Getting a kegging system up and running at home is a worthwhile project for any homebrewer. However, assembling all the necessary components is rarely an inexpensive venture. If you decide to go with a mini-fridge or chest freezer as the base for your kegerator, one major cost center is the draft tower, which is the fancy-looking chrome pipe to which the dispensing faucets are mounted. A tower with a single faucet costs an average of about $75–$100 for a new “economy” unit, and the price goes up from there for fancier hardware and multiple faucet options.
But don’t let that deter you, because you can build your own draft tower from PVC for a fraction of the cost of a new metal tower. The prime directive for this project is to get your system up and running as inexpensively as possible; you can always upgrade the hardware at a later date as finances allow. And with PVC, it’s trivial and cheap to add additional faucets, unlike with a traditional metal draft tower. You can even make your own per-faucet drip trays for less than $5 each.
Materials, Parts and Tools
For the Tower:
• 3-inch (7.6 cm) diameter PVC pipe
(commonly sold in 2-foot/61 cm
• 3-inch (7.6 cm) PVC end cap
• U.S. standard floor-mount
(4-inch exterior/3-inch interior
diameter) (10 cm/7.6 cm)
• Mounting bolts, washers, and nuts (1⁄4-inch bolts are standard)
• PVC cement
• Paint (optional)
• Foam insulation (optional)
For the faucet:
• Short faucet shank (3 inches/7.6 cm
or less), or a dedicated right-angle
• Dispensing faucet and tap handle
• Shank hookup hardware
(depends on shank type)
• Beverage tubing.
• Drill with 1⁄2-inch (1.3-cm) hole saw bit
• PVC pipe cutter tool
(or a hack saw or hand saw)
• Angle grinder, RotoZip or hack saw
with metal-cutting blade
(for straight shanks)
• Hand file (optional)
The body of the tower is composed of a PVC pipe, a flange and a pipe cap (photo 1). There are quite a few options for capping the draft tower (photo 2). The default option is to use a 3-inch (7.6 cm) rounded PVC pipe cap (“slip fit,” which means it’s not threaded and just slips on the pipe). There are also 3-inch (7.6 cm) flat-top slip-fit pipe caps, 3-inch female adapters (one side is slip fit and the other is female pipe thread) and 3-inch (7.6 cm) threaded flush-fitting drain plugs. And of course there are also similar drain plugs with the square nipple on top. You can also opt for a “test cap,” which fits directly into the end of the pipe and sits perfectly flush. There are other options, but the above are more than adequate and all are relatively cheap (under $5).
Measure, Cut and Fit
Draft towers come in a range of heights and widths, with 12 inches (30 cm) from mounting flange to the top cap and about 3 inches (7.6 cm) around being typical. You can build your tower shorter or taller than this, depending on your specific situation.
Keep in mind that the flange will elevate the pipe between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 and 5.1 cm) above the kegerator, but will also require about 1 inch
(2.5 cm) pipe insertion for a snug and sturdy fit. So make sure you measure and mark the pipe height with one end fully inserted in the flange. Also, all but the “test cap” pipe fitting will add to the overall height.
Use hacksaw or PVC cutting tool to cut the pipe to length. If the cut isn’t perfectly even and level, don’t worry because both ends of the pipe will be hidden from view by the flange and the end cap (unless you opt for the test cap, in which case you will need to be a little more careful when cutting). You can also file down higher edges to make the cut more level, if desired.
Drill, Baby, Drill
With the three tower components fit together snugly, consider where you want the faucet to be mounted. If you plan to do multiple faucets, figure out how you want them arranged and experiment with the shanks to make sure everything will fit as you have imagined it. Many single-faucet towers have the mounting holes about 1 to
2 inches (2.5–5.1 cm) below the bottom of the cap.
Typically, with two or three faucets, the mounting holes are put at different heights to make sure there is not an internal space conflict with the shanks, fittings, and tubing. With most types of the smaller right-angle shanks, you have the option to fit two faucets side by side at the same height.
Mark the hole(s) center with a Sharpie or similar marker (photo 3), and drill a pilot hole. A 1⁄8-inch bit is fine for this. The pilot hole gives the hole saw’s guide bit something to grab onto. This is not necessary, but it only takes a few seconds, and helps to keep the guide bit from wandering when drilling starts. The hole saw will make a nice 1⁄2-inch (1.3 cm) hole that is a snug fit for straight shanks (photo 4). If you intend to use the more compact right-angle shanks that are designed specifically for draft towers, check the diameter, as some of them require a larger hole.
Shank It Up
By far, it is much easier to go with a shank that was designed for a round draft tower. Just pop it through the hole and tighten the nut on the inside or follow the mounting instructions that come with it (photo 5). But you can save about $15 if you go with a standard 3-inch (7.6-cm) shank designed for mounting on flat surfaces.
The 3-inch (7.6-cm) shank is a little too long to accommodate a tail piece, wing nut and tubing. So I cut mine down with my trusty RotoZip and a metal cutting wheel. You could also use an angle grinder, a Dremel with an EZ-Lock metal cutoff wheel or even a hack saw with the right blade. Be sure to wear safety goggles when cutting metal.
After cutting the shank to size, you may need to use a 1⁄2-inch washer as a spacer to allow the shank nut to tighten fully against the inside of the tower. If you go the cheaper route, save yourself a lot of time and frustration by using a tailpiece with a 90-degree hose barb. A straight tailpiece is going to make for a much tighter fit in an already cramped space. Whatever type of shank you use, do a full fitting to make sure everything is spaced properly before painting.
To Glue, Or Not To Glue
The top cap should not be glued to the tower. You will need to remove it to gain access to the shank to change tubing in the future, or perhaps you will want to add another faucet at some point. A properly seated cap will have a snug fit and will not come off during typical usage.
You may, however, want to glue the tower to the flange base. Depending on which brand or type of flange you end up with, the fit may not be tight enough without glue to hold it steady during use. If you decide to glue the tower to the flange, follow the instructions on the PVC cement can to ensure a nice strong joint. Cement the pieces together before you paint.
Paint It Black
Adding a little paint to the tower is optional, but is also a cheap and easy way to class it up a bit, or make it match your serving area better. The most obvious color that comes to mind is silver or some sort of metallic finish. However, I have found that most metallic paints that work with plastic do not look very realistic once applied. Of the brands that I tested, the one that looks the most realistic is Valspar’s “Brilliant Metal” series (I tested 66010 Silver). Therefore, I chose to go with lightly-glossed black paint for the majority of the finish, instead. I used Rust-Oleum “Specialty Plastic” paint (211338 Black).
Clean all parts to be painted prior to spraying. You may or may not need to prime the PVC first (check the label on your paint). Two coats, at least, is a good idea (photo 6). The paint may take some time to dry enough to be handled for reassembly. If the tower or any fittings feel tacky to the touch at all, give it some more time (sometimes a few days) to fully cure.
Now to reassemble. Refit your dispensing hardware first (photo 7). Then connect the pipe, flange and cap. Your new draft tower is now ready to be secured to your kegerator. (The process for this will vary greatly depending on the kegerator type and size.) When you purchase your PVC flange, take it over to the nuts-and-bolts section of the store and size out some proper fastening hardware.
Forrest Whitesides is a regular contributor on the Final Gravity Podcast.