My T500 upgrade

Reflux still design and discussion

My T500 upgrade

Postby stevodevo » Sun May 03, 2020 1:50 pm

Hi All,

I'm just starting out in the hobby and made the mistake of acting impulsively one day and bought a T500 from the local. I usually research the heck out of every decision, but not this time, unfortunately. So anyway I've decided to try to make the best out of the situation and attempt a relatively inexpensive mod to remove what most seem to state as the biggest problems with the humble T500. Eventually, I'll upgrade to something bigger and better, but for now, I have to watch the budget. I was able to justify the spend based on me making hand sanitiser and spray cleaner :-) but an immediate upgrade won't fly in "these uncertain times".

Surprisingly, there's not a lot in the way of "guides" to show the newcomer how to upgrade a T500, so I figured I'll post some pics and thoughts up here in the hope that those with more experience than me can help out with some suggestions/improvements to my attempt at a guide. I had the 2" tri-clamp and end cap already from when I accidentally ordered the wrong size for my SS Brewtech Unitank, so all up I'm out of pocket $35 ($5.50 for a Stainless ferrule and $29.81 for the copper socket) so it's no great loss if I'm heading down the wrong path. The TC bits I had cost about $10, so the whole upgrade could be done for less than $50 using easily sourceable materials. I can also put everything back to the way it was out of the box.

So without further ado, here's the project to date. I'm at a point now where I need to bring the top part of the condenser into the main column and I'm wondering if the spirit collection tube (sorry about the terminology) so the main question I have right now is if the 6mm tube absolutely needs to be at the very top of the column, or can I make the hole right in the middle of the copper socket as in the picture below (words the bottom of the post).

I started by removing the top plastic parts
Image

This is the stainless ferrule and copper socket. Fitting the ferrule into the socket is so tight I needed to bang it in good and hard with a rubber mallet, so it ain't going anywhere and probably has quite a good seal already
Image
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The fit between the copper socket and the T500 column is very good, but not quite watertight. I'm open to suggestions, but I had the thought that even just some silicone wrapping tape (the kind that bonds to itself) would do for now. Whatever I use, won't come anywhere near the product inside, so I would think even something as crude as muffler bandage would be quick and simple. I'm not sure how silver solder would go in this situation (pretty sure that column isn't actually copper), but I'd prefer to try to find some way of completing this whole upgrade without requiring much skill in case others want to follow suit.
Image

This is a bit of the silicone wrap to hold it all together. I can't see why this wouldn't do the trick (and keep the whole project "reversible"). If this is the way I go, I'd use a bit more and make it a bit neater looking.
Image

I did find at this point, the top of the condenser coil wasn't high enough, so I pulled it up a bit. The coil isn't quite as tightly coiled now, but let's face it, it's pretty average to start with. I started by trying to use pliers, but in the end, a zip tie did the trick. The looped zip tie allowed me to get down to the lower coils and redistribute the coils a bit more evenly.
Image

The little black mark near the top of the coil shows the point where the top of the column was originally
Image

I wrapped one of the packing saddles around the coil to centre the coil in the column. I could probably think of a better way to do this, but it does the trick for now.
Image

I marked a spot 15mm from the edge of the TC end cap to drill a hole for the end of the cooling coil to protrude. I'll mention at this point, my preference for going this way than something more permanent like soldering a straight copper end cap on is so that I can remove the end for cleaning.
Image

A 6mm drill bit was just too small, and 6.5mm just too big. So this means it's not a perfect seal at this point. I'm open to suggestions about how to deal with this. One thought I had was to get some sort of grommet, but that somewhat defeats the purpose of removing the original plastic. Choosing the correct heat and solvent resistant material for the grommet would be a giant improvement over the original design (I assume) because there would be such small amount of product in contact with the grommet, but I'm not entirely sure what's suitable and available. I've come across some EPDM grommets which might work? Other than that, the gap is really so small, I would think that just about any food-safe, heat resistant sealer would do the trick. The pic below is on macro setting, and the angle makes the gap look bigger than it is. Properly centred, it's about 0.2mm. The goal here is to keep the end cap removable, so no permanent welding if possible, but I wouldn't be opposed to running a bit of silicone or putty-like compound around the gap each time I've broken it down to clean.
Image

Which leads me to where I'm at now. I somehow need to get the spirit collection tub into the main column. I'd appreciate suggestion before I drill the hole. This will also need to be well sealed, but because it doesn't affect the ability to remove the end cap, whatever I do here can be a permanent solution (like solder for example). Sticking with the goal of making this an approachable project for anyone to do very easily, a tight-fitting grommet would be great, but I thinking practically, it might not be the best solution, so I'm keen to hear thoughts. It also brings me back to the first question about where the hole needs to go. Could it go where I placed it in the pic, or does it only work if it's right at the top of the column? I've marked off an area to show what I was suggesting about cutting the tub at an angle to make a bigger surface area for the spirit to drop onto. That's probably a dumb noob idea - thoughts?
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I've got some small diameter copper tube coming next week which I hope I might be able to squeeze onto the outlet pipe to replace the supplied plastic hose. Until that comes, my current solution is based on other posts on this forum using some 1/2" copper pipe and a bit of the plastic hose as packing. The only other thing I did was open up the black plastic a bit so the 1/2" copper pipe can sit in it to give a bit more support (if that makes sense). It's actually still a tiny bit wobbly, so my preference is to find something that fits tightly. Fingers crossed what I ordered works.
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So there you have it. I'd love to get some constructive feedback and suggestion for improvements. I have a few spare bits and pieces (TC end caps, copper pipe, etc) so it wouldn't be out of the question to redo most of what I've done already if anyone suggests a better way of doing something. This was mainly intended to be a conversation starter.

Hopefully, I'm sort of on the right track, and myself and others with a T500 can have a cheap and cheerful upgrade to make it more useful and safe. As it stands, I'd be happy to just use the T500 as it comes for neutral spirits, but I'd really like the flexibility to be able to detune it to do stripping runs etc. Other than that, I just generally feel like the plastic bits have to go. If I need to make some of the mods more permanent, so be it, but I think it would be awesome if we could collectively come up with a reasonably foolproof process that's easy to follow, using a standard bill of materials that could be supplied by site sponsors as a kit so anyone else with a T500 can deal with what is arguably one of its most contentious design aspects.
Last edited by stevodevo on Sun May 03, 2020 1:59 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby stevodevo » Sun May 03, 2020 2:01 pm

BTW - this being my first "real" post, I've made a note to self to do some image cropping next time :oops:
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby bluc » Sun May 03, 2020 5:57 pm

Silver solder will seal it 806 flux will help :handgestures-thumbupleft:
Nice mod btw
Last edited by bluc on Sun May 03, 2020 5:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby RC Al » Mon May 04, 2020 1:13 am

I really can't think of a way of sealing the top safely and have it removable, making the triclamp redundant. I think a better solution is a 2" copper end cap on top of a tee with a reducer down to the condenser, not sure how your going to go with height of the coolant tube that way though.

You could go ahead how you are there and just solder the tc endcap in permanently to the coolant tube, no great loss really (thats one expensive socket btw) and branch in the pc connector how you planned, possibly with a ss bulkhead fitting, but solder and tube would be one silicon seal less

The cooling line at the top could be done with unions

A tight fit and tape is in no way safe or acceptable here

For others reading and considering this idea, much of this isnt too much less than building the whole thing yourself, and as odd of a statement as it is around here, a waste of a t500, selling and upgrading to a better self built unit would seem to be more desireable than modding this less than stellar perfoming unit

I appreciate that your well and truly commited to this now stevo, but sometimes working with what ya got isn't the best thing :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby RC Al » Mon May 04, 2020 1:41 am

Ok, i thought of one way, put a 90 on the coolant outlet and punch the outlet through below the end plate

I'm just not a fan of the gromit idea....

Oh and run individual lines for the coolant - needed for potstill mode

Ran out of edit time on the other post lols
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby stevodevo » Mon May 04, 2020 11:46 am

Thanks for the feedback fellas. I did also have that idea to bring the coolant tube out the side, and I still do like the idea but figured I'd probably end up kinking it in the process. Now that I have a bit more room to move and can come out the socket fitting instead I might revisit that idea now that you've reminded me. I reckon the idea of using a union has legs as well, so I'll do a bit of Googling to see what's available. I honestly don't like the idea of a grommet either but that's the best I could think of, and why I decided to open up the project to get ideas.

It sounds like soldering the socket is the go, so I'll pursue that option. I've got the propane torch from when I was planning to make a copper counterflow chiller a while ago (which I've now learned from reading this forum was actually a really big leibig condenser), so I'll grab some solder and flux and give it a whirl. @Bluc does 806 flux go by any other name? I can't find much about it on the internet.

I'm not overly invested in this to date, so if it turns out to be a crappy idea I'll just put it all back to the way it is - up until the point I settle on a good concept and commit the mods with some solder of course. I was initially hoping to get away with just buying the stainless ferrule, but when it arrived I found it was exactly the same diameter as the T500 column (I was thinking it would slip inside). So it blew out a bit more with the socket, and it's a shame Bunnens doesn't stock anything 50mm because yeah the price blew out a bit more at that point having to go to Reece. Still, for $35 it's kept my mind a bit occupied and off the work computer for a couple of days, so that's been worth it for me :-)

I really do have to work with what I've got for now. I have over $6K of home brewing equipment in the garage, so when I stretched the budget with a nice new midlife crisis sports car, I made a promise to be more transparent with discretionary spending. I'm not kidding when I say I sneakily rush the T500 through based on not being able to buy hand sanitiser and metho for cleaning ;-) but once the COVID-19 situation settles, I'm really looking forward to trying my hand at a DIY still project or two.
Last edited by stevodevo on Mon May 04, 2020 11:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby Tesla101 » Mon May 04, 2020 12:47 pm

Hey Stevo,

As a T500 owner, I'm a bit in 2 minds about this mod. I do agree with you in that the plastic bits are better being copper or SS, but I'm just not sure it's worth the time and effort to mod it.

RC Al makes a good point that in it's original form it's gonna be easier to sell when you want to upgrade, but also if you think you'll never sell it then mod away! Believe me, I've pondered many a mod idea whilst whiling away the hours waiting for a spirit run to finish on mine.

If your intention is to also make a kit that other T500 owners might consider purchasing, it's gonna have to be easy to do and affordable. So that probably means something that doesn't require any soldering - which from a safety stand point is going to be difficult.

Personally I think that if you don't run the T500 too hot and thus risk melting the plastic bits, the cheapest and easiest T500 mod is to separate the cooling lines for both condensers. From my experience the RC needs more water running through it to be able to hold it in full reflux - running the cooling through the PC first is limiting its ability to do that.

The thing to look out for when splitting the cooling (and also with your current mod) is making sure that your hoses at the top of the condensers don't kink when they warm up and block the flow. Adding a 90 degree elbow or two there should fix that.

Hope this is helpful...
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby stevodevo » Mon May 04, 2020 3:48 pm

All comments are helpful - thanks I've abandoned the thought of it being a simple "no tools" type upgrade, but I'm happy to keep moving forward changing tactics to soldering the new bits on. I don't have any plans to sell (I HATE selling stuff on Gumtree) so resale value isn't an issue either.

Does anyone have any thoughts about the placement of the top condenser intake tube? I can't really imagine it in my head how that works, but it would be nice if the process still works efficiently going in through the middle section of the copper socket.

It complicates things if I have to come in through the stainless ferrule. Not only will it be way harder to drill, but it will also bring the condenser up past the point that the lower black plastic bracket won't be able to hold the condenser in place anymore. Like I was eluding to in my last post, this all seemed a lot easier when I had it in my head that the TC ferrule would just but straight into the column.
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby stevodevo » Mon May 04, 2020 5:58 pm

Oh, and the other upgrade I'd highly recommend (as has been suggested plenty of times here already) is replacing the boiler tap. I honestly don't know how SS managed to create such a terrible tap. The liquid almost defies gravity to spray everywhere but straight down the sink at the end of a run. I just drilled out the stock hole with a step drill bit and used a tap and washers I already had.

Image
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby Tesla101 » Mon May 04, 2020 9:58 pm

OMG, yes! That stock boiler tap is the worst!

In addition to spraying hot dunder everywhere but in collection bucket, the amount of times I've flooded the laundry when trying to wash it out and have accidentally flicked that tap on :angry-banghead: :angry-banghead:

Love that mod you did ^:)^
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby Cooper » Tue May 05, 2020 12:44 am

Hi Stevodevo,

I'm all for experimentation but one thing I noticed with my identical unit when cleaning it is that there is an intentional air gap at the top of the column e.g. if you turn the stock column upside down and fill it with water you will see water 'leaking' from between the end of the copper column and the black plastic cap.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that this was a safety measure (perhaps by someone who made a copper cap to eliminate all plastic?) If I recalled that correctly you may want to somehow emulate that feature.

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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby RC Al » Tue May 05, 2020 8:18 am

No sorry mate, the reference bandied around was the manufacturers response to leaking columns and complete BS

The t500 is a cooling management still and should be sealed, there is zero need for a "vent" at the top, it's just dangerously venting alc vapour, why that bit hasn't been changed is beyond me. (Money hungry company, I know)
Boka's (lm) need venting at the top
Last edited by RC Al on Tue May 05, 2020 8:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby Tesla101 » Tue May 05, 2020 10:50 am

RC Al wrote:No sorry mate, the reference bandied around was the manufacturers response to leaking columns and complete BS

The t500 is a cooling management still and should be sealed, there is zero need for a "vent" at the top, it's just dangerously venting alc vapour, why that bit hasn't been changed is beyond me. (Money hungry company, I know)
Boka's (lm) need venting at the top


^^^ :text-+1: ^^^

If anyone has a T500 that is leaking like that and it's still under warranty then take it back and either get a replacement or your money back. That's what I did, the one I have now doesn't leak at all.
Last edited by Tesla101 on Tue May 05, 2020 10:50 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby Cooper » Tue May 05, 2020 6:26 pm

RC Al wrote:the reference bandied around was the manufacturers response to leaking columns and complete BS


Wow, thanks RC AI, I'll get onto it!

Not intending to hijack the thread but the manufacturer says "...This [leak] does not have any effect on the operation of the still, as the reflux process causes a vacuum effect sucking all vapour from the tower to the condenser..."

With the temp at 70C+ at the top of the column that would have to be some vacuum to counteract the leak :roll:

Looking forward to hearing more Stevodevo.

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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby stevodevo » Tue May 05, 2020 8:34 pm

Hijack away Cooper. This is totally relevant to the discussion, so thank you for your contribution. I'd previously read all the arguments for and against this and came to the conclusion I'd rather not have the leak. Mine leaked from the first time I tried to give it an upside-down citric acid bath, which is one of the reasons I pulled it apart in the first place looking to see how I could improve upon the design.

I'd already ruled grommets out after the initial couple of suggestions, but the grommets I ordered arrived today, and I can confirm they definitely aren't suitable. I'm currently scouring eBay etc for unions and bulkheads. It's looking somewhat promising. I reckon I may have a better option for replacing the plastic drain hose now, but I'll wait to see if the idea pans out before I mention anything.

I'm back at work again now, so progress may slow. Another thing I have going for me is that brewing (and now distilling) is more about the process and a hobby than the drinking for me. I don't drink a lot, so I'm not in a massive rush to get my next batch on. I figure this will come in handy when it comes to oaking/aging. After the initial sacrificial turbo sugar/yeast run, the house is well stocked with hand sanitiser and "metho" for cleaning the floors, so I'm covered for a bit now haha.
Last edited by stevodevo on Tue May 05, 2020 8:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby Cooper » Thu May 07, 2020 12:02 am

stevodevo wrote:I'm currently scouring eBay etc for unions and bulkheads. It's looking somewhat promising


Yes, its a bit of a head-scratcher without using silicone seals. The only non-silicone way I can think of (depending on the thickness of the the inlet pipe to the condenser) is to make an interference fit in the form of a luer connector. You would perhaps make a flat face at the top of the column then drill a hole and solder a copper cone to the inside. On the vapour inlet pipe of the condenser you would solder another cone and tap an external thread up to the cone. To assemble just slide one cone inside the other and then tighten to seal with a nut.

Great in theory but practice is another thing though!

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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby kazanpasa » Mon May 18, 2020 6:00 pm

Hi Im just building T500 like to show you how I did some conections
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby Doubleuj » Mon May 18, 2020 6:12 pm

kazanpasa wrote:Hi Im just building T500 like to show you how I did some conections

Hi Kazanpasa, you’re build looks good but I’m a bit worried that there will be some vapour contact with the brass fittings that are mounted on the main column. Brass is not good in a still unfortunately, but you might be able to “Tin” the brass inside to seal away any potential lead. As long as you’ve been using lead free solder that is.

How about posting up a thread in the welcome centre as well please :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: My T500 upgrade

Postby kazanpasa » Mon May 18, 2020 7:19 pm

Im using lead free solder there is copper pipe throuhgt brass fitting at column vapour wont be in contact with brass
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