Building an Incubator, Part I

A commercially bought incubator will run at least $100 (unless you’re buying a dinky 2-3 egg one that doesn’t work very well…).  I’m always looking for ways to save money, and I thought it might be fun, so I decided to build my own.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
-foam ice chest (get a large one or you won’t be able to fit many eggs in it, got mine at Big Lots for $6)
-38-40 watt bulb
bottle lamp kit (you can get this at the hardware store)
-1/2″ hardware cloth
PC fan (I bought a rather large one, if you have one lying around, use it!)
Hot water thermostat (starting temp 90 degrees F)
Hygrometer (cheapest at WalMart, this measures humidity and temp)
-Small pane of glass or plexiglass (you can take this from an old picture frame, dollar store is a good source)
-Duct tape
-Tray/tupperware/whatever for water
-Adaptor/transformer 120v input 12v DC output (I had one lying around from an old scanner)
-Electrical tape
-2 wine corks

OPTIONAL (for measuring temp inside the eggs):
-Another thermometer
-Water wiggler (one of those liquid-filled toys that slips out of your hands)
OR
-sandwich bag and plastic cup

Cut a rectangle in the lid of the styrofoam chest.  Put the pane of glass or plexiglass here and duct tape it down.  This is so you can see inside your incubator.

Mine's kind of ugly, you can always used colored duct tape.

Mine's kind of ugly, you can always used colored duct tape.

Put your tray for water on the bottom of the chest (put it near where your lightbulb will be, but not directly under so you can still access it).  Cut the hardware cloth and shape it as a floor for the bottom.

If you put the tupperware in first, it will give you a form to work with.

If you put the tupperware/tray in first, it will give you a form to work around.

Now the hard part – wiring the lamp to the thermostat.  Here’s the way it works: you set a temperature on the thermostat.  When it gets too hot, the bulb turns off.  When it gets too cold, the bulb turns back on again.  If you do it right, your incubator should keep a fairly steady temperature.  For quail eggs, you want to keep it between 99.5 and 102 degrees F, with 99.5 being perfect.  You’ll need to tweak it before putting your eggs in, so allow time for this.

This is as good a diagram as I could do

This is as good a diagram as I could do

Put the little nut over the wires, then make a hole in the side of your incubator and pull the wires through before working on the wiring.  You don’t want to finish your wiring and have to take it apart again!

This is important - I had to do mine over again!

This is important - I had to do mine over again!

The real thing, you have to take the lightbulb all apart

The real thing, you have to take the lamp kit all apart

Keep in mind your bottle lamp kit may be different than mine, with the screw colors reversed.  If it doesn’t work one way, you’ve wired it wrong.  I bought mine at Lowe’s.

You have to pull the cardboard part out to get to the screws.

You have to pull the cardboard part out to get to the screws.

All put back together.

All put back together.

Your thermostat screws will have a 1 and a 2 on them, labeling them.  I’ve outlined mine in red.  Once I finished wiring these, I put electrical tape over them, to avoid any future accidental shocks.

I find it easiest to curl the wire, put it around the screw, then screw it in tight.

I find it easiest to curl the wire, put it around the screw, then screw it in tight.

Now secure this to the side, and plug it in to make sure it works.  The lighbulb should turn on.  Didn’t work?  Make sure you have the switch on the lightbulb on.  Still didn’t work?  You did something wrong with the wiring.  Re-check it.

Mount the thermostat to the wall of your incubator.  I used mounting tape with pieces of styrofoam to raise it off of the wall.  The thermostat senses the temperature through the back, so you don’t want that flush with the wall or it won’t sense the air temperature correctly.

Set the thermostat temperature.  You’ll have to guesstimate at first, and tweak it over a period of hours.

I made a little cage out of hardware cloth for the lightbulb, so no chicks would hazard the chance of burning themselves on it.

You can see the layout of the thermostat and the fan here.

You can see the layout of the thermostat and the fan here.

And I felt the light would be too bright, and spread too much heat on the eggs right next to it, so I made a short cardboard shield.  If you do this, don’t make it too high – the fan still needs to distribute the air properly to keep air temps consistent.

Just a little shield...

Just a little shield...

Up for tomorrow – wiring the fan, checking internal egg temperature, upping the humidity, and building your own (manual) egg turner.

Initial time investment and daily time investment to be included in Part II.

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