Feb 15, 2012

Installing a Weldless Ball Valve

Or, as I wanted to name the this post, "How to Put a Hole in a Perfectly Good Pot."  I feel like the current title is more constructive.  So, that will be the topic for today: drilling a hole in your stainless steel pot for a ball valve.

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous going into this project.  I read enough to know that I could royally screw up something, namely, the pot.  That is what I would have cared about.  A drill bit?  So what.  A 32-quart stainless steel pot?  That's another story.

Equipment for drilling a hole.
After reading up on this, Eric came over this past Saturday afternoon and we headed into the project.  After discussing our process, we decided the mantra for the day would be "patience."  And patience did pay off.

To the right you will see the equipment I used.  Some of the more normal things I hope you recognize: a pot, a tape measure, a drill, safety glasses, a sharpie.  Also I have a metal file, a step drill bit, and some 3-in-1 oil. (Not pictured are all of my other drill bits, which I also used.)

The first thing I did was measure and mark where I wanted the hole, being mindful of the curve in the bottom of the pot.  I didn't want the washer for the ball valve to be pressed into the curve.  I wanted a flat seal.  I measured about 1.75" up from the bottom and marked it with a green dot.  That was easy enough.

3-in-1 oil.
The step bit I purchased has a smallest point of 1/4", which is too big to start just going at it.  I could easily get off my mark and just scratch up my pot.  So instead, I started with a 1/8" drill bit.  We placed the pot on its side, added some oil to the green dot, and slowly started drilling.  I used medium speed and medium pressure.  I got through in about 15 seconds.  After that, I started stepping up in size.  I have several bits between 1/8" and 1/4".  Some went right through in two or three seconds; some took about 15.  Between each drill bit, we would add a little more oil, taking our time to let the steel cool down.  Patience!
Step drill bit.

Stainless steel gets harder as it gets hotter, so taking your time is important.  Again, the mantra is "patience."

After four or five drill bits, it was finally time for the step drill bit.  No more changing bits, but the patience rule still needs to apply.  We took many breaks, even before we got all the way through a step.  We would add oil every 30 seconds or so, take a moment, and then start back.  If we saw white smoke, we would stop.

Adding oil.
An important thing to remember is to keep the drill perpendicular to the pot.  If you are off a little bit, the step drill bit catches the pot and twists so either the pot or the drill gets yanked.  That is also a good way to end up with barbs and bends in your hole, ruining the seal.  So, again, patience and accuracy.

Once we were close, we would use the ball valve coupling to check the hole.  We didn't want to make the hole too big (that, too, would ruin the seal).  Occasionally, I would use the metal file to shave away any prickly places.  Once we were at the right spot, we hand tightened the ball valve into place.

The whole process of drilling took less than half an hour, probably only 20 minutes or so.  We washed out the pot (lots of oil and metal shavings everywhere) and tested the seal on the valve.  No leaks!  Whew.

The process was easier than I expected.  No screw ups, no injuries, and a nice hole resulted.  If you are thinking of doing this, here are some things that I think are helpful:
  1. Have a partner to help.  They can hold the pot and spray/add the oil.  A partner helps to save some time.  I know the mantra is "patience" but it is annoying to put down a drill, pick up oil, spray oil, put down the oil, pick up the drill... rinse and repeat.  
  2. Take your time.  There is no sense in screwing anything up.  Just do it right the first time.  Drilling faster and in longer bursts will only make you have to drill longer overall.  
  3. Use the right equipment.  I started with a battery drill but switched to a corded drill halfway through.  Step up your bits.  Wear safety goggles.  No half-assing.

Hope this was moderately helpful for anyone looking to take on such a project.  But you may like your pots without holes, and that is just fine by me.