BBQ Fix-Up by Don Heisz Fun & Interesting

Don Heisz is the author of Offcuts, a weekly article on the lighter side of woodworking.

Featured here is my main summer cooking utensil.

rusty bbq

As you can plainly see, it is not in great shape. In fact, I got it free when my neighbours moved out a few years ago. I know it was at least three years old by that time, since it had been on their deck since I’d moved into my current house. And they didn’t want it when they moved, so I took it off their hands. My BBQ at that time was much smaller and rather impractical to feed my family. This one was a good replacement, especially since it was free.

I am a firm believer in getting the most use out of things.

dirty rusty bbq

Anyway, I decideed a few days ago that it was time to fix this thing up. The fact is, I’ve already done a few fix-ups on it. Very soon after I bought it, I replaced the baffle which had rusted away to nothing. For that, I took a couple of stainless steel kickplates (which I can get in abundance from my work) and welded them together at an angle. I cut some slots in it to let the heat through. That has suffered no damage since I made it.

It is, however, rather dirty. Well, to be fair, it’s very dirty. Luckily for me, I found a pressure washer for a very low price a few weeks ago. So, I set to work cleaning.

pressure washing a dirty bbq
pressure washing a dirty bbq

I have come to one conclusion regarding pressure washers. They are not what they’re cracked up to be. I spent longer trying to clean that rusty pile of junk with that spray nozzle than I would have if I’d used a toothbruch and baking soda. That may be an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Certainly, there are faster and more effective ways to clean something. So, my advice to people who want to clean the grease out of their BBQs is go buy a toilet brush and a bottle of dish soap. Scrub the thing out with the brush and the soap, reserving enough to get yourself clean when you’re done. Then just use a hose on it. Throw the brush away. Cheaper and faster than a pressure washer.

However, I didn’t bother with that. And I gave up cleaning once the majority of the mess was gone.

You can see here that, once clean, the problems become very apparent. There are three pipes in varying states of decay. The two on the right, I replaced the year before last. The one on the left, I replaced last year. Now, all of these are supposed to be stainless steel. And perhaps they are. But, if you notice, the two on the right have rusted through. I don’t know what caused that, since the baffle I made several years ago has no rust and is actual stainless steel. If one rusts, the other should rust, right?

You can also see from the picture that the “clean” version of a BBQ is not exactly “clean”.

truly rusty bbq pipes

So, the whole thing is in bad shape. Not only is there nothing left of the pipes, the BBQ itself is starting to get holes rusting through it. It looks truly terrible. It certainly looks like it couldn’t be used. But the fact is, I used it the night before. It worked fine, if you avoided the areas where the 8-inch flames were shooting out of the gaping holes in the pipes.

rusty bbq pipe
holes rusted through bbq

Hardly any tools were required to remove the pipes. I had to grind off one screw in the newest pipe. The others just pulled out. BBQs are not made out of premium material, it seems. Well, maybe it’s more that whatever material they are made from doesn’t withstand being left exposed to the elements for years and years and extreme temperatures on a daily basis for 4 months of every year.

You may wonder why I decided to try to fix this thing instead of just buying a new one. I kind of wonder that, too.

The fact is, I wanted to replace the pipes with something different. So, I bought this thing:

rusty bbq

To install the venturi, I needed to remove an obstacle. I have never been able to determine what this piece of steel was for, actually:

mystery piece of steel
piece of mystery steel cut off

Here it is with the venturi installed.

Truthfully, it works, but it could work better. And I have a couple more things to do with it. First, I need to disable the gas jet for the third pipe, since that’s not being used. I also need to raise the venturi off the bottom of the BBQ an inch or so to get the heat closer to the baffle. And I want to cover those pipes that lead to the venturi. If I do that, I may get another year or so out of the pile of junk before it collapses into a pile of charred rusty dust.

venturi installed

Perhaps some of you think this is not exactly a safe thing to do. As I have it right now, I consider it moderately unsafe. So, I don’t advise anyone else to do it. With a little more messing around, it will easily be made mostly safe. But so little in life is completely safe, I can’t guarantee it can be so unless it’s actually somewhere far away from me. The fact is, I may say that I hope to get another year out of it, but in reality, I’d like for it work forever. I wonder how big the rust holes will be in five years?