getting pumped back into it. This time, the mash was not shedding the weight of the liquid and due to the added weight, could not stay balanced as easily. It made a strange noise and before I could even reach for the plug, it was too late. Once it got spinning very fast, it instantly became unbalanced and it all came unglued!

There is a plastic liquid-filled ring that I believe is a counterbalance of some sort that flew off of the top of the basket, hitting me in the hands and severely cutting one of my fingers. It then threw sticky grains and mash over every square inch of my shop. The machine literally jumped off the floor and crashed into my shin, putting a dent in the steel frame. I was stunned for a moment, bleeding out of my finger and burning from the hot mash covering me. I just unplugged the machine and looked around at the colossal mess that I would spent the next couple of weeks cleaning up.

Have a look:
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"I'm American, Honey. Our names don't mean shit!"
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Butch Coolidge » Mon Jun 06, 2011 8:32 am

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In the next two pics, you can see streaks and dops of my blood in the wort on the floor!

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I don't think the centrifuge is damaged. I think as long as I don't try lautering with it, it will continue to work flawlessly. I haven't had the chance to use it again since the disaster. I admit, I will be a little gunshy when it comes time.

Still, I think that it is a really useful tool.

Butch
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Butch Coolidge » Mon Jun 06, 2011 8:41 am

I forgot to add how surprisingly easy the machine is to clean up (under normal circumstances).

I just scoop the majority of the grains out, wheel it over to my sink and put the outlet hose in the sink while letting it spin and spraying it out with a hot water hose. Maybe scrub the inside of the basket out a little with a sponge. The first couple times, I dismantled the pump because I thought that it would be packed with grains and stuff. It's easy to just flip two steel tabs and the pump comes right out. However the inside of it was spotless even after just the usual rinsing, so I have not bothered to do it again.

Butch
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Azframer » Mon Jun 06, 2011 10:20 am

Butch as usual you have a great idea and made something happen. I have to admit when you started telling of the disaster I was LMAO and could only see that didn't have grain and wash on was the void you were standing in front of. But then seen that you were cut and bleeding with a busted shin, that took the laughter out of it then. Hope all is well and thanks for sharing the do's and don'ts with us.
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Harry » Mon Jun 06, 2011 4:39 pm

@Butch

Pain is a great teacher.

Sorry for your accident. However it could have been a lot worse.

Washing machine centrifuges like yours spin at around 1,400 rpm. Industrials spin at around 10,000 rpm. All centrifuges should be enclosed in a sturdy metal frame which is bolted to the floor. Energy offloads are then transferred to the anchors. This setup prevents just the type of problem you had. But even then, with all the bracing, don't try the lautering trick again because the main shaft bearing will let go at speed. That is extremely dangerous.

As you say, used correctly your setup is the ideal for recovering wort. But I'd still frame it & bolt it down. Run longer hoses to the sink for cleaning, or mount it nearer the sink.

If you want to get a feel for the kind of energy there is in a centrifuge that's unbalanced, try this...

Take a pushbike front wheel, hold it in both hands by the axle stubs so it can be spun freely between your hands. Get the missus to spin it while you're holding it. Once spinning, now try to turn it so the axle is facing vertical. That huge resistance force you're feeling is what the centrifuge has, but many times over.

That will help you figure how well your centrifuge needs to be shielded & anchored.

Here's pics of a centrifuge that let go at cornell Uni lab...

Image

Image

Story here...
http://www.ehs.cornell.edu/chem_lab_saf ... e_safe.cfm


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.


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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Butch Coolidge » Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:05 pm

Azframer wrote:I have to admit when you started telling of the disaster I was LMAO and could only see that didn't have grain and wash on was the void you were standing in front of.


That happened about 2 months ago. Looking back on it now, it is pretty funny. I was literally standing there covered in mash from head to toe. I was overwelmed with the extent of the mess I was going to have to deal with. My shop is detatched from my house so I had to walk outside in the open where I could be seen by neighbors if they were looking, to the house so I could get myself cleaned up. After showereing and heading back out to the shop to begin the cleanup, I was hoping that it was some kind of dream and that the shop would be clean again. Now way, it was so messy!

It did give me the oppurtunity to sort out a lot of things that I could get rid of to minimize the clutter in my shop. I found myself throwing usless items away, rather than spending time cleaning them.

The shop is far more organized and spotless due to the event. My finger has healed up, although the tip is still numb, I guess it will take more time for the nerves to heal.

Butch
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Decoy » Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:47 pm

i couldnt help but laugh my self... :roflmao:

good to see it was mostly your pride that was injured.. and not you.. :oops:

if you check the motor it has variable speed windings, you dont need the thing cranking at full rpm's
all you need is enough to suspend the grain an let it spin for a bit longer..

good effort tho.. very clever to use a washing machine..
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby NineInchNails » Tue Jun 07, 2011 2:56 pm

Very well done and well written story. I have to admit that I did crack up a few times, but like Azframer said ... the injuries were not so funny. It could have been a lot worse I suppose so that's very good.

Like Harry said, you could bolt it down. If you like where it is currently you could use a masonry drill bit to drill holes to install fasteners into the floor with threaded rod sticking up and perhaps use thumb screws to fasten it down. That would make it easy to remove and move it wherever you like to empty/rinse/clean.

I'm sure your theory was sound (just before the incident). I'd be interested to know if Decoy's suggestion would allow you to recirculate. Perhaps it is not even necessary.
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby kiwi » Tue Jun 07, 2011 3:59 pm

I'm not clear on why you want to recirculate. I know why you would for beer, but for distilling it's not like a super clear wash is critical?
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Azframer » Tue Jun 07, 2011 4:28 pm

Yea like NIN said about using anchors to secure it down to concrete. When framing large walls to brace them off and not worry about high winds we would drill all the way through concrete for wedge anchors. Once we were done with bracing we would unbolt block and pound them down under flush and seal with concrete patch material.
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Butch Coolidge » Tue Jun 07, 2011 4:58 pm

I can't drill holes in the cement pad because there are radiant heat tubes hidden in there.

I think I will try to wire it up so I can select between low spin and high spin. It's just wired for high, now. Getting the wiring figured out for that was pretty tricky. Finding the correct wiring for low will be the same.

I would like to figure out a way to lauter. I end up with a lot of particles in the fermenter. I get like several inches of gooey sediment that may be minimized with a little filtering of some sort. I considered centrifuging once, like normal. Then scooping out the grains and putting a fabric bag inside the tub. I'd then pour the wort back into the bag and cenrtifuge again, this time trying to recirc the wort back into the top of the bag. Maybe the lack of bulk from the grains could prevent the same disaster. The bag could act as a filter and trap the particles which would themselves begin acting as a filter. The problem is, there was no warning prior to the failure! It was fine and then it exploded. No chance for me to react, even if I would've been anticipating it.

Low spin is probably the safest way to continue expirimenting with it. I'll see what can be done about rewiring the thing when I get some free time.

Butch
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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby Harry » Tue Jun 07, 2011 5:10 pm

Dynabolts work fine...


.


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Re: Butch's Centrifuge

Postby kiwi » Tue Jun 07, 2011 5:42 pm

Hmm ok, I'm not sure that you'd get the whole grain-filter-matrix you normally get from a lauter tun in a centrifuge. Maybe it's best to deal with the mess either with a filter between the centrifuge and fermenter, or by clarifying in the fermenter. Have you ever tried fining with gelatin? works wonders.
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