How To Build A Simple Solar Food Dehydrator for less than $300

For the homesteading lifestyle, it is crucial to preserve food. The best method for doing such a thing is drying it. There are different types of dehydrator to buy on the market, but if you want to save your money try to construct it. If you are growing your own vegetables and fruits, you know that you must preserve it for the winter. Drying your food with the dehydrator is the healthiest way to do it. Besides many uses, it is also energy efficient and easy to handle.

The concept of a solar food dehydrator is simple. It provides enough warmth and air movement to dry food properly. The warm air removes the moist from the food which will prevent the spoilage. This allows you to preserve vegetables and fruits for the whole year.

Dehydrator performance is affected by airflow, temperature, food density and humidity.  So, it must achieve the perfect balance between these variables. If you don’t want to spend more money on buying the one from the store, a homemade dehydrator will do the job for you. For the proper drying process check out these tips to ensure the best results.

Make sure to follow these steps.

Materials List:


  • One thick (3/4 inches’) sheet of plywood 4 by 8 foot
  • One thin (1/4 inches’) sheet of plywood, 4 by 8 foot
  • Five 1 in. x 6 in. x 8 ft. Common Board
  • Two 2 in. x 4 8 ft. long,
  • Two wheels, 8-inch Diameter
  • Steel axle 36-inch long, ½ inch diameter
  • two hinges – heavy-duty
  • Six 27 x 96-inch metal lath layers
  • aluminum screen 3-foot square
  • One 2 x 6-foot layer of fiber-reinforced plastic
  • food-grade screening about 20 square feet
  • 1 ¼ inch flat-head screws about 100
  • One 5/8 inches’ flat-head screws
  • Aluminum battens ¾ x 1/8 inches’
  • 1-inch round-head screws
  • Eight 3/8 x 3 inches’ nuts, washers, and bolts
  • Four 3/8 x 4 inches’ nuts, washers, and bolts
  • Four hooks
  • Paint and primer, choose the light color
  • Aluminum foil
  • Spray paint, black (high-temperature)
  • Glue (waterproof)
  • Caulk and silicone
  • Weather stripping
circular saw cutting plywood

Tools List:


  • One thick (3/4 inches’) sheet of plywood 4 by 8 foot
  • Circular saw or handsaw
  • ¾ inches’ straight bit router
  • Electric drill
  • 2 benches or sawhorses
  • Long straight edge
  • Marker, protractor
  • Tape measure
  • Staple gun
  • Wrenches
  • Tinsnips
  • Utility knife
  • Heavy work gloves

Mark the Diagram

First, you need to mark the cutting diagram so you can line and measure the plywood and use it as a guide. For the great functioning of this device, make sure that you set the right angles. To place a custom-made angle to a plywood sheet, you need to mark and measure 13-inch in from the edge (corner) of one long side, put the protractor on the right mark, measure 116 degrees’ angle and draw its line up from the mark to the contiguous short edge of the sheet. It should be 30-inch long. With the cutting diagram, mark and measure the dehydrators’ both sides, back and front of the drying area and lines for the vent covers.

Diagram of Solar Food Dehydrator

Cut the Marked Plywood

Next step is to cut out the pieces of the marked plywood using a circular saw. Make sure to rip precisely straight lines. When you finish cutting the both sides, put one on top of the other and check if they are a perfect match. This is very important because you want the box to be airtight. If not, repeat this action with a circular saw until they fit. Paint and prime all the pieces to prevent the wood from bending so that air doesn’t come in.

Make the Braces

Next step is to make the correct braces to support dehydrators interior components.
For the braces:

  • 6 pieces – ¾ inch by ¾ inch;
  • 4 pieces – ¾ inch by 1 1/2 inches’ wide
  • 1-piece measuring ¾ inch by 5 1/2 inch

Cut the last one with the circular saw adjusted to the 116 degrees’ angle so it can fit the corner where collector box and drying area meet.

Install the Braces

On your sawhorses put the two cuttings side by side and upside down to install the brace between it. Build in the 3/4 by 5 1/2 inches’ brace in the place where drying area and chamber box meet. Join it together with flat-head screws. Install the other one at the end of the collector box where the air comes in.

Install the collector box bottom

Take the 6 feet and an 11-inch long sheet of plywood and install it on the bottom of your collector box. Put it on the top of the two sides that are still lying upside down, pre-drill holes and attach it with the flat-head screws. If you have any extra pieces, saw it off.

Vent Screens and Drying Chamber Front

Now it is time to install the front of the drying chamber that is 22 ½ by 24 inches’ piece of ¾ inch plywood that you already prepared earlier and cut out. Use the 24 inches’ long cutting and adjust it to the top brace of the drying chamber. Attach it good, glue and screw it, and beveled edge on the top, to the front of the drying chamber. It is crucial that the bottom and the top angle fits perfectly. Use the silicone and caulk to make sure there won’t be air leaks. This front panel will end about 5 inches below the sides top. These extras are important, because they will serve as vents. Take the aluminum screening and staple it to the braces at the bottom and the top of the vent openings on both sides of the chamber box. Also, staple it over the intake vent at the bottom of the box.

Vent screens and drying chamber front

Roof and the Drying Shelf Supports

From the 1 by 6 pine board, you can cut the ¾ by ¾ inch supports with the circular saw. Each is 16 inches long except the lowest one which is 15 ¼ inches. As for the shelf support, mark and measure both sides of the interior, leaving the space between them 1-inch long. Before attaching the supports, pre-drill the holes with exterior grade screws. As for the roof, you can make it from scraps that you have in your workshop. Use the two pieces of ¾ inches plywood. Create the roof of two 12 by 30 inches’ long pieces, with the angle of 30 degrees on the one long edge. Attach it on the braces and dehydrator sides with 1 ¼ inch screws.

Wheels, Legs, and Handles

Make the two rear and two front legs from pressure-treated 2 by 4s wood, and connect it to the dehydrator with nuts, washers, and bolts. First, build in the front ones – they should be 18 inches long with the 26 degrees’ angle on the top end. They should be about 6-inch from the front bottom edge of the box. Pre-drill the holes and attach the legs and the collector box with washers and nuts. Also, through the center drill the hole half-inch long, about 2 inches from the legs bottom, to receive a steel axle mounted, half-inch diameter with two wheels, 8-inch diameter. For the rear legs cut 30 degrees angles from the centers of both 2 by 4 blocks of wood on the top ends, so it fit the roof. The legs are 76 ½ inches’ long.

Wheels legs and handles

Vents

Make the two rear and two front legs from pressure-treated 2 by 4s wood, and connect it to the dehydrator with nuts, washers, and bolts. First, build in the front ones – they should be 18 inches long with the 26 degrees’ angle on the top end. They should be about 6-inch from the front bottom edge of the box. Pre-drill the holes and attach the legs and the collector box with washers and nuts. Also, through the center drill the hole half-inch long, about 2 inches from the legs bottom, to receive a steel axle mounted, half-inch diameter with two wheels, 8-inch diameter. For the rear legs cut 30 degrees angles from the centers of both 2 by 4 blocks of wood on the top ends, so it fit the roof. The legs are 76 ½ inches’ long.

vents and drying chamber door

Drying Chamber Door

For the door, you will need a 24 ½ inches high and 25 ½ inches wide painted plywood piece. It is best to open swinging down from the top. Attach it to the back with the two metal hinges and secure it to the bottom using bolts and nuts. For stopping the door parallel to the ground, install two strands of braided nylon cord (quarter inch) to the high corners of it on one end, to the chamber on the other end. The doors will be wider than the dehydrator, so it will have extensions on both sides. To get a perfect fit when you close it, build the two hooks on each side of the extended part and eye fasteners. Apply weather-stripping all-around the perimeter of the door frame.

Absorber

Use the metal lath in 8 ft. by 27 inches’ sheet. For building the absorber, use 6 of 22 ½ by 69 inches’ sheets that you’ve cut to size with tin snips. Spray with black high-temperature flat paint the lath strips. Let it dry. In the meantime, cover the bottom of the collector box with heavy duty aluminum foil. Glue it in the place. To support the heavy metal lath, fit a ¾ inch strip of wood diagonally on the collector box interior sides with 1 ¼ inch wood screws. Make sure to fit it at the same diagonal where the layers of lath will be. On top of strips put the one strips of lath at the time. Hold it in place by screwing the screws into the wooden supports at the bottom and the sides. Fold the lath over the brace at the top, and screw it into place.

Absorber

Glaze the Collector Box

Glazing the top is a very important step. This way the sun’s energy will breach the absorber and be soaked up by it. For the best results, purchase the fiberglass reinforced polyester and cut it to adjust the front of the collector box. For this action use a utility knife or tin snips. Measure and cut ¾ inch wide by 1/8 inches’ thick aluminum billet to adjust the top of the collector box. On all of this aluminum, strips predrill the holes. Put the layer of fiberglass reinforced polyester on the top. Set the top aluminum billet and drill through its holes, through the fiberglass reinforced polyester all the way to the dehydrator sides. Secure the top billet to the FRP and collector box with screws.

vents and drying chamber door

Create the Drying Trays

As for the trays, use the 4 1 by 6s to build the components for its wooden frame. Cut it into pieces of 22 ¼ inches’ length and two of 16-inch long. Use a router with a 3/8 inches’ straight bit to rip 3/8 inches’ deep notch on the one side of both ends. Then cut the boards into ¾ inches’ wide layers using a circular saw with a rip fence connected. From the boards rip 22 pieces of 22 ¼ inches’ long, and 22 more 16-inch long. They should be ¾ inch thick with connected ends. Compile the frames so they are square. Use this frame to assemble two 22 ¼ inches’ long pieces and two 16-inch into a framework. Make sure to glue the pieces at every corner and fix the rabbet cuts with 1 5/8 inches’ long flat-head screw. Repeat this action 11 times, to build the rest other trays for your dehydrator. After this use the food-grade screen and staple it to each frame with the staple gun.

Finishing Step

To shed the rain, the best solution is nailing the shingles to the roof.  Screw some 24-inch scrap 2 by 4 handles to the back legs. This will help you to easily move the dehydrator. Now it’s time to check out these recipes and dry some food!

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