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The "Donkey" Hot Water Boiler

We obtained an old outside bath that has been recycled from a lawn sale (Garage Sale)( But we really lack alot of garages in the NT)

As the dry season got into full swing the water got much colder and a bath in the cool air wasn't all that enticing.
So the Laundry hot water tap was converted to a hose connection and the bath was filled up out of home gas hot water system running about 30 metres out to the bath.

There are many campsites throughout the Top End that we have been to that have a "donkey" set up, to provide hot water to the shower block. Many cattle stations have them set up in stock camps today.

I recall my grandparents having a hot water heater in the bathroom that you needed to light up everytime you had a shower & could not turn off the water while it was going in case of pressure build up & explosion. So you could not go 3 minutes without someone calling out to you reminding you to keep the water running. A lot of things have changed.

So my curiosity got the better of me & I wanted to make something simple to warm the water for my bush bath.

I searched the internet for the secret to the "donkey". Well there had to be a secret as there are not many of these things throughout the world as Solar & Gas & electricity has taken place as the means to heat the water of our daily living.

I could not find any constructive info on how to make one (or the secret to one), and took to asking a few of the bushies around Katherine. The secret is that there is "no secret" apart from water in the bottom, hot water out the top & some type of pressure relief valve if you have taps involved.

So I took to hunting down a few materials to build my water heater.

The good old 44 gallon drum was high on my list due to its 2 inlet/outlets & already having threads for connections. There are classes of drums & the one obtained from my neighbor is a lightweight thin plated drum that will rust out quicker than a thicker plated one after being placed on a fire. (An old 45kg gas bottle will also be a choice item in due course and will require extra welding of 2nd inlet)

Metal Pipe fittings were purchased. 2 inch reducing to 3/4 inch fittings. There was no metal pipe available, so I took a chance with Poly pipe & watched the flame/heat.

The most important part is probably the extra pressure relief coming off the hot water outlet. This consists of an old popup inground sprinkler at the head (not really needed)


Several blocks were located & the drum placed on top. Wood fire stoked up and away it went.

The principle of the donkey is that hot water rises (like hot air) and as the fire warms the water, the warmer water will be what comes out of the top pipe.

And it does. While firing up the drum full of water & detergent and later draining it, the water temp from the bottom pipe (where the flames were) was almost cold. Compared to the water flowing out of the top which was steaming and too hot to put your hand in.

There is nothing "secret" to it at all. A 44 Gallon drum is pretty much overkill for a small family. I am curious to try a gas cylinder or even a smaller drum.
The plan is to rock in the fireplace & make it look a little more pleasing to the eye. (A smaller drum would look better)

Update a few months on....... inside the 44 gallon (200 litre) drum will go rusty, and needs a rinse each time I want to use it, so a better option may be the 45kg gas cylinder.
Apart from the red water, it goes great.