Winter Warmth – a diesel heater for the workshop

Seems I need a New Plan for Winter

We got the electric bill for last winter and there was a sharp intake of breath … maybe the fan heater had been on too much in the workshop and maybe I did forgot to switch it off once or twice when going to bed …  something had to change.

I did some research on diesel heaters as used in motor homes and commercial vehicles and the concept looked like it would meet my needs.  I did some calculations on the workshop volume I needed to heat as an empty shell.  With my insulation and window content this came to a figure of 3kW.   Searching on EBay revealed lots of kits and ready built units so my first thought was to order a ready built one.  This duly arrived and I decided to run it up to see what happened.

Actually nothing really happened.   

The fan came on ran for a few seconds and then the unit shut down.   The controller was showing a severe droop on the supply volts even thought the PSU was rated at 10A.   More web reading and comparing notes with other users revealed these units take a serious current surge at switch on while the glow plug is warming up.   If it sees a voltage droop it thinks it is in a vehicle and switches off to protect the vehicle supply.

Bigger power supply acquired and plugged in.   Still no joy.   I then realised I needed to prime the fuel line.    Quite a few clicks of the pump later I had a full pipe feeding the device and finally it ran up.   The fan was flat out and the pump was clicking like a French grenouille on heat.

And what a stink it made.   I guess it was burning off all the manufacturing oils but it was pretty acrid.   Finally the fog cleared and I could see the neighbours house and we had heat.  Quite a lot of heat.   Fiddling with the pump rate brought the heat and the fan rate down and all seemed good.   But it was noisy.

There now followed some serious navel contemplation.  Did I really want this fire breathing Smaug inside the workshop ?   Not really.   So how to solve the installation ?

Immediate thought was to mount the unit external on the side wall and feed the warm air from the unit into the workshop and take in air from the outside to warm.   The smelly exhaust inlet and outlet would also then be outside.   Not a good idea taking outside air and warming it unless I wanted a very rust rich environment. 

So air would have to circulate from the workshop, get heated and blown back inside.  This means two 80mm holes in the workshop wall plus a power and controller wiring duct of say 20mm.   A plan was forming and I could see where the two air ducts could be located.

Next problem the (I have to say very horrible) enclosure my ready made heater came in would not protect the contents nor would it last very long sat in the outside air. 

original heater enclosure as bought
Empty original enclosure after stripping components

New Enclosure

Much Fusion 360 playing later I had a design based on a 20mm angle iron frame and aluminium sheet covering.

diesel heater enclosure fusion 360 model
Original Fusion 360 model of the enclosure frame less the two top bracing steels

The angle iron and sheet were ordered from Aluminium Warehouse and came very quickly.   I was now going to have to grasp the nettle and refresh my TIG welding knowledge to create my first major TIG construction.   (I only have TIG as MIG scares the **** out of me).

Even though I say it myself I was pretty chuffed with the frame that resulted.  Some of the welds were far from ticketable but my angle grinder and Hammerite paint soon covered up my ineptitude.

diesel heater angle iron frame
TIG welded heater angle iron frame after clean up and painting

The aluminium covers also stretched my resources as I don’t have a formal metal bender but I do have some very long lengths of angle iron and a robust vice.   Two side walls, a front panel and drop on top cover resulted without any serious clangs.  Loving it.

The return air inlet needed an interface of some sort so a Fusion model was created and printed (6 hour print …).

3D printed diesel heater 80mm air inlet cowl
3D printed diesel heater 80mm air inlet cowl which took 6 hours to print

With the enclosure complete, I mounted all the components and ran it up again.   The new power supply also failed to do the biz so I decided to go with a meatier version inside the workshop rather than inside the external cabinet.

Installation day loomed.   I was very ably assisted by Dave who is a long time friend.   We are both cut from the same engineering mould and we usually end up with an interactive plan of action.

First job was to cut the hot air duct hole in the workshop wall.   We had a long pilot drill, an EBay 80mm cutter and a SDS drill.   Serious grief.   The workshop outside brickwork  seemed to have a Titanium content.   We finally broke through into the cavity and thereafter the inner Thermalite block was like cutting chocolate cake in comparison.   First hole finished and more to the point in the correct position.

We now offered the unit to the wall to match the routing of the hot air outlet pipe of the heater.   We put a car jack under the unit to keep it in position while we drilled the mounting holes.  Holes drilled, we then mounted it on the wall and drilled the cable duct and lined it with a piece of uPVC water pipe.

diesel heater enclosure mounted on the workshop outside wall
Re-boxed diesel heater enclosure mounted on the workshop outside wall.  The pumps is enclosed in some foam to deaden the clicks.

The circulating return air from the workshop was to come through the workshop wall and back to the heater from just over a meter away.    I had a suitable length of 80mm spiral metal ducting for the air return and a mating right angle joint to route this through the wall.   We marked off the duct hole position and drilled out a second 80mm hole (more grief, less dust as we damped it down, and hammer and chisel when we got fed up with the useless 80mm cutter).

The Cunning Plan

I didn’t want the metal spiral ducting exposed to the elements and also saw it as a source of heat loss.   There is no point in heating up the workshop and then send the warmer air outside to lose heat on its way back to the heater.   The solution was to buy a standard 1m length of 110mm soil pipe and a right angle joint with two mounting clips from Wickes.   We wrapped the 80mm spiral duct in bubble wrap (quite a few turns) to fill the space inside the 110mm soil pipe to make a coaxial structure.    As luck would have it the spacing to the wall of the soil pipe was pretty much ideal to use the standard pipe clips.   We did however have to cut down the right angle soil pipe connector to get it flush to the wall.  It then got a dose of squirty foam to seal it.

Finished diesel heater enclosure with coaxial inlet duct
Finished diesel heater enclosure with coaxial inlet duct using 110mm soil pipework and fittings. The 80mm internal duct is wrapped in bubble wrap.

We were both very pleased with the result.   As Dave commented it looked better than a professional install would have done.

This was the bulk of outside work done apart from mounting the exhaust inlet and outlet pipes.   Inside we had the hot in wall vent grill to fix and the controller wiring.

I still haven’t decided where to route the outward air duct but currently it sits sucking air from under the Myford Super 7 cabinet.   I am not comfortable with this (the location rather than the potential draft around my ankles) as it will tend to suck up workshop dust and particles.   Some form of filter will be needed.   As yet I haven’t mounted the new power supply on the inside wall.

We ran it up and I can describe it as toasty warm.   At least one good reason to look forward to winter, probably the only one. 

Finally thanks to Dave for helping.  Also thanks to Steve Niebel for detailing his experiences with a similar unit.

If you want to know more about the heaters then the best source I found on YouTube was Dave McK 47

Anyone wanting a very basic indoor housing for their heater components should send me a message ….. and soon …. otherwise it is going in a skip (but I might save the handles).

 Similar or related subjects : –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *