Monthly Archives: January 2014

Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro Hopper – a pellet UDS update

Yesterday marked the biggest accomplishment in this project, the delivery and installation of the Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro Hopper.

Pellet Hopper

Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro Hopper

I was almost as excited to unbox the pellet hopper after work last night as I am when I get a new Macbook Pro or a new Nikon camera.  I was really happy when 5:00pm rolled around and I was able to shut down the work computer and head out to the garage to work on the smoker again.

The hopper is actually a somewhat “generic” device as Smoke Daddy uses this same hopper in a number of different applications, but they do sell a retrofit kit that includes the needed hardware to mount it to a 55 gallon drum as well as a template to mark where to drill the needed holes and to cut out the section of the barrel to allow the burner to fit in the barrel.


Drill and cutout template attached to my 55 gallon drum

With the template on the barrel, all that was needed was to drill 4 holes and cut out the opening.  Both are very straight forward tasks but it did take a little time, and a lot of Dremel cutoff disks, the barrel’s steel was actually a bit harder than I expected and it really wore down the disks, butI had the needed holes and opening in short order.


All the needed holes and cuts to install the hopper

With all the drilling and cutting done, it was a simple matter of attaching the mounting brackets with the supplied hardware and then bolting the hopper to the mounting brackets.


Pellet Pro hopper attached to the 55 gallon drum

You will notice that there is a 3-ring binder under the corner of the pellet hopper.  The hopper is actually quite heavy and I was having an issue with it not balancing well with the somewhat light barrel.  I suspect that if I would have mounted the hopper over the wheel, which you can see in this picture, instead of between 2 wheels I wouldn’t have had this problem.  I can think of a couple ways to address this, one being adding some sort of “foot” to the hopper or to add some weight to the other side of the barrel, I will figure that out but in the meantime I will be using a little chunk of 2×4 to hold things straight. 🙂

Once I had everything mounted up, it was time to give it a test firing so I loaded the hopper with pellets and plugged her in.  Smoke Daddy sends instructions on how to fire it for the first time, you are basically priming the pellet auger and honestly, which is very straight forward and before I knew it I had the internal barrel temperature up to 225 degrees.  Not shown in the picture above is a temperature sensor that you install into the barrel that regulates the hopper to maintain the temperature that you select.  It seems to do a great job of keeping things where they should be.

I still have a few odds and ends to finish up before she is ready for her first brisket or tri-tip.  I need to install a heat diffuser, you don’t want direct heat under the meat when you are cooking “low and slow” as well as coming up with some sort of a lid.  I picked up a cheap stainless steel pizza pan that should make the perfect diffuser and I am still looking for a 22.5″ domed Weber grill lid.  Regardless, I should be giving it a test run with a tri-tip on Friday or Saturday and possibly a full brisket for the big game on Sunday.

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Wheels and cooking surfaces – a UDS pellet smoker update

I realize that it has been quite awhile since my last ugly drum pellet smoker project update.  There are actually a few reasons for that, and while you might think that it being winter would be the biggest, it actually has more to do with the holidays and simply not having a whole lot of free time.  Now that the holidays are well behind us, I have started moving forward again and actually hope to have the project finished by this coming weekend, who knows, maybe brisket for the big game on Sunday.

UDS Wheels


I have been debating for quite awhile what I wanted to do for legs for the new smoker.  I had come up with a number of ideas along the way but in the end, and with a little input from my wife, I decided to go with wheels instead of legs.  The wheels that you see in the picture are actually from a left over furniture dolly we had left over after our move to Olympia in 2012.  I wasn’t using it any longer and in the interest of reusing / recycling I couldn’t think of a better use for these old wheels.  Attaching them to the barrel was quite simple, just drill some holes and use some bolts to hold them in place.

I also picked up a couple round Weber replacement grill surfaces over the weekend.  They are 22″ in diameter and fit in the 55 gallon from almost perfectly.  To install them I simple attached stainless steel L brackets to the inside of the barrel and laid the grill on the L bracket.  The following picture shows the lower grill.

Bottom Grill

Lower cooking surface

As far as spacing from top to bottom of the barrel, I sort of just “eye-balled” it to what I thought would be a good place for this lower grill.  I also wanted to leave enough room under it incase I want to add another once to use as a drip pan so I can have 2 cooking surfaces, in this setup the grill you see here will hold the drip pan and the upper grill will be the cooking surface.

Top Grill

Upper cooking surface

This shot shows the upper cooking surface, as well as the lower one, in place.  For this one I installed it 5″ down from the top lip of the barrel.  My plans are to use a domed lid from something like a Weber grill as the top of the smoker, but with it being 5″ down I can still get away with something flat until I can find a domed lid that will serve my purposes, I don’t have one yet.

For the most part, I am only missing 2 components to allow me to fire this up and start cooking in it.  The first is the lid that I have already mentioned, and I can always find work arounds until I find what I am looking for, and the second is the actual pellet hopper / burner which is scheduled to be delivered today.  It should go without saying that I will be updating the blog as soon as I have it installed. 🙂


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My review of the Ambient Weather WS-2080 personal weather station

Ambient Weather WS-2080

One of the things that goes hand in hand with being a weather photographer / storm chaser is being something of a weather junkie and amateur meteorologist. Being one of those weather junkies for many years, I have wanted my own weather station for years. For any number of reasons I never invested in one, but apparently I ended up on the “nice” list for Christmas 2012 and Santa brought me an Ambient Weather WS-2080. The following blog post is my review and experiences after having that station up and running for just over a year.

You will see weather photographers / storm chasers using tools such as realtime radar maps and local forecasts while out in the field. Things like the laptop computer, iPad and high speed cellular internet connections have given us the data we need to do a much better job of being in the right place at the right time. Even though a personal weather station is a great tool for the weather junkies out there, the fact is that we also look at it as a fun toy, and I was really excited when I got mine for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to get it setup and feeding me data.

Most weather stations have 2 elements to them. The first is the outdoor sensors and the second is the indoor panel that displays the data. The outdoor sensor array can have any number of sensors and the Ambient Weather WS-2080 comes with the ability to measure rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, temperature and air pressure. Setup of the outdoor sensor array was very straight forward, basically just plug in the wires (which use RJ-11 telephone type connectors) and insert the batteries. I am not going to cover the placement of the outdoor sensor array in this review as that would be a lot of information that simply isn’t relevant to this post. The setup of the indoor panel was even easier, simply insert 2 AA batteries and within a few minutes it starts receiving data from the sensor array.

There are some things that you can program on the panel, but for the most part they are display type options such as time zone, F or C for temperature display, relative or absolute air pressure as well as a few other things which are also not important to this review. At this point you have a LCD panel in your house displaying realtime weather data from the sensor array you have already placed outdoors but most weather junkies are not going to be satisfied with just that, we want to get our weather data out to the world via the internet.

While the WS-2080 does not have the means to directly feed weather data to the internet, it does provide a USB port that is built into the panel and allows you to feed data to a computer which in turn will feed it to the weather service of your choice. In my case I choose to feed data to Weather Underground. Since I am a Mac user I couldn’t use any of the software provided by Ambient Weather and as such is not part of this review, but I did purchase a very popular application called Weather Snoop and connected my station’s panel to a Mac Mini that had Weather Snoop running on it. Within minutes I could log into Weather Underground and see near real time data from my personal weather station, what would be better for a weather junkie.

Months went by and everything worked perfectly. I recommended this weather station to a number of my friends. It wasn’t until the middle of the summer that I had my first “glitch” with the station. It rains a lot here in Western Washington but we were in the middle of a fairly long dry spell over the summer when I noticed that my station reported that it had rained just over 38” of rain in about 30 seconds. As I said, we get a lot of rain, but that was a bit out of the norm. 🙂 I just wrote this off as a glitch, reset the rain data on Weather Snoop and moved on. Again, months went by and things worked perfectly, that is until late fall, when things really started to go south.

The first real indication that things were not functioning the way I expected them to was in the middle of December when out of the blue my panel started displaying 0000 for the air pressure. All the other sensor data was correct but I thought it would be a good time to replace the batteries in the outdoor sensor array. I pulled the array off of the mast I have it installed on, check all the connections and replaced the batteries. Much to my disappointment this did not correct the problem with the air pressure reading. The next red flag came when I got an alert from Weather Underground that they had not received weather data from my station for 3 hours. I checked the logs in Weather Snoop and found that it was reporting that it had received corrupted data from the panel and hadn’t sent in the updates. I reset everything and the data started flowing again, for about a week when it happened again. This actually continued up until the first week in January with the interval between the data failures getting shorter and shorter until it got to a point that I was having to reset everything 2 or 3 times a day.

This brought me to the 2nd week of January, almost exactly 1 year that my WS-2080 had been in operation and I contacted the technical support staff at Ambient Weather and explained the issues I was having. While I did get a very prompt reply, I didn’t really get any useful information from them. Their best suggestion was that it might be the panel and that I should try to replace it. Even though I knew that I was about a month beyond the date that my wife purchased the station, I asked if there was any way to get a panel on a warranty basis and was told that no, since the station was just outside of the warranty period I would have to purchase a panel, which might fix my problem. In other words, take a $50 gamble that this would fix my $100 weather station. In my opinion this simply wasn’t a good bet and I decided to not purchase a new panel.  Granted, if I had reported the early issues to Ambient Weather I am sure I would have had a different outcome, but given the timing of the holidays and when I started having the real problems, that didn’t happen and is entirely my fault.

As of the writing of this review I am still experiencing the issues that I have described. I am keeping an eye out for used WS-2080 panels on sites like Ebay and if I find one for a good price, I will pick it up and see if it corrects my issues. I have reached out to friends who are using the same station, some for even longer than I have, and none have reported having any of the issues I am, this could easily be issues unique to my station. I am also spending some time researching replacement stations since now that I have had one, I can’t imagine not having one down the road, I am a weather junkie after all.  

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