The Evolution of the BinBator

After becoming dissatisfied with my Little Giant's propensity to temperature swings, I went on the market for a new incubator. I wanted something of a medium size that was cheap and reliable. Unfortunately, I discovered that finding all three of those qualities in the average commercial incubator was about as difficult as hatching a double yolker egg—if not harder. I located a few Hovabator models that seemed to fit the bill somewhat, but they were still $150 or more and were made of Styrofoam, which I am not a fan of. I ended up at the conclusion that making my own was the only way I could get everything I wanted without spending hair-curling amounts. Since my first attempt, I have re-built the original twice and made another miniature version for small hatches. I enjoy fiddling with incubators and frequently do pointless upgrades in the name of experimentation. DIY incubators can be as simple or as complex as you want; there is no need to copy all of my insane modifications.

Hopefully, this article will help you if you are on the fence of making your own. Incubators can be made of anything, really, and I have even seen 5-gallon buckets or frying pans used successfully. There will be links to on-line sources for suitable supplies, but I suggest trying to use what you already have or else the total cost for the build will escalate rapidly. With some re-purposing and basement digging involved, the total cost for the first build was a little under $45. The re-builds cost around $25 to $40 each.

Linked below are some helpful articles and videos.
Cabinet Coolerbator
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

Tools
  • Jigsaw
  • Utility knife
  • Mitre saw
  • Drill
  • 1/4" and 3/16" bits
  • Wire strippers
Supplies
Wafer thermostat assembly:
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Adapter label:
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The whole adapter. This part is needed because the plug on the fan is not compatible with a wall outlet. The ends of each respective piece will be cut off and spliced together.
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Extension cord:
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Gaming fan—64.4 CFM. Note the ends. The white casings will be cut off and the wire will be spliced with the adapter. There are 3 wires. The yellow is not the live or ground and so can be disregarded.
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Here are the wires coming out from the fan.
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Here is the first end. You can cut in this location if you wish, or at the next end so you don't have to do anything with the yellow wire.
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See how the yellow wire stops, but the red and the black keep going?
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The second end:
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The light sockets. I am using this style because it is what I have on hand. Due to space concerns, they will need to be installed with the majority of the socket on the outside of the incubator.
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This tote will make up the incubator body. The sides slant inwards which will make installation of some parts more difficult.
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Here is the tote with the bubble wrap insulation duct-taped on.
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After wrapping the incubator up I stopped and cut the hole in the lid for the viewing window. What good is an incubator if you can't watch the chicks? The dimensions of the hole are 7 x 10 inches.
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After that, I duct-taped a square of insulation on the underneath and cut out the excess.
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I put a bead of hot glue between the insulation and the plastic to keep it secure. I didn't want it getting caught or torn.
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Next comes the plexiglass. I used hot glue.
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Now, I cut holes in the back of the tote. I used a utility knife and cut a hole for the head to stick through. I also removed some of the insulation around it so it wouldn't touch the lightbulb.
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A picture of the socket being hot-glued in.
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Back view of the tote:
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Make sure you lay everything out before gluing/screwing it in. Here is an image of how far away from the side I have the fan to ensure adequate airflow.
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And here is the wafer thermostat being installed. I used 2 screws about an inch long. Later, you will drill a 1/4 inch hole for the blue wires to come through in the side.
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Here's a sketch of how the wires all go together. This is how I did it, and the thing didn't explode, but I am not an electrician so take that as a fair warning.
Purple = fan wire
Green = adapter wire
Blue = white wire
Yellow = thermostat wire/extension
Brown = black wire
Orange = extension cord
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To complete the wiring, refer to the Rush Lane Poultry video links at the beginning of this article. They have a very nice step-by-step of the entire process.

The lights turn on now. Just the fan left, and this will be all done.
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These are the fan and adapter wires. The actual wire part was too thin for the wire nuts I had, so I covered it in electrical tape and then duct-taped it to the side.
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I mounted the fan on 2 pieces of scrap wood because I didn't have long enough screws.
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The thermostat turns the bulbs on and off, and the fan runs. Success!

Make sure you add several vent holes around the bottom and top to ensure adequate airflow.
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(6/16/16)
2/3 eggs from the test run hatched out cleanly. I would say this incubator build is a success.

Upgrade #1: I've been thinking about past hatches in my spare time and how to improve hatch rates. I have noticed that despite air cells looking fine at lockdown, the resulting chicks are rather "wet". The shells often have discolourations on the inside where the outside was touching the 'bator floor. I am thinking this is due to water that drips from the sides and gets the paper towel on the floor sopping wet. It gets mucky and stinks to high heavens. To counter this, I made a hardware cloth grate that raises the floor a bit. Water can fall through and get the underlying paper towel wet, but the eggshells can't touch it. You can't see in the photo, but it has about 1 inch high sides. Since the photo was taken, I've taken it out and covered the sharp sides with duck tape for ease of removal.
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Upgrade #2: Hardware cloth over the fan. This became necessary due to upgrade #1.
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Upgrade #3: Tubing to add water in lockdown.
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Upgrade #4: A peephole to stick my hand in and candle without causing massive temperature loss.
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The Death of the BinBator
(3/17/17)
I decided to do a rebuild on the BinBator and use a cooler for the body. If anyone else wants to try using a bin, I highly recommend screwing a piece of wood on the back to screw the thermostat to instead of putting it over the insulation. I believe the sides were too flexible, which made the microswitch slip and not turn the lights off/on well after a period of time. I was having 5*F temperature swings. The supplies were re-used from the BinBator.


Tools

  • Drill
  • 3/16" bit
  • Mitre saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Hole saw
Supplies
  • One cooler
  • Two light sockets
  • Two light bulbs
  • One gaming fan
  • One 12v AC/DC adapter
  • Extension cord
  • 8 x 11 sheet of Plexiglass
  • One wafer thermostat assembly
  • Assorted wire nuts
  • Wire extension
  • Duck tape
  • Hot glue
Cooler dimensions:
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Lid cut out with a jigsaw, plexiglass cut to size with a mitre saw and hot-glued into place.
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Holes for the sockets cut out using a hole saw.
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I lined the edges with duck tape for a cleaner look.
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Sockets hot glued into place.
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Front view of bulb sockets, thermostat, and fan. I hot glued the fan in, no idea if it'll hold but it's worth a try. 7/30/17 it's worked well so far with no signs of peeling away.
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This cooler has a really deep lid, which is why I can get away with the bulbs so close to the top.
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Wiring all done up:
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This image shows how much room there is once the lid is on. If you have a lower lid and install at this height you'll likely need baffles.
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I have a test run going with 40-watt bulbs in it. The temperature is 100* and stable, but the lights have a 15 second on/30 off cycle so I might reduce the wattage of the lightbulbs. I will update once I set and hatch eggs in here.

7/30/17: I set shipped duck eggs in here and got a 57% hatch rate. Not half bad, and I'm pleased with temperature stability.
Hatching season 2018: the average hatch rate for my own eggs in this incubator was 97%.

Upgrade #1: I drilled holes in the lid for the same water tubing system I had in the BinBator. I also drilled holes in the bottom corners to drain out the water that condenses inside the lid during lockdown.
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Upgrade #2: I used a hack saw to cut a slit for a tray made out of C&C cubing cut to size and zip-tied together. The intention is that I can put water for lockdown under it. The bottom is warped as well, which causes eggs to roll around; this should circumvent it.
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Dismantling the CoolerBator
(7/2/19)
Once again, I am upgrading this incubator. I ran into an issue with the small cooler that was probably caused at least partially by my inability to quit tinkering. Hatch rates started falling and I noticed that embryo development was uneven. Moving thermometers around revealed large hot and cold spots. Lowering the wattage did little to remedy that. I think the airflow caused by the slot I cut was too drafty even when packed with padding and taped over, and the shelf didn't help either. The bottom is warped, which causes eggs to roll around if placed there when the shelf is removed. I would also like more space to set more eggs at once. This is currently in progress; images will be added as I complete the build.

Tools
Jigsaw (or, if you are stubborn and bad at using jigsaws, a box cutter)
Drill
Impact driver

Supplies
Any 150 litre cooler such as this one
Two fans (60+ CFM)
A 12v adapter
Two light sockets
Two 40w bulbs
A digital thermostat such as the STC-1000
Two cutting boards (11" x 16" or bigger_
A few two by fours
Sheet board for the back
Sheet insulation
Caulk
Plexiglass for windows
Hot glue
Duck tape
2.5" screws

Description coming soon—last updated 2/7/20
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MiniBator Build
(6/30/19)
My large incubators are great, but they take up a lot of space. I have a small breeding population, so there are plenty of times when I only want to set a couple of eggs. I wanted a desktop model that would run off one plug and sit nicely in a corner without lighting up the entire room at night or upping my electric bill. This is what I came up with.

Tools
  • Drill
  • Spade bit
  • Utility knife
Supplies
  • One small cooler
  • Hot glue
  • Duck tape
  • One light socket
  • One extension cord
  • One wafer thermostat assembly
  • One medium-to-candelabra bulb adapter
  • One 4" x 3" plastic sheet
Adapter:
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Bulb:
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Bulb and adapter:
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Socket:
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I, unfortunately, did not get images of the build in progress, but it was uncomplicated. Since I wasn't using a fan in this build, I wanted a small floor area; to accomplish that, I placed the cooler on its side like a mini cabinet. Using the spade bit, I drilled a 1.25" hole in the ceiling for the socket. The particular one I got this time had a plug on the back rather than wires. After I glued that in, I screwed in the medium-to-candelabra bulb adapter and then the bulb. The thermostat was installed at the back, just far enough above the floor to allow rotation of the disk. The thermostat wires were pushed through a hole in the back and connected with either end of the hot side of the extension cord, which I had cut and stripped the ends of prior. (The side of the extension cord with the wide plug is the ground or neutral side. The smaller one indicates the hot wire.) The window was cut with a utility knife; a piece of plastic I got off of a broken bin was then inserted and hot glued in.

Images of the finished project:
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I am currently doing a test run and will set eggs in it once it is stable and free of hot spots. I may have to add a fan, but I am going to do my best to make it work without one.

Thank you for reading. I hope you have found this article helpful.
About author
BantyChooks
BantyChooks is a backyard chicken keeper with a penchant for science and engineering, which usually ends up leading her to the hardware store for the supplies to yet another insane chicken experiment. She breeds chanteclers to the Standard of Perfection and has some mutt projects on the side, as well as guinea fowl, two species of quail, and ducks.

Latest reviews

I LOVEL your build, using mostly what you had at home is def my kind of project! Have you tried anything for large hatches? How did you address turning? I'll read again because you probably gave detail on that but I was kinda engrossed in the pics, which btw were totally helpful.
Rock on my chickeny friend and keep up the tinker tyme
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BantyChooks
BantyChooks
No, never more than about 2doz eggs. I'm currently planning a cabinet style build, which will have a much higher capacity!
Very detailed and well to understand descriptions and plenty of pictures.
A must read for everybody who wants to build their own incubator.
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Fantastic article! Learn to build not only one bator, but three!
Nicely done.
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Comments

B block you wafer out from the wall a little . or maybe you have and I can't see it . you should have enough adjustment to set it out a half inch. will be interesting to see how well it works .
 
Great to see your evolution, this is similar to what I'm thinking of building. Have you thought about how to install an automated egg turner? That's my end goal, in part so that it requires less attention but also not to be continually opening the bator.
 
Great to see your evolution, this is similar to what I'm thinking of building. Have you thought about how to install an automated egg turner? That's my end goal, in part so that it requires less attention but also not to be continually opening the bator.
I haven't put the images in yet, but it does fit a modified LG egg turner. It has some temperature issues if I put it in—unsure why, perhaps air flow obstruction—but hopefully with some more 'edits' it will work better. I'll see if I can find time to add all the new upgrades to the article this weekend.
 

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