So my wife and I were invited to a little kid's b-day party. At this party three different types of smoked meat were served, a brisket and two different cuts of pork. Basically, after this party both my wife and I were sold on the idea of smoking meat. Therefore, I got free license from my wife to find/make a smoker! After looking at smoker prices, I quickly realized that making one would be the way to go as I am pretty cheap and don't put a dollar amount on my time as I enjoy tinkering around. After googling various combinations of "cheap, smoker, and homemade" I found out about the "mini WSM". If you are interested in other people's mods, do the same.
Before getting started, you will need to gather the following basic parts for your mini WSM.
1. mini Weber Smokey Joe grill (silver or gold, 14.5 inch diameter, new is $30, used on craigslist $10-15)
2. 32 quart IMUSA Steamer Pot (Walmart ~$25)
3. Some kind of drip pan/ water dish (I found mine at the Salvation Army for $3 and it was stainless steel)
4. charcoal ring (optional, I made mine of out aluminum mesh...we will see how this metal holds up)
5. various nuts and bolts (stay away from zinc and chrome plated hardware for health reasons - all my hardware was aluminum, steel, or stainless)
6. heat resistant black paint (optional...make sure to get a gloss one unlike me :( )
7. Thermometer (optional $12 from amazon -it appears you get what you pay for here and mine may not be the best. Mine is a replacement for a Camp Chef grill. Only after I bought it did I uncover some reviews saying it stinks. HOWEVER, from what I have gathered, people are using this in really really hot conditions and that is probably why they do not work. I got mine and tested it at 50, 70, and 212 degrees F and it was always within a couple degrees.)
8. Wood plugs to make vent handles along with stain and some carriage bolts to form the vent handle arms (optional, I used some white oak which looked really nice after I stained it. I also applied some polyurethane but it is only rated to 140F so I may be into trouble...)
Tools that I used:
1. Jig saw with metal cutting blade (to cut out bottom of pot)
2. Drill with drill bits to match hardware
3. Sanding paper (optional, to smooth out the jigsaw cut)
4. Razor (optional, to cut out design --> in my case the UW Badger "motion W")
5. Masking tape (optional, to block the paint for the design)
6. Template (optional--optional you only need one if you want to make a design and you stink at drawing freehand)
Prepare the grill. If you buy a new grill, you probably do not need to do anything. I got mine from a neighbor and it was in need of some TLC. I first took it completely apart and sanded the legs and then repainted them with the heat resistant paint. I then cleaned the grill itself and only touched up some rusty spots with the paint. I opted not to repaint the grill as I think the finish on the Weber grills is amazing and as long as you don't scratch it it will always come clean. (try using oven cleaner, it worked for me - I sprayed the grill down with it and then put it into a trash bag overnight) To touch up areas around the handles, I sprayed a bunch of the heat resistant spray paint on a piece of paper and then used a cotton swab to spread the paint- dipping the cotton swab into the paint puddle I made to coat it with paint. A simple wire grill brush will easily bring life back to the worst looking grate if enough effort is applied. I made handles for the grill vents using some white oak cylinders and some carriage bolts that I cut the heads off. Wood glue seems to hold them in place quite well.
Cut out the bottom of the pot. I must say they in my first design iteration I followed the design of someone else and tried drilling a bunch of holes into the bottom of the pot using a vertical mill and a step drill. This is probably over kill, but my holes were drilled to within 1/1000 of an inch... However, since the aluminum is so soft, the step drill left nasty burrs that I needed to remove. In addition, the metal surface was kind of warped from the drilling action - again since the metal is so soft (this is why some of the holes appear differently sized, I set the mill to drill a certain depth, but when the surface of the material you are cutting can give way...it is hard to always drill to the same depth...). So I scraped the drilling idea and cut off the bottom using a jig saw. In order to make a nice circular template for the bottom jig saw cut, I used the steamer insert (traced it on the bottom with a pen). After making the cut I went over the edge with two different grades of sandpaper to smooth out the cutting marks. Below are some pictures of my the holes and the burrs.
Drill the thermometer hole. I attached my thermometer using the bracket that came with it. This bracket uses a spring like action and the friction present between the bracket and the thermometer rod to hold itself in place. I did modify the bracket by drilling a third hole in it to provide even more force such that my thermometer would nicely stay in place. Without drilling the third hole in the bracket my thermometer lacked sufficient force to keep it normal to the pot's surface.
I also made some adjustable brackets that will allow me to change the height of a second grate (in the future I plan on buying another grate). These brackets were made from some scrap aluminum that I cut using a metal shear machine. I then used a hole punch to make a bunch of 1/4 inch holes in them at a bunch of different depths. You could use a drill for this as well, but the holes would not be so nice. After making the brackets I drilled three holes in my pot in which I would install the brackets (after the paint job). I read online about people using metal hangers to determine the best place for the second grate and then once determining the optimal height to drill in permanent grate holders. I figured, why not just make something adjustable from the starts since I may want to move the grate heights for different smoking applications.
I made my drip pan and water dish using a modified stainless steel dish I got from the Salvation Army. I used a ban saw to make a series of cuts around the edges of the dish and then used pliers to fold the metal down, leaving behind four pieces to have the dish rest on the grove intended for the steamer shelf. I also folded two peices inward to act as handles to make lowering/raising the dish easier.
Step 4. (optional)
I wanted to add some flair to the smoker so my wife had the idea of putting on the UW Badger "motion W". I printed off a logo from online and then paid the NCAA some royalties. I cut out the logo being careful to preserve the integrity of the paper around the logo. Then I taped this template where I wanted it on my pot and filled it in with masking tape. I then used a razor to cut away the template leaving me what I wanted to get no paint covered by masking tape.
Painting time. I shook up the painting can a bunch and set my cooker on a 4x4 piece of wood away from the grass and placed the lid on it s.t. paint would not get into the inside (the paint warns you not to get it near the cooking surface...I am not really keen on painting this thing at all as the pot is made of aluminum but it looks better painted). I let the paint dry for a few hours before removing the masking tape. I wanted to let the paint dry, but perhaps be still a little tacking s.t. when I removed the masking tape large sections would not peel away on the borders of the tape. I had no such problems.
One last thing I did was to make a vent cover for the bottom of the smoker. I had seen online that after a day long smoke a lot of ashes build up around the vent and can clog up the air flow. So I found some scrap aluminum and made a vent cover that will act to keep the vents unclogged - hopefully.
So I found some steel in a dumpster on my way into work, and after a short while produced a new charcoal ring. I will wait on making a vent filter until I see how my first smoker runs go.