How to build a solar food dryer that works!

This guest post is by Homeinsteader  and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

You will be building three(3) different box-like units, all of which will fit together and work to dry your food in the sun.

Solar food dryerThe finished dimensions of your solar dryer will be two (2) feet by four (4) feet. You will not be building legs from these directions, but could do that very easily “whenever”.If you are going to build legs, we suggest using PVC pipe and setting them in 5-gallon buckets, with enough sand or concrete to hold them in place, but allow for water in the bucket.

The water will keep ants and crawly things from crawling up the legs while your food dries. I do not do this; I simply check it from time-to-time and make sure there are no critters; so far, so good.

You can use virtually any wood you like; we used cheap pine, because we’re cheap; but, it’s not well finished, and I have managed a couple of splinters in handling the pine, so,consider that when deciding what wood to use.

You can spray paint your metal sheet on one side and let it be drying while you build your boxes (see box # 3, below).

Box # 1 (bottom): you will need 2 inch x 4 inch wood (untreated –you do not want chemical toxins in your food supply) and a 2’x4’ sheet of corrugated metal roofing-type material. The first box will be the bottom box which will hold the sheet metal“heater”. Build your two (2) foot by four (4) foot box – we did not center support this box,but, you can if you want. Attach a sheet of corrugated steel to the top by whatever means you prefer (nails, bolts, screws), so long as it lies flat against the surface of the frame, and covers the entire frame, two feet wide by four feet long.

You will need food-grade polypropylene screen, and you can order it from the folks below. DO NOT try to use aluminum screening or recycled housing screening for a food project. You will also need screening spline and a sharp instrument for cutting.

We purchased polyethylene screening from: email: [email protected] 1-800-609-2160

MacManiman Inc. 3023 362nd Avenue S.E. Fall City, WA 98024

Box # 2 is not one, but two (2) separate boxes built of 2”x2” boards, each of them two (2) feet x two(2) feet square. Build your frames. Dado the top of them out to create a groove to receive your screening and spine. Cut your screening to fit across the tops of each of the two boxes, allowing extra to hang beyond frame; place your spline and, using a spline tool, work the splining material into the groove.Trim any excess. Having two separate frames will allow you to dry more than one kind of food at a time, if you wish, without having them “blend”.

For # 3, you’ll need sheet metal (either one 2 ft. by 4 ft. sheet, or qty. two 2 ft. by 2 ft. sheets; black spray paint, and two ft by four ft (2’x4’)’ Lexan or Plexiglass (have it cut at any window glass store) sheet, washers and screws, and waterproof clear acrylic sealant). The Lexan we bought was about $40, so, expect to pay $$$.

Box # 3 is a single2’x4’ frame which is braced across the center; cut sheet metal to fit 2’x 4’(we used qty. two 2’x2’ of sheet metal 1/16 inch thick, because, that’s all we could find). Spray paint both sides of the sheet metal; allow it to dry.

Use screws or nails to attach sheet metal to one side of 2’x4’ frame; this will become the bottom of this piece. Lay a bead of silicone for the Lexan, all around. Now attach the Lexan across the top; you can pre-drill it and attach with screws. Allow to dry.

We have old lawn chairs that we use as “legs”. It is important that the solar dryer be slightly angled for natural air circulation and turned toward the sun (duh!). We get a lot of sun in the Deep South, so solar drying is a natural choice. This unit does not utilize any kind of fan, or anything requiring power; you could run a fan under it, and, for some types of foods, it might help them dry faster. Most foods don’t require anything, other than checking from time-to-time until you learn how long that food takes to dry where you live. Some foods, however, may do better if you turn the foods (move them around) every few hours – although I’ve used mine extensively and rarely turn the food.

Tip: All foods dry better if they are uniform in size; otherwise, smaller pieces will be overly dried while you wait on the larger pieces, or, you’ll have to pick the smaller pieces out in advance of the others, which makes this much more labor intensive – not necessary!

To use, the sheet metal box is the bottom; place food on drying screens (don’t pack it too tight) and place drying screens atop sheet metal heater box. Now place Lexan cover box on top,with black painted metal as bottom of this box and Lexan facing the sun. Start cooking!

I hope you enjoy your homemade solar dryer; keep it out of the elements when not in use, and you should get years of service from it.


This contest will end on October 10 2012 – prizes include:

  • First Place : $100 Cash.
  • Second Place : $50 Cash.
  • Third Place : $25 Cash.

Contest ends on October 10 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. village idiot says:

    Great article, Home, and I printed it up and put it in my survival binder. Right now we don’t use a solar food dryer, but I can see where this could be very useful in the future. I am going to go ahead and order the screen so I will have it on hand.

    Your article brings back one of the funniest memories of my childhood. My grandmother had apples drying on the wellhouse, and the neighbor’s mule got out and was helping himself to the apples. I heard a commotion outside, and ran out to see what was going on, and my grandma was beating a mule on the head with a broom. You could see the mule was in pain, but he kept taking bite after bite until he could stand no more. Watching that little woman swinging that broom, and the mule trying to decide if the apples were worth the punishment he was receiving was one of the funniest episodes of my childhood. After it was over, I gave grandma a wide berth. She was “mad as a sittin’ hen”, as she used to say. Thanks for a great article and bringing back a childhood memory, Home. God bless you.

    • Homeinsteader says:

      vi, that is a priceless story! Thank you for sharing. I would have loved your grandma! Spunky little thing…

      Thank you, too, for the blessing, vi – I do not take them lightly.

      Glad you like the article; hope it proves useful to you.

      Blessings to you and all that is yours,

  2. Great info. This goes in the DIY binder.

    • Homeinsteader says:

      JP – glad you like it; this little project is serving us well. Although – lesson learned – carrots are very sugary and make a big mess! : )

      Blessings to you, and keep on preppin’!

  3. Thanks for the instructions. I’ll be sure to put it on my Honey Do List which just seems to get longer and longer. There is so much to do when you are prepping for TEOTWAWKI. We will probably not use this method until after as our garden for ow is just small. Working regular jobs just doesnt leave much time . We have stocked up plenty of food from to get us through the first 12-18 month then we’ll be using this solar dehydrator to preserve our harvests.

  4. Judy, another one says:

    Great article! Thanks!

  5. Backwoods Prepper says:

    Awesome! As soon as i get to M.S. I’m building this.

  6. Homeinsteader, thanks for the info. Am printing out to keep. Don’t really need it now, but looks like a good winter project.
    Keep the Faith

    • Homeinsteader says:

      UR very welcome, TN Sam. Hope you find it a useful tool in the future! Blessings,

  7. My uncle was always gardening and tinkering around with building stuff. He built a dehydrator that I thought was supreme. It was double like this one only it was screen all around and top and bottom. The shelves pulled out to be roteated. It worked really really well.
    He was drying stuff all the time.
    I don’t remember a bug problem, but then again this was years ago.
    This is really a good article.

    • Homeinsteader says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Ellen. Your Uncle built the Cadillac, our is the Chevy. We looked at it as a “beginning”, but, the truth is, other than using a better wood (to avoid splinters), it does all that we need it to do, so, it’s now a fixture in the ‘fam.

      Blessings to you, and all that is yours,

  8. currently has a sale on seeds – many summer organic heirloom seeds for $1.25 per pack. They also have a $10 off coupon – see below.

    Harvest sale!
    $10 Off Any Order This Week
    It’s easy! Go to,
    shop this week & enter iCan at checkout!
    Discount will be applied to product subtotal. Offer valid on internet orders only (store pick-up option available) through 8/17/12.
    All online purchases qualify, except Gift Cards. Cannot be applied to past orders.

    • Homeinsteader says:

      And be sure to encourage them to advertise where you found it – linked in on “”!! : )

  9. Belle Prepper says:

    This is great, Homeinsteader! I’m going to print it for my binder, but I really want my DH to build me one now.

    • Homeinsteader says:

      Glad you like it, BP! As I was saying above, we built it as kind of a “first effort”, thinking we’d do something fancier later, but, it meets our needs for now. Enjoy!

      Blessings to you, and all that is yours,

  10. Patriot Dave says:

    Questions: If I read and looked at the photos correctly, If the bottom box has the corrugated sheet metal “heater”; why does the top box have both a metal bottom (blocking the sun) and lexan clear top? Does this increase temp? or increase air flow? It seems that you would want the sun rays to reach to bottom metal to heat that up like a solar oven.

    • Homeinsteader says:

      The metal bottom on the top box (Lexan cover) DOES NOT block the sun; it’s painted black; it actually DRAWS the sun. And, yes, it increases temp. If the sun rays only reached the bottom metal (the corrugated sheet), it would not dry your food evenly, and would not reach and hold a consistent temp. All air flow is natural; that’s part of the reason it needs to be slightly angled while drying (not completely horizontal). I’m sure there is someone out there who can explain the aerodynamics better than can I, but that is what I am told as to how it works, anyway.

      All I can really tell you is, “it works”!

      Blessings to you, PD!

      • Homeinsteader says:

        It might have been more helpful to describe the top box (Lexan covered) as the “solar collector unit”, which heats up everything, which is absorbed by the lowest (sheet metal) box, which serves to more evenly disburse the collected “solar power”. But you knew that….

  11. This is a great idea. I think I actually have most of the materials on hand too ( bonus lol) I’m printing this one out to try asap. Thanks!

    • Homeinsteader says:

      Hey, Jami newbie! Hope you enjoy your solar dehydrator as much as we enjoy ours! Blessings,

  12. Homeinsteader says:

    RECIPE ALERT! Baked Apple (Fruit) Pancake

    This recipe is adapted from “Savoring Today” blog site. It would be a great choice for cooking outdoors in cast iron, over an open fire. You could use the 2 cast iron skillet bake method: you’ll need two cast iron skillets, both of which should be well seasoned; one must fit down inside the other with an “air space” between the two, and a “dome” (high rise) lid – look for a glass one at second hand shops, yard sales, etc., but make sure it fits. There will be a space between lid rim and the pour rim of the skillet, and that’s o.k. You will make your pancake in the skillet that will be the top skillet; place the fully loaded top skillet in the bottom skillet, put the lid on, and place over indirect heat (not directly on the flame if cooking open fire or gas flame). There are several ways to do this, including a metal grid of some sort or, just use two thick logs of approx. equal size, one on either side of your open pit fire running parallel to each other (horizontal to your position); now place two or more smaller logs vertical to your position across these, and you have a “grill system” that will suffice long enough to cook your meal. This method should work well on a Dakota (smokeless) pit fire system, too (OPSEC). – Home’r


    3 to 4 apples
    4 tbs coconut oil, divided (or whatever oil you have, but co recommended)
    6 tbs sweetener of choice (recommended: raw honey, molasses, some combination of the two)
    1/2 cup oats
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1/2 tsp sea salt
    1 egg
    1 cup milk

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tbs oil in a cast iron or other oven-safe skillet.

    Meanwhile, peel and dice the apples. Add apples to the skillet and drizzle with 2 tbs agave nectar. Fry for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently.

    In a medium sized bowl, combine the oats, whole wheat flour, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, beat the egg, sweetener, oil, and milk. After your apples have cooked for 3-5 minutes, pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Stir just until combined.

    Immediately pour batter onto the apples and allow to cook until bubbles form.

    Transfer to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden. Cut into wedges to serve. (8 servings)

    Per serving: 237 calories 8.8 grams fat 3.2 grams fiber

    A few notes about this baked apple pancake recipe:

    Use organic apples if possible (or, better, still – grow your own!). Non-organic apples are on the dirty dozen, which means they are highly contaminated with pesticides. Scientists have now developed a GMO apple that doesn’t brown when exposed to air. No frankenapples for this house – thank you very much!

    The original recipe called for agave nectar; however, there is evidence available to all that agave nectar is NOT a healthy sweetener substitute. You can do your own research to find out why.

    You can use kefir in place of milk to give it a bit of a sourdough taste. I usually just use milk, but I had some kefir I needed to use up and it works just fine.

    This recipe is also yummy made with fresh peaches in place of apples. (I’ll bet it is!)

    • Homeinsteader says:

      Sorry…missed this…you can’t drizzle with agave nectar if you don’t use it….drizzle with your sweetener (whatever you choose to use). My bad!

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Ok, all you good cooks. You are making my mouth water. Especially when you know how to cook good stuff in primitive conditions.
      I can’t face TEOTWAWKI with just my cooking (mainly rice boiling and can opening).
      Probably will eventually cut my own throat with a jagged beef stew can lid! Y’all did teach me to make drop biscuits recently.
      I acquired my first cast iron cookware last week so I better get to practicing.

    • Home’r…great article…and have saved the recipe…cheers.

  13. Homeinsteader says:
  14. Homeinsteader says:
    • michael c says:

      Not energy efficient enough – will go through too much power because it is not insulated well.

      I submitted an aritcle (Feb ’12) about insulating a simple cooler with an added “peltier junction” cooler. You could insulate the unit you are looking at like I did.

    • Patriot Dave says:

      I did not look up the websites, so I don’t have the links. sorry. I remember a few years ago on some of the homebrewing forums seeing some solutions. Some brewers had made DIY coolers to keep their fermenters within the proper range during the hot summer months. There were quite a variety of designs. Some AC some DC. There were computer fans and water jackets and all kinds of ideas. There are probably even more today. I hope this gets you in the right direction.

  15. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    My brother made a DIY small jerky cage two weekends ago. Using Hardware cloth and insect screen, he made a box with removeable top door. Using fishing line tied across the body, he uses paper clips to hang the meat, which was cut with a fillet knife VERY thin (its easier to cut when frozen and thawing out). A sprinkling of lemon juice and salt was all that was needed – good eats! A day from early morning to sunset is all that is needed to dry the meat.

    He hung this from a clothes line, figuring he wanted to keep as many insects, cats and/or dogs away from it. It worked the 1st time – 2nd batch, he began to find some ants had somehow found it – wth ? This is hung at 5′-0″ above grade, at least 10 feet from the support pole – how the devil did they find it? Ants iz smart!

    Anyway, that is my contribution – good thread. Food processing without electricity will sooner or later become a need – best to get that experience and learning done early!

  16. ive been having alot of fun with the sun lately.this is something im definitely going to build. thanks for the easy to understand instructions.

  17. J.D. in Ohio says:

    What an awesome post! Definitely printing this one off and adding it to the binder.

  18. Yes, me too! Thanks for adding photos, they always help.

  19. Homeinsteader says:

    Hey, Natalia! Yes, I thought they might help.

    Hope you enjoy! Blessings,

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