Making a Three-Slot Jockey Box

Gary Eckhardt

 

Shortly after I bought my kegging setup, the inevitable happened. I was brewing several batches of beer for a company picnic, and was dreading the idea of buying 50 pounds of ice and trashcans simply to keep the beer cold for one day. I remembered seeing devices that were used at outdoor festivals to serve beer, and recalled that they were incredibly simple. They were simply copper coils that the beer ran through that were submerged in ice. I did a little research, and came to discover that these devices were called "Jockey Boxes".

While reading about making a jockey box, I saw several plans. Some were as simple as drilling a hole into an ice chest and shoving your copper tubing through it. Others suggested using plastic tubing to go through the holes, and attaching to the copper coils. All these plans had a few flaws as far as I was concerned. For one, what if I needed to replace the copper coils? This would mean that I would have to tear apart the entire jockey box. The same goes for the plastic tubing that go to the kegs. Plus, all the plans I found were for a "single slot" jockey box. I really wanted to make one box with three coils, not three boxes.

I set out to design a jockey box that would let me replace pieces easily, attach and unattach hoses, and generally be more flexible. Plus, Iím a tinker and it seemed like an interesting challenge!

The design of the jockey box was generally done on one long Saturday afternoon in the hardware shop after bugging the poor employees for hours on end. They must have thought I was crazy when I was describing what I wanted to do, and how to piece everything together so it would work. Plus, Iíve found that most hardware stores carry the bare minimum needed for simple plumbing tasks (repairing toilets, ice water lines for refrigerators, etc). Finding a combination of parts that would work was the biggest task in the project.

Although I never kept close track, I estimate that this project cost me about $40-$50 to make. If youíre making a single slot jockey box, this will surely be cheaper. Although all the brass fittings themselves are relatively inexpensive, they do add up!

The construction of the jockey box took me approximately one afternoon. All the drilling, fitting, tightening, and copper bending was done on one day, and I let the silicon seal dry overnight before attaching the copper coils. (Just as an aside, I was watching coverage of the Olympic Bombings in the background as I was making it, so this will give you an idea of when I made this!)

 

Materials List (for a three-slot Jockey Box):

 

1

Coleman 34 Quart Rectangular Ice Chest

3

ľ Inch OD Compression Union

3

ľ Inch OD Compression X ľ Inch Pipe Thread Compression Female Union

3

ľ X ľ ID Hose Barb To Male Pipe Adapter

9

ľ Inch Compression Fittings and Sleeves

40

Feet or so of ľ Inch ID copper tubing

Lots

Small Hose Clamps

1

Tube silicon sealant

1

Roll plumberís teflon tape

3

Keg picnic taps

3

Keg "Liquid out" fittings

20

Feet or so ľ inch ID plastic tubing



Making the Jockey Box

 

  1. Decide how you want to mount the coils. Since I was planning to install three coils into the ice chest which was 21" wide, I centered the first coil hole at 10.5 inches (exactly center) and the other two holes about 4 inches from the center on either side. Plan carefully, as youíll have to account for the coils when you get them installed. Also, the holes should be placed so that the lid can be put on top. I placed mine about 3 inches from the top lip of the ice chest.
  2. Drill the holes with a ľ inch drill bit or smaller. Really, whatever the copper tubing will fit easily through. Although you are going to seal the hole with silicon sealant later, you donít want to make it too big.
  3. Next, make the bulkhead fittings. (See Bulkhead Fitting Diagram for a general idea of what you're going to do)
  4. To make a bulkhead fitting for the holes, cut off sections of copper tubing long enough to go through the ice chest bulkhead, and to allow for a compression nut to be attached on each side. This is tricky, and I went through a foot or so of tubing before I got the length right. When you get the length right, slide on the compression nuts and sleeves on the inside and outside of the ice chest. If you have small gaps between the tubing and the ice chest wall, donít worry, as youíre going to seal up with silicon.
  5. On the inside of the ice chest, attach the ľ inch compression unions to the compression nuts already installed through the ice chest wall and tighten. Be careful not to bend the tubing. (I bent one, and I had to carefully hacksaw one of the bulkhead fittings off to replace it!)
  6. On the outside of the ice chest, attach the ľ Inch OD Compression X ľ Inch Pipe Thread Compression Female Unions to the compression nut already in place. Again be careful not to bend the tubing going through the ice chest.
  7. Attach the ľ X ľ ID Hose Barb To Male Pipe Adapters to the female end of the outside fitting. Be sure to wrap the pipe thread with teflon tape as this will help seal it when itís under pressure. (I did this about 6 months later when I was using the jockey box for the second time. The fittings were leaking!!)
  8. At this time, put a bead of silicon sealant around the areas where the tubing goes through the ice chest wall, inside and outside of the ice chest. Let dry overnight before trying to attach copper coils.
  9. Start making the copper coils. Use some imagination here. Use a small coffee can to coil the copper tubing, about 15 feet worth for each line. Leave about 6 to 12 inches or so straight on each side of the coil to allow for fitting into the ice chest later. Also, plan out how youíre going to place the coils into the ice chest. To make all three fit, I had to coil two "clockwise" and one "counter-clockwise" to make things even out. You can certainly use more that 15 feet if you are making one or two coils only, or if you want to improve the cooling efficiency.
  10. After the silicon seals have set hard, attach the "top" of the coil to the compression fitting on the inside of the ice chest by slipping on a compression sleeve and nut on the coil and tightening. At this time you can make some fine adjustments on how the coil is going to sit in the ice chest and cut off tubing off the ends accordingly.
  11. On the "bottom" side of the coil, slightly bend up the end, and attach about a 3-4 foot piece of plastic tubing by sliding the tubing over the copper and securing with a hose clamp. (This is one part of the design that needs a little work. I get some leaking around these seals, but heck, itís inside the ice chest and it looks to be very minimal.) Install your picnic taps on the other end of the plastic tubing. (You might want to use a hose clamp here as well.) See Connecting Bulkhead to Coils and Hoses Diagram for a better look at what I mean.
  12. Cut 3-4 foot lengths of plastic tubing and attach to the hose barbs on the outside of the ice chest with a hose clamp. Attach the keg fittings on the other side of the plastic tubing, again using hose clamps. (Can you tell hose clamps are my friend? I found this out early on when using newly bought kegs. No matter how tight a plastic-to-anything connection seems, it can always be helped out by a hose clamp. Youíll stay much drier, too!)

(To see what my completed Jockey Box looks like, with a little more detail, check out the photos.)

 

Thatís it! Youíre now ready to use the Jockey Box.

 

Using the Jockey Box

 

To use the jockey box, first make sure you thoroughly rinse out the insides of the copper tubing with the hottest water you can get. I bought a nylon sink-to-1/4inch barb adapter so I can simply screw on the adapter to the sink, and attach it to one of the lines and rinse. Although I donít think itís really necessary, you can also sanitize the lines if you wish. Iíve done this, and Iíve simply filled a keg with sanitizing solution, pressurized, and sent through the coils.

After cleaning and blowing the lines dry of water, fill the ice chest up with ice, making sure to completely surround the coils.

Attach your kegs to the keg fittings, and pressurize to about 10-15 psi for dispensing. You can play with the pressure a bit to get an optimal flow, and so it doesnít foam when coming out.

Run the "out" lines with the picnic fittings outside the ice chest, and place the lid on slightly. Youíre now in business!

A few suggestions:

  1. Get your kegs down to below serving temperature beforehand, and wrap them in a blanket or quilt when you have them outside. This will help keep everything cold.
  2. To stop unwieldy drips, simply place all the picnic taps in a bowl in front of the jockey box. When not dispensing beer, just toss the taps in the bowl.
  3. I've had the jockey box in operation, outside under a porch in the Texas August heat, and I didn't have to refill ice once. Just make sure you keep the coils completely immersed.
  4. If you feel really compelled, you can put real taps on the outside of the ice chest and get rid of the Picnic taps and lines. They really do spiff up the look and makes it much easier to clean and transport!

  5. Diagrams

    Bulkhead Diagram

    Connecting Diagram

    Photos

    Jockey box before installing real taps, using picnic style hose taps instead.
    View of fittings inside ice chest.
    Closeup view of outside fittings.
    Detail of fittings through bulkhead.
    Copper coils and beer line connections

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