Mounting the auger drive motor. Step four of a DIY record.

In this step I mount the auger drive motor, it has a built in right angle drive and speed reducer which adds torque.  The motor comes complete ready for wiring and mounting using four screws.  Again I drew up the parts in SketchUp and then cut them out on the CNC plasma cutter, it was almost too easy.   The further I get down this path the more I take advantage of the CNC’s capabilities.  Note the rounded corners, I also added an extra hole on top of the motor mount plate to make adding a wire routing clip easier in the future.  I remade the worm drive plate to improve some of the adjustment capabilities and added at the same time some decoration, rounded corners and used less material.

I used a Lovejoy type shaft connector to connect the motor to the worm shaft with a Buna-N spider in between to minimize any vibration or backlash to the motor, although with the worm and worm gear combination there should be none.


Adding the worm gear and worm. Step three of a DIY record.

This step was made simple by the use of the CNC  plasma cutter to make a part which I then bent up on both ends using my homemade brake.  But first let’s revisit the old configuration for comparison.

Chain drive transmission of the auger drive, used on the last configuration

I had to rob the motor and some parts from this transmission so it is in disarray but you get the idea of the complexity.  It  requires four sprockets, two chains, a motor and two chain tensioners. Here is a picture of the newly implemented and untested solution for mounting the worm and worm gear.

Worm gear keyed to shaft, worm gear mounted on cross shaft.

The CNC made it easy to slot the holes for adjustment, so the vertical adjustment comes from the plate to plate mounting screws, and the bearing mounting holes are slotted to get correct in and out adjustment to the keyed worm. After cutting the part and mounting it I decided what to change in the next iteration.   I modified the part to round all the corners so that there are no sharp edges and extended the plate to pick up a second set of holes so the plates are attached with four screws instead of two.   I think this part is perfectly functional so I won’t implement the changes but at least the SketchUp drawing has been updated.


Adding the Auger. Step two of a DIY record.

It may seem like a small bite but step two actually requires some machining and tweaking to get correct.  In this step I am going to add the auger to the pipe assembly I have already built.  To do this I need to support the auger with bearings so the shaft will be cantilevered in the pipe.  The auger should not touch the pipe and needs to be centered in the pipe, at least within a reasonable distance.  To do this I cut some 1 x 2 square tubing and then drilled holes on the Bridgeport using the Digital Readout to measure the distance so that the bearings would fit perfectly.  These particular bearings are an oil impregnated bronze bushing in a pillow block configuration.  The pillow block configuration is aluminum which makes machining the pillow block easy.  Here’s a picture of the key way which I machined into a piece of  1″ cold rolled.  If you have the choice cold rolled is much easier to work with then hot rolled for shafts.  Of course this is really not shaft stock it is round stock but it works just fine and is inexpensive.

Shaft with key way machined and auger ready to weld onto shaft

After welding the auger onto the shaft I do the calculations to center the shaft in the pipe. To make the shaft centered I have to mill some of the pillow block bearing, as you can see in the picture I had to use a circular shim to get the auger centered in the pipe.

End view showing the machine pillow block bearings mounted onto 1 x 2 square tubing

Finally after some adjustment you can see the end result of the auger centered in the feed pipe.

Auger centered in pipe, cantilevered with two pillow block bearings


Auger Feed Rebuilding, Step one a DIY Record

After last winter’s experience,  I  decided to start from scratch on the auger/hopper assembly.  I varied the height several times through different burner designs.  Now it looks  like it was modified once too many times.  The other main reason to rebuild the hopper assembly is the difficulty removing the burner from the boiler because it must stay balanced.  I don’t remember exactly my thoughts at that point, I probably just had two wheels around the shop and was in a hurry.

2011 Hopper and Auger Assembly

2011 Hopper and Auger Assembly

So this fall I am rebuilding the hopper with a different auger drive system, and additional wheels and supports to make it much more robust and simple.  The foundation of  improvement in the new assembly  is the ability to draw the parts in SketchUp as well as cut the parts with the CNC. Here’s a view of the cut out parts.

The parts laid out I call the saddle, angle iron, and side alignment plate.

The parts below are the angle iron plate with the side alignment plate. The angle iron plate is tabbed to fit into the slots of the side alignment plate, this way the parts are self aligning and jigging. Adding strength and ease of assembly. This makes the welding so much easier.

Finally here is the assembly on the welding table ready to weld, note the threaded rod, which also aids in the rigidity and ease of adjustment to make sure all the pieces are square and parallel prior to welding.

Unwelded auger drive weldment ready to be welded

And finally the partially finished welded assembly, this assembly will be the foundation to cantilever the auger in the feed pipe as well as support the auger drive motor and gears.

End view of the welded assembly

The CAD designed parts combined with the CNC, combined with self jigging design for success make a nice finished assembly with light material for cost savings combined with good strength.


Homebuilt Plasma cutter tested and functional

The plasma cutter is working in the CNC mode!  I have successfully cut parts that meet dimensions  and are usable.  I made the plates that mate with the casters for the bottom of the machine this morning.  I have them welded on and  working.  It was a treat bolting them together with no alignment issues without spending the time to make them on the Bridgeport.

The CNC is not finished,  I have to mount the cable tracks, as well as extend some of the stepper motor wires to allow the full movement of the machine.  Before I move on I want to put a coat of paint on the steel parts to make it look finished and professional.  But an important milestone has been reached.  This machine will allow me to make parts designed on the computer as well as improve the quality of the chip boiler parts significantly.  This week I intend to finish the CNC and rebuild the hoppers support wheels.   More pictures when I finish the CNC.

Cutting parts from scrap for testing


Good test for the boiler with -5°F overnight temperature

I restarted the boiler with a friend on Friday afternoon on the 13th of January.  At present it is Sunday morning at 6:45.  Thirty nine hours since starting, in that time the temperature has dropped to a low of -5°F which is the current temperature and the fuel usage has been a total of 5 bags.  The house is still comfortable and has not shown any dip or problems in maintaining temperature.  The only noticeable differences are two things.  The lack of the oil fired boiler running which I can hear upstairs and always makes me a little twitchy.  The second difference is the temperature of my office.   My office is off the utility room which holds the furnace and so is normally quite warm after a cold night.  Today it is the temperature the thermostat is set to maintain.

A few numbers, I paid $215/ton for the pellets, so the cost per 40 lb bag is $4.30.  The hours per bag is approx. 7.8.  This will need a  longer time average to confirm but is probably a reasonably good number so in rough terms this is 3 bags per day for a cost of $12.90/day.  I looked back to see if I had a furnace run time data which I did have a limited amount.  On October 17, 2007 the furnace ran a total of 4.1 hours on a day that had a high of 51 and a low of 33 for a total Heating Degree Day of 22.7.  (Heating Degree Days are calculated as (in °F) 65-(day’s max temp-day’s min temp)/2 or to restate 65-average temp) .  Taking the furnace run time as 4.1 hours x nozzle rate of 1 gal per hour this translates to 4.1 gals usage for a total cost at $3.85 per gallon of $15.78 for one day relatively mild day.  Yesterday’s HDD calculation using a high of 29 and a low of 11 yeilds and average of 20.  So 65-20=41.  Using a simple ratio of HDD/Furnace Run time would calculate to a furnace run time of 7.4 hours per day for a cost of $28.50 per day.  Contrasting this with the pellet costs yields a savings of $15.60 for that one day.

So is that accurate?  That was a lot of math using some not very exact calculations.  The math was done correctly but Heating Degree Day calculations are notoriously rough.  Many oil companies have moved onto more sophisticated methods and of course this is just a snap shot of one day.  But as an reality check  at this point I am confident 5 tons of pellets would easily get this building through the winter for a total cost of $1075.   If I used 800 gals of oil throughout the heating season this would cost me $3080 at a cost of $3.85 per gallon.  So yeah I think the numbers are reasonably accurate if not conservative.  Wait until I try chips at a cost of $40/ton……too fun.


Back to the drawing board

The increased air from the second fan did  improve the smoke and make the inlet fuel pipe even cooler. It also enabled me to have a  viewing port to see if there is flame or if the fuel was adding as expected.  But two things happened, the fuel did not flow out of the way so at the bottom of the pipe there was a scree field of pellets which did not move until the previously feed fuel had burned.   This situation makes the feeding control very critical.  The pace of the feed must be the same as the pace of burning.  This alone makes the design unworkable, the process must be more robust than to require advanced combustion calculation, measurement or observation.

The second problem observed was the area of combustion across the pellet field is limited the  area of the roughly  trapezoidal shape that was formed.  This area is significantly smaller than the area of the burner trough.  Consequently two things are learned.  One the area naturally formed by the falling pellets is insufficient to maintain the water temperature required for my needs, as evidenced by the boilers inability to get past a temperature of approximately 130°F.  This alone also requires the redesign since the whole idea is to heat the house. The second conclusion is the area is directly related the heat making capability and thus sizing a burner to a house and feed system is probably quite doable.  This seems obvious in statement however,  I was thinking that factors such as air volume and burner efficiency would play a larger role.  At this point I think I can tailor the BTU’s by burner size and design.  I think I will start with the more modest goal of getting the damn thing to work for more than a day.A shot of the pellet field after pulling the burner

I’ll admit to being a bit discouraged, however, as January’s calendar said, ” Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries”.

To the side see a shot of the burner on the bench in my messy shop.  You can see in this shot the approx size of the pellet field that would be burning vs. the potential size of the pellet field if the entire trough was filled.