Franken-bator -- Converting a cheap yellow topped model with the Incukit Mini

By Redhead Rae · Apr 17, 2018 · ·
Rating:
5/5,
  1. Redhead Rae
    Back in November (2017), I bought two of these 56 egg, brandless, yellow topped Chinese incubators on eBay. After a refund for some shipping confusion, I spent around $85 for the pair of them. I was really pleased that they came with turners and I ran a test hatch in each one with 1 dozen eggs.
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    The hatch, was less than spectacular. I hatched 5 out of the top incubator, and 1 out of the bottom. I assumed the bottom incubator just didn't work well that close to the floor (this was during a cold snap) and didn't think much else of it. When I tried using them again, the incubator that had been closer to the floor was discovered to barely work. It didn't maintain temps well enough to keep eggs alive and developing. So I started using the other one to incubate eggs, and that didn't work so well either. Because it was hard to keep the humidity low enough for the first 18 days without the thing beeping like crazy. I tried resetting and it didn't work. After this, I bought a Brinsea Ovation 28 EX for my starter incubator (LOVE IT!!!!) and I started using it as my lockdown incubator, since high humidity didn't matter for the last 3 days. This worked well, but after a month of this use, it started misbehaving more often.

    So I decided to gut both these machines and retrofit them with Incukit Minis. I also decided to spend the extra $9.99 to get the 5rpm Egg Turner Motor for the Incukit MINI and retrofit it to the turners with this motor.

    I converted my first incubator last week, and after some trial and error, I got it working perfectly. I'll go into that later in the tutorial. I decided to document the second incubator conversion once I had most of the kinks worked out.

    The first thing I had to do was to take the old guts out of the incubator. I unscrewed the grid, and clipped the zip ties that were holding parts to the grid.
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    Here you see the the hygrometer, the fan, the turner plug, and the thermometer.
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    I unscrewed the fan and the heating element was located underneath.
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    I was surprised at how small the heating element was.
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    Next, I removed the 4 spacer brackets that kept the heating element off the lid. I presume to keep the element from melting the lid.
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    I then removed the 8 screws holding the face plate to the lid.
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    I clipped all the wires as close to the circuit board as i could get. Who knows when they might come in handy again. I could have also removed the circuit board, but I decided to leave it. I don't ever see the need to use that again.
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    The size difference in the fans is interesting (Incukit on the left, old fan on the right).
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    The heating elements for the Incukit are really interesting. They are these 4 grey tubes. The fan blows air up and over them carrying the heat throughout the box.
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    I centered the mounting template under the lid so I could mark the hole I needed to cut for the display and buttons.
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    I used a 1/2" drill bit to make holes in the corners of the display hole.
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    I used this sawzaw blade with a handle to cut between the drilled holes.
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    This did a good job of cutting the center out, but the unit needs to lie flush with the top of the incubator, so most of those 4 ridges and the screw sockets had to go.
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    I used my drill to shave the screw sockets down to the level of the lid.
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    You have to be careful not to go too quickly, but it works better than shaving them down with a knife.
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    A very sharp utility knife works very well for carving away the ridges and cleaning up the remnants of the screw sockets
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    It takes a bit of time and patience, but it can be done.
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    I drilled this hole through an air vent grid on the top of the incubator and cleaned it up with the utility knife. The purpose of this hole is so I can drop a temperature probe of a test thermometer without lifting the lid.
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    I cleaned up the edges of the main opening with the utility knife. I then made two holes for the mounting screws.
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    The unit mounted in the hole perfectly.
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    This is where I screwed up a bit. I had forgotten to drill a hole for the power cord for the Incukit until after I had mounted the kit. So I got a 1.5 inch hole saw and tried punching through. Since I wasn't able to lay the lid down flat on the board I was working on, I punched through and the plastic cracked.
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    When the plastic cracked, the down control switch off the unit hit the table top and broke. My solution, use a toothpick to use the controls.

    Note: After I finished the construction, I contacted Incubator Warehouse to ask how I could fix the problem and they are sending me a replacement unit. YAY!
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    The next step was to fit the new turner motor, to the turner base. This is the original setup. The motor is attached to the metal mount, a shaft sticks through the mount and turns an arm, the arm rocks the turner cradles back and forth to turn the eggs.
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    The new turner (on the bottom) is smaller than the original turner, so it couldn't be screwed into the existing holes on the mount.
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    One nice thing, the shafts are both the same diameter, 5mm. So the original turner arm fits perfectly onto the new motor.
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    However, the shaft for the new motor is almost 3/4th of an inch longer than the original motor.
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    Since the workings of the original incubator were in the lid, the wires for the original turner motor were pretty long.
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    It also had this handy connector so you can easily disconnect he turner when it comes time for lock down.
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    The new motor had a couple of problems. First, the wires running to the Incukit unit were too short. Second, since the Incukit is going to be behind that mesh grid that is screwed into the lid there is no easy way to disconnect the turner when it is time for lock down.
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    So, I decided to splice the wires from the original motor into the wire for the new motor. Since both the wires running out from the original motor were red, I ran a black sharpie down the wire that connects to the black wire on the new motor and to the black wire above the quick connect joint.
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    So, first, you clip the wires and strip them. Then I held them next to each other.
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    Then I twisted the wires together.
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    Since I didn't have any wire nuts to hold the wires together, I folded the twisted wire back against the wire shielding.
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    And I wrapped the wire connection in electrical tape.
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    One problem with the way I connected the wires above, is that with a firm yank, the wires can be pulled apart (I did this accidentally to my first Franken-bator conversion). To prevent this, I held the two wires together, and wrapped them with electrical tape above and below the join.
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    And now, I have a longer turner wire with a quick disconnect.
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    I then plugged the wire into the Incukit. At this point, I attached the protective plastic mesh back to the lid as well since I didn't need access to the inside of the lid any longer.
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    In order to make the new turner motor work. I had to take two different things into account, how to take up the extra 3/4ths of an inch in length on the turning shaft, and how to mount the motor. Fortunately, one solution takes care of both, a 3/4" thick block of wood. I screwed the block onto the mount, using the holes for the original motor.
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    I drilled a hole through the block for the shaft.
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    I put the shaft through the hole and mount it to the block using its mounting holes.
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    And now the turner arm sits right where it needs to be.
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    Here is the retrofitted turner in the box.
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    It is now attached to the wire connected to the Incukit. The black wires hanging down are connected to the temperature probe from the Incukit.
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    I use the original foam packaging to insulate the bottom of the incubator.
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    After I cut a window for so I can view inside the incubator.
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    And this is when I started testing my first build. The Incukit instructions say to check on how much your heater elements are being utilized to check if your incubator box is either 1) too big and/or 2) not well enough insulated. When I first tested the incubator in this configuration (with a smaller power cord hole). It took almost 3 hours for the incubator to get up to temperature. Once it got there, the Incukit had trouble maintaining the temperature, and kept dipping down into the 97-98 degrees F range. The instructions say that it is best if the heating elements are being used at less than 65% capacity most of the time. In this configuration, the lowest utilization I saw was 85%. So, the box is either too big or not well enough insulated.
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    So, I went out and got some 2ft X 50ft Reflective Insulation which is basically metallic bubble wrap. and made a lid cover out of it. After I added this cover, the heaters usually hover around 50-56% capacity and spike up to 85% occasionally. After lifting the lid, it can jump to 100%, but that is okay for short periods.
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    I used double sided foam tape to adhere it to the lid, and I cut the corners and folded them around the corners and stuck them together using packing tape. I intended to get more pictures of the process, but I forgot until I was almost finished.
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    I also put a piece of the insulation in the window to retain the heat there as well.

    After everything, I spent about $230 on two 56 egg incubators. Not bad considering I paid over $400 for my 28 egg Brinsea.

    ETA: there is a second part to this article, Adjusting the Franken-bator, that discusses changes I had to make to this design after I started using it.

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    GamalZin, RUNuts, ronott1 and 5 others like this.

Recent User Reviews

  1. Anonymous
    ""
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Feb 7, 2019
    I think this article is well written and the photos are really helpful. I learned a lot and it makes me feel like I could make this frankenbator. I'd rather not though, because it also makes me thankful for my incuview.
    Redhead Rae likes this.
    1. Redhead Rae
      The IncuKit Mini is what they use for the guts of the Incuview. I just have different housing and turner mechanism
  2. Birds of a Feather
    "Really Interesting Article"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Feb 3, 2019
    Did it work?
    Redhead Rae likes this.
    1. Redhead Rae
      It did. I have only really used them as lock down incubators, because I currently live in a house that isn't climate controlled. The incubator has a hard time with wide temperature shifts. I'll have to see if moving to a house with HVAC in the next few months will change that.

Comments

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  1. gimmie birdies
    Love this!
      Redhead Rae likes this.
  2. TLCMidMichigan
    I have a similar incubator. The controls are not working well.

    I can't get the days to go back to zero starting a new batch this year.
    Any suggestions?
    Other than that, it hatched good for me. Turned the eggs every 2 hours.
      Redhead Rae likes this.
    1. Redhead Rae
      No suggestions. I was never able to figure out some of the controls either. Especially the days control. It also got worse the more I used the incubator. I think some moisture got into the control box.
      TLCMidMichigan likes this.
  3. GamalZin
    Excellent work .It is commendable
      Redhead Rae likes this.
  4. CanadaEh
    was the conversion to different thermostat, heater, and fan really needed? Why did not you try to insulate the original incubator
    1. Redhead Rae
      I did insulate the original incubators. I worked with it for several months and dozens of eggs before I gave up on them. Also, the way this incubator is built, it wouldn't have been more trouble and money to try to troubleshoot all those systems individually, since the incubator wasn't designed to take replacement parts. I post this to help other people who have been suckered into buying similar models to be able to use them again.
      CanadaEh likes this.
    2. CanadaEh
      Too bad as I was going to order exact (judging by control panel) model and was ready to pay $100CDN (USD $75) shipped. I still don't understand how you were not able to lower humidity in it during the cold season - the RH inside the heated incubator should be much lower than ambient unless too much water is added? How humidity is normally controlled in better incubators?
      Redhead Rae likes this.
    3. Redhead Rae
      The main problem I was running into was keeping it low enough if I added any water at all. Also, the instructions where in horribly written English, probably auto translated from another language so it wasn’t clear how to adjust things. The main problem was keeping the incubator at a stable temp in my house which isn’t temperature controlled, even insulated. I would avoid this incubator like the plague. I remember my reluctance to pay more than $100 for an incubator that is what the maker of these incubators are probably counting on. You generally do get what you pay for. I’ve been metaphorically kicking myself because I didn’t spend the extra $100 to get the 56 egg Brinsea Ovation EX instead of the 28 egg one. That incubator is as close to set and forget as you can get, but for use as a starter incubator for staggered hatching it is really limiting. I would look into the IncuView. It has the same guts as what I used for my conversion. It is $100 USD more that what you were going to get, but most people I’ve talked to say it is a good little incubator.
  5. BarnGems
    That was an impressive show of ingenuity and a very creative solution to retro fitting that incubator :)

    In hind sight you could have spent $150 at a tractor supply or amazon and got a brand new american made one, without the need to retrofit. (just needs tweeking like you did in the other vid adjusting the franken-bator). Not sure your retrofit is on par with Brinsea, but that was great :)
    1. Redhead Rae
      I agree, I should have spent more money up front on a mid-range model. In fact, I’ve kicked myself in the butt several times, metaphorically speaking, for not spending the extra $100 to get the 56 egg Brinsea instead of the 28. My converted incubators are DEFINITELY NOT on par with my Brinsea. Last year, I hatched in a house that isn’t climate controlled and my converted incubators had a hard time adjusting to the temp swings between night and day during the warmer part of the year. My Brinsea, worked like a charm and only needed occasional water top-ups. So I stuck to using the Brinsea as my starting incubator and using the converted incubators for hatching. I hope to be getting into a climate controlled home soon and I’ll run some tests to see if they are more reliable in a stable environment.
  6. nightowl223
    This seems very familiar, LOL - I turned a broken dorm fridge into a big cabinet-style incubator, including a double-paned window in the front door to view what's going on in the entire bator. It was loads of fun! I still have a project that I've half-abandoned, a wine fridge (basically the same thing I ended up with when I put the window into the door of the dorm fridge!) being turned into a hatcher for all of those eggs in the dorm fridge and the other (homemade but not by me) cabinet incubator that I've paid for but not picked up yet - I've not got nearly enough room in the hatching tray I made for the dorm fridge bator... if I neglect to time hatches right, I've got 2 or 3 different species all hatching at the same time, and that can be very bad. I need to get back to work and get that hatcher built - especially for when I get that other cabinet incubator here and going!
      Redhead Rae likes this.
  7. SavKel&RynKel
    Too bad you lost your veiwing window, but great article!
    1. Redhead Rae
      Thanks, but I didn't. That insulation in the front where I cut the hole in the stryofoam is easy enough to remove. I still have a window. Another nice thing about the reflective insulation, when I shine a light in the window, it reflects off the insulation and lights up the whole box.
      nightowl223 and SavKel&RynKel like this.

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