$50 DIY sous vide immersion heater/circulator

Updated and abbreviated. Still solder-free.

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After using our $50 sous vide for a few months now, we have made some updates and modifications. I also think the length of the previous post makes the construction seem more complicated than it is. This is so simple, it can be finished in less than an hour, and will really only cost you $50 (depending on your need for tools).

NB: hardcore hackers, we have a MAKE guide!

As always, build at your own risk.

UPDATE: We now have a kit to build your own sous vide controller for $80!  It requires soldering, but we think it produces an elegant and convenient result.

The parts:

  • Norpro 559 immersion heater (Amazon)
  • PID controller JLD612 (Lightobject)
  • K-type thermocouple (Lightobject)
  • Ziploc vacuum (sous vide) pump and bags (Amazon)
  • Elite A800 aquarium air pump (Amazon)
  • Aquarium air tubing (Amazon)
  • 6 inches of wire (around 18 gauge)
  • Electrical tape
  • Solderless spade and ring terminals (18 gauge)

The tools:

  • Screwdriver
  • Wire crimping/cutting/stripping tool

Step 1: Power cable

The PID will act as a switch for the immersion heater. In order to attach the heating element to the PID we need to cut the cable for the heater in half crosswise about 12″ from the heating element. Now we have two separate cables. The plug cable should be 24″ long.

Fig 1. The split the power cord on the heater.

Fig 2. Crimp ring terminals onto the plug end.

The heating element and plug cable is made up of two wires.  On both cables, separate these wires on the ends and strip them about 1/2″ (Fig 1).

Now we’re just going to deal with the plug wire, attach small ring terminals to the ends (Fig 2). Tug the ring terminals to ensure they are securely attached, and wrap the connection in electrical tape. Attach these ring terminals to connectors 1 and 2 on the PID controller (Fig 4).

Step 2: Thermocouple

While the thermocouple (at the tip of the screw) is stainless steel, the screw attached to it is not and will rust in the sous vide bath.  As such, we’ll use electrical tape to wrap the screw and all parts of the wire that might come into contact with water (Fig 3).

Then attach the thermocouple spade terminals to connectors 9 and 10 on the PID controller (Fig 4).

Fig 3. Wrap the thermocouple screw and cord in electrical tape.

Fig 4. Thermocouple and power connections to PID controller

At this point, cover the back of the PID controller in electrical tape and plug it in. The PID should read EEE.E at the top.

To get it to read the correct temperature, hit SET and enter “0089″.  Then press SET when “Inty” is blinking and scroll up or down to  “µ” (this is secretly a “k”, for the K-type thermocouple). Then press SET. Press up so “outy” is blinking and press SET, then change the number to 1 (this sets the PID output to the built-in relay).  Press SET again and scroll to “End.”  Press SET to exit.

The PID controller should now display the temperature on top, and may start to click.  Unplug the controller, and we  move on!

Step 3: Heater

We are almost done, just a little bit more crimping to go. Strip and crimp small spade terminals onto the end of the heating element cord (Fig 7).

Fig 5. Wiring diagram

Fig 6. PID controller with all wiring

Then attach the wires from the heating element to terminals 2 and 14 of the PID controller (See Fig 5, 6, 8).

Take the 6 inch piece of wire and attach spade terminals to each end.  Connect one end to terminal 1 and the other end to terminal 13 of the PID controller (Fig 5-6).

Fig 7. Crimp spade terminals to heating element cord.

Fig 8. Insert spade terminal upside down.

Fig 9. Tape a stick to the back of the heating element for stability.

Finally, tape a popsicle stick or chopstick to the back of the heating element (Fig 9). Since the plastic nub attached to the back is short, this augmentation this will allow the heating coil to reach further into the water.

Step 4: Bubbler

The bubbles produced by the aquarium air pump effectively mix temperatures into the layers in water. Just plug the pump in an adjacent socket. In order to weigh down the end of the air tubing, we wedge the end between the tines of a fork. Easy!

Wedge the air tube between fork tines, and drop it in the water below the heater.

Step 5: Start cooking

CONGRATULATIONS!

Everything tech is done now, just set up your sous vide and bubbler with a pot full of water. Because the heater is fairly low powered, it may save time to put the pot on the stove to heat it to temp first.  It’s also useful to cover the pot in saran wrap or aluminum foil.

Tips:

  • Use our PID tuning parameters to reach the target temperature faster.
  • Keep the PID controller and water pump elevated, to avoid damage by water spills.
  • Make sure the thermocouple is secure and deep in the water.  If it comes above the water level, it will register a temperature that is too low, and the PID controller will turn up the heat indefinitely.
  • Make sure the coil of the heater is below the water surface, but watch out for water spilling over the edge from the bubbles.
  • Remove some water before putting food in to avoid spilling.

Accurate and hax0rfabulous.

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42 Responses to “$50 DIY sous vide immersion heater/circulator”

  1. Dave
    February 2, 2011 at 7:27 am #

    I notice you do not use a relay or SSR as in Scott’s version. I know very little about electronics so perhaps you can explain this to me.

    • February 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm #

      The relay built into the controller is only safe for switching one small heater. Scott uses three, which is why he needs an external relay. The math is as follows: the internal relay I use is rated to 3A (current). The heater is 300W (power), and the wall voltage is 120V (voltage), so using current=power/voltage, we get 300W/120V=2.5A, which is safe. Let me know if you have any more questions!

  2. Loki
    February 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    What’s up with the bucket heater? Do you just toss that in to help bring it up to temp quicker?

    • February 7, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

      We use that in a different sous vide setup, with a SSR switch. Post coming soon!

  3. benthos
    February 13, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    Does the JLD612 need to be setup every time you power it on or it this a one-time setup and afterwards it displays the proper temperature on power-on?

    • February 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

      It only needs to be set up once, it remembers the settings even when unplugged. Let me know how setup goes!

  4. mshield
    February 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Brilliant. Currently at 147 deg Fahrenheit and holding.

    After reading some of your reference material I’ve discovered that a quick and easy test will be to see if an egg kept at this temperature for 60 minutes will have a solid yolk but mostly liquid egg white.

  5. Walter
    April 4, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    I’ve been thinking of doing a Sous Vide setup for a while now, but hesitated for monetary reasons. This one I might try. It looks cheap and easy, though not as slick looking as the others. Easier to change the heater if/when it burns out though.

    I’m wondering why your project is using a k type thermocouple instead of the popular pt-100. Is it because the k type is much cheaper (going by lightobject’s pricing), or because the .1 degree resolution of the pt-100 is pretty much useless for a unit with a single 300w heater, or both?

    Do you happen to know the resolution achievable with the k type?
    Thanks.

    • April 4, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

      Hi Walter,

      I do think this is a great starting setup–you can use all the parts later if you want to upgrade, and it is not hard to throw the parts in a box if looks are important.

      I did use the k type because of the price difference, but also I have found the k type a bit less sensitive to water conditions (our pt100 dropped into the water and gave incorrect readings for a few days). The k type is so cheap, I’d grab one from lightobject while you wait for your ebay pt100 to ship from china.

      There is some drift over time in the k type thermocouple output, but if you calibrate against another thermometer every few months you should keep better than 1 degree accuracy. On its own the k type thermocouple is only accurate to about 3 degrees C.

  6. herb
    May 7, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    First things first: Thank you for sharing, great blog!

    I want to build a sous-vide setup too, but as I’m European, i couldn’t get the same model of PID, but the one I ordered is rated at 3A too, so with the 230V we have here in Europe I should be able to switch a maximum of 690 W without frying the internal relay.
    Problem is, there are a lot of 350W immersion heaters and lots with 1000W and more but none in the 600W range – how much of a difference does it really make?

    Should i get an external relais, or will a 350W heater work as well?

    Thanks

    • May 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

      Hi herb,

      I have found that the 350 W heater is enough to keep a pot warm (maintain the temp), but it takes quite a while to heat it up. If you preheat the water or keep it in a pot on the stove, you should be fine with that much power.

      A good way to reach 600 W might be to attach two 300 W heaters to something like this, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00164MAK2 (suggested by jb). You can do it using simple cable ties.

      Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

      Abe

      • herb
        May 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

        Thank you very much,

        Sure I’ll let you know how it goes!

        • Colm
          July 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

          Hi guys, I’m in Europe as well (Ireland) and am very keen to build this set-up, despite my complete lack of electronics knowledge and experience. Has there been any update on how it worked out for Herb?

          Also, I wonder could you recommend a PID that will work for me here?

  7. Professr
    July 7, 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    I’m using an SSR to drive a 1000-watt deep fryer, which works great! It comes up to temp from cold in 15 minutes, and from hot in 5 or less. I recently bought this PID controller and a K-type thermocouple from lightedobject, but the thermocouple is having some problems. I’ll have to see how it works once that’s fixed!

    • Professr
      July 16, 2011 at 4:27 am #

      The K-type thermocouple works pretty well. The temperature stays within one degree once it stabilizes, but I think I might spend extra for the P-type if it gives me ten times more resolution. I also had to calibrate the PID controller – the thermocouple was off by ~9 degrees Celsius.

  8. pietro
    July 28, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    Hi Abe,
    I have a question, do you think is possible to use a hotplate pid controlled under the pot instead of a heating element inside ? The pid setting would be the same ? I live in costa rica (far from the city) and here is difficult to find electric things, I have a hotplate 115 v 1500w . thank you very much

    • August 1, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

      This should work, just make sure you are using a solid state relay, not just the JLD612. The settings should still work for you, although there may be more overshoot because it takers longer for the heat to transfer to the water.

  9. Joe
    August 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    can you explain how to set up the pid? I finished making a controller, but having a hard time finding info how to set temps ect.

    • August 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

      Sure. I’m assuming it is reading the temperature properly. Then just use the up and down arrows to change SV to the temperature you would like (in deg C). You will see the OUT light blink as it heats up, and the temperature next to the PV mark should eventually change to reach the SV temperature.

      If you are having trouble reading the temperature (it reads EEEE), follow the instructions in step 2.

      Good luck!

  10. sparky
    October 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    Hi Abe…. There is a really basic deep fryer at Costco that costs only $20 (it’s only 2qt, here is the link on zappos with really good additional photos http://www.zappos.com/product/7736587/color/235696?channel=126&mr:referralID=NA&mr:trackingCode=E5FC504F-67B7-DF11-904F-002219319097).

    It’s 1500W and obviously has some sort of thermocouples (it actually has 2 that you can see when you pull up additional photos). Do you know hat type of thermocouples this would be? Unfortunately the low end only goes down to 180 deg F. Have you thought about modifying something like this or a similar deep fryer with larger capacity? do you have any ideas how?

    I guess you would definitely need a new PID, add a bubbler, Maybe even a better thermocouple. Let me know if you have any ideas.

    • October 30, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      I picked up a similar Hamilton Beach model. It turns out they are not actual thermocouples, but just pieces of metal that conduct heat to the bimetallic strip used to turn power on and off.

      We have actually hacked one and have been using it with our Ember Kit, I have been meaning to post on it for a while!

  11. November 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Hey guys. Love the site. I’m taking this setup for it’s inaugural run, and have run into a problem. Everything worked in the test run after the initial build, but now I’m trying it with actual food and after about 3 hours the temperature started falling, but the PID didn’t seem to start up the heater (it wasn’t clicking like it had before). I was still getting a temperature reading from the thermocouple and my target temp was still set. I set it up according to this page and the PID tuning parameters linked to from here. I’m not super technically savvy, so any thoughts would be very helpful.

    Also, I used all build components linked to from this page.

  12. November 15, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Hey,
    I rewired everything and it seems to be working now, but I just wanted to check. When the AL2 is blinking, and the clicks are happening, does that mean the power is cycling and holding the temperature I want? When the light is on, does that mean the heating element is getting continuous power? I think I followed the directions correctly, and I’ve checked the manual from lightobject, but to the lay-man, it isn’t totally clear.
    Thanks again!

    • November 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

      Will,

      Yes, the power is on whenever the AL2 light is on. If it is blinking, it is holding the temp, and if it is solid it is providing continuous power. I’m glad it worked out!

      Abe

  13. Steve
    March 14, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Hi all.

    I am interested in using this not only for sous-vide, but also for heating water to a precise temperature for tea, coffee, etc. How quickly does the PID allow the water to heat? In other words, does the PID allow the heater to run at full power just until the desired temperature is reached?

    Steve

    • March 14, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

      Hi Steve,

      With the right PID parameters, the PID gets to full power within 30 seconds or so and will taper off once the temperature is within a few degrees of the target. We’ve found the best parameters to achieve this here: http://qandabe.com/2011/revised-sous-vide-pid-calibration

      Let me know if you have more questions!
      Abe

  14. Tom
    March 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    Well crap, not sure what I could have done wrong, but I toasted my PID :( I know it worked prior to hooking up the heating element, and I did it just like Fig 5 showed..

    • Abe
      March 27, 2012 at 12:33 am #

      What did you plug in? Was it the small heater shown, or something larger? And you got the same lightobject PID controller?

  15. Ian
    July 10, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    For the thermocouple should the tape cover the sensor completely or should I just wrap around the screw leaving the tip exposed?

  16. Matt M
    July 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Thank you so much!! I could not figure out the SPST relay for the life of me and now it seems so simple! great write up

  17. Scott
    August 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Abe, fantastic tutorial. Thank you.
    Question. All was good until I changed from celcius to ferenhieth. now what I get is a reading from the thermocouple, but the controller is not turning the heater off at the set value. Set value is 150 but it went to 600 before I powered it off. Ran AT as long as I dared.
    Any clue?

    Thank you Sir.

  18. Karen
    September 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    We just got our parts today and began wiring our suis vide together per your instructions. Going find until Step 2. Our choices for settings after Inty is blinking are: CorF, rd, P56, and HY. We don’t get a u with an extra long front leg or a k. Of the four choices, which is the right one? The PID is a JLD612 from Lightobject.

  19. Karen
    September 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Abe–
    We’ve hit a rock at step two just after we entered “0089″. We get four choices in setting the Inty value. None of them is a “u” . They are: CorF; rd P56, Hy. Which one is correct?

    • Abe
      September 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      Did you press SET with Inty blinking? Those menu options should be in the same menu as Inty, not in the sub-menu. It seems like you might have a faulty unit because there should also be an Outy option, and no Hy that I know of. Maybe contact lightobject? I’ve never had a problem with them but they seem to have great service.

      Good luck!
      Abe

  20. Stuart
    December 3, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    Hi Abe!

    Finally finished building this using the JLD612 and while everything seemed to work properly, the water bath temp keeps climbing never stopping at the 60c set temp. I suspect by setting the AH1 and AL1 both at 60c (same for AH2 and AL2), the relay is disabled as per the manual. Do I need to set them to within .5 degrees of each other? so the relay has some range? Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

  21. Wilks
    January 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    Help Please!!!! I’ve assembled this, and the temperature is correct when i switch the unit on, however, when the water heats up, the temperature reading starts reducing… at boiling point the temperature reads -28DegC. (negative 28deg).
    Even on Autotune, the PID keeps that number, and the water continues to boil for 15-20mins, until i disable and switch the unit off. My current settings”
    Inty- E / Outy-2 (using SSR) / ATDU – 10 / PSB – 0/ RD – 0/
    ConF-0 / P – 0.2 / I – 2000/ D- 0
    Thanks and have a happy new Year!

  22. John
    February 2, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Great post! Thank you all.

    Can one hack an induction cooktop? Induction cooktops are way cool for a number of reasons.

    I have a NuWave PIC (one of the few affordable ones that go below 140°). It and others (DuxTop, Max Burton, STP etc) imply that their temperature settings are controlled by thermocouple feedback, ideal for sous vide, but I suspect that this is a lie and the settings only control the wattage. It may be that my problems are large overshoot because of the difficulty sensing temperature through the cooktop surface and pot. However, temperature seems to increase with long times.

    Perhaps one could use the Ember controller at the AC of the induction cooktop. Or, if there truly is control circuitry inside the cooktop, bypass its thermocouple to a wire leading to an immersion thermocouple. The Ember may be better because induction manufacturers have not foreseen the usefulness of precise, low temperatures (most have only 10° increments at 140° and up) for longer times.

    Thanks,
    John

  23. jc
    February 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    so I wired it up and all. plugged it all in and set all the parameters and when I plugged it in basically, the PID clicks on and off (in sync with the AL2 light) every 3 seconds….did I do something wrong?

    • jc
      February 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

      Nevermind. I just didn’t realize how it works. I thought that AL2 would click on steadily and stay on until the temperature reaches the right temperature, rather than click on and off all the time. in any case, I think it works just fine now.

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