Babington Burner Garage Furnace

A D-I-Y solution to expensive heating oil


If anyone has been following my progress, trials, and tribulations trying to build a reliable Babington burner, you already know that I've had several false successes and several dismal failures.  Well, I went back to basics, re-read all the literature that I found on the Internet, and exchanged several emails with Dave Brown from the Yahoo groups Wastewatts and Altfuelbabington.  The end result was that last month, I had a fully functional prototype that worked perfectly.  The only issue with it was that it was constructed out of cheap sheet metal stovepipe and it didn't hold up to the heat very long. 

The whole purpose of this Babington burner is to replace my garage furnace with a less expensive solution.  Since the Babington burner works very nicely on waste motor oil and I can get that for free, I've been diligently trying to get everything I needed to build a reliable burner.

There are some links at the bottom of this page that will show you my attempts and my actual build instructions.  You will also find links to my reference material.  All the links open in a new window, so if you just close that window, you'll get right back to this page.  Assuming you got there from this page..

I've known all along that I should be using a piece of well casing or thickwall pipe of some kind, but I was having difficulty finding a piece at what I considered a reasonable price.  Free would be best, I don't mind paying a few bucks for used, but I didn't want to buy new if I didn't have to.  The scrapyards didn't have any, none of the well drillers I called returned my phone calls, the local suppliers don't stock it and won't order me a short length.  I did find a machine shop that would sell me a 5 to 6 foot piece for $17.00 per foot.  That might be a reasonable price, but I didn't have that much cash to spend on a piece of pipe and still have enough left to build the rest of what was needed.  So, I have been at a standstill with replacing my broken garage furnace because of a piece of pipe.

Well, I finally got a piece of well casing.  A friend (Tom) found a piece and brought it to me.  Since Tom has a bandsaw and a much better welder than I have, yesterday I brought the well casing and a case of beer to his garage.  His bandsaw wasn't quite big enough to cut the pipe, so I disconnected the limit bars and we were able to open the saw enough to get the well casing on the saw.  We cut the well casing at a 45 degree angle (approx).  Because of the lack of capacity, the cut wasn't very straight.  After we got the pipe cut, it was time for Tom to go to bed (he leaves for work at 4:00 AM) so I told him that I would be back this morning to weld the pieces back together, filling a lot of gaps from the crooked cut.  This morning, I went shopping for parts.  I picked up what I needed ($150.00 worth of parts at Home Depot) and I stopped off at Tom's garage on the way home.  I welded the pipe into a 90 degree and brought it home to do the rest of the work.

You can click on any picture and get the full size image

The first thing I did after I got home was to assemble a stand.  The stand is 30 inches (approx) high and 40 inches (approx) long.  It is constructed out of 1/2 galvanized pipe.

I then drilled the holes in the pipe to mount the Babington assembly.  I did have to trim down a bracket on the assembly to clear the pipe.  The well casing is much bigger in diameter (about 1/2 inch) than the stovepipe.  Here it is tested for fit.

The next step was to actually make it into a functional furnace.  In doing so, I remembered why I hate working with sheet metal.  The basic design of the "furnace" is simple.  I built a box from square duct around the burner tube and installed a couple of for incoming air and one for the heat output.  I also welded a couple of pieces of angle iron to the bottom of the burner tube to keep it from spinning in the ductwork.

Here is a view of the furnace working.  There is a fan hanging off to the left that is blowing air in to the housing.  That air is directed across the burner tube and exhausted at the end of the duct.  That air will be ducted through the garage.  Point of interest for those who want to build one of these.  Don't buy a 50 CFM bathroom exhaust fan to use as a blower fan.  I bought it because it was $12.00 and I GROSSLY underestimated the airflow need.  It does function, but just barely.  You can't feel the output more than a foot away from the vent.  Yes, I know that I cut the hole in the cap too big.  Oops!

The total size of the furnace with its stand is about 40 inches high, 3 foot wide (with the fan) and about 6 foot long counting the air hose connection.

Here are a couple of close up views of the Babington ball assembly.  Since I didn't have the capabilities of drilling a .010" hole in the doorknob, I used a motorcycle carburetor jet as the metering orifice.  I made a holder out of aluminum, installed the jet and installed a piece of pipe in the other end of the holder.  I welded a piece of steel to the pipe and used threaded rod to hold the assembly to the dummy doorknob.  There is a male air fitting epoxied to the other end of the pipe and that is where the air line connects to.  There is an aluminum plate sandwiched in the middle.  Everything bolts to the aluminum plate.   I used a rafter tie as a bracket to hold the incoming fuel pipe, which is a piece of threaded hollow tube designed to use for making lamps.  I used another piece of the lamp tubing to attach the drain funnel to a piece of angle bracket which is bolted to the aluminum plate.  This whole assembly is bolted with threaded rod to a piece of 3/16" steel plate that has a 3/4 inch hole in the center and was turned on my lathe to 5.5 inches in diameter.  I made a couple of mounts out of some 1/2" round stock and those are what holds the steel plate to the burner tube.  This is the ball assembly that I've had all of my successful tests with.

Operation is simple.  It works off of a combination of 120V AC, 12V DC, and gravity.  The air from the compressor is regulated to approx 20 PSI (depends on the fuel viscosity).  Obviously, the compressor requires AC voltage.  My compressor is 120 volt and has a built in regulator.  The compressor that I will be using in the permanent install is a 2 HP/6 gallon Campbell Hausfeld which also has a built in regulator.  Fuel is fed to the top of the ball with an automotive electric fuel pump.  The pump I'm using is of unknown origin other than I took it out of my 1963 Chevy Impala (which currently does not have an engine installed).  The fuel is a mix of waste motor oil with enough kerosene mixed in to make it flow well.  Ratio depends on the waste oil, but I've sucessfully run mixes of 50/50 to 80/20 WMO/Kerosene.   The fuel is pulled from the tank, which in my case, currently is a 2.5 gallon laundry detergent jug.  The fuel is pumped over the top of the ball and the excess is fed via gravity back into the tank.  Total consumption is approx 1/3 gallon of fuel per hour.

The burner is started by turning on the air and the fuel pump.  I wait until the pump is pumping a consistant stream of fuel over the ball and then I light it with a propane torch.  After a few seconds, the flame is self sustaining and I can turn off the torch.  The burner then works until it runs out of fuel or I turn off the fuel pump.  I do have plans for making the burner electric start.  It will use a relay acting as a set of points to fire a motorcycle ignition coil (I have a huge bin of those) which will, in turn, fire a spark plug.  A stream of propane will be ignited by the spark plug and that will in turn fire the burner.  I have the prototype of that working perfectly, I just need to buy some parts so I can make a permanent installation.  That system will also work off of 12 volts.  I have a propane shut off valve that is normally closed.  When 12 volts is applied, propane will flow, so a lack of 12 volts will shut the propane off.  Before I hook that up, though, I want to come up with some sort of electric eye to automatically fire the starter if the flame in the burner goes out.

Tomorrow's project is cleaning out the corner of the garage where the broken furnace currently resides and installing the Babington furnace in it's place.  That ought to take most of the day as I have to move a LOT of stuff for the simple reason that the Babington furnace takes more floor space than the existing furnace and my garage is a mess.

Here is a video clip of the furnace working.

Babington Garage Furnace

Update  11/14/2006

OK, I got the furnace installed in the garage.  Turns out that I didn't have to move as much stuff as I thought.  Once I got the old furnace out to the shed, I was able to rearrange things and have plenty of room.  The blower that I set up is simply a box fan ducted down to a 6 inch round duct.  I used cardboard to make the plenum.  Once I get a real blower, I'll do it correctly.

Here is the installation without the fan installed.:

The plate with the switches holds the on-off switch for the fuel pump.  The other switch will be used for the blower once I get that found and installed.  The puddle on the floor and the pan of oil on the floor is because I knocked something out of whack when I moved the furnace and it took me little while to re-align the assembly.  My bad...I bumped it pretty good when I was moving it to the corner of the garage.  The fuel pump is sitting on the floor and it will probably stay there.  This particular pump doesn't like to lift fuel, but as long as it's below the fuel level, it works perfectly.  Might be a design issue, but in the Impala, it was on the bottom of the frame rail, so apparantly it's been working that way for 15 years or more.

When I hooked it up to the chimney, I found that I had to increase the air pressure a little bit.  It seems to run fairly well at 30-40 PSI with just a little bit of smoke from the chimney.  I don't know if the smoke is from the Babington or is from the crud that was built up from the broken furnace.  The old furnace billowed black smoke and used a LOT of fuel.

Here is the furnace with the fan installed.  It's an ugly installation, but it seems to be functional.

Update 12/21/2006

OK.  The above furnace looks great, but doesn't work worth a crap.  The burner tube gets real hot and theoretically, on paper, my forced hot air idea should have worked.  Unfortunately, paper and reality are sometimes two different things.  A bigger housing might have been the answer, but I'm not a sheet metal worker and like I said before, funds are limited.  Fortunately, I'm smart enough to know when to stop beating a dead horse, cut my losses, and move on to the next idea.

It turns out that I am losing much more heat up the chimney than I thought.  The burner tube does get hot and I was getting some hot air from the fan, but barely enough to use it as more than a hand warmer in one corner of my garage.  So, back to the drawing board for heat distribution.

I went to one of my local plumbing supply stores and told the guy (Victor, who happens to be a neighbor of mine) that I wanted 15 ft of 3/4 inch copper bendable tubing and an inexpensive hot water circulator.  The plan was to build a coil that will fit in the chimney and use the heat from the chimney to heat water and run it through some fin and tube..  Victor had a better idea.  He brought out a hot water heating coil and a Teco water circulator.  Both were from a used furnace.  I got them for super cheap...let's just say that the plumbing supply is going to have plenty of fine adult beverages for their Christmas party.  I also bought two 8 foot lengths of fin and tube, a bunch of 3/4" elbows, some fittings, and then went to the local auto parts store and bought 20 feet of automotive heater hose.

When I got the stuff home, I cut the fin and tube into 2 foot (approx) lengths and using the elbows and some 3/4" copper pipe that I had at the house already, I built a 2 foot X 2 foot radiator.  I thought about using the radiator out of the remains of my 1977 Suburban instead, but I couldn't think of a way to practically reduce the 2 inch inlet and outlets to 3/4" hose fittings.   Anyway, after sweating all the appropriate fittings in the appropriate places, I inserted the water coil into the chimney of the Babington and using the heater hose, I plumbed it all together.  For testing purposes, I have the water pickup and return just sitting in a 5 gallon bucket full of water.

After 2 hours of the Babington running tonight, the temp in my garage is 65 degrees.  This is with the radiator, which is too hot to touch, but has no fan blowing across it, and a box fan blowing across the burner tube itself (minus the sheet metal housing that I built and is shown in the November pictures).  The outside temperature is about 38 degrees.  The water temperature in the bucket is a little over 200 degrees.  It's not boiling, but it's close..

My next plan is to build 2 more radiators and hang them from the ceiling with blower fans to circulate the heat.  If I can keep the garage at 55 degrees or better, I can work in there all winter. 

The best part is that waste oil is free to me.  I'm figuring that my return on investment is about 2 years based on my fuel costs if I still had a correctly functioning commercialy available furnace.


My failures and final success
How to build a Babington burner
Green Trust's Babington page -- Good info
Great Babington information
Yahoo Group -- altfuelbabington
Yahoo Group -- Wastewatts