Wooden Two-Tier Brew Stand

I have been brewing beer at home for about seven years, using equipment that has gotten progressively larger or more sophisticated. Last year, I wanted to make my brewing process more time efficient and get away from using crates, boxes, and my workbench to achieve the three tiers I needed for a gravity fed system. To help solve some of these problems I decided that I would upgrade to a larger kettle and build a two-tiered brew stand that, when placed next to my propane burner, becomes a true three-tier, gravity-fed brew stand with the hot liquor cooler on the highest tier and the mash tun on the middle tier. Once my wort has all been collected and I start my boil, the stand can be rolled away to reduce any possible danger of wood being exposed to high temperatures and open flame. This is just a precaution, as the stand never gets significantly warm even when it is parked next to the burner during wort collection and early heating. This three-tier design allows me to save time by applying heat to the brew kettle soon after I start collecting wort from the mash tun (instead of waiting until runoff is complete).

As a note before we get started, my dimensions are based on my specific brewing equipment, so you will need to measure the height and width of your own equipment and customize these lengths for your needs if you want to build your own stand using my design. For a reference, however, my stand is 22-inches (56-cm) wide, 40-inches (102-cm) long, and 54-inches (137-cm) tall (including the casters) and has three platforms. The lowest platform acts as a storage shelf, the middle platform serves to hold the mash tun cooler, and the top platform holds the hot liquor tank cooler. My advice is to place your kettle on your burner and measure the height to the top of the kettle (dimension #1). Then determine the minimum height of the surface the mash tun would need to sit on and still be able to gravity feed wort into the kettle while it is sitting on the burner (dimension #2). Now measure the height of your mash tun, and determine the minimum height of the surface that your hot liquor tank would need to sit on and still be able to gravity-feed sparge water into your mash tun (dimension #3). The brew stand has six vertical “legs,” two short and four tall. The two shorter ones will be equal to dimension #2 and the four longer legs will be equal to dimension #3. Also, don’t forget to take into account the height of the casters you will use for the stand.

Tools list:

Radial arm saw (could use a circular saw)
Table saw (could use a circular saw)
Power sander (could use a sanding block and sandpaper)
Cordless drill/driver
Socket wrench

Materials list (amount of each will vary depending on measurements unique to each brewer’s equipment):

(8) 2×4, 8-feet (2.4-m) long
(1) 4×4 ½-inch birch plywood
(1) 2×4 ½-inch birch plywood
(1) 2×4 sheet of pegboard
1 ¼-inch stainless steel #8 square drive deck screws
(52) 5/16-inch x 2 ½-inch zinc plated lag screws
(52) zinc plated washers
2 fixed casters and 2 locking casters¨

1. Select Materials

I designed my stand around my new Northern Brewer Megapot 1.2 kettle, and my propane burner, mash tun, and hot liquor tank. Once I had a handle on the design I wanted to execute, it was time for some woodworking. I decided to build the stand from 2×4 construction lumber and ½-inch plywood. I did have a significant advantage at this point, as I have a complete woodworking shop in my garage (building furniture is my other big hobby/mental illness). As you can see, by jointing and planing the surface of these boards to be perfectly square and flat, I ended up with something that looks a lot better than raw 2x4s. This is merely cosmetic though. If I didn’t have these tools at hand, I would still have built the stand out of the best 2×4 lumber I could find.

2. Assemble the Horizontal Frames

Next I laid out the boards for each of the three platforms. Each platform is comprised of similar boards: A front and back, two side rails, and one or two center rails. I carefully tapped and fussed with the boards until I had them aligned perfectly and then I applied clamps to hold everything in place while I drilled the first holes for the lag screws that hold it all together. Because a brew stand has to hold a lot of weight, and the act of brewing beer creates a high humidity environment (at least here in the Midwest), I wanted to use fasteners that would resist rust and if they did eventually rust, would be strong enough to give me peace of mind for years to come. That ruled out standard deck screws. I chose lag screws over carriage bolts and nuts because lags tend to stay put over time while carriage bolts and nuts need to be tightened every so often.

3. Cut The Plywood Shelves

The next step is to check that the corner of each platform is perfectly square prior to cutting and attaching the plywood tops. I used the old woodworking trick of flexing and tweaking the assembly until the two diagonal corner-to-corner measurements were the same. Then I knew it was square. Once this was accomplished I could take accurate measurements and cut the three pieces of plywood to size. My bottom and middle shelves are 22×48-inches (56×122-cm) and the top shelf is 22×20-inches (56×51-cm)

4. Lay Out The Leg Cuts

Once the plywood was accurately cut to size, I laid one of the pieces on my flat surface and placed a matching 2×4 frame over it. Again I used clamps to hold the frame and the plywood tightly together, insuring proper alignment. Before securing the plywood to the frame, I placed one of the vertical legs in each place where I wanted one and traced its outline on the plywood. This essentially gave me lines to follow so I could remove the plywood and cut out the holes for the legs to pass through.

5. Cut Pass Through Holes For The Legs

Another woodworking trick is to drill two holes in opposite corners of each rectangle to be cut out (the ones you just traced), thus giving you a place to start each of the jigsaw cuts. I was extra careful and went slowly with this part to get the cleanest and straightest possible cuts. I test fit each leg through the holes as I cut them to insure that they fit. If they didn’t, I used the jigsaw and a file to clean up the holes and allow the legs to ease through.

6. Assemble The Stand

After all of the holes were cut in the plywood, I attached the three plywood shelf platforms to their respective bases. Remember that the top platform will not need any of those leg holes cut into it because the legs do not need to pass through that level. The same goes for the two shorter legs, which do not pass through the middle platform. I pre-drilled and used countersunk stainless steel screws to attach the plywood tops to each base. If you plan to paint or apply some other finish to the stand you will want to sink these screws deep enough for you to later apply filler and sand the holes to hide them.

7. Getting Mobile

With all three levels of the stand now affixed, this stand is beginning to weigh a lot. Thus it is a good time to get the casters put on. I happened to have a set of casters left over from an old woodworking machine base that was perfect for this. I used two fixed casters on the back end of the stand and two locking swivel casters for the front. When attaching the fixed casters it is important that you get them parallel with one another so that the stand will roll smoothly. The easiest way to accomplish this is to make sure they are attached squarely to the stand itself.

8. Adding Some Bells And Whistles

I could have stopped there, but my new brew kettle comes with a ball valve and it seemed like a waste to not take advantage of that fact! So I bought some camlock quick disconnects, a couple more ball valves, some high temperature tubing, a March pump and a stainless steel convoluted counterflow wort chiller to complete the stand and save me even more time on brew day. The idea here is that I use the coolers on the upper tiers of the stand to mash/sparge and then send the wort into the kettle. Then while I am boiling the wort, I clean up and put away the two coolers. Once the boil has been completed, I lift the kettle into the position previously held by the mash tun (on the middle tier) and from there I use the high temperature hoses to carry the wort down to the pump and then up to the chiller. From there I use hoses to either recirculate the wort back into the kettle or let it run off into my fermenter. To keep the kettle from scorching the wood, I put an 18-inch x18-inch (46-cm x 46-cm) ceramic tile on the middle tier platform as a protective shield.

To mount the pump, I used a leftover block of 2×4 that had been planed and dimensioned the same as all of the legs on the stand to set it off the leg far enough to allow the bottom port of the pump to drain into a bucket at the end of my brew day. This bottom port feature allows the pump to completely drain and become dry on the inside, hopefully making it less likely to harbor bacteria between brew days.

For ease of use, I even put quick disconnects on the chiller water garden hose connections. I find that the 90-degree fittings work best for the garden hose because it becomes very stiff when I am running super cold water through it.

9. Adding Some Storage

The last thing I added was a pegboard on the back end of the stand, to allow me to easily store my hoses and a few brewing tools onboard to make life easier and more convenient on (and between) brew days.

Issue: September 2015