We’ve all seen the blueprints – it looks so easy, right? Just stick a few cardboard boxes together and add some plastic wrap, and you can use the heat of the sun to preserve or even cook your food! Save electricity! Be greener! Yeah. And grow an ulcer as you try to make the darn thing work! Well, I eventually got this solar dehydrator/oven to work, but I don’t feel really confident that it’ll stay functional for terribly long – the sun here in Southern California is just too intense… and, really – is cardboard the best material for a long-term project anyway?
Solar Oven Project: What You’ll Need
Well, I started with the materials that were listed on the plans: cardboard box, screen, plastic wrap, and duct tape. I quickly discovered that I needed something else to stick the cardboard together, so I added hot glue. That worked a treat, except it all fell apart when I took it out in the sun. *facepalm* Yes, Virginia, the sun is hot too! I also tried liquid nails, and even superglue. No Dice. Not only that, after 2 days in the sun, the plastic wrap was disintegrating. Finally, here’s what actually ended up working:
- 3 largish cardboard boxes (honestly, you’d be better off using wood, but I didn’t have any lying around. I did have cardboard boxes.)
- Clear vinyl shower curtain (this cost me about $2.50 at Wal Mart.)
- Stapler – I used a small (Hurrah! Staples don’t melt!)
- Black spray paint (under a dollar at Wal Mart.)
- Tin foil (Doesn’t take much.)
Making the Solar Dehydrator: This is the Fun Part!
Ok, it’s only fun the first time, and when it starts working. All the stuff in between? Not so fun. Luckily, I’ve done all the dumb stuff for you, so you can skip right over the middle stuff!
Step One: The Sun Collection Tray!
Cut 2 of your boxes into halves. Turn all of the halves so that they’re resting on their bottoms, and remove the panels so that when you stick them together, you end up with a long, square, half-pipe made of cardboard. One end should be completely open, the other should just have a few holes in it. Staple it all together – trust me, you think duct tape will work, but it falls right off after a few hours in the sun!
Step Two: The Oven
Spraypaint the bottom of the box black. Then, open up the top flaps of the box, and cover them with tinfoil, from the bottom of the box all the way to the top of the flap – staple it in place thoroughly! Next, cut a hole in the bottom of the box’s front that corresponds to the size of the top of the collection tray you just made. One end of the collection tray is going to need to slide in there, so make sure it fits.
Step Three: Stick it All Together
Yep, more staples. Put the end of the collection tray into the opening you created, so that the collection tray is at a 45 degree angle to the bottom of the box, and staple away. If there are any large gaps, get another piece of cardboard, and staple it on top. It’s cardboard, it doesn’t have to be pretty. Besides, you’re going to spray-paint the whole kit and kaboodle anyway!
Need some fresh vegetables to dehydrate? Check out
Step Four: Spraypaint!
Flip your conglomeration of boxes over, and spraypaint the entire outside of the boxes. Take it outside, put down some newspaper, and just spray away.) Once the back has dried, flip it again, and spraypaint the inside. Now, leave it in the sun for at least a day to get rid of all those fumes.
Step Five: Shower Curtain
Cut a strip out of the shower curtain to cover the entire front of the sun collection tray, and staple that puppy on there securely. Now, cut a large square for the top, it should overhang the top by at least 1 inch. Line up two sides, and staple them to the box. Staple a square of velcro to the edge of the other two sides of the plastic, and staple the corresponding piece of velcro to the box so that the pieces of velcro match up. (You have to be able to remove the plastic from the top, or you won’t be able to take food out or put food in.)
Hurrah! Victory Over the Solar Oven!
That’s it! You’re done! Turn the oven so that the collection tray and the reflective flaps are facing the sun, pop some sliced veggies in there on a cooling rack to dry (sun-dried tomatoes are my family’s favorite, hands down!) and keep an eye on it to make sure that it stays in the sun. Mine gets up to around 200 degrees, so if you like raw food, you might want to fold down the flaps so it’s a little cooler in there.
Have you ever made your own dehydrator? All tips appreciated – just leave a comment!