Homemade Incubator #1


John W. Burgoon

We'll try to get some photos up here soon. John's got to take them first, though!

I recently made a homemade incubator by doing the following:

I had an old gas grill that I stripped down to its square-tubular steel frame. It is 24" deep and 24" wide. I cut squares from a piece of 1/2" chipboard and put sheet metal screws through the wood into the frame, making a box. I tore apart a set of three trak-lights that someone threw away, and hung them on the inside ceiling of the box.

My wife had a 250-watt fishtank heater that was cracked, so I tore it apart and wired the bi-metal strip thermostat directly into the electric cord for the strip lights. Since this was exposed bare circuitry, I drilled a bunch of holes in a 1-foot section of 1-1/2" water drain PVC and shoved the thermostat inside. (We want electrifying, but not shocking, success....) That structure is attached to the side of the incubator in such a way that the little adjustment knob is easily turned. I made a door with a glass panel and hinges, used an old hasp I had salvaged from an ammo box, and voila! instant incubator. The door leaked air, so I went out to my old pickup truck and used some of the door seal (a big rubber gasket). It was hanging off of there anyway, so I cut it loose and stapled it all around the edge of the incubator door, kind of like the seal on a refrigerator door. Shoot, I reckon if you have an old fridge in the yard you could tear off the door gasket and use that instead.

I use three steel oven/kitchen thermometers inside. I made a frame from furring strips and nailed on a piece of 1/2" hardware cloth to make a shelf. Underneath is an old teflon baking sheet filled with water. I tore the fan from an old computer power supply (110V, 28-watt, remember THEM old days? this old fan even has a steel blade LOL) and screwed it inside on one wall of the incubator. I placed my eggs, all labeled and numbered with pencil, in one of those cardboard flats you get when you buy veggies in cans. I suppose the lid to a tomato box would work, or those cardboard things that carry canned soft drinks, or even a medium pizza box. The idea is to keep the eggs from rolling out onto the floor, and to keep the airflow broken up inside the incubator. The thermometers are spread around amongst the eggs so I can read them through the glass when the door is closed.

I ran the thing for two days to get the temperature range right... the fan blows air around inside the incubator and evaporates about two quarts of water each day. Every time I open the door to turn eggs (4 or 5 times daily) I refill the water pan. My temperature drops to 95 degrees F, then the themrostat kicks on and it heats up using the three 60-watt lights to a temp of 105 degrees, then the thermostat kicks off.

This setup has not failed at all, and the thermostat keeps the temperature exactly in that see-saw pattern from 95 to 105, an average of 100 degrees. The whole cycle from coolest to warmest and back down to coolest takes about 20 minutes. Although the air temp varies a lot during this cycle, you need to realize that the actual egg temp will vary much less. I do not have a way to measure eggshell surface temperature but I bet something could be rigged up . . .

I am thinking about using a wet-bulb thermometer by stretching a cut shoe-lace over one of the thermometer stems and letting it wick water up from the pan. That will give me a good estimate of humidity, but I can feel when I open the door that it is fairly humid.

The design could be improved by taking some scrap wall insulation board and covering the outside of the box with a layer of the foamboard, thena layer of something, perhaps 1/4" wall paneling. Such an arrangement would cool more slowly, and thus be cheaper to operate.

Let your readers know that with some determination and a little American-style ingenuity they can make an incubator that will work just fine. I used absolutely all spare or scrap materials, my only expense was three 60-watt light bulbs for heat.

P.S. I just came in from turning and candling . . . I set 15 Old English game and every last one of them is fertile!

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