How to Find Top Dead Center On a Propane Tank (For Your Smoker Build)!

How to Find Top Dead Center On a Propane Tank (For Your Smoker Build)!

So you found a tank for your Smoker build, but now you need to start laying it out! The first thing you SHOULD do is find Top Dead Center.


Top Dead Center is going to be your reference for all of your layout, cuts, and parts on your Smoker. It will be the deciding factor on whether your cooker looks uniform or not.

So, to be absolutely sure you have precise, level, and accurate measurements, finding the top dead center on your Propane tank is first on the list! Once you have that you can cut out your cook chamber doors!

(This method works for any CYLINDER SHAPED object your are trying to build on or with).

Here's a little video to show you how WE found top dead center on a half propane tank:

Here is what you will need in order to find top dead center on your tank:


1.) Saw Horses & Wood Shims

This will depend on the size of your tank and your ability to LIFT the tank. Even if your don't have saw horses or the equipment to lift your tank onto them, all you need are objects that will help your LEVEL your tank. We recommend wood shims or other thin, stackable objects you can use to adjust the tank's level.


2.) Level (Both Long & Short)

The longest level you have or can use is recommended. However, this will depend the topography of your tank and it's general shape. For instance, in the video our little half tank had a hump down the long top side. Therefore we used a smaller level to insure an accurate reading.

(Also, a level with a magnet on the bottom is preferred.)

3.) Center Head Square

This tool is extremely useful in making accurate marks on rounded surfaces. We recommend getting a steel one so that the magnets on the bottom of your short level will stick to it. 

4.) Marker

Although this may seem obvious, it will help to have it on your check list. You don't want to get your final spot found only to find out you left your marker halfway across the shop!

Now that you have your supplies, let's walk through the steps!




Put your tank either on the saw horses, or on the ground (anywhere you can get it level and still work on it accurately). Eyeball the tank for level (long ways).



Once you have your tank set, put your level on the top. Using your wood shims (or other objects placing under the tank), adjust the footing of the tank until the bubble lands correctly on your level.

(Make sure wherever you place your level is flat, to get an accurate reading)


Now that you've leveled the tank, take your Center head square and place it on top of the tank.(The A shape of the square will stand on the tank like legs).

Make sure to place the Center head square one end of the tank(longways), that way you can repeat the process on the other end. Once your there set the level on the side of the square.


(You are looking for plumb, so you'll be reading the bubble that is perpendicular to the last bubble you read).


Now that everything is set, simply slide your Center head square until your level reads plumb. If your are looking at your tank long ways your square should move left to right around the circumference of the tank. 


Once you've found plumb, halt the center head square and make a mark on the edge of the ruler(part of the square). That's your top dead center! Now you can repeat this on the other side of the tank and you'll have your reference points to start cutting out the cook chamber doors!



Before your start any cutting or layout on a propane tank you must find top dead center of the tank. To do this you will need: 1.) Saw horses and/or something to put under your tank to level it. 2.) A Level(Short is preferred) 3.) Center Head Square and 4.) A Marker. You can find top dead center by first leveling the tank longways. Next, your must place your center head square on top of the tank with the level place against it. Then you must move the Center Head Square/Level combo along the circumference of the tank until your find plumb on the level. Finally, you mark the tank where your level says plumb, and then repeat this process on the other end of the tank. Now you have a reference point for all of your cuts!

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Good luck on your Smoker Journey!