Thread Number: 81739  /  Tag: Refrigerators
Servel Absorption Refrigerator...
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Post# 1057508   1/13/2020 at 20:49 by turbokinetic (Northport, Alabama USA)        

Thanks to John L (Combo52) I now have a Servel gas fueled refrigerator. It is a single-pressure absorption system with no compressor, pump, or any moving parts in the cooling system. The only energy source for the machine is heat provided by fuel gas flame.  


The fridge was configured for natural gas, which I don't have. A propane orifice will have to be obtained or manufactured for it. 


Not one to be defeated so easily, I located a Calrod heating element which fit into the burner port on the absorption boiler.  After pumping 500 watts of heat into it for about an hour, things started to happen!


I am going to be looking for a propane orifice for this burner in the future to make this unit return to its original functionality.


In the meantime, follow my expirimentation here:





  Photos...       <              >      Photo 1 of 6         View Full Size

Post# 1057514 , Reply# 1   1/13/2020 at 21:32 by combo52 (Beltsville,Md)        
Servel Gas Refrigerator

combo52's profile picture

Very cool David, glad the sealed system is still capable of working.


The best news is that you solved the carbon monoxide problem. Using an electric heater was often done on absorption refs, mobile homes often have both an electric heater and the ability to run on propane, on either heat source they are expensive to run. This is why most nice RVs now just use even full sized home refs because a 22 CF French door ref only draws about 100 watts today.


500 watts of heat was a pretty good guess, you would probably need 700-800 watts for this ref to preform as it was originally intended. Gas refs would start to have performance problems in room temperatures much over 90F anyway.


Best part is it is quiet and adding an LED bulb will go a long way to the energy-star certification, LOL


Glad it found a good home, John L.

Post# 1057522 , Reply# 2   1/14/2020 at 02:36 by norgeway (mocksville n c )        
I would have

A big old 50s Servel in my kitchen anyday Unfortunately very few were sold around my area

Post# 1057535 , Reply# 3   1/14/2020 at 07:16 by toploader55 (Massachusetts Sand Bar, Cape Cod)        

toploader55's profile picture
Your Innovative Creativity never ceases to amaze.

Maybe you could create the first "Dual Fuel" refrigerator !!!

Start Manufacturing your Own Brand of refrigeration under the "TurboKinetic" Badge.

Post# 1057545 , Reply# 4   1/14/2020 at 08:50 by turbokinetic (Northport, Alabama USA)        

... for the feedback on the Servel post!   It's definitely an interesting design.  In looking at videos on YouTube (there are very few) I could see that the burner has a fairly small flame when working correctly. Not wanting to overheat or overwork the sealed system, I started slowly with the heat. The element I used is intended to go to 1500 watts, immersed in water. About 500 watts in air was enough to get it just glowing so I didn't go further. 


I was studying the burner and it seems that the orifice could be fabricated fairly easily. I'll refer to some engineering documents and try to find any info on orifice sizing. It may be possible to work backwards from the original orifice size using natural gas; to determine the size for a propane orifice. 


The control for the Servel has a variable gas pressure output to the burner. It raises and lowers the heat to regulate the cabinet temperature. I turned the heat down last night, to about 200W and it seemed to still be cooling but not as much. Will be interested to see if it is still working to any degree this morning. It was about 70°F in the building yesterday. 

Post# 1057547 , Reply# 5   1/14/2020 at 09:13 by wiskybill (Canton, Ohio)        
gas orifice chart

Here's a link


Post# 1057549 , Reply# 6   1/14/2020 at 09:43 by turbokinetic (Northport, Alabama USA)        

Bill, thanks for the gas orifice chart!

Post# 1057559 , Reply# 7   1/14/2020 at 13:13 by RP2813 (Sannazay)        

rp2813's profile picture

Eddie, dual fuel absorption refrigerators have been the norm in trailers and motorhomes for several decades.   They seem to fail a lot, and I presume it's related to lack of use.


Dave and I had a '78 Country Camper RV for a while, and once when a component needed to be replaced, it required a trip to the RV parts store.  This would have been in the late '90s.  After I placed the part on the counter and the guy had looked it up, he advised jokingly, "You know, this refrigerator shouldn't even be working anymore."

Post# 1057560 , Reply# 8   1/14/2020 at 13:18 by goatfarmer (South Bend, home of Champions)        

goatfarmer's profile picture

Nice job! I picked up a Servel years ago, was still hooked up in the basement of the house, but the gas was off. Never tried it out. It's sitting in the barn.

Post# 1057609 , Reply# 9   1/14/2020 at 19:48 by turbokinetic (Northport, Alabama USA)        

Ralph, it seems the RV fridges had some failures where the working fluids crystallized and plugged the system. don't know if that was due to built-in contamination or certain materials used in construction of the system. LOL about the counter salesman's lack of confidence in the refrigerator! 


Kenny, that's cool that you were able to save one of these fridges as well, even if not ready to  put it to use yet.



Post# 1057635 , Reply# 10   1/15/2020 at 05:06 by ozzie908 (Lincoln UK)        
So interesting to see these gas fridges

ozzie908's profile picture
I know for a fact they were popular over here, Electrolux and Gascold were a couple of manufacturers back in the 60's and most likely back ever further my Maternal Grandmother had a small white fridge it was small and stood on ornate legs when it died it was replaced with a full size fridge but this was still gas, it was near to the gas stove and I think the gas ones were all the rage as I do recall my Grans house had only 1 outlet in the kitchen it was on the opposite side to the fridge. We also had one in our house that was clunky and although full size to look at was small inside due to thick insulation I remember being nosey and watching the gas flame going up and down by taking the panel off the bottom. I don't recall why but ours was replaced by a fancy Electrolux fridge freezer it was a 50/50 split and was a wonderful modern machine it was bought from Bejam in 1972 and that was the end of the gas fridges.

Post# 1057641 , Reply# 11   1/15/2020 at 07:18 by combo52 (Beltsville,Md)        
Gas Refs In The UK

combo52's profile picture

Hi Austin, great memories, What kind of sounds did the gas ref make ? that was always one of the selling points about gas refs in the US was that they were silent in operation.


I wonder what other parts of the world used gas powered refs ?


John L.

Post# 1057644 , Reply# 12   1/15/2020 at 07:55 by ozzie908 (Lincoln UK)        

ozzie908's profile picture
Hey John Its funny you should ask about the sound they made if it was quiet in the kitchen you could hear it make a creaking and groaning sound, it was quite scary to a young nosey lad especially if it was dark and you went for a drink then it seemed louder than anything .... I also recall there was vent at the back of ours like a grille and the left hand side was all burnt and yellow I never thought about fumes it is scary how ignorant we all were then. Grans old fridge the one on legs had a little tube with a what looked like a piping nozzle on it was all pitted and burnt I guess its where it vented the fumes it was never an issue at her house as the window was nearly always open.

Post# 1057735 , Reply# 13   1/15/2020 at 21:34 by sarahperdue (Alabama)        
Really cool

sarahperdue's profile picture
David, I love your videos--you would make an outstanding teacher.

So, the light bulb in the cabinet is also powered by the gas?


Post# 1057758 , Reply# 14   1/16/2020 at 04:42 by askolover (South of Nash Vegas, TN)        

askolover's profile picture

found a service manual for pre 1960's Servel fridges at Lehmans

Post# 1057783 , Reply# 15   1/16/2020 at 12:27 by 48bencix (Sacramento CA)        
No electricity

Probably around 1975 I visited Lake Pillsbury in California with some friends. One friend's family had a cabin there on leased land owned by PG&E which uses Lake Pillsbury to generate electricity. The development does not have electricity however. Gas was available and they had a Servel Refrigerator similar to this one, plus a gas water heater, gas stove and gas lighting. With a portable battery operated radio we lived comfortably. The refrigerator worked well.

Post# 1057795 , Reply# 16   1/16/2020 at 15:22 by ea56 (Cotati, Calif.)        

ea56's profile picture
The first refrigerator that I can recall my parent having was a Servel, a littler older than the one in this thread. My Mom really liked this fridge and spoke of it fondly throughout her life. It was replaced by a huge Manitawoc bottom freezer fridge in 1955.

And we had neighbors that owned a Servel on their back porch that I believe her parents bought new in 1938, that ran on propane. When Bev passed away 3 years ago, that Servel was still running, after almost 80 years of continuous use, with not a single repair. Her sonís sold it, and I imagine that the new owners still have it running.

Back when I was a teen and the power would go out on the coast for sometimes over a week, the Hansonís were the only people on the ridge that had a functioning refrigerator because of this little Servel workhorse.


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