Introduction: Build a Qwik-Solar Step by Step

Picture of Build a Qwik-Solar Step by Step

The idea with the Qwik-Solar is to start small. This solar power generator is designed to be practical and affordable.  With the Qwik-Solar, you can learn to build and use renewable energy on a small scale. 

You learned to crawl before you walked. And you learned to walk before you started to run. The same thing applies here. Each step builds on and leads to the next step.

It’s my hope you’ll expand your skills and knowledge to build even more solar generators.

A Qwik-Solar video has been posted on Instructables here.

A free pdf plan for the Qwik-Solar can be downloaded here.  

Solar Power Kits are now available - Look in the Market Place.   

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials

Almost everything you need can be purchased from Harbor Freight.   

Safety First!  Gather all materials together first. Remember to always wear your safety
equipment when using any tools.

Supply List: *prices are current as of 2010

Impact resistant safety glasses @ $2.00
Reusable corded ear plugs @ $1.00
Industrial vinyl gloves @ $3.00

15 watt solar panel @ $80.00
5 in 1 portable power pack @ $100.00
7 amp solar charge controller @ $26.00
Electric tape @ $1.00

Drill Master 18 volt cordless 4 tool combo pack @ $40.00
Note: A hacksaw can be used in place of a power saw.

Items for your mounting frame can be purchased from a home improvement center.

One 10 foot lengths of schedule 40, 1.25” PVC pipe @ $4.00 
PVC primer, glue, and connectors @ about $20.00
Self tapping (#8 or #10) ¾ inch screws @ $4.00/box

All together, your first Qwik-Solar will be between $275.00 and $300.00

Step 2: Set Up Workbench

Picture of Set Up Workbench

It’s highly recommended to build your Qwik-Solar outside. This is due to the fumes given off by the PVC primer and glue.  At the very least, keep a window or a garage door open so you don’t become sick from the fumes. Use a fan to circulate the fumes to the outside.

Your workbench can be an old table, plywood on sawhorses, or even a picnic table!

The important thing to remember is to ORGANIZE your bench for the work at hand. Make sure your power tools are charged. You’ll be building the frame first, then installing the solar panel and other components to it. Plan accordingly! 

Step 3: Build Frame

Picture of Build Frame
You’ll need to measure and cut the following from the pvc pipe:
  • 2 pieces at 4 inches long. The red pipes on the drawing
  • 9 pieces at 10 ¼ inches long. The white pipes on the drawing.
  • 1 piece at 8 ¾ inches long. The blue pipe on the drawing.

You’ll also need 5 ‘T’ and 4 Elbow connectors. The connectors must be FEMALE fittings. The pipes will be inserted into the connectors. Dry fit all your pieces together first. Once you’ve tested for fit, then take it apart and begin priming the ends of the pipe.

ONLY ONE SIDE OF EACH 4 inch pipe will be primed. The UNPRIMED ends are inserted into the center ‘T’. It becomes the pivot for your 8 ¾ inch leg. Only one end of the 8¾ inch leg is primed and glued.

Begin gluing the ends and fitting the parts together. Start from the inside and work your way outward. The glue can dry quickly. Hold it flat against the table after each piece is glued. You want a straight frame to install your solar panel on.

Remember to wear your safety glasses and hearing protection when cutting the pipe. Wear gloves when gluing. Always glue the parts together in a well ventilated area.  

Step 4: Install Components

Picture of Install Components

Begin unpacking the components from their boxes. Take an inventory of the wiring for each component. Notice the ‘One Way’ plugs. They’re made that way so one doesn’t confuse the negative for the positive power side when wiring it together.

BEFORE COMPONENT INSTALL - READ THE MANUALS - FOLLOW THE CHARGE TIMES. Become familiar with each item & how it works before installing.

Starting with the solar panel, insert the tabs into the raceway. Two to each side of the panel. Give each a quarter turn so it sticks out from the side of the panel. Then lay your panel face up on the frame.

Align your tabs with the four ‘T’s that form the inner square of the frame. Each should line up about center. Use your drill driver and secure a self tapping screw into each tab. Your panel is now secure to the frame.

Put the foam cushion back over the panel and lay it face down. Align your 7 amp charge controller on the center of the middle pivot ‘T’. Secure it with a single self tapping screw at the top of the controller.

Step 5: Wire Components

Picture of Wire Components

Wiring your Qwik-Solar is easy. The charge controller has three wires already marked. One each for ‘battery’, ‘solar’, and ‘load’.

First, use the electrical tape to isolate the ‘load’ wire. We won’t be using it. Bend back the red load wire and tape it off until you can’t see it. Then do the same for the black load wire.

Next, connect your solar panel to the plug marked ‘solar’ on your charge controller.

Last, use the dc extension cord (with the cigarette lighter plug) and connect it to the plug marked ‘battery’ on the charge controller.

The other end of the dc adapter will plug into the dc outlet on the front of your power pack. This recharges your battery using solar energy.

Congratulations! You’ve completed your first Qwik-Solar! 

Step 6: Charging the Pack

Picture of Charging the Pack

Read Your Power Pack Manual for Charging Instructions

Use the AC adapter for the first full charge of your power pack. After that, you can use the solar panel to recharge your pack.

Depending on weather conditions in your area, the panel can recharge the pack in about 1 to 3 days. It even works in cloudy weather.

Do Not leave it out in the rain. The charge controller is NOT water proof.

Unplug the solar panel from the charge controller when not in use.

Step 7: Use and Enjoy!

Picture of Use and Enjoy!
As your budget allows, it’s a good idea to buy a second power pack. While your using one, the other is recharging.

The Harbor Freight 5 in 1 power pack is very versatile. This 12 volt unit includes:
  • A 400 watt inverter with two AC plugs.
  • A jump starter for your vehicle.
  • An air compressor to inflate tires
  • A voltage meter to check battery charge
  • An emergency light
  • Two DC plugs
It can get you through short power outages. Run appliances and electronics such as a cell phone, television, radio, or lights. It CAN NOT run a refrigerator, freezer, or electric stove - these appliances are too big of a load for this small power pack.

If you own an RV or like to go camping, then the Qwik-Solar is perfect for you. Use DC appliances, such as coffee makers, electric skillets, or blenders.  Use it for a Tail Gate Party at the Game.

DC power is more efficient because there are energy losses when converted to AC power. Your power pack lasts longer when DC appliances are used. 

We offer a Power-Pax Manual on our website when your ready to expand your solar knowledge and skills beyond Qwik-Solar. 


Jonlo (author)2013-02-19

Please join me in providing Solar to Sandy - It's our IndieGoGo campaign to send emergency solar generators to families in New Jersey.  Thank you. 

DCanty2 (author)2015-08-21

I like it.i have similar power pack for camping (diehard 1150. has 12v 120v& USB). But now, for the house, could I put at least one in a room and charge from solar. I'm thinking I could power everthing except the frig & dryer.

astral_mage (author)2014-01-18

i wouldnt call H.F. the best tool company. they dont buy from iso2000 company s at all. their product tend to be grade A - grade F. they just buy en-bulk an let their end store stores deal with any problems when they arise.

astral_mage (author)2013-09-21

just give a mix link page not yr website at all! please fix .

astral_mage (author)2013-09-21

if u use the charging inlet plug uill have a better set-up to charge the on board battery.

werving (author)2013-08-01

I have been web-surfing for weeks looking on how to do this. So glad I found you !!
We sold our trailer and kept our two, 50 watt Kyocera solar panels that are wired together for 100 watts. We also have a Die Hard Portable Power 950, that we want to solar charge for camping.
1) Should we separate the solar into one 50 watt ( mainly for ease of transport )
2) We used Morningstar controller that sold w/ trailer. Trusting that product, what "amp"
controller do you recommend on 50 and or 100 watt panel ?
3) Do the "controllers" have different plug-ins in back or do you have to wire in correct one that comes with Power Pack ? Is there a "multiple" plug-in to use ?
3) Power Pack has wall plug-in and small round end that goes into back to recharge. Can you recharge via front 12 volt ?
4) Also have a 410 watt power converter, can this be used somehow via panels ?
Thank you- thank you for being out there in web land !!!!

0writer (author)2013-07-15

Hi Conserver,

A great article and easy step by step guides. The power pack is also readily available in the UK too.

One question that I have is I am looking for a power solution for wild camping where an electric hookup isn't available at it appears this setup won't allow me to use a 12V refridgerator which is rated at 85w. Do you have any other examples of a setup that would do the job?

Jonlo (author)2013-03-08

Just added a New Perk in Solar for Sandy.  Preview Here.  Thank you and have a great weekend! 

Jonlo (author)2012-07-02

To clarify Qwik-Solar charge times:

1.  Battery is 18 amps and shouldn't be discharged more than 50%
2.  The 15 watt thin film panel puts out about 1 amp per hour
3.  9 amps / 1 amp hour = 9 hours to solar charge
4.  Charging the power pack from a wall outlet will take 24 to 48 hours - iow - solar charging is much faster

NOTICE:  We do not recommend trying to solar charge a battery without a charge controller.  Solar charging a battery without a controller can result in the battery acid boiling off and/or causing the battery to explode.  Be Safe and Use a Controller.

If  you need more solar power with faster charging, then we recommend our iPower Station 85:

seekertat (author)2012-06-10

This is GREAT! I think even I can do this. My only problem is buying the parts, which I will have to do as I go. Thanks for the great instructions not only on how to build it, but where to get all the necessary parts.

Thank you.

Jonlo (author)seekertat2012-06-26

Your welcome!
Just updated my profile - linked to Solar Mak with out iPower Stations - so one doesn't have to search everywhere for parts. :)

Windy Miller (author)2012-06-21

You know, I wish this had been around a few years back when I first started to mess with solar power. Brilliant work!!

Yeah I know that I posted once already, but this is a very cool idea :o)

Jonlo (author)Windy Miller2012-06-26

Thank you very much, Wendy Miller!
Just realized I had the old web site listed in my profile. It now links to the new web site (Solar Mak) with our updated iPower Stations. There's also a 'Solar Pedia' - let me know what you think! :)

davearrrrr (author)2012-03-05

Hello. With the charge controller in place, could you effectively leave your kit in place 24/7? Would it work like a float charger if you weren't using any power?

Thank you for your time


Jonlo (author)davearrrrr2012-03-06

Hi Dave,

Yes. The charge controller prevents back feeding to a panel at night, so one can leave it in place 24/7. If a power pack/battery is plugged into the solar charger it will keep it topped off ('float charge').

We are wrapping up a new portable solar power kit in the next few weeks that blows this one out of the water for price to performance - I'll be posting here as they become available.

If I can help in any other way - just post a question here!

davearrrrr (author)Jonlo2012-03-14

Fantastic! Also, thank you for your quick reply. I am very excited to see your newest design!

I'm hopeful to have something I can leave outdoors (rain or shine) in the future, charging a battery bank for either emergency or general use.

Thanks again

Jonlo (author)davearrrrr2012-03-15

Thank you, Dave!

I'm wrapping up the new website now - should be ready with the online store by next week. I'll post a link here when it's ready.

We'll also be offering a home solar kit (permanent install) which might work better for you.

I'll post an update next week!

Windy Miller (author)2011-08-15

What a brilliant idea! I'm going to do this for camping as we have one of these. I never thought it could be that easy to do, I feel like kicking myself lol

Many thanks!!


Jonlo (author)Windy Miller2011-08-18

Your welcome, Windy. It's becoming one of the easiest to use power solutions for camping. The little mutli-purpose power pack got me even more hooked on solar energy to power all kinds of things.

ddavis662 (author)2011-06-21

Well, you sold me on your idea.
I was at 1st going to hook up my 12 watt panel via a 7 amp regulator to the 12 volt system of my camper.
But the more i thought about it, the more I like the mobility of your portable power pack.
The main reason I was thinking about hooking the solar panel up to the campers 12 volt system was to keep the deep cycle battery charged.
I can't think of a reason why I couldn't charge the camper battery back up by temporarily hooking the power pack up directly using the jumper cables.

Jonlo (author)ddavis6622011-06-22

There are a lot of ways to solar charge and expand power with Qwik-Solar.
We've used the jumper cables on the portable pack to expand power. Some pics:

For your campers deep cycle batteries - you could add a 12 volt receptacle - making it easy to directly plug in the Qwik-Solar for charging.

Depending on the amp rating on your campers deep cycle batteries, you'll more than likely need a solar panel much bigger than 15 watts to ensure a faster charge time.

If you post the amp rating (20 hr rate) of the batteries, I can figure the solar panel size that would probably work best.

ddavis662 (author)Jonlo2011-06-22

Thanks for the info! I was wondering about a double ended cigarette lighter plug lead.
All I'm wanting to do is keep the battery charged when the camper is not being used.
At the present time, I just periodically plug the 30 amp AC cord to the house and let the 12 volt system charge the battery.

ddavis662 (author)ddavis6622011-06-27

here is my completed project.

ddavis662 (author)ddavis6622011-07-27

check out the charge my 15 watt panel is putting out.

ddavis662 (author)ddavis6622011-08-08

I can not believe how much I use the compressor.
Between mtn bike tires, basket balls, camper tires and a slow leak in one of truck tires it get used almost every day. Then I charge my cell phone every night too!

Jonlo (author)ddavis6622011-08-11

They are amazingly versatile power packs. I like the fact I can attach a battery with the jumper cable to expand power - and then (both DC and AC) power lasts longer. Great picture!

ddavis662 (author)Jonlo2011-08-12

Thanks and didn't realize you could use the jumper cables just to expand power. For some reason I thought it built up some kind of "surge" when the knob is turned to "jump start".

I take it with me when I'm going around to do odd jobs, be it at my parents or out working on mtn bike trails.
Never know when one of it's many functions might come in handy!

Jonlo (author)ddavis6622011-06-28

That is Awesome!

Sorry I didn't reply sooner - solar has been keeping me busy on the North Coast.
A double ended plug will work fine for an outlet to outlet connection.

How many watts is the panel? Generally, solar charging a power pack is much faster than charging it from an AC wall outlet (no power conversion losses from AC to DC).

And the multi-purpose power pack - it's amazing how many different ways we keep discovering for using it.


ddavis662 (author)Jonlo2011-06-28

yea, it took almost 36 hours to charge the power pack using the AC charger.
The solar panel is a 12 watt.
I put a cigarette lighter plug adapter on the "battery" lead from the controller.
So I can charge the camper battery or charge the power pack.
Checked on the camper this morning, under cloudy conditions it was putting out 13 volts and the battery was charged up to two thirds

Jonlo (author)ddavis6622011-06-30

The 12 watt panel generally puts out 1 amp.

12 watt / 12 volt = 1 amp

Power pack has an 18 amp battery - it will take about 9 hours to charge from 50%. (standard discharge depth).

I highly recommend a bigger panel for faster charge time. With 60 watts, the power pack can be charged in a matter of a few hours.

Warning - you'll end up going power pack crazy like I did - charging 2 or 3 packs a day (lol)!

ddavis662 (author)Jonlo2011-07-01

Yea, this can get addictive!
I'm looking at either getting 1 or 2 more 12/15 watt panels or a 60 watt panel.
I've got my mom wanting me to add this to their small solar set up that I have installed at their house.

Jonlo (author)ddavis6622011-07-09

Go for the 60 watt - the thin film panels are nice but can lose up to 25% of their rated power after the first year (only 5 year power warranty) - whereas the crystalline panels have have a limited 25 year power warranty (will maintain their output for many, many years) -

Best of all - since it's being added to the house - recoup 30% of cost with the Federal Solar Tax Credit.

Post more pictures - would love to see it when complete!

ddavis662 (author)Jonlo2011-07-10

I can't remember what size solar panel this is.
I bought the complete set up, with the battery included for $99. Wish I had bought 2 of these units.
I can't remember if it was purchases from Harbor Freight or Northern Tools.

It powers 2 very bright LED lights on my parents front porch.
I added 2 more dry cell 12 volt batteries and relocated the solar panel to catch more sun.
I also extended the 12 volt plug. I think I'll get them an inverter and see what house hold items they could power.

Jonlo (author)ddavis6622011-07-29

Looks like the HB unit. We started with the HB panels last year - leading to the Qwik-Solar and this 'structable. Very nice set up - good placement to keep the electronics out of the rain.

Electronics Man (author)2011-07-27

Awsome Job!!!

Jonlo (author)Electronics Man2011-07-29

Thank you! More to come soon with some other solar projects we've been working on.

bkalb (author)2011-06-29

Can this be done without a charge controller? How about adding a direct connection after the bridge Rectifier and using the units own battery charger circuitry? Cheaper?

bkalb (author)bkalb2011-07-08

I found a inexpensive battery booster at Walmart with an onboard charger. I carefully found the Bridge circuit at the input from the transformer and soldered two wires to it and installed a M sized plug in the case. The trans former was rated at 600 ma, so a 5 att solar panel was well within specs.

The unit only has a 7.5AH battery in it, but has a light, Usb port and 12v accessory plug in it. The unit works well with with the internal charge controller. At less than $100 with the Solar panel that is available at any automotive or hardware store.

Instructable to follow

Jonlo (author)bkalb2011-07-09

Send me a link! Looking forward to your Instructable.

Jonlo (author)bkalb2011-06-30

Technically, Yes - the 15 watt thin film panel can charge a battery without a charge controller. For safety, it's best to use a charge controller.

I followed the NEC as much as possible - a charge controller ensures that a battery isn't overcharged - so the electrolyte doesn't boil away.

Overcharge a flooded cell creates hydrogen - and - boom!
Overcharge a sealed battery and it destroys the battery. (It could go boom too.)

On the power pack, there is no charge circuitry on the DC 12 volt side. The charge circuitry is built into the AC cord if one charges from a wall outlet.

Solar charging is almost always much, much faster than charging from a wall outlet - no conversion losses.

Best practice is to use a charge controller - regardless of the size of the panel.
Overall, it's cheaper, faster, and safer to use the charge controller.

iddqd87 (author)2011-05-23

I wanted to say thanks, I was going to ask how long it takes to charge, but at the last second I read in greater detail.

I am curious about using 2 inverters and using a constant supply of solar power for my extraneous decorative lights etc. This would make me feel way better about using those items...

in the future I hope to actually own a home and run off the grid, but for now this is amazing!

Jonlo (author)iddqd872011-05-23

Your welcome.  

For your decorative lights - I recommend a battery (Absorbed Glass Matt are best) to ensure consistent power.

As for the 2 inverters - a load analysis should be done first to size your system correctly...

Luckily - most inverters are rated in watts - just as most lights are - so figuring our the load is real easy...

For example - if you have 10 lights rated at 15 watts then your load would be 150 watts - then your inverter should be rated for 175 watts (generally speaking - to cover conversion losses from DC to AC)

In this example - the Qwik-Solar power pack has a built in 400 watt inverter - but it's battery is only 18 Ah...

*DC rule of thumb:  15 watts = 1 amp  

So 10 lights uses 10 amps per hour - and would drain the battery pack about 50% - and would then need solar charged.  It would be a good idea to expand the pack's power.

And here is a short piece about solar backup installation.

Hope this helped, iddqd87 -  and I agree - solar is amazing!

iddqd87 (author)Jonlo2011-05-23

thanks for the info!

bruc33ef (author)2011-02-20

Great little solar power tutorial. I can see how anyone can get started using this clear, simple guide.

One question: Is it expandable?; i.e., can you connect more panels or powerpacks/deep cycle batteries together?

Jonlo (author)bruc33ef2011-02-20

Thank you for the kind words - that was our intent - to get anyone and everyone to start using solar. It's very expandable - we packed a lot of information in the 60 pages of our Power Pax Manual so one can do just that - including a pretty neat stackable frame design to keep it all as portable as possible. (We even cover a little on solar oven cooking!) As for deep cycle batteries - we've had great success with Interstate Marine/RV batteries. They're affordable and don't weigh a ton.

About This Instructable




Bio: Conserver millwright by vocation, focused on design/build sustainable solutions. Like most people, I enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
More by Jonlo:Emergency Solar Generator - for EveryoneMaking a Solar SmoothieSolar for Sandy
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