55-gallon drum smoker

I came across this today and well… It brought a tear to my eye.

Not really, but this really is the best step-by-step DIY guide to building your own smoker I’ve ever seen. The end result is simple and beautiful -not like most mutated gas tank BBQ abominations I see on the internet – and any one could do this from home with very minimal tools or skill.

I couldn’t find his name but I think it’s Joel.

So Joel, if that’s your name, the At Home Welder is officially giving you props. NICE WORK!

The following is the DIY Smoker post from Joel’s (sorry if that’s not your name) site, Design & Make. Enjoy



55-Gallon Drum Smoker

This past fall I took an evening welding class at a local technical school and got very excited about making things out of metal. I already had an old stick welder that I didn’t really know how to use, and I ended up buying a MIG welder–the Hobart Handler 140 from Northern. After making lots of small assemblages out of scrap metal  I managed to build a stool and a couple of plant stands, but I had bigger plans.

There’s something special about creating useful objects. A smoker is a nice combination of supremely useful (preparing sustenance) and slightly frivolous (do you need a smoked pork butt to survive?). There are certainly faster and more efficient ways to cook food, but damn smoked meat is good.

I looked around at commercial smokers and custom hacks and talked to a few connoisseurs, and decided the Weber Smoky Mountain was a good design to start from. It’s simple and effective, and in the end it mostly convinced me that the design need not be complex.

Something appealed to me about using the iconic 55-gallon drum as a building block, so I went out and bought a couple from the local scrap yard. One of them even got immediate use as a beer barrel at Crushtoberfest!

A little sketching on different configurations, and I decided a ‘T’ shape would be simple, stable, and functional, and provide plenty of opportunity to practice the MIG on some thin sheet metal. I laid it out in CAD, which made it easy to generate the intersecting curve between the two barrels.

I printed the curve at full scale and wrapped it onto the barrel, traced the curve, then cut the barrel with a jig saw. The first dry fit was amazingly close (way to go, CAD!) but there was still a lot of grinding here and there to accommodate the ribs in the barrels.

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I measured and marked the door openings on the barrels and cut them out with the jig saw.

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The next step was grinding the paint off. The last thing I wanted was burning paint fumes getting into the food, so every bit of paint needed to go. If I were to do this again I would find another way… sand blasting, chemicals, burning it off, etc… anything but taking it off little by little with an angle grinder. I’ll admit the Gator brand paint & rust remover discs I found at Lowes were very effective (if a bit pricey at 9 bucks a piece). But my shop is now coated with a thin layer of green paint dust, much of which ended up in my nose and likely my lungs.

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On the first day of grinding I wore a respirator and glasses but nothing else. After washing my hair three times in a row to get the paint dust out I learned to don more protection. For the insides of the barrels I also used an LED headlamp.

As the barrels were made of surprisingly thin metal (20 gauge) the door openings needed to be reinforced with some angle and rolled sheet metal strips, which were plug welded from the outside and tacked from the inside.

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The doors also needed reinforcement, in the form of sheet metal ribs tacked onto the undersides.

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I welded small pads onto the barrels and doors for the stainless steel hinges. These pads were ground flat then drilled and tapped.

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After grinding the rest of the paint off I welded the two barrels together. This was a challenge, since the metal was so thin and the fit was far from perfect. To prevent burn-through and warpage I used a “stitching” technique where you put a quick tack weld across the joint, wait a second or less and put another tack next to it, continuing like that for about an inch at a time. Apparently this puts less heat to the metal than a continuous bead, but the end result looks very similar. With a little practice I was even able to bridge relatively large gaps between the barrels with short, controlled beads that build on each other, kind of like ants crossing a stream.

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I shopped around looking for off-the-shelf replacement grates that would work but none of them were big enough for this guy. So I bought about 80 feet of 1/4″ diameter 304 stainless rod (from onlinemetals.com) and cut it to length on the abrasive chop saw. I scored a piece of 1x pine on the table saw at the proper spacing to use as a jig, and clamped the rods down. The MIG would have been perfect for welding the grates, but I would have needed to buy stainless wire and a separate tank of tri-mix gas (65% argon, 33% helium and 2% CO2). The stainless itself was already pushing my budget, so I bought a handful of stainless welding rods and used the arc welder.

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Next I drilled holes for the dampers– two sets of three holes at the top and two sets of four holes the bottom. The top ones were made like typical grill dampers with a round rotating plate. The bottom ones needed to be on a curved surface, so they slide along the surface rather than rotating.

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In both cases the moving damper is retained by screws, so I drilled holes and tacked some steel nuts behind them.

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I then drilled a series of holes to allow the smoke and heat into the top barrel. My step drill bit did an amazing job, but the cordless drill still went through two fully charged batteries getting the job done.

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Next I tacked on some small support tabs for the grates and six small sections of square tube as feet.

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After a thorough deburring, wire-brushing and degreasing with alcohol, I set about applying a high-temperature grill paint. There are several available but Rustoleum High Heat Brush On was a) available at Lowes and b) didn’t require curing at a high temperature like most of the products I found online. Unfortunately it only comes in black, which is actually slightly brownish. They recommend only applying one coat, which I agree with after trying to touch up a few spots after drying, resulting in some weird gloss differences. I then tried the spray can version of the same paint, but found it to be flat finish (vs. the brush-on which is satin). The lesson here is get it right with the first coat because you really can’t go back and hit it again.

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While the paint was drying (24 hrs… it’s oil-based) I fabricated some handles out of a 1″ maple dowel. I don’t have a wood lathe but the metal lathe did the job. A few coats of Polycrylic and they’re ready to assemble.

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The smoker can be used in one of two different ways– with charcoal in an expanded metal basket or with wood on a traditional fireplace grate. I suppose I could retrofit some gas burners or even electric heating elements, but that’s a project for another day.

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And last, final assembly. I bought a 3″ smoker/grill thermometer online, and used some nickel-plated chain for the lid stays. I also fabricated a sheet metal “drip tray” to cover the holes under the food and deflect some of the heat.

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I figured my brother-in-law Pete would make much better use of this than me, so we gave it to him for Christmas. Here he is opening it…

Pete getting his present

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Comments

    • James Kuzma says

      what would it take to get you to mail me the template for the curve on the barrel. I am willing to pay for it.

  1. Jimbo says

    That is awesome! Any way you can provide measurements and info? I’ve got one drum already so any ideas I can get are well appreciated.

  2. says

    hey there and thanks for the post – I’ve most definately learned something interesting from here. I did however have a few technical problems with this blog, because I needed to refresh the page several times before I could get it to load properly. I was wondering if your hosting is adequate for your needs? Not that I am complaining, but slow loading times will sometimes lower your position in the search engines and can damage your quality score if using Adwords. Anyhow I’m going to add your RSS feed to my email and will look out for more of your informative posts. Please update this again sometime soon…

  3. Ryan says

    Hey,
    I just bought a drum that contained alcohol based soup with low viscosity. Is this drum good to use if burned out well?
    Ryan

  4. Dave says

    Wow, awesome job. I have two barrels I have been wanting to do something usesful with and know I do. Would it be possible for you to email me the curve template please and thankyou. I hope I get to build this.

    Dave

  5. roger says

    man thats the best looking smoker i ever seen, great job.is there any way you can send me the curve template or measurements please. thank you and a wonderful job.

  6. Scott says

    What an awesome design and build! Truly outstanding design. Is there one tyoe of barrel that is better then another. Does anyone have a suggested source for new unused barrels?

    • says

      korstleyrx1 on October 24, 2011 This really does work.. It’s called freebie trading.. I’m a freebie trainer.. Send me a message if you have any questions about it

  7. gailand says

    That is by far one of the best grills I have seen. And it is the perfect size for a super large cast iron grill plate that I had picked up for the single can version. I definitely want to build one. Any chance on those CAD templates others have asked for?

  8. Anthony says

    Hey great smoker i have been looking for plans to build one just like it. i am really impressed with your design and would like the template for the curve. i already have my drums and have been trying to figure out how to do the curve.

  9. mike says

    That is a awesome smoker i would like to try to build one, if you do send the plans ,templates, measurements out to other people i sure like to have them please let me know. Mike from Michigan.

  10. John says

    Man that’s awesome. Where did you get the latches and hinges for the doors. And did you weld the top (or side) lid shut or are you using a ring? I think the only thing you didn’t think of was a smoke stack to let the smoke out more effeciently

  11. Julianne says

    I just stumbled across your site & started to follow! Very neat…the choice to do what you love & thanks for sharing your talent! I have a question for a project that I have been thinking about undertaking.

    I have no experience, but willing to buy the tools & try…

    I would like to change my table lamps into wall sconces. I think it would be doable, but not sure how to proceed. Any ideas? My exact lamps can be seen here: http://www.potterybarn.com/products/chelsea-table-bedside-lamp-base/?pkey=ctable-bedside-lamps

  12. Clarke says

    If something is worth doing, it’s worth over-doing. What a great build!! I was simply going to get a 44 gallon drum (our aussie gallons are bigger than your US gallons ie 4.5 litres vs 3.8 litres), cut a hole in the side, stick in an old electric frying pan, add wood chips, put a bar across at the top to hang sausages off (I love smoked sausages!), add a thermometer, turn up the temp and put the lid on.
    I hope my wife never sees your results!!
    Cheers

  13. paddy says

    what a brilliant design here in the UK smoking isn’t very big so having trouble trying to find a design could you email me your design i am willing to pay you for it.
    cheers mate
    paddy

  14. Ned says

    This is so cool. I got two 55 gallon drums from a local bakery and started working on them today. First step was to build a pattern. To do that, I went to the original website here: http://jmillerid.com/wordpress/category/55-gallon-drum-smoker/ and followed some additional instructions in the comments and a follow up post. I was able to get through the first couple of steps today. Here’s how I did it:

    -I resized the image to fit with a drum that has a diameter of 23 inches. To do this you need a program called IrfanView. Download here http://www.irfanview.com/ or direct link here http://cnet.co/Ohzt1.
    -Once IrfanView is installed, download the pattern image here: http://bit.ly/HmrZxX
    -Open the image with IrfanView, crop it close to the ends of the pattern and re-size it to 72.3 inches.
    -Draw a box around a section of the image by left clicking and dragging. hit ctrl+p to print. Note what is in the print preview. That will show what will print of what you selected. Draw that box around each part of the image and print them in order.
    -Tape all of the papers together.
    -Cut out pattern, trace on barrel, and make your cut.

    Worked well for me, though there is definitely additional grinding/cutting that you will need to do to account for the ribs on the barrell. Was able to do this and start welding the barrels. So far, so good.

    Thanks, Joel for the great plans! I can’t wait to get it done and cooking.

  15. Walt says

    your design is awesome! i also had the same design in my head and started to build it and ran accross your webpage, found it interesting how close our design were to each others. wish i could post a pic to show you how mine turned out! thanks again for the article

  16. Maly says

    Awesome build. I decided to take this design and build on it. Changed a couple of things and am currently building my own 55 gallon smoker!
    Thanks!

  17. steve says

    to make the curve measure the diameter of the drum,divide into four measure two high points at twelve and six and two lows at three and nine, then graduate each quarter and run in your curve

  18. jerry m. says

    do you have them for sale you did a better job than i could have ever done i would even come and get it and pay cash for it

  19. says

    I must get across my passion for your kind-heartedness supporting folks that actually need help on your matter. Your very own dedication to passing the solution along became exceptionally productive and has continuously helped some individuals like me to realize their aims. This informative hints and tips indicates much a person like me and even further to my fellow workers. With thanks; from each one of us.

  20. Scott says

    I am building a couple of upright smokers for myself right now…I plan on doing a one barrel upright design and I plan on making the second one like you have done here…super nice work. I am sure your bro-in-law was major stoked to get that beast. Thanks so much for the great insight and pics.

  21. says

    Important details. Fortuitous me I found your website by accident, that i’m dismayed exactly why this particular collision don’t taken place sooner! My spouse and i bookmarked that.

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