DIY: HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN VACUUM CHAMBER

This article outlines how to build your own vacuum chamber. To learn more about what vacuum chambers are and their various uses, click here.

Vacuum chambers have many different uses in many varied fields. They can be used for degassing (removing bubbles of gas that form when two components are mixed, to keep the mixture pure). They can be used for vacuum drying (pulling off any moisture that may collect during the production process). They can also be used in the process of freeze drying food (removing all moisture from food for easy storage and transport).

While vacuum chambers have many different applications, they can also be very expensive. Luckily, with a little creativity it’s fairly easy to build your own vacuum chamber.

An example of a DIY vacuum chamber.

STEP 1: FIND A CHAMBER

First, you’ll need a chamber. Make sure it’s large enough to fit whatever you’re looking to put in your chamber, with a little spare room (the vacuum process can cause some substances to expand). Your chamber must be rigid enough to resist the pressure created by the vacuum environment. It must also be able to resist corrosion and the absorption of moisture and trace gases. Avoiding magnetic interference may be necessary as well, depending on what you’re planning to use your vacuum chamber for.

Aluminum and stainless steel are often used for vacuum chambers, as they meet all of the above criteria. Other effective materials are brass, high-density ceramic, and glass acrylic. Stronger, rigid plastics can be used as well.

The most natural shape for your chamber is a cylinder, as it is the easiest shape for a vacuum pump to work on.

STEP 2: YOUR TOP AND BOTTOM

If your chamber is a tube open on both ends, you’ll need to create a top and bottom. The material must meet the same criteria as outlined above. They also must be able to seal completely, with no gaps for air to escape. Consider attaching a rubber mat to the top and bottom to cushion against the chamber. It will form an air tight seal when the vacuum pump starts sucking, and will allow for a less-than-perfect cut of your chamber ends. It also allows for an easily removable top.

STEP 3: SET UP YOUR VACUUM PUMP

You’ll need a vacuum pump, of certain strength depending on your needs (if it’s freeze drying, you’ll need it to be capable of a pump level below 133 x 10-3). Drill a hole somewhere in the chamber or top, just large enough for the vacuum pump to fit through. Seal with rubber o-rings, making sure there is no air leakage.

Give your vacuum pump a few test runs, and as long as there is no air leaking it should be functioning properly.

Good luck and stay prepared!

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Comments

  1. Would a large glass jar serve as a vacuum chamber for use in freeze drying foods?

  2. Glass would be okay as long as it can withstand the pressure created by the vacuum with it. If it can’t though, that could be a dangerous situation, so make sure it’s strong enough before trying.

  3. Would a food vacuum system work the same way? I’m talking about the ones that just use a plastic bag, suck out the air and seal.

  4. No, I believe that is a vacuum sealer, it’s used to seal food and not draw out the moisture.

  5. Jason Billings says:

    Hi, I wanted ta ask if ya had any kinda “build plans” for a vaccum? I saw that food sealers were out of the question, and I have no idea how ta make something like that. So, if you do, that’d be great!
    Thanx for your time…love your site!
    Jason

  6. Hey Jason, thanks for the kind words. As far as I know, building a vacuum chamber required getting hold of a vacuum pump. I don’t have any kind of build plans for one, but perhaps that is something I can look into in the future…

  7. will a valve stem for tires hold the required vacuum to freeze dry?

  8. I presume the evacuated moisture remains in the vacuum chamber until open? If so, what is the required cubic amount of food to chamber size?

    • A vavle stem will not work because it is designed to contain internal pressure. When the vacuum is removed, the valve will collapse against the higher external pressure.

  9. I have a blower/vacume for an air mattress. Would that work? Is there a tool I can get to measure the pump level? I’ve goggled it, but I can’t figure it out.

  10. The pump level needs to be below 133 x 10-3, so whether those pumps will work will depend on this, there is no way I could tell you that without more information.

    Ray, I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to that specific question or a way to figure it out. I think most people go by trial and error to see what works in this case. Generally chamber sizes are large compared to the food, so I haven’t heard of there being much of an issue.

    • No. An air mattress firms up around 5 psi positive pressure. Deep space vacuum needed for freeze drying is almost absolute at .088 psi(a).

  11. Hello, I’m curious if a Food Saver vacuum sealer would work using the jar attachment tube? Does the vacuum need to remain running during the process or do you turn it off once the air is removed from the chamber? In other words, If I put some stew in a mason jar and then froze it. Then after freezing it I used the food saver jar sealer. Could the mason jar act as my “chamber” or does the vacuum motor need to be constantly running to keep removing air?

    • avid to lyophilize says:

      ChrisM:

      Did you performed that experiment?
      Could you please publish your experience here?

      I, am considering the following factors:

      The FoodSaver vacum jar, can not be freezed.

      The generated vacum seems good enough to sublimate water, but one should have a way to eliminate the sublimated water. In other forum someone suggested to use silica-gel to absorve moisture.

      Many of the FoodSaver models, seem to be too fragile, that should be taken into account.

      The jar that comes with the FoodSaver, seems to small to lyophilizate the size of a portion, but one could do experiments with a small portion of food.

      Maybe some stand for the food should be placed in the jar, in case that the water vapor condenses when the jar is opened.

      Could freezeing a thick metal object to be placed in the jar, to condense the water vapor sublimated from the food, work?

      Any other one have tryied to lyophilize with a FoodSaver with Vacum Jar? how?

      If that works, it would be easer for those who already own a FoodSaver w/ Jar, do you agree?

    • No. A food saver vacuum is not powerful enough to freeze dry. It can, however, sublimate water at lower than ambient boiling temp. A handy vacuum chamber is a recycled pressure cooker. The style that has a screw down clamp on the lid is best. A twist lock can suck the gasket into the cooker. An intermediate collection chamber for the water is necessary. Adding a drying agent is good insurance to protect your vacuum pump. Calcium sulphate or rock salt will work for small volumes of water. A column of concentrated sulphuric acid works well for large volumes. Once it has absorbed a lot of water, it can be refreshed by boiling it and driving off the absorbed water.

  12. @Chris: I don’t think that will work, both in freezing stew and in using a mason jar. And I’m not familiar with Food Saver vacuum sealers, and if they are powerful enough.

    But it’s always a try.

  13. DollMontana says:
  14. Yes that looks like a vacuum packing machine, not a vacuum pump.

  15. DollMontana says:

    So it has to be a vacuum pump?? The above machine wouldn’t work??

  16. Could you use a metal stock pot for cooking soups, as you vacuum chamber? In the picture above, it looks like a thick piece of plexiglass as the top and bottom of chamber, with a rubber seal. Can you use the stock pot, with seal ring and plexiglass top, with vacuum hose coming in from side of pot ( drill hole as needed)? Harbor Freight has vacuum pumps cheapest, not sure if reach needed levels though.

  17. @Rick: As long as the metal is able to withstand the pressure, it should be fine.

  18. Once again, a lot of good information! I am considering 2 lines of thought for building a vacum chamber. Firstly, taking a high Quality heavey duty pressure cooker and converting that into a vacum chamber. I have one and it’s rated at 15 psi internal pressure. Secondly, constructing a square one out of wood. Proper built, re-enforced with the internal wood surface properly sealed might handle the vacum pressure. I would like your opinion on both of these ideas. Keep up the great work!! Thanks again!

  19. I am no scientist..Your picture looks like your using a compressor? Reverse Suction? If so my question would be how and can “pump level below 133 x 10-3″ be converted to PSI?

  20. Hey Joe,

    I can’t promise your ideas will work as I have never tried them myself, but they seem solid and worth a try.

    • Thanks for the input Moe! I do a lot of woodworking, I might try the wood route as it may be less expensive than the others! Would you say that the vacum method is the surest and safest way to ensure that all the moisture is removed when done properly? Thanks for your help!

  21. The picture of the setup you have looks to be using a very large PVC coupling? Nice!! Where did you find such a creature?
    Love the site, keep up the good work.

  22. I’m sure glad I came back to this page for the latest discussions, as Joe’s questions were pretty much the same ones as I had. The pressure cooker idea was a consideration of mine as well, but I really like the clear top that you presented. I would die of curiosity wanting to see what was going on inside. Is there any reason that the valve could not be placed in the acrylic top? That would be so much easier for me to drill into….

    Well, as a woman, I have to has about home furnishings. What do you recommend for shelving? If they are wire, it would seem to allow more surface area for drying. Would there be any limitations on the number of shelfs before function is affected?

    I was pretty hung up an a condensation chamber…. Does this mean that I can get by without one? That would sure simplify the process. I see harbor freight has some pretty reasonable vacuum machines and they often have a 25% discount – like today….

    The local grocery has dry ice for sale which would provide the extreme cold to make small ice crystals and keep the integrity of the food. Have you used dry ice for freeze drying?

  23. CajunPrepper says:

    I think I will buy a large aluminum 30-quart turkey fryer pot. This has stout walls and is large enough to hold a good sized batch of something. The vacuum pump will probably run $120 by itself. I have seen a vacuum pump on another link to a DIY Freeze Dryer that is available from Harbor Freight. This is a serious bit of equipment. I don’t know if a FoodSaver can create this level of vacuum but I doubt it is built well enough and it also has an automatic shutoff so you have no control of the vacuum level you create.For the front / top, I think I will buy some hefty clear acrylic (maybe 1/2″?) so I can see inside. The rubber mat is a great idea for a cheap gasket. Just have to figure out some way of mounting the clear door on the pot.

  24. Ok, I am a scientist who does actually work with vacuum a lot (I’m in food authenticity analysis). 133×10-3 refers to kbar of pressure (but it should read 1.33×10-3 kbar). Typically you will need some sort of “roughing” rotary pump to get the proper vacuum for freeze-drying (the technical term is lyophilization). You can get one relatively cheap (<$100). In regards to the condensation chamber, a mix of dry ice and isopropyl alcohol will be cold enough to grab any moisture or other off-gases produced in the vacuuming process.

  25. Hi RamboMoe, thank you for your article!
    Would it be hard enough a 1,5 cm thick plate (0,6 inches) of PMMA for the top of a pressure cooker based chamber? I can say 0,5 cm (0,2 inches) IS NOT :S

  26. Something that many people forget is that a compressor from an old fridge/freezer/watercooler is infact quiet a powerful compressor AND a vacuum pump.

    They are easy to remove (once the fridge is degassed) and are generally already hooked up for main power. They high pressure but low volumn so they are perfect for this type of tasks.

  27. would a vacuum pump used to vacuum HVAC lines work, they will go down to negative 18lbs

  28. Ah…if only I could afford an old decommissioned submarine, and the land to put it on. I’m thinking I could make a pretty fabulous vacuum chamber with that! (I’d still cheap out and use a pump from an old fridge though, just for the sake of being cheap)

    Looking forward to building something a little more realistic soon though. I’m thinking that maybe a big piece of plastic pipe might serve the purpose well. Maybe a piece of Blue Brute (water pipe) or that big diameter green stuff they use for the sewers. Probably would be strong enough to withstand the pressure.

  29. I too wish I could freeze dry at home and searching around, got here.
    Since I know pretty much nothing, I will ask…
    My pool filter cartridge is Mytilus and it has this clamp that holds top and bottom “lips”, screwed tight, with gasket in between. Any idea how much pressure would be possible to hold? The top already has opening so that might work for the pump?
    Thank for allinteresting info here!
    Helena

  30. I should say, I am talking about using the vacuum chamber for freeze drying….

  31. Hi
    I use a old American canner as a vacuum Chamber for Vacuum packing.
    I have a AC vacuum pump from Harbor Freight it does a great job. 3 1/2 gallan jars of rice at a time.

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