Initial Cutter Stainless Steel Works

Stainless Steel Door to iCutter

iCutter is the initial cutting room we’ll be using which is in the first part of the butcher shop termed Admin. The Admin section consists of the USDA/State inspector’s office, bathroom, main hall and the iCutter. Later the iCutter will get subdivided to become the smokehouse and the warm kitchen.

As part of Will’s welding and metal fabrication projects he built this beautiful and highly functional strong stainless steel door this summer. This is actually his third door, each one a little more complex than the previous. I increase the design complexity with each iteration as we approach the harder parts of the project. This will peak for the doors with a pair of 12′ tall double insulated double doors between the abattoir and carcass chiller. He’ll build those massive doors right next to the doorway they’ll be used in and then we’ll lift them up in place using the overhead hoist and rails.

The pictures here are from early September after we replaced the mock wooden v3.0 setup with stainless steel, setup equipment again and before we had painted the walls and ceilings with polyurea. Now they are sealed and white.

Butcher Shop Layout – Phase I Emphasis: Admin with iCutter

We’re building the butcher shop in phases. The first step was to get a physical structure in place that we would later be able to expand into as we have the time and money to finish off each section. By having a unified structural building we will achieve far better energy efficiency and lower maintenance. This mean that before we could start finishing off any of the spaces we first had to get the shell done.

The first phase, which we have almost completed, is the meat cutting which also required having the inspector’s office, bathroom and hall as supporting areas.

Next we’ll start doing sausage and then smoking in a very small version of the smokehouse. Later we’ll finish off the FCB which stands for Freezer – Chiller – Brine and move smoking to a larger better smokehouse.

Then we’ll finish off the final cutting room and move meat cutting into there so that we can transform iCutter into the warm kitchen and final smokehouse.

To bring slaughter on-farm we’ll then finish off the carcass cooler, aging room, abattoir and lairage.

It’s a process, a journey. Step-by-step vertical integration from production of the feed to breeding, gestating, farrowing, raising, finishing and processing of the meat for delivery directly to customers.

iCutter East – Will with Grinder & Bandsaw

We do all of the construction of our butcher shop including the design, engineering, permitting, electric, plumbing, concrete, masonry, steel work and more. This gives us the advantage that we understand the entire system and can do some very unique, custom features that make our facility better than anything we could hire out or buy. This required learning some new skills and building some tools to build the equipment and spaces we needed.

There is balance, of course. Some stuff we buy, like the Hobart grinder and meat saw and the vacuum packager. The makers of those have decades of history fine tuning their equipment. I briefly considered building these but after examining various models I concluded they already had the technology matured. I’m more than happy to take vantage of their expertise and refinements.

Other equipment we have fabricated ourselves or built right into the butcher shop. One of the big things we learned was how to fabricate and weld stainless steel. Our son Will has now spent several years homeschooling himself in metallurgy, teaching himself welding first with plain steel and later stainless steel which has some interesting quirks.

The pattern tends to be that I design things, Will and I bounce the design back and forth and then fabricate the first one. We do things in progressive complexity. Creating things that incrementally build on experience is a technique we’ve long used. Our butcher shop is built much like how we built our cottage which is built much like how we built a dog house which was built like an animal shelter that came before that which was built based on table models – each one exploring techniques and adding complexities as we mastered skills.

In the iCutter there are tables, shelves, counters and brackets of stainless steel that wowed the inspector when he saw them at his most recent visit. These represent the state-of-the-art of where we are with fabrication. Will has done almost all of that and his perfectionism, his attention to detail shows. The joints and welds are smooth without any crevices or bumps for dirt to accumulate or bacteria to grow which will make for easy cleaning and a sanitary work space.

Bandsaw Hangers

I designed the equipment such that everything is hung from the walls, nothing sits on the floors. This will make keeping the cutting room clean easier and what is easier to do happens better – Walter’s law. One of the things that I did in preparation for building our butcher shop was to study other butcher shops, commercial kitchens and such to identify where problems occurred. One of the worst places is where anything touches the floor because it is hard to clean. Legs of tables down onto floors are especially bad spots.

It is a little spooky with everything floating off the floors but one immediately sees how this will improve the ability to keep the work space clean. The bandsaw in these pictures isn’t up yet but will be when we put all the equipment back in after finishing the polyurea painting.

Folding Table in Raised Position

Because our butcher shop is so small we make use of tight spaces by transforming them. Sometimes they’re one thing and sometimes they’re another thing. This is something Built in equipment, tables that fold up, cabinets set into walls all maximize the useable cubic-feet of space. The breaking table shown in this photo is a prime example.

(You’ll notice test stripes of concrete stains and pigments on the wall under the breaking table. Since the iCutter walls will all get polyurea painted white this was a test bed for my concrete coloring explorations that resulted in the bathroom and hallway wainscot stains.

Folding Table Latch

When I’m braking down a carcass I’ll need a long table but then when I switch to using the bandsaw or need to clean the bandsaw I will want that table up out of my way some of the time. This simple spring latch catches the table in the up position, is easy to release, but won’t let go unless you palm it right. That makes it safe so it doesn’t drop on my head while I clean the saw.

Grinder Table Top Popped Off

The metal work is all stainless steel for sanitation and to prevent rust that would destroy the equipment. Organic acids like vinegar as well as bleach and hot water are used to clean in the butcher shop. Every socket, bolt, washer, screw, rod, bar, sheet and other piece of metal we fabricated is stainless steel which will keep them easy to clean. The metal tops of the tables pop off of simple spring clips so that we can do deeper as-needed-cleaning when necessary and everything drains and drips to the floor for easy wash down.

The photo of the standoffs behind the grinder table show how it connects to the wall. It’s a bit stronger than necessary but I am very much a fan of overkill. According to my math that steel cantilever would hold up our tractor. However, the sockets would rip out of the reinforced poured concrete wall before the table broke so the point is moot. I weight more than the grinder – Will and I can both sit on the outside lip of the table and it still feels great.

Notice the way the metal top of the table is rounded at the front and back. These are actually a double curve shape that acts as a spring to let us easily snap the table top on and off. When the metal table is on it locks securely so there is no motion of the top relative to the frame. The rounded edge protects our shins and thighs from damage as well as being aesthetically pleasing and creating a better drip edge making it easier to clean. Little details that will have a lasting effect on serviceability and safety.

Bridging Table in High Position

Next to the grinder, in the middle of the north wall, is what we call the bridging table. This is an El shaped structure of tubing. In the high position it is the right height for cutting meat.

Will Flipping the Bridging Table

In a few seconds and a twist of the wrist the table can be spun to a new position…

Will Placing Table Top

…and the nylon cutting board snapped back in place on the reverse side…

Bridging Table in Low Sausage Position

…making it the right height for receiving ground meat and sausage from the grinder as well as doing linking.

By having the table change shape and position we save having to have an extra table in the room. There is only what we need when we need it. Think of a butcher shop in a yacht or space ship. The nylon cutting board has shaped edges and snaps into clips on either side of the bridging table. The bridging table itself has tabs and hooks that lock it in symmetrically in the either of the two positions for stable work surfaces.

There is a set of shelves built into the wall for totes and trays behind the bridging table. As we cut meat, trim and cuts will go into the various bins. When the initial cutting room is finished there will be a wall panel of FRP behind the shelves blocking the room. Eventually that space where the shelves hang will become a doorway into Cave when we move to the final cutting room in 2015 or 2016. We’ll open that doorway up for access to Cave, Brine, Cooler, Freezer and the final cutting room as the iCutter becomes the smokehouse and warm kitchen letting us gradually build out the facility as we have time and money.

iCutter West End – Packing Station

Our vacuum packer, sorting shelves, scale and labels are all located on the two tables in the west end of the initial cutting room. Everything is within easy reach so she doesn’t have to walk far making for efficient work. The person doing deliveries will likely do most of the sorting and packing of the meat directly into order trays which will save one step that currently happens at the butcher each week which takes approximately an hour per pig.

Knife and Saw Sanitizer

Will built this insulated double walled sanitizer for knives and saws. It hangs on a sturdy wall bracket next to the sink so that all of our water is in one location just above the floor drain. All of the commercial sanitizers I found were single walled with no insulation which means you’re spending money to cool the room and then money to heat the water (185°F) which then leaks heat into the room – very counter productive, uncool and not green. By insulating the water box we will save energy and keep the room naturally cooler. Being green means more green stays in my pocket since I’m not wasting energy.

There is a second reason for wanting the insulation: safety. With a small room like this I don’t want our legs to be bumping into the 185°F metal surface of the outside of the knife sterilizer. By insulating the box we keep the heat in and away from our skin. The double wall protects the insulation from damage.

In the bottom of the box is a hot water heating element made specially for this purpose, the same part used in commercially available knife sterilizers for use in operating rooms and butcher shops around the world. The difference is their’s aren’t insulated. To operate we’ll save a little electricity by putting hot water in from our 185°F on-demand propane gas powered water heater that is fed by our 145°F heat pump water heater and then the heating element in the knife sterilizer keeps it up to heat. If energy prices change I can shift which system does more work. At the bottom Will installed a drain valve that lets dump most of the water to the floor drain but leaves enough fluid depth to protect the heating element so it doesn’t go dry and burn out – a nice failsafe for the mechanism.

At the top of the box is a piece of nylon cutting board with slots for knives and the saw. Off on the left by the wall you can see a second piece of nylon cutting board that is a cover for the box to keep the heat in if no knives are being sterilized. When not in use it hangs on the side of the sterilizer. Between the two covers is an insulating air gap that helps to further save energy.

Washing Machine Foot Pad

Another little thing that Will made for me out of stainless steel is a pair of foot pads for the washing machine. The floor of the laundry is pitched to the drain and I don’t want the washing machine to walk down hill. The two of these pads will let us easily position the machine while keeping it from leaving its designated spot.

Puttying Standoffs for Brackets

The tables and such are mounted on standoffs away from the wall so that we can easily clean between the walls and the table frames. While Will manufactured tables, counters and brackets I epoxied stainless steel sockets into holes I hammer drilled in the poured concrete walls. Just having standoffs created sharp hard to clean edges at the walls so we built up little volcanos, coves, of epoxy around each standoff socket. This will make cleaning easier.

Hope Mixing Plastique Explosives

No, Hope’s not really some evil diabolical mastermind mixing plastic explosives! But it was fun to pretend! Working with the putty version of the epoxy is much like plastique, or scuplty clay. The difference being that it hardens up much harder and doesn’t explode…

The reason for the gram scale is it lets us get precise mixtures of the two part epoxies, polyurea and polyurethane which optimizes their curing. These are not a drying or firing for hardness but rather a reaction of two chemicals. Having the right balance of each chemical results in all of each side of the equation being used up to produce the optimal final result. Science is fun, and useful!

Doing this work also exercises basic math of addition, subtraction, division and multiplication as well as algebra and record keeping. I’m raising and training a bunch of mad scientists up on the mountain…

Testing Beam Strength

Building a USDA/State inspected meat processing facility is a great family homeschool project, just like building our cottage but more so. Projects like these require not just learning about math, geometry, regulations, engineering, design, welding but also testing the theory against the real world. In this photo Will and Ben were helping me test the bending, the deflection, of a piece of stainless steel square tube. Will was manning the laser while Ben acted as a known weight. Comparing the theoretical formula based models and loading tables against real world observations helps double check our work and make sure what we build will be more than strong enough for the job.

Outdoors: 54°F/35°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 65°F/60°F

Daily Spark: Revolution is the exception – most things are evolutionary.

Wouldn’t it be great if every one did a project like this? A blossoming of butcher shops across the world. The Anti-“Get-Big-Or-Get-Out” movement. Of course, not all the the projects would need to be butcher shops. In fact, we need other things too that could be done as homeschool projects: homes such as our cottage project, bakeries, candle stick makers, candy factories like Willy Wonker’s, space ships, the Hoover Dam… All sorts of possibilities. Pick some and run!

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Initial Cutter Stainless Steel Works

  1. Adam Mortson says:

    Love the progress on your HUGE! project! I am wowed and awed by what your family does.

  2. am in the pm says:

    Very innovative !

  3. Wade says:

    Yes! Finally something about totes.

  4. Johan van der Merwe says:

    You guys are doing great. Love the the homeschool ideas. All the best with this project.

  5. Patrick says:

    Book. Looking forward to the book.

    Just sayin’…

  6. Dean Collins says:

    wow I had no idea how tight everything was in the shop.

    from the plans it looks huge…….would you enlarge it if you were going to build it again or is it costing so much as is that this is the best of all worlds?

    • Keep in mind that the initial cutting room is just that, the initial work space. That will get us started so that the savings from butchering can be plowed back into expanding into the rest of the spaces in the butcher shop. Our final cutting room is much larger at 10’x14′ with a 10′ ceiling. The rooms of the butcher shop each have a very specific function so that we can keep things separate – an important part of food safety. If I had it all to do again from scratch I might make the building 1′ taller, 4′ longer and 4′ wider however I was starting with an existing foundation. By building on the existing hay shed foundation we avoided a lot of regulator and permitting complexities which saved time and money. Also a larger building would carry a higher ongoing yearly real estate tax burden. So all in all I’m very pleased. It will take us years to grow into the space we have.

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