A dehydrator is the perfect answer for extending the useful shelf life of meats, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and herbs without many of the drawbacks of smoking, canning or freezing. Rather than paying hundreds of dollars for a low-capacity machine, I decided to make my own.
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I used the Golden Ratio when determining the proportions of the cabinet. This ratio is approximately 3:5, which means that for each three units of width, my cabinet is five units high. I chose final dimensions of 24 inches wide, 24 inches deep and 40 inches high. The inlet screen is 6 inches off the ground to allow for plenty of airflow while minimizing the amount of dust drawn up to clog the screen. To protect the outlet screen from damage, I added a 16-gauge, perforated steel plate to the top. A 20-inch box fan from the local big box store generates airflow.
I decided to make my dehydrator out of oak, and designed it so anyone can build it who has access to a table saw, router, drill, pocket-hole jig and simple hand tools. While not as aesthetically pleasing, one could do away with the need for a router and pocket-hole jig by surface nailing or screwing the cabinet together.
This cabinet is Shaker inspired, using stile-and-rail and flat-panel construction. Stiles are the long vertical parts of a frame. The rails are the horizontal pieces that fit into the top and bottom of the stiles to form a frame into which the panels are placed. To allow for seasonal expansion and contraction, only the stiles and rails are glued; the panels are free floating.
The cabinet has two sides, each with two panels, a front and rear base, a flat-panel door, a perforated steel-paneled top, a flat panel on the rear, a bottom frame with a screen and drying racks. I painted the perforated sheet steel, hinges and door handle with an aged copper spray paint. You can use whatever color suits your taste.
This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.