DIY Food Dehydrator: When Coming up Dry is Actually a Good Thing

DIY Food Dehydrator
Sean Nelson
Written by Sean Nelson

Do you know that drying food is an ancient practice? Otherwise, how were people supposed to keep their food fresh? And it’s not like you could go hunting every day and expect to come home with a fresh, succulent critter each time. But we still need fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables today, so that’s why we want to discuss how to make a DIY food dehydrator.

Why not simply use a fridge, though, or a store-bought dehydrator? Well, unlike storing food in the fridge, when you dehydrate it the water is removed, so the bacteria don’t have a home to reproduce in anymore. Basically, you can keep your food good for months or years, while it also takes up less space. Besides, the food dehydrators you can buy are either shabby for long-term use and small or extremely expensive.

Food Dehydrator

So in this article, you’ll get the gist of how to make a sturdy, reliable and inexpensive food dehydrator. We’ll take you through all the steps, and you can even adjust the size of it according to your plans. And to round it all up, we’ll also give you some valuable tips and tricks on how to use it, so read on.

How It’s Made

You’ll love the homemade food dehydrator below because it’s made from plywood, which is great for taking in ginormous amounts of solar energy. It also helps that it’s a dark-stained type of wood, but the best about it is that you can use it with heat both from a stove or from an electric device.

You’ll get a pretty big dehydrator too, the trays can handle quite a lot of weight, while the box is actually foldable for increased portability as well as storage purposes. Now ask us about the price, but sit down first, because everything costs under $75.

Homemade Solar Dehydrator

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The racks are the most difficult to craft, seeing as they’re framed screen and that you’re constantly going to pull them in one direction or the other. That means you’ll have to make them pretty sturdy, to begin with, so you’d need mortising or maybe even dove-tailing them. After that, you’ll need some building jigs as well as a stretching frame in order to stretch and attach them to the wood, without including some state of the art tools.

So, our suggestion is to get some racks that are pre-assembled. Basically, you’ll need:

Materials and Tools

  • 24-inch half-window high screens: 3. These are great for cutting in half and getting six amazing racks, so you’ll get approximately 18 feet2 for the total drying space. Besides, these are manufactured from galvanized steel rail, an incredibly sturdy material, which is also resistant to rust, as well as easy to replace.
  • 4 x 8 inches finished-both-sides: 1 sheet
  • 3/8 inches-thick plywood
  • Moisture-proof glue: 1 can
  • Number 6, ¾ inch flathead wood screws, zinc-plated: 1 box
  • Number 6, 1/1-inch flathead wood screws: 1 box
  • 5 inches finishing nails: 12
  • 24-inches brass piano hinges: 3
  • 30 x 1 inches square pine wood
  • 5 inches quarter-round molding: 30 feet total
  • 1 x 6 inches pine shelving: 6 feet
  • 2 x 6 inches lumber: 3 feet
  • Computer muffin fan: 1
  • Electronic thermometer: 1. This is great for gauging the temperatures in the drier
  • Needle-nose
  • Side-cutting pliers
  • Hacksaw
  • Flat metal file
  • Hot glue gun

With all that at hand, you’re ready to begin, so follow the steps below.

1. Trim the Screens

You will have to disassemble the frames, using your screwdriver as well as a pair of pliers. You can even jiggle them around a bit to take them apart. Next, you’ll have to trim them so only about 0.25 inches remains of their ends.

Solar Dehydrator Screens

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Once that’s done, add some notches here, so they get right against the crossbar. Next, you’ll have to use your pliers to bend this remaining 0.25 inches piece of rail on each of the four sides, so you can get a sort of box shape. If there are any snags, you’ll have to smooth them out with a file.

2. Take the Measurements and Cut

Basically, when you have the finished screens, their size shows you how big your box is inside, horizontally-wise. In this article, we’re talking about 24 x 19 inches screens, so take that into account when it comes to your own screens in case you’ll have to adjust the measurements accordingly.

Window Screen

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So grab your circular saw, we’re going to use the fine wood blade to cut a couple of panels with these measurements:

  • The 24 x 28 inches back: 1
  • The 20 x 28 inches sides: 2
  • The 22 x 26 inches top: 1
  • The 27 x 27 inches door: 1
  • The 25 x 27 bottom: 1

Now, remember you’ve got those 6 feet worth of 1 x 6 inches pine shelving? You have to cut the base from this one, so grab your power saw. With the planer blade, cut:

  • The 27 inches back panel: 1
  • The 23 inches side panels: 2

But you also have the 3 feet worth of 2 x 6 inches lumber, so we’re using that too for cutting the front base panel, which is 27 inches.

Grab Lumber

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Now grab that 30 x 1 inches square pine wood stock, to cut the top and the bottom panels. This requires more work, as you’ll need panels with different lengths:

  • 19 inches: 2
  • 21 inches: 1
  • 22 inches: 2
  • 24 inches: 1
  • 26 inches: 3
  • 28 inches: 2

The next step is measuring and cutting the screen supports, so grab that 30 x 1 inches square pine wood again. You’ll cut panels to different lengths here too:

  • 18 inches: 12
  • 22 inches: 6

3. Put the Folding Box Together

This is a bit more complicated, but we’ll try to make things as clear to you as possible, so follow the steps below:

  1. Use the piano hinges to assemble the side panels and the back panel.
  2. Set the plywood facing down.
  3. Get each side panel in its place – at the sides of the back panel, with their lengths set vertically against the back panel.
  4. The lengths of the side panels have to be nudged 1/8 inches away from the back panel, length-wise.
  5. The hinges you connect the panels with have to have their flat side up. The bumps of the middle hinge have to be placed between the panels.
  6. Measure the edges of the panels using the steel rule, to make sure you get a square-shaped box.
  7. Make sure the panels aren’t loosely connected but don’t push the hinges in an upward fashion.
  8. Now grab a sharp nail and use its center punch to drill a few pilot holes. These have to be 1/16 inches wide and ¼ inches deep.
  9. Get the smaller wood screws and stick them into these holes through the hinge. When you tighten them, don’t use a power driver because it has too much rotation and that can damage the screws. Just use your hands for a softer touch.
  10. Now it’s time to set the rack rests, so make 8 lines on each of the panel’s sides, 3 inches apart. With that in mind, the rails should be placed neither on the top nor on the bottom line.
  11. Get one piece of the six 22 inches long panels you’ve made from the square pine wood and put waterproof glue on its flat side.
  12. Repeat that for the other five pieces too.
  13. Get their upper edges just below the lines you’ve scribbled at step 9.
  14. Now get the 18 inches long panels, and place their ends about 1.5 inches into the exterior sides of the side panels, using waterproof glue again.
  15. You’ll have to make sure you drill and place in 3.4 inches brass screws through the rails and into the wood of the box. These screws should be placed 1 inch away from the ends, as well as in the middle distance.
  16. Now you have three panels connected with hinges, so you can fold them with the flat side inside. They won’t close fully though, you’ll get a sort of triangle, with 45ᵒ at each corner.
  17. Assemble the base.

Get the 6-inches wide piece of lumber and attach square stock rails to it. The box will, in the end, rest on these.

Solar Food Dryer

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The base depends on where you put the hinges, as well as the type of hinges you use, so the base, the top, and the door all have to be built depending on the box you’ve finished at step A.

  1. Make sure the box sits in the center of the 25x 27 inches bottom.
  2. Get the 27 x 6 x 1 and the 27 x 6 x 2 inches boards, and cut from them the exact width of the back panel.
  3. Now cut 1/8 inches more.
  4. Get the 1 x 6 inches panel and make sure it’s centered on the edge, about 1/16 inches from the back.
  5. Get the 2 x 6 inches flush, and make sure it’s centered near the front sides of the side panels.
  6. Now get the 23 x 1 x 6 inches panels so you can connect these to the front and back panels. If you want to make all more professional. You can cut a 3/4 x 3/8 inches notch in the interior ends of the 2 x 6 inches front board. That way, the 1-inch side boards will fir better.
  7. Make sure the base panel fits the baseboards, so trim it if it’s longer or wider.
  8. Get each baseboard and draw on them lines that are parallel to the top edge, and about 3 inches away from it.
  9. Grab the two 22 inches long square stock and center them on the side boards.
  10. Grab the two 19 inches ling square stock and center them on the front and the back panel, making sure their top sides are on the bottom of the lines drawn at step 8.
  11. Use glue and screws to secure the boards.
  12. Now it’s time to replace the baseboards, so start by removing the box.
  13. Draw on its interior lines, right on the plywood panel.
  14. Once you remove a board, use waterproof glue to replace it on the lines you’ve drawn at the previous step.
  15. Add more weight to the corners using bricks, and then get two 1.5 inches screws to drill and secure the margins of the side boards to the front and the backboard.
  16. Wait a few minutes for the glue to stick enough, and then turn the base on the other side.
  17. Now place 3/4 inches screws 4 inches apart from each other, so they go through the holes made through the plywood and end up in the baseboards.
  18. Do another flip.
  19. Get the 1 x 6 inches piece of lumber, to cut four equilateral triangles, with 3 inches sides.
  20. Drill 1/16 inches pilot holes in each of their centers.
  21. Put glue on their flat sides and on the edges, then connect the gussets in the corner of the base you have at step 18, using 3/4 inches screws.
  22. Assemble the top
Solar Dehydrator Top

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At this point, you’ll have to add two rows of square-stock rails on the top, near the edges, in order for the box to fit perfectly inside these rails.

  1. Get the box you’ve finished at step A and put it on the base.
  2. Grab the 22 x 26 inches plywood panel on top, making sure it’s about 1/16 inches longer on each side.
  3. Now get beneath the top panel and draw a continuous line around the exterior edges of the box made at step A.
  4. Get the top part out.
  5. Get to the 21 inches long piece of square stock, as well as the two 26 inches pieces, cutting them enough to form a U-shape that fits inside the edges drawn at step 3.
  6. Draw on the outside rails of the back and side panels too, trimming their exterior sides so they fit the U shape at step 5.
  7. Glue these frame panels together, then screw them onto the top panel.
  8. Grab the scrap square-stock and cut three pieces from it, each 8 inches long.
  9. Glue these beneath the top, parallel to the exterior frames, but 0.5 inches inside the frame.
  10. Place one board in the center part of the back.
  11. Pace the front edges of the other boards in line with the front margins of the exterior boards you have at step 7.
  12. Grab the square scrap again and cut two 4 inches long pieces from it.
  13. Now tack them 0.5 inches inside the exterior frames, but along the back side.
  14. Place the top at its place of honor – at the top of the box.
  15. Use two 1-inch screws placed 3 inches apart on the frame boards to secure them.
  16. Assemble the door
Solar Dehydrator Door

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The door will be connected to the 2 inches wide panel in the front, but will also be connected to its top part with a piece of square stock. So:

  1. Assemble everything you’ve built at steps A, B, and C, as well as the drying racks.
  2. Make sure the top margin of the door is as wide as the base frame.
  3. The height of the door should be 3/16 inches smaller than that of the front opening.
  4. Cut the two 28 inches long pieces of square stock so they have the same height as the door.
  5. Use screws and waterproof glue to secure them inside the door, in order to make a sort of collar on the box’s edges.
  6. Cut the 24 inches long panel of square stock in order to make it fit in the top part of the opening in the front, but make sure this isn’t a close fit.
  7. Secure it in the center of the interior upper side, with glue and screws.
  8. Get that last bit of piano hinge to connect the door to the base, making sure the bumped part of the hinge faces up and that it’s bent at a 45ᵒ
  9. Press this hinge at the meeting point between the bottom part of the door and the front baseboard’s top side.
  10. Use glue and screws to secure together both the upper and the lower flange of the hinge to the frame board. You should use number 6 1.25 inches long screws, not the smaller screws.
  11. Grab the last of the 26 inches long square stock, and cut it so it fits how wide the door is.
  12. Close the door and secure this board beneath the top panel, making sure it’s tight enough in order for the door not to open accidentally.
Solar Dehydrator Door

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4. Make the Vents

To make sure you get enough air inside the homemade dehydrator, you need to make some vents in the bottom part.

  1. Get a 0.5 inches spade and drill holes through the baseboards, 3 inches apart.
  2. Place the base on scrap wood.
  3. Make holes that are placed 4 inches apart on the whole surface that’s placed on the scrap wood.

You’ll also need some vents on the top part, though, so:

  1. Grab your jigsaw and make a hole right at the top’s center part that has the same diameter as that of the muffin fan’s blades.
  2. Grab a piece of scrap plywood and cut a circle that has a diameter 1 inch bigger than the hole made in the previous step.
  3. Put this lid over the hole in the top and secure it with a small bolt.
  4. Fix the fan inside this lid.

5. Add the Finishing Touches

Get sanding sealer and apply a couple of layers of smooth coating inside the dehydrator, particularly if the food items you’re planning to dry include meat, fish or any sort of spices.  After that, you’ll need a few coatings of clear varnish to make the wood impermeable.

You can also apply an exterior finish by sealing, staining and varnishing this dehydrator. The outer finish can be different if you’re planning to keep this dehydrator outside, in your kitchen or in your living room, so pick something that fits.

How to Use It

After you’ve assembled your food dehydrator, it’s time to use it, so keep in mind the following things:

  • The food will dry at most temperatures, though the most effective ones are 110 – 150ᵒ Don’t try to increase the temperature too much above this range, or your food will lose valuable nutrients. If you decrease the temperature too much, the drying process will take longer. That’s why we suggested the use of a thermometer at the beginning of this article.
  • If it’s summer and the temperatures are bigger, you need an increased airflow so the food doesn’t actually cook inside the dehydrator.
  • Dry weather is favorable to the drying process, while a hot humid weather isn’t.
  • Thin slices dry faster than bigger bulks or chunks of food.
  • The dryer the food, the longer it will last.
  • Wet food sticks to the racks, so allow it to air-dry first, and then cover the wire screens with non-stick cooking spray or with wax paper.
  • Don’t leave too much, nor too little space between the pieces of food.
  • If you have bigger chunks of food, make sure you turn them a few times each day.
  • Once the pieces start to dry up, they get smaller in size, so you can fit them on less space in order to use the new space for other food items.
Using Solar Dehydrator

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Final Thoughts

We’ve taken you through some very detailed instructions on how to build this homemade food dehydrator, so we hope you’ll end up with a great end product. The tips and tricks above should also help in that regard. However, make sure you store this dehydrator properly when you’re not using it, to prevent warping the plywood. So unfold it flat on the ground, with the door placed on the base, then pile the top and the racks.

With that in mind, tell us a bit about yourself: why do you want this dehydrator? Where will you use it? What foods do you plan to dry with it? What convinced you to a homemade version instead of getting a store-bought one? Get the conversation rolling with a comment below!


Sean Nelson

Sean Nelson

Sean was backpacking since he was 7. He was born close to the RMNP and his father was a ranger, so life surrounded by mountains and wildlife is a norm for Colorado. He likes to explore, but prefers to stay in USA. In his opinion, there are too many trails and options in US to go abroad.