Introduction: 55 Gallon Drum Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT)

Picture of 55 Gallon Drum Vertical Axis Wind Turbine (VAWT)
This Instructable will enable you to build a Vertical Axis Wind Turbine out of mostly recycled materials.

I was inspired to build a Savonius turbine from 55 gallon drums after reading an article from a 1970s copy of Mother Earth News. The Savonius Turbine, often referred to as the S-Rotor, has been around since the 1920's.

The main wind catchers are made from 55 Gallon PVC drums, and the generator is made from a recycled automotive alternator (do it yourself or purchase one off ebay).

This design will withstand over 70MPH winds without harm and will survive outside in rugged winter weather.

Here is a video which covers the part one of the installation process.

Step 1: Materials Needed

Picture of Materials Needed
2 55 gallon plastic drums (You can buy them at a recycling place or often find them for free at farms and restaurants. Clean any labels off with a pressure washer or solvent. Make sure they stored food and not dangerous chemicals--referred to as "food grade barrels")

The following parts can be purchased from Lowes or Home Depot

1 10 foot section of 3" inside diameter PVC pipe (make sure it has a thick wall as this is a structural component)

4 3" closet flanges (the above pipe should fit within this flange tightly)

4 closet flange spacers

16 1/4"-20 Screws 2.5" long *

32 1/4" washers *

16 1/4"-20 Nuts or Nylock nuts *

4 sheet metal screws about 3/4" long *

2 "Lazy Susan" Bearings (Lowes)

  • These fasteners will live outdoors so they should be rust resistant. Go with galvanized or even stainless hardware if you can afford it. Otherwise, use a spray varnish to protect the screws after they are fastened.

A plank of 1" x 8" by 6 foot

Optional: PVC cleaner and glue for a super solid joint where any flanges meet the PVC pipe

Non-hardware store parts:

1 Generator (buy or convert gm style or buy on ebay from qaz661 use 24v model)

You will need a chain or belt drive for the generator or you can buy a pair of gears to connect it here.

Step 2: Draw Lines on Barrels

Picture of Draw Lines on Barrels

Take time to carefully draw bisecting lines on the barrels.

Draw lines on them using a compass and straight edge. If you don't have a big Harbor Freight compass like mine, you can use a string and a Sharpie as a compass. Don't cut across the spouts because the plastic is very thick there.

Step 3: Cut Barrels

Picture of Cut Barrels

Now cut the barrels in half. Cut the barrel with a hand saw or power saw (be careful not to hurt yourself during assembly).

When cutting the long sides of the barrels, make sure the barrel won't roll while cutting. I use a jig below but you can trap the barrel against a wall with a heavy object such as a tree stump.

Step 4: Drill Some Holes and Connect Barrels

Picture of Drill Some Holes and Connect Barrels

Here we join the two halves.

Position barrel halves with 9" overlap and tape using duct tape to hold.

Tape a flange spacer into place.

Drill at least four quarter inch holes through the barrels using the flange spacer as your guide.

Put in some 1/4" nuts and bolts to hold the barrels more firmly.

Drill large hole through barrels using the flange spacer as your guide (use a 4 1/2 " hole saw, coping saw, or rotozip).

Step 5: Finish Connecting Barrels and Put on a PVC Pipe

Picture of Finish Connecting Barrels and Put on a PVC Pipe

Using a closet flange on the inside and a flange spacer on the outside, sandwich the barrel halves together.

Repeat the process until all barrels are solidly connected.

Pound the PVC pipe through all of the barrel sets making keeping the barrel sets at 90 degrees apart.

Then drill through the closet flanges into the pipe and use sheet metal screws to keep the barrels in place (or clean and glue instead).

Step 6: Make the Bearings

Picture of Make the Bearings

Now fabricate bearings. Here we use "Lazy Susan" bearings to support the turbine.

Now put together your bearing assemblies.

Using a closet flange, Lazy-Susan bearing, and wood, put together two bearing assemblies as shown.

The square pieces of wood are taken from the 1"x8" plank. 4 1/2" holes are drilled through the center. Make sure that you use a center punch to mark the holes for the lazy suzan. the closet flange, and for the center point of the 4 1/2" inch hole to drill before you do any drilling or you won't be able to center the lazy susan around the hole which is very important to avoid precession. After holes are drilled varnish the wood with spar varnish.

Follow the instructions on the Lazy Susan for attaching to the wood.

Finally, mount a closet flange on the assembly. Drill a hole through the closet flange as shown below and place a wood or sheet metal screw in the hole (but not protruding into the center).

Later the screw will attach to the pvc pipe.

Screws attaching the bearing to the wood should be through bolted. If countersinking is needed, drill a countersink hole in the wood.

Step 7: Mount the Turbine

Picture of Mount the Turbine
Now, mount the turbine, attach the small gear to your generator, and mount the generator so that the gears fit together. If you don't have a deck like mine shown below, you can build a frame from 4x4s and 2x4s or adapt the design to mount on a pole (I am working on one of these adaptations now for a 6 barrel helical design)

Safety Considerations

1. Put a circular fence around the wind turbine using chicken wire or chain link to avoid personal injury (and personal injury lawyers). Even though my dog plays with my wind turbine, gears and other spinning objects can cause great harm, so be responsible
2. Don't hurt yourself building the turbine. If you can't handle power tools, use only hand tools (doable, but takes a little longer).
3. Don't place the turbine in front of your neighbor's picture window. He may come over with a shot gun :-)

The video below shows the hookup of the electrical generator. If you need gears you can get them here. Others have adapted chain and belt drives to make similar units.

Don't be afraid to alter the design to fit your skills or parts availability.

Here is a video made by dolnick. He took the basic design and adapted it with a belt drive instead of a gear drive. He also used a steel axle rather than a PVC axle and made his barrel mounts out of pipe mounts and 2x4 wood struts. He also used a salvaged motor instead of an automotive alternator. This was an excellent job and now succesfully powers a weekend vacation cabin running lights and notebook computer.


Berserk87 (author)2009-09-20

how much power does this generate at various wind speeds?

That depends on the generator type. I get typically 60-100 Watts but don't have data correlated with wind speed.

When you say you typically get 60-100 watts, on what time frame are you measuring that?

vlaskop (author)bigmac173502010-06-18

Watts is independent of time; what the figures show is that , if he gets 12 volt, he measures 5-8 amps. Time does not enter into it.

Berserk87 (author)vlaskop2010-06-18

Watts converts strait to kilowatt hours. a 100W device on for one hour its 0.1kilowatt hours.

jo'neil2 (author)Berserk872014-12-23

Not really. Watt hours convert to kilowatt hours.


For the price of materials and amount of time it took to build that, that's pretty impresive. The solar panels I'm considering building would end up being something around $40 for 14 watts I think it was.

xmarlow (author)2014-04-17


I'm just wondering what the output is like? AC right, you don't convert to DC to store?

buenhombre26 (author)2014-03-20

What was your gear ratio?

yammer (author)2011-01-06

I would think over time the ball bearings would be damaged due to heat caused by friction. I would suggest a small grease gun with high temp wheel bearing grease would solve the problem and make it quieter. Someone may have already suggested that though. Great Job!

wallermark (author)yammer2013-10-29

i saw a scrapped hard drive used as a bearing
or a harbor freight magnetic nut and bolt holder two for the bottom and two for the top
north and south magnet repel each other thats your frictionless bearing

nwheel (author)yammer2012-07-14

One option might be to not use a lazy susan at all (they're not designed for a heavy duty cycle, really) but to recycle an automobile brake disk or drum as the load bearing device. They're extremely strong, have low-friction tapered roller bearings, very strong mounting studs, are quiet, last virtually forever, and are dirt cheap at any auto wrecking yard. They're also very well balanced and, due to the mass of the disk or the drum, add a bit of a flywheel effect to the rotating turbine. Only drawback I can think of would be that you'd need a bit of welding to anchor it to a bit of steel plate. You could also include an engine's countershaft pully to allow connection to the alternator via an old fan belt. Reuse, recycle :)

l8nite (author)2009-09-20

I found Mother Earth News thru a friend back in the early 80's and am always on the lookout for the older issues, the newer glossy paper style just isnt the same and seems more corporate than geared to to earthers, but thats just me so... Really nice ible but Id like to see more info on the alternator/generator, how is it hooked up, how many batteries does it keep charged

cosmosenfold (author)l8nite2011-09-09

18 nite you can buy the entire archive of Mother Earth News on CD for a very reasonable rate from Mother . just go to their website Cos

I'm just charging one marine battery at the moment using a sunforce charge controller which is designed for solar panels, not wind turbines. I am going to grid tie this before winter hits along with several other barrel turbines to help offset my electrical bill. At that point I will make another instructable for the DIY grid tie.

klark (author)embeddedprogrammer2010-06-05

Did you ever tie into the grid using these barrel turbines?

vlaskop (author)2010-06-18

Don't the "Lazy Suzans" keep you awake at night? And couldn't you drive the generator with a v-belt?A fair sized pulley for mounting on the turbine can be had at the hardware store for a lot less than the cost of the gears.

No, the sound lulls me to sleep.

TheKyQ (author)2010-10-11

cuanto te costo el lazy susan y las bridas???

cuestan cinco dolares por el lazy susan

juanjomf (author)2010-10-28

Hi Jeff, forgive my English use the translator.
I would buy just to a CNC machine, as you use your on the videos, but not to make wind turbines, but some work on my aluminum window frames.
I'm from Uruguay as passionate about the topic of energy and I created a Savonius and plucked one of the propeller.
I'll see how I buy, I would advise to me is what comes in the box for $ 1395. And brings the software and adapter between PC and machine or not.

Thank you very much. Juan Jose Molina
I'm on facebook-Bye

go check out

steven elliott (author)2010-02-17

Thank you for showing how you built your turbine. I think this was what i was looking for my project. I have 3 old military generators and wanted to make them into wind generators. But didn't know how to do it so it won't need something like a thing for the wires when it rotated.Your idea is amazing.Now I can see how it will work.And cheap too. How much would you charge to make the gears you showed. I don't have the setup you have to make them. My email is When you have time please email me. I very Interested in talking to you further. Thank you.

I tried to email you but that address didn't work.   The gears are available for $99 at Berezin Technologies.

I am very interested on your project sir. Can I get some information about your wind turbine? I would like to know the right turbine to use to power the lights in my farm. Thank you very much.

How much wattage do you have? Where is your farm located and do you have a wind map for your county or area?

sci5 (author)2010-05-26

Your overall idea was superb. My partner and I built this for a school Physics project. The only factors we change was that instead of an altenator, we used a bicylce light generator. We built a frame and ontop mounted a round piece of wood, we cut it out using our skill saw. This was to make the light generator pick up and light the light brighter. The wire that came with it was a little too long and caused too much resistance, so therefore we had to get a shorter wire and hook that up to it. DO NOT use motor oil on the lazy susans, instead use white lithium grease or silicon grease, because the motor oil is way too sticky. These are just our modifications.

Adam Plyer (author)2010-05-25

 Just a couple of things I and my friend noticed while building this for a school project:  We used a alternator out of a vehicle setup to a voltmeter to see how many volts we could get out of the turbine and we noticed that the smaller the battery we used for the field the smaller the amount of drag on the turbine would be, and that the 1x8 planks of wood tend to bend and twist under the bearings, and that the barrels can be spaced out a little more than half and half to get a better intake of air.  These are things that we just thought may come in handy for anyone who might be building one of these turbines the way we did. 

jgz (author)2010-04-22

Did you build your own CNC Router to cut the gears?  If so, where can I get plans?

tel1958 (author)2010-02-25

A Compass?
That is for finding North..... I think you mean a pair of 'compasses'. Even so, I still can't work out why you need these??????

No, I use a compass (an articulated drawing tool) to find the center of the barrel and draw a line through it.  You don't want to cut on the seam of the barrel because that is the thickest part so it is better to cut at a right angle from the seam.

macaroni555 (author)2009-09-20

I agree there are a few things further I'd like to see on the instructable. Non the less, I enjoyed it. Good work!

Thanks. I will be adding more details on this Instructable shortly to address some of the comments.

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