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My first RF smoker build from a propane tank

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

Hello all,


I wanted to thank each and every person that takes time time to look at my build.  This is the culmination of my love for smoking food, the massive amount of time spent drooling over YOUR builds and the deep burning desire to build one from scratch on my own.  It's a 120g propane tank I picked up for $50, delivered.  I always had my eye set on a mid-sized Lang, but the price tag was always too big a pill to swallow, even for the used ones on CL.  This was one of the initial driving factors for building my own.  Recently, my daughter announced her engagement and she asked me to cook for the reception.  That sparked the idea to get my smoker project going and the timing was right to get it done.


Here we go:  One of the features I wanted was the ability to move the smoker around the property, but not necessarily take it anywhere else.  I bought a used small 4x6 trailer for my build.  I initially tried to go the round firebox  route, but I wasted a lot of time chasing people on CL, only to find they cannot measure correctly.  I was very specific on my FB needs because Feldons caluclator stated what I needed in capacity, every time I went an looked at a cylinder someone had, it was too small.  This drove me to make the leap into buying new plate and building a square box.  Initially, I went the cylinder idea to save on the cost of plate, but I kept wasting days searching for the right size tank and either getting no responses to emails/texts or finding out the owner was including stands and other welded on framing into the specs, making their tank a no-go.  Back to the forums I went, and researched square FB's and priced the steel.  For $350, I bought 1/4 plate to build the box and 3/16 plate for the RF plenum, made some final decisions on the sizes and ordered the steel.  Because the 1/4 plate is so thick and was at the upper end of my MIG's capability, I contracted a welder friend and we got busy.  While waiting on the plate to come in and get cut, I worked on the initial work to be done to the tank.  Cleaning it out, flipping it, cutting the door, installing hinges, making a temp door handle, prepping the cook grate rails, mounting it to the trailer, installing the cook door seals and getting it to his house for the FB install.  I towed it to his house on a Saturday morning, we assembled the fire box and within 2 days, we had the fire box hung and the chinmey cut to size and installed.  Once that portion was finished, it was back to my house for completion.  I spent the next 2 weeks building cook racks, installing the permanent door handles, RF plate, FB wood stand, temp gauges/shrouds and cleaning it up for paint.



Ideas from SMF that I incorporated:

Feldons calculator - can't say enough about this tool!

1/4 plate fire box, using many suggestions for how to measure and cut the openings .  The cut and mate process was not as hard as I imagined for a box.

Weld hinges before completely cutting the door!

RF plate and grease tough to the ball valve below the smoker, love this idea

Making grates from box tubing - I repurposed old clothing racks from a dumpster, there was more than I could ever use there, I picked from the best  steel and took what I needed

Damper locations

Fire box grating build

Flipping the axle to underneath the leaf springs, to raise the trailer without having to buy bigger tires, different leaf springs, etc.



My own ideas that worked:

Welded an eye hook to the FB, bought a used an electric warn winch and used it to hang and mount the FB to the tank

Bought 2x used chrome semi exhaust stacks from someone on Craigslist for $30

Repurposed king & queen sized bed frames for angle iron.  Only drawback was the time spent removing the paint, but saved a chunk in steel

Using a small bottle jack to press on plates that had larger gaps than I wanted to fill weld, makes the gaps more managable and less costly in MIG wire.

Temp door handle with rebar until I had a firm solution for a door handle setup

Door stop tabs - kept the door from falling in once hinges were installed and door was cut, until the 1 1/8" outer seal straps were mounted.



Basic suggestions I felt could have been communicated on other builds that I missed seeing:  (keep in mind, these are my personal opinions)

Steel wheel brush for grinder (highly recommend over flap disc when removing paint)

Full face protection  -  when using a grinder, small debris can get under your safety glasses and get in your eyes

Paint stripper is a waste of time and a bigger mess to clean up (my opinion)

Some people waste time on putting a pretty 45 angle on door seal straps.  Save yourself the aggravation.  You're going to grind them flat and paint it anyway.  Never will see it.  lol




Because the reach to my open work space was limited to how far I could stretch my welder's power feed, I had to work in the sun a lot.  I highly suggest using an EZ-UP for shade!
Hindsight is 20/20 - I should have bought a couple of those stick on style bubble levels and pasted them on my trailer.  A few times I had to spin my trailer a tad to be able to reach areas
      with the MIG gun. 

I found myself putting my trailer out of level and finding out AFTER I made welds that  I was off on my racks, etc.  Quick eye reference for level, for just a couple bucks.  DUH!
Don't carry extra steel stock and play with 3 or 4 ideas, cut steel and then accidentally mix them up with new stock.  I accidentally welded wrong parts more than once and was off

       on measurements because of simple mistakes like that.  Again - DUH!
When going from heavy plate welds to small parts, don't forget to change the settings on the MIG.   Holes in the thinner metals take more time to fill back in because you forget.
Don't take your gloves off so fast, can't tell you how many times I grabbed hot parts without a glove because I forgot they were going to be hot!  DUH!
If you're building a cooker from a propane tank and plan to  flip it over, plug holes and do surface prep BEFORE the flip.  DUH!
Put on latex or other throw away gloves before painting, removing the mess from your hands sucks!  LOL
Make sure you try and set your smoker on the trailer with the FB and all the goodies to make sure the tongue/tail weight is proper.  I changed my FB design and threw this off, was tail heavy.  DOH!

Wasted time chasing people on Craigslist, looking for a round firebox because I was mentally fighting the idea of a square firebox (was avoiding plate steel costs)




I do know I still have some extras I want to add soon, like a workspace in front of the cook door, but I am now sure how I want it yet.  So in the meantime, I am just going to use the bumper from the trailer as a shelf, will put something together in the next few weeks when I can get my hands on more materials.  Feedback is very much appreciated.  I want to continually learn, so when my buddies want help, I feel better about decisions made during a build.  :o)



I put together a video of my build pics instead of post a gazillion images here.  Here's the video:  




Image of fhe finished product:



post #2 of 6

That's a very nice build!


I embedded the video in your post, since we aren't supposed to have links to You Tube on here.


Looking forward to seeing that guy filled up with meat!!





post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
Thanks Al, for both the kudos and the fix for embedding.
post #4 of 6

That smoker looks awsome!!! I can't wait to see the qview. How many racks were you able to put in there? Also how far did you put your grates above the reverse flow plate? Thanks for taking a look at my build and all of the helpful tips you posted for others

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
post #5 of 6
Thread Starter 
Hello Pork,

Thanks for the kind words and you're very welcome on the input on your cooker. Like I have said in the past, this forum is probably one of these MOST open, information sharing forums of any kind. Giving back to this tight community is something I owe the group, because it has offered me more build information and design ideas then I could ever dream of. It would take a lot of work to get this same information from other sources, plus combine that with the fact that this forum is something I may not post on often, but I certainly enjoy seeing the builds of other people. 10/15/20 years ago, I would probably have passed on the idea of building my own smoker from a tank, it just seemed much too ominous of a task. Between the info found here, ability to find parts and physically "see" other peoples builds in pictures and videos, it suddenly started to sound like it was something I could tackle. Enough rambling, here's the answer to what you asked:

I installed 3 rails, but only made two racks. I have plenty of the box steel to make a third as needed, just not sure I really need it yet. The rails are made from angle iron (repurposed bed frame material) and each has an added 3" piece of angle, welded inverted as a "tip-out stopper" located near the door, so when I pull out the grate to work on the meat, it does not tip out of the smoker and dump my food onto the ground. The lowest rail is 5" above the RF plate. A lot of the posts I read said 4" to 6" up should be your first rack, so I went with the median number and it perfectly matched what already had as the height of the RF plate to the bottom of my door opening. Mind you, plans like this on paper usually never work out for me because something causes a snag and the plans change, this time I was very lucky that it worked out as planned. :o) The underside of the top rail is 9" up from the top of the lower rail (cooking surface height) and the middle rail is 5" up from the lowest rail. This three rail setup offers me the use of large meats on the bottom with skinny meat like ribs or chicken on the top rack when using 2 grates (my multi-rail idea came from the configuration choices a warmer offers), or if I really had the need for a large cook, I could build that third rack and load all three with skinny meats. My daughter is getting married in February, so I may need this third rack built. Once I do my first big cook, I should have an idea as to how much meat i can stuff in this guy. I am doing my first cook this Sunday. A few racks of ribs and about 15-20lbs of chicken quarters, along with my stuffed jalapenos. (if anybody wants a great jalapeno recipe, the bbq guru website has a great recipe for "atomic buffalo turds").

Someone PM'd me, asking about how I made the racks, so I am going to share that info here. Believe it or not, the rails, grate frame and grating material l were all repurposed metals. The box tube is material I found in one of those long dumpsters at a large storage unit facility. I loaded my trailer up with a lot of the decent stuff. The expanded metal was stuff I had from other projects. The Steel grating on the food rack image was the thick-round stainless steel grating from a super duty grill, not the thin and cheap coated stuff. Because my top rack is in the upper portion of the cooker dome, my rack needs to be shorter in depth, so I laid out the cooking grates, welded on each rod, then straight cut the ends to match the framing. When I slid it into the smoker, I realized the tips of my grates were going to hold my smoker door open just a tad, so I went back and angle cut each rod on both sides to match the curve of the door/cooker. This solved my door closing issue.

Happy cooking!
post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 

Qview time!  Made some atomic buffalo turds with both pineapple cream cheese and salmon cream cheese.  Both chicken thighs and some quarters, some with rub some without,  Coca-cola infused ribs and last but not least, my secret weapon - Stuffed pork tenderloin.  It was not only my first cook on this smoker, it was my first big cook to see if I would have major issues running a large cook project.  My daughter is planning on getting married in February, so I wanted to load it and see if I can handle the amount of work needed to deploy a lot of food as well as see if this smoker can hold temps with no issues.


I am happy to report, ummm - screw the report, check the wicked tasty Q!  (in all reality, all went PERFECT!)


Home made rub deployed!


Stuffing the pork tenderloin


2 racks of ribs dressed for cooking


Two racks loaded up, ribs had already been cooking for a few hours, then foiled up.

This image is after I loaded everything in it.


Stuffed pork tenderloin




Coca-Cola Ribs



Chicken, chicken and more chicken!




In closing, all I can say is YOU GUYS ALL ROCK! 

I learned a lot about building smokers from this forum and my food quality is way better than it was 5+ years ago.

In a nutshell:   Pride in building my smoker, pride in providing quality cooking and proud to be a part of this forum!

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