KEGS:     Ball Locks vs Pin Locks.

 

As
a person with hands on experience with both types of beverage tanks for over 25
years, I will try to dispel various rumors and incorrect information that have
become common online.

 

A
little history will help in the understanding of these two types of “beverage
transfer tanks” as they were originally called. The earliest versions go back
to the Firestone and John Wood manufactured tanks. The tanks were used in a new
system started by Coke around 1957-1958, called a Post-Mix, in which the syrup was
delivered to businesses that then added the water & CO2 to carbonate the
drink as it was delivered to your cup. This gives you an idea how long these
tanks have been around and how old some can be. Pin locks were exclusive to
Coke and Ball Locks were considered general beverage, for use by anyone else.

 

#1
MYTH, would be that PIN LOCKS are less desirable that Ball Locks. This started out
based on the availability of used ball lock tanks of which were much easier to
find and the stockpiles were huge. Coke tanks were not as easy to find or
purchase for quite a while. Until such time that the trend of changing over
from the tanks to the now common collapsible bag in a box, the companies held
on to their stockpiles for future needs. Once the era of Post-Mix ended, the
beverage companies starting wholesaling the tanks, with millions of them going
overseas to other countries and massive amounts to China. These countries still
used the Post-Mix systems, but now even they are making the change as happened
here. At this time you are all finding that locating Ball Lock tanks has become
increasingly difficult to find online or your local suppliers. Prices have been
rising, add shipping if online, and your paying a lot more than years ago when
these were $3-$10. Not to say you will not a find a few deals here and there,
but even when you hear of a small stash or good deal they go extremely quickly
and then you’re hunting again. It is not uncommon to see prices from $25 to $50
or more now depending on type, condition and whether you have to clean or
replace O-rings, seals and poppet’s. Local Homebrew suppliers are searching,
sometimes in vain for decent tanks to sell and at a price that is reasonable.
Premiums will be charged on the best-used tanks, while lower prices will soon
mean rougher condition or not being exactly what you wanted.

 

 

NOTE:
All used/reconditioned tanks will become very difficult to find within the
years as the last major bottling plants are being disassembled in the US and
Canada as I write this. My connections have been busy dismantling plants in
both places all this year. The final used tanks are being rounded up and sold
almost as fast as they hit the market. The last ball locks from the Pepsi
plants were gone last year. The ones you find now are the last ones left, with
no more large amounts to be found. Rumors will always have secret stashes here
and there, but most are just rumors. We just received 1,100 tanks recently
and all were pin locks. My business has a network of connections to any
remaining tanks across the US & Canada and it now takes months compared to
one call and a week to 10 days for delivery, to find any decent quantities. If
there were any ball locks out there, we would have bought them all. Even found
a stash of 950 ball lock tanks, but upon inspection, they were little more than
scrap metal. The sad part is having my best suppliers now calling me to find
tanks.
My estimate is that within 24 months you will be looking at new AEB tanks and
possibly other imports with the used tank supply depleted. This does not mean there are absolutely no ball locks out there, or still in use. There are areas around the country where the water quality is less than desirable and local bottlers may still supply the pre-mix beverages in tanks to guarantee that the quality and taste meets their standards.

 

 

Let’s
be honest, we’re all creatures of habit, and change is not always easy. If we all
started with Pin Locks and had become used to them, we may have considered
changing to Ball Locks annoying. Ball Locks can be connected wrong if forced on
and are really hard to un-jam, sometimes even ruining a disconnect or the post.
Having the surprise of a ball lock that did not lock all the way is an
unpleasant event. Replacing costly manual relief valves might be upsetting.
Either way we would have been comfortable with pin locks and like now finding
the change hard to accept. Looking at Pin locks, you can see the obvious; no
manual reliefs valves, and no way to accidently connect to the wrong side. With
the gas side having 2 pins and the liquid side being three, it makes such and
event impossible. No way to leave the relief valve open allows a longer life.
Even the cost of disconnects and replacement relief valves are less. Servicing,
sanitizing, and parts availability are pretty well the same. Pin locks are not
more prone to leak, lose pressure and need repairs than a ball lock. The
opening on both style tanks is identical, so lids can be interchanged on most
tanks. There are a few exceptions with lids from a Korean Tank manufacture
having a lock lever that is wider than others and will hit the rubber section
on the rubber topped tanks keeping the lever from going all the way down to
lock.

 

 

#2 MYTH, the
ease of releasing pressure from manually operated relief valves mounted on the
lids. In truth, my observations over the years show that manual relief valve
are replaced at a much higher rate than the non-manual reliefs in Coke tanks
due to common mistake of leaving the manual reliefs in the open position when
the tanks were empty. This habit causes the spring to be in the maximum
compressed position for extended periods, which in turn also causes the amount
of tension that holds pressure when closed to become less over time, resulting
in pressure loss at lower and lower pressures. Now let me state that my field
of expertise is in modifying these tanks for use as portable dispensers for
chemical use, basically a tank sprayer. This experience has allowed to me to
learn many ways to change fittings, valves, and attach many options for
multiple uses. In the process I have tried many modifications that would be
handy for Home brewers.

 

One
new item I have tested is a conversion kit that turns a pin lock tank into ball
lock tank. This kit has tank plugs made of stainless steel, universal poppets
and new O-rings for the plugs and dip tubes. The kit costs more than the
disconnects and has limitations. It only converts tanks that had the 9/16-18 threads.  For those of you
familiar with a well-written article explaining the differences in tank styles,
thread sizes and fittings by Mike Dixon,
http://www.dresselbrew.com/Keg_Info.htm

 

Can
tank plugs from ball lock kegs be used to convert pin lock tanks? YES, but with
limitations. Knowing and recognizing tank plug types and thread sizes makes
this possible on some, but not all models. Most buyers have heard of tanks
nicknamed “RACE TRACK” tanks or lids. These were an early style taken out of
service about 30 years ago. The lids and tanks are not interchangeable with any
other tanks. The tank plugs and thread sizes were also unique to those tanks.
As they are fairly rare to come across, I will not spend any further time with
details. Another rarity is finding plastic lids and any tanks, another early
design that was removed from service decades ago. If you have any, it was
recommended to replace them as they become brittle and fracture over time. Not
something you want to deal with.

 

Getting
back to swapping tank plugs, you will find 3 main thread sizes, starting with
the smallest, 9/16”-18, then 19/32”-18 and the larger 5/8”-18. On the gas side
you could find corresponding thread sizes in ball & pin lock plugs, but on
the liquid side you will only find two ball lock sizes of 19/32”-18 &
5/8”-18. No 9/16” ball lock liquid plug was offered by the original
manufactures. This eliminates the FIRESTONE A, FIRESTONE R, JOHN WOOD RA AND
JOHN WOOD RC, pin lock tanks which had 9/16”-18 threads on both sides. The only
option would be one of the new conversion kits or stick with the original pin
locks. There is truly no real reason not to keep the pin locks. I can guarantee
that you’ll never mistake the hookups or have a disconnect pop off when locked
into position. On pin lock tanks with two thread sizes, you can easily find and
change the plugs to ball lock if desired. There are no ill effects in doing so.
As long as the thread sizes match and the O-rings & poppets are in good
shape, the swap will work well.

 

Recognizing
the tank plug styles and sizes takes a little practice and experience. First
thing to know if that all gas connections have a defining notch on the
sides/edges, the easiest gas plug to identify has a 16 point base instead of 6
like a standard nut. From experience, all of the 16 point gas plugs are
19/32”-18 thread. An easy way to identify the 5/8”-18 size plugs is that on one
of the smooth surfaces close to the base, you will be able to see very small
letters stamped into the surface, usually with the name “Hansen” on them. These
are all the 5/8”-18 thread plugs and are always a liquid plug. 9/16-18 plugs in
ball locks were gas side only and just a quick look at the small size threads
make them pretty easy to identify. I went to a local hardware store and bought
one 5/8”-18 and one 9/16”-18 thread bolts, which are also called fine thread,
to help when check thread sizes when I had less experience. Don’t bother
looking for a 19/32”-18 thread bolt as you’ll never find one. This size thread
is almost totally exclusive to these beverage tanks. Just mentioning that size
at a hardware store, will bring strange, bewildered looks. All new AEB and
Korean manufactured tanks have the 19/32”-18 threads now which has become the
international standard for these tanks.

 

Tank
dimensions can play a roll in your choice also. Most if not all ball lock tanks
are 25” tall by 8.5” diameter. Pin Lock tanks (aka Coke tanks) have two basic sizes, 21” and
23” tall. The tall Coke tanks have raised letters in the metal sides, which make
them easy to spot, the shorter tanks are helpful in situations where your
wanting to stack inside a fridge. These tanks normally have a 9” diameter. All
this comes into play when evaluating the space available in your cooler/fridge.
Once these tanks have been cleaned sanitized, have good seals and your connectors
are all set, you should have little to no problems with any style tanks for the
foreseeable future. The tanks themselves should last a lifetime. A little
cleaning and maintenance and you never have to replace these. This should help
you when your looking to purchase tanks and think that spending more than 20
bucks is too much. How long would you expect 20-dollar tires to last? Probably
not a lifetime. Now that there are no longer millions of these tanks sitting
around for the taking, you may wish to find the best you can and as soon as you
can. Once the supply dries up, you can plan on roughly 125 to 150 for new
tanks, considering, none are manufactured in this country any longer. You’re
paying for importing, and all the import duties, fees, taxes, shipping and
other regulated fees that add to the cost. Cornelius, Spartanburg, Sharpsville
and others all farmed out the manufacturing overseas years ago, and there are
no plans to bring production back to the states anytime soon. Firestone Alloy
became Spartanburg, who contract built the tanks for Cornelius, and then sold
out to become Sharpsville, which contracted all the 2.5, 3, & 5 gallon tanks to be made in Europe
by AEB. The Korean manufacture does not contract directly with any of the US
manufactures. They do build tanks for Coke & Pepsi for use over there. Our
company has purchased the Korean tanks and they were extremely well made. The
quality was top notch, but the logistics of buying directly was challenging.

PS: Sharpsville makes 10 & 15 Gallon Ball lock tanks still, right here in the USA.

 

I
hope this long-winded rambling has helped answer a few questions and possibly
make deciding how to proceed a little easier.

 

Tankmaster

 

Important update: Checking recent emails and
our discussions with all major bottling plant dismantlers in the US & Canada,
there are no known beverage plants with any large quantities of used ball lock tanks available, this
has been known by resellers since late 2009. Pepsi & general beverage
distributors have ceased using ball lock tanks. The only newly released
batches of used tanks will be Pin Locks, with the supply of used tanks to be
gone within 12 to 24 months. After this period only new tanks will be available
or very small amounts being sold by individuals.