The smokehouse is officially finished. Last weekend I put the finishing touches on it, laying about 1,000 pounds of gravel over the site I dug out of the hillside almost two months ago. I also built a small retaining wall from landscaping timbers to keep the higher end of the grade cut from washing onto the foundation.

But now to return to where we left off from Part 1…. We had yet to remove the forms from the concrete firebox, and I’ll confess we were a little anxious about one of the sides. A form board broke apart from the frame as we were pouring in concrete but we managed to secure it and mostly return it to its original position with clamps and screws. In any case, the whole thing turned out pretty well. Jason did an especially good job building the forms to accomodate the door opening in the front. This turned out perfectly square and easy enough to mount a door frame to.

We had originally planned to cut the door from a rusting bucket loader attachment that used to go on a tractor, for which we now have no need. Jason brought a plasma cutter for the job, but we ran out of time before he had to head back home. Lacking a plasma cutter or oxy-acetylene torch, I opted to try it with a cut wheel on my angle grinder. After using up about five 4 1/2 inch discs, I finally got the job done.

Next, I thought I’d use some angle iron we had lying around here to build the frame on which to attach the door. Since all the dimensions involved were right angles, this seemed easy enough. I cut the angle iron to length to build a frame that would fit inside the concrete doorway, and then cut corner joints from the angle iron to connect the four sections of frame.

For this, I fired up the arc welder and lap-welded the corner joints to each inside corner of the frame. Then I cut some more angle iron to attach to the vertical sections of the frame to make a kind of slide holder for the door and welded these on. Finally I welded a couple pieces of rebar to the bottom of the frame. The idea here was to have these project into the (yet-to-be-poured concrete) floor and anchor the door frame.

The door itself, cut from the plate steel of the bucket loader, turned out to be a whole lot less than flat, as one would well imagine from years of use with a tractor. I didn’t figure this would be too much of a problem, but it didn’t seem like we were going to get much of an air-tight seal on the door, either. I bent a piece of rebar and then welded that onto the plate to form a curved handle at the top, to pull the door up in the sliding frame.

The floor was fairly easy to pour. Tasha helped mix the concrete and it only took three or four bags to lay a 4-5 inch foundation in the bottom of the firebox. Now all we had to do was lift the (very heavy) lid onto the firebox. This took a while, if only to get enough people together to lift the thing. In the meantime, I decided to paint… I painted the firebox with concrete primer, which didn’t seem to do much, and then applied a couple coats of sand-based masonry paint, which did a lot. For the smokehouse itself, we decided on white barn paint with black trim, to match the color scheme of our chicken coop. I hate painting, but after a couple of coats applied over a couple of evenings, I was happy with the result. So finally, on to the lid.

With some help from Tasha and our neighbor Donnie and his daughter Emma, we got the lid positioned on top of the firebox. It was heavy, but once in place it wasn’t too hard to shift around on top so it sat evenly on the four corners of the firebox. Jason had wisely built the form for the lid about four inches wider than the firebox on both the front and back and sides. This allowed the lid to overhang the box a bit, making it easier to position without crushing fingers and definitely easier to seal.

So, with lid in place, I decided to fire it up. I used some damp straw which I knew would generate a lot of smoke. As soon as the straw started burning, I notieced most of the smoke was coming out the top, in the spaces between the walls of the firebox and the lid. We knew this would happen, so I got some chimney cement left over from installing the hot tub chimney and proceeded to seal the leaks. With this done, smoke was getting to the smokehouse, though it seemed like a lot was leaking from the door, which sits a bit looslely in the frame. To remedy this, I bought some steel plate strips which I’ll weld to the front of the door to push it more snugly into contact with the frame where it slides in place.

Anyway, at the end of it all, we have a working smokehouse. I plan on testing it some more with an actual wood fire once I make the modifications to the door. If necessary, I’ll install a fan up top near the vents or use a vacuum cleaner motor to help draw the smoke in. We’re planning on slaughtering our meat ducks in a few weeks, so I hope to have the kinks worked out by then, but that’ll be another blog post. Till then…