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Tri Clover Compatible Fittings in your Home Brewery

I've been pretty surprised by the steady flow of questions I receive about how to use Tri Clover Compatible fittings in your home brewery.  Like all plumbing, tubing and pipe sizes, there is a lot of confusion about sizes, fitment, how they work and why you would want them.  Rather than go with a FAQ on Tri Clover Compatible fittings, I decided to write this article as a primer on adding Tri Clovers Compatible fittings to your brewery.  By no means am I an expert in sanitary installations, but this is some of the information I've picked up in my research of brewery fittings.

Tri Clover Fitting Background and Sizes

Tri Clover fittings, also called sanitary fittings, are widely used in the commercial food processing industries.  They can be found in dairies, soft drink plants, wineries and of course: breweries.  They allow for pipe and tubing connections to be made in a sanitary fashion that is designed to be cleaned in place (CIP) but is easily broken down for further cleaning, inspection and repair.  For an installation to be truly considered sanitary, it most conform to the "3A" standard.  Among a long list of requirements, the two that stand out are:

  1. No exposed threaded connections.  All connections end to end must not have any threads. There can be connections made with threaded fittings, but they are special fittings that use a gasket or seal between the threads and the fluid.  Connections between Tri Clover fittings and NPT fittings are not allowed in the 3A standard and that's why those fittings are hard to find.
  2. No abrupt changes in internal diameter.  If you need to reduce a 3" pipe to a 2" pipe, there is a special reducing fitting that offers a gradual taper between the two diameters. 

Benefits of Tri Clover Compatible Fittings in the Home Brewery.

As you can see from the two basic requirements above, it's pretty difficult to maintain a truly sanitary installation of Tri Clover Compatible fittings at the home brewery scale.  So why bother with them?  Because they make excellent connections.  They are very easy to clean since there are no pockets, nooks or crannies and they don't leak.  All other quick disconnect designs on the market depend on an o-ring captured in the QD body or on the plug.  Unless you remove the o-ring every time you clean them, they tend to trap sticky wort. These o-rings are also susceptible to tearing and leaking.  Used on the inlet side of a pump that can lead to an annoying air bleed that will cause the pump to cavitate.  That's not to say that quick disconnects are bad, they are certainly easier and faster to use and if the o-rings are properly maintained, they will offer years of service.

Sizing Tri Clover Compatible Fittings for your Home Brewery.

Like all pipe and tube fittings, the sizing of Tri Clover Compatible Fittings can be confusing.  Unlike all other pipe and tube fittings, Tri Clover Compatible Fittings are a lot easier to understand: The size of a Tri Clover Compatible fitting refers to the outside diameter of the sanitary tubing it makes a connection for, NOT the flange diameter.  1/2" and 3/4" Tri Clover Compatible fittings share the same .984"  flange size just like 1" and 1.5" fittings share a 1.984" flange.  See the table for Tri Clover Compatible size vs. flange size.

Tri Clover Compatible Size X Actual Flange Diameter
Tri Clover Compatible Size     Actual Flange Size
1/2 ", 3/4" .984"
1", 1.5" 1.984"
2" 2.516"
2.5" 3.047"
3" 3.579"
4" 4.682"
6" 6.570"

The most common size used in the home brewery market is the 1"-1.5".  Since they share the same flange size, they can be interconnected with no problem.  A 1" ball valve will connect to a 1.5" ferrule without a problem.    1/2" Tri Clover Compatible fittings are a little more compact and weigh less, but since they are not as widely used they tend to be more expensive.  Sabco uses 1/2" Tri Clover Compatible in it's Brew Magic® system.  Every other commercial home brewery I've seen uses 1/1.5" fittings. 2" Tri Clover Compatible fittings can be used to make a connection with a Sanke Keg ferrule.

What's Needed to Make a Tri Clover Connection.

To make a Tri Clover Compatible connection you need two fittings, one gasket and one clamp.  The fitting can be a Tri Clover Compatible ferrule, a Tri Clover X NPT fitting, a Tri Clover Compatible valve or site glass etc.  Each connection requires a clamp and gasket.  Tri Clover Compatible gaskets are available in a wide variety of materials but the most useful ones to us as home brewers are Silicone, PTFE Teflon® and BUNA-N.  Silicone offers great heat resistance and is soft so it forms a seal very easily. Silicone sanitary gaskets are my favorite for almost any connection. Teflon® is more rigid than BUNA-N and requires a little more clamping pressure to get a good seal.  It also has a high heat resistance, and it's definitely the material of choice if the connection is a rotation point like in a fermentor racking arm or rotating pickup tube.  BUNA-N is an inexpensive and easy to seal material.  

Brewers Hardware sells both long and short ferrules. Tri Clover Compatible long ferrules are used when you want to weld a ferrule into a kettle or fermentor.  Tri Clover Compatible short ferrules are welded to other sanitary tubing.  Tri Clover Compatible caps are great for making other fittings but are most often used to seal the open end of a Tri Clover Compatible valve to keep things clean.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on Tri Clover Compatible fittings for you.  Please feel free to email any questions I didn't cover here.