I got my UDS built and seasoned. I hesitate to call it "done" because I still need to add a therm and some handles, but it's usable. Before and after pics below.
For those contemplating a UDS build and feel a bit overwhelmed, let me offer a few suggestions.
1.) For drums, parts, supplies, etc... check your local scrap metal dealers. If you're the type who has to use a digital device for everything, go to your favorite search engine and type in "scrap metals" and your zip code. You'll get a ton of listings. If you're old like me and still use (gasp, cough, wheeze) a book, look in the yellow pages under Scrap Metals and you'll find them as well. I got my drum for $8, and a piece of 9 gauge expanded steel 9" wide and 48" long for the charcoal basket for $5 from a scrap metal dealer here locally. They let me take my lid in with me and pick out the exact drum I wanted. This is what they do - they buy and sell scrap metal parts, pieces, odds, and ends (and isn't that what we're looking for?) You pay just slightly higher than the scrap price for the piece you're looking for, and 9 times out of 10, if you need something cut to a certain size, they can do it for you right there.
2.) KEEP YOUR FIRST BUILD SIMPLE! It's been said almost, but not quite, a bazillion times, it but warrants repeating. I'm sure everyone who reads this thread immediately comes up with about 250 different modifications they'd love to do to the standard UDS design. That's great. Mod on McDuff. But don't you think you should learn how to use and try the food out of a UDS to make sure you like it before you start experimenting with something that's been proven to work? I know, some folks just have to try to reinvent the wheel. Like I said before, mod away. But if you're the kind who wants to cook and eat rather than build, tinker, toss out, and try again, keep the first build simple. Mod on your second build (and believe me, you'll want a second build...)
3.) I'm not going to tell you to read this entire thread before you build. I will say that you should
read most of it before you start, but you should be good to go if you've read up to at least page 250. I didn't read the whole thing before I started (I'm on page 567, but I'll admit that I also read from page 700 to this page as well.) I kept reading as I built mine, and yes, all of your questions are answered somewhere in there. I know - it's a LOT of info to wade through. I figured out what style of UDS I wanted to build (Weber lid on a closed head drum,) took notes on that style of drum, and basically ran with it from there. Still, reading this entire thread WILL answer any question you have, give you new ideas, give you links to resources and recipes, and give you some insight as to what worked and what didn't.
4.) Use stainless or unplated hardware wherever possible. I know - stainless is a bit more expensive than zinc plated. So what? At Lowe's, I paid $1.40 apiece for 6 SS bolts. That's $8.40. Big, fat, hairy deal. It's a one-time expense. I got the nuts and washers in the blister packs of 10 at the same store for $2. It's no big deal! You'll spend more in one month on charcoal. Forget the whole zinc is/isn't toxic argument and remember that SS won't rust. That's reason enough for me.
5.) Don't stress over this! It's all about good food and relaxation. At the end of the day it's a drum with a fire in it that you cook on - don't forget that. It's not worth working yourself up over. If it turns out that you mis-measured and your cooking grill is only 22 inches above the bottom of your charcoal basket, who cares? Trust me when I say that nobody is gonna come over to your house, smack you around, and take it away from you. There is no such thing as a perfect smoker!
At the very least, I would highly recommend reading Norco's excellent thread before you build - here:
Summing up: relax, have fun, burn it or blast it, (or both, like I did,) build it, and learn to use it. OH! And bring napkins - you'll need lots...