Introduction: DIY Wind-Powered Water Pump

Picture of DIY Wind-Powered Water Pump
This summer I made a bunch of fun things out of PVC for my visiting nieces and nephews, and this wind-powered water pump is a combination of two of those projects: a wind-powered deer deterrent, and a pump-style water gun.
This water pump is definitely in beta stage. All the components work, but the design is highly inefficient and requires considerable wind to pump water out of our pond. In the video below I act out the part of a gale to give you a visual of how the pump works. The last step in this instructable will discuss the bugs in the current design and how they can be improved for a more efficient use of wind power.

Step 1: Wheels and Gears

Picture of Wheels and Gears

Like my outdoor chandelier project, most of the parts for this wind pump came from the bicycle shop dumpster. I don't know the names for all these parts, so I'm not naming them. What I can say is that the gear-looking pieces were not gears on the bikes (I turned them into gears by adding bolts). I found them on mountain bike wheels, and they can only be installed on a wheel that had one in the first place. 
I'm also not sure what the best order is for putting this wind pump together, so I'll just rattle off what I did.
1. Added small bolts into every other hole in one of the "gears." For the top (horizontal) gear I used shorter bolts; longer ones for the vertical one. I left the top bolts as is and put nylon spacers over the vertical gear "teeth," securing them with Teflon tape.
2. Attached the horizontal gear to the axle of a mountain bicycle wheel.
3. Attached a second bicycle wheel rim to the first using three metal brackets (mine ended up shorter than shown in this picture due to a change in plans).
4. Found a way to secure a 1" PVC tee to the top of a tripod.
5. Installed the bicycle wheel contraption into the top of the PVC tee. I used a couple wooden circular pieces drilled out of a piece of 1x2. The hole in the center of the wooden pieces held the axle rod firmly in place. I used a couple odd pieces as spacers to elevate the horizontal gear to the spot where it would catch the vertical gear.
6. Installed the vertical gear into the horizontal part of the PVC. The gear must sit on a ball bearing so it can rotate freely. I used part of an axle that had a bearing inside. Use whatever you can find to "stuff" the gear into place and keep it from wobbling.

I had to do a lot of shimming and shaving to get things to fit. I shimmed with toilet paper cardboard and shaved with a dremmel or sandpaper. You do what you gotta do.

Step 2: Making the Wind Foils

Picture of Making the Wind Foils

I wanted the wind foils to be bigger than the ones I installed on the deer deterrent gizmo, but still light. Tin seemed like the perfect material, but I was afraid of getting all cut up when I tried to cut the tin pieces to size (I grabbed a piece of duct from a recycle yard for the purpose). So I painstakingly felted five pieces of silk and coated them with polyurethane. They turned out stunning, but when I installed them and set the windmill out for a test, they were a complete dud. The wind didn't know what to do with all that fluff. These plastic +silk foils are my quick substitute for the felted ones.
I don't know what this plastic is called. I was using it as a light diffuser in photography, as it's semi-opaque and lightweight. Hopefully someone will know what it's called and where to buy it.
For the foils, I divided what I had into five. I wanted the largest possible foils, given what I had to work with. Then I bought a silk scarf at a thrift store and cut that into five (a little bigger than the foils). 
I sanded the dull side of the plastic and painted it with polyurethane for adhesive (because that's what I had on hand).
After gluing the silk to the plastic sheets, I trimmed off the excess silk and punched holes for the spokes that would hold them to the bicycle wheel rims.

Step 3: Installing the Wind Foils

Picture of Installing the Wind Foils

To install the wind foils, I drilled five holes big enough to fit a bicycle spoke into--in both bicycle wheel rims. The spokes are inserted from the inside of the rim and secured with plumber's epoxy. Once the epoxy dries, the foils are slipped onto the spokes and secured to the outside of the spokes with epoxy. I screwed spoke nuts onto the end of the spokes to keep the foils from falling off.

Step 4: The Wind-Pump Connector

Picture of The Wind-Pump Connector

If you look closely at the vertical gear mechanism, you'll see a small red ball bearing on the back side of one of the gear "teeth." This bearing, and another identical one attached to the piston on the water pump are what allow the connecting piece between the windmill and the water pump to move freely, transferring the wind's horizontal force into the up-and-down force of the water pump. The connecting "rod" itself is made out of PVC. I painted it to look rusty (see step 4 in the the outdoor chandelier project for details), and later inserted some bicycle spoke nuts into the plastic by heating them over a gas stove.

Step 5: PVC Water Pump

Picture of PVC Water Pump
Here is the drawing of the PVC water pump gun I made for my visitors. I made no changes except to add an eye hook to the top of the piston and secure the second ball bearing to the hook.
And here also is the video of how I put it together.

Step 6: Assembling the Wind-Powered Water Pump

Picture of Assembling the Wind-Powered Water Pump

To assemble the wind-powered water pump, I hammered a metal rod into the ground where I wanted the pump to stand. To this rod I braced the outer part of the pump mechanism using two screw clamps. Then I positioned the windmill part of the whole thing centered above the pump and high enough to allow the connecting arm to extend and contract without buckling. Lastly, I attached the connecting arm to the two ball bearings--one on the horizontal gear, the other on the pump piston.
The project is complete. It really is a thing of beauty...

Step 7: Bug Report

Picture of Bug Report

The biggest problem with this wind-powered water pump design is that every single part of the assembly is a bit wobbly, and all the wobble eats up a lot of the wind energy that should instead go into pumping water. To solve this problem in the next version, I would:
1. Use a sturdier tripod. 
2. Use a bicycle rim that isn't warped. The bottom rim in this project is badly bent from some bike accident, and the motion it makes wastes wind energy.
3. Use tin or PVC for the wind foils and attach them directly to the bicycle wheel rims. My deer deterrent has smaller foils, but they are more efficient than the ones on this water pump system. A lot of wind energy is lost with the shaking of the bicycle spokes.
4. Use a heavier rod driven into the ground to hold the water pump. Or install the whole thing onto a 4x4 post to eliminate unwanted movement (again, like my deer deterrent).
5. Make all parts as light as possible--especially the connecting arm between the gear and the pump piston. The more weight the gear has to lift, the more wind will be required to lift it.
6. Find a better solution for the gasket part of the piston. The harder it is to push and pull the piston, the more wind energy is needed to pump water. I used 3M oil to lubricate the rubber part of the plunger, but I think mine isn't as efficient as it could be.

Any solutions to the above would be appreciated.

Step 8: WORKING Water Pump From Bicycle Parts

Picture of WORKING Water Pump From Bicycle Parts
Here is the final redesign of the wind pump including many of the suggestions made by readers (thank you!).
Let's see if I can list them:
* Substituted a single hollow metal pipe for the backbone of the entire wind turbine/pump system (was a tripod before).
* Lowered the valve system to the ground so the pump wouldn't have to raise the water as far.
* Removed the nylon tip from the outlet end to reduce pressure requirement.
* Changed out the PVC piston for a bicycle shock (after removing the spring and sawing off the tip).
* Changed out the PVC arm for the inner part of a bicycle shock.
* Inserted CDs at a 45 degree angle into the top bicycle rim (not sure this had much effect)
* Reduced wind drag on the sails by unhooking the lower part of each sail from the bottom spoke while leaving the spoke in place to hold the sail in "attack mode" yet allow it to swing out of the way in "drag mode." This was the SINGLE MOST EFFECTIVE change to the wind pump!
Thank you everyone for you input!


mxx (author)2017-08-13

Like your design for the gears. I've racked my brains for a cheap way to turn wind power through 90 degrees, and I think your design is what I need.

murner (author)2016-02-22

This is a pretty interesting project, but a poor instructable. There are not enough measurements, and the instructions are somewhat unclear. How long should the PVC be? What was the diameter of the metal washer? Which PVC did you use? Different PVCs will have the same outer diameter, but different inner diameter.

I wanted to use this instructable for my engineering class, but it is difficult to recreate, causing me to purchase extra materials.

tatebullrider (author)murner2016-12-06

With all due respect, I would rather not have in depth instructions. It leaves room for improvement ,imagination ,and a personal touch. Just having the general project outline is more than enough. And any "projecteer" should be able to figure it out from there for themselves.

murner (author)tatebullrider2017-01-06

With that logic, recipes should not give exact measurements either, just the ingredient list a vague cooking instructions. Any cook should be able to figure out amounts used and cooking temperature.

In depth instructions do not preclude improvements and "personal touch," but some people just want a straightforward approach.

tatebullrider (author)murner2017-01-07

Everyone has there different views and outlooks on things. And I am not saying in depth instructions are a bad thing, absolutely not. I am saying that whether they are or aren't in depth doesn't make that much of a difference. Anyone looking at this and wanting to build one should have enough knowledge to do so with just a basic outline. But like I said, that is just my opinion. So no hard feelings and I hope you have a great new year. :)

AengusM (author)2016-07-15

Love the concept , Love the ingenuity,

could it be made to work on a well (160 ft)

CalD2 (author)2016-02-09

Great post! I'm not sure I'm crafty enough to make this happen myself, but it's still a great resource. It may be more environmentally conscious to use this wind-powered pump, but I'm glad you didn't completely exclude the option of an electric pump. While you say it "will be easy to build," I don't think I can stress enough that I'm not mechanically inclined. I definitely wouldn't want to be too dependent on something I built with my own hands for something as critical as water. Thanks for sharing!

ConanS (author)2015-10-13

I don't know if someone pointed it out, but those "gears" are bicycle disk brakes. Great instructable!

EvertonS4 (author)2015-09-20

How high that water is sent?

flyingpuppy (author)EvertonS42015-09-20

Only a couple feet. This design needs improvement!

EvertonS4 (author)flyingpuppy2015-09-20

I need to send the water 20 meters and 4 meters high.

If do I a greater good, you think you'll exodus?

Thanks for answer.

ChetsJug (author)2015-01-11

What is it with bicycle parts and the wind hmmm? (Ask the Wright Brothers haha)

Here's another bicycle shop in the Mojave Desert and a project they have going...

gaiatechnician (author)2013-01-06

Hi, Martha, I did a bit of work over the holidays about low tech water pumping for pallet gardens, so it is really simple now. As long as your wind pump can produce 2 psi, (or drive air bubbles 14 inches deep in water, you can pump water with air. is the very simplest way but you might need the "t-joint" method because wind power is variable.

eggplanthunter (author)2012-08-18

out of curiosity, wouldn't a simple mechanical Archimedes screw do the trick? If the romans could build one, I'm sure it would be a viable diy build in the third world. I mean they have been the traditional windmill pump-system for a couple of millennial.

All it would require in repositioning would be for the base tripod to have one foot in the pond (on some footer, cinderblock or rock) and the shaft centered over water, coupled to the screw somehow.

It would take a redesign of the bearing, ofc, since the shaft is stationary, but I would imagine it might take advantage of the VAWT's orientation some more.

maybe you could use old AOL cds for the screw, hmmm....

This is what I love about Instructables-- I didn't know what an archimedes screw was until you mentioned it. Went to look at images, and I think you're right. That would simplify the mechanics considerably!
Now, to make the screw... I can't use old AOL CDs, cuz I used all mine up to make an upcycled fluorescent shop light. Tee hee.
Thanks for the idea! Keep 'em coming.

kretzlord (author)flyingpuppy2012-10-23

if you wanted to keep the geared assembly, you could consider putting a counterweight on the vertical one to counteract the weight of the link and pump. It would help avoid the 'cogging'. Love the idea and execution!!!!!

kboparai1 (author)2012-08-15

i love it! thanks for sharing. I wanted to see if there was an electricity free way to pump water for an nft setup i was pondering. this will be pretty awesome! thank you :D

ksivasaravanan (author)2012-07-25


Why, thank you! I think so too.

yxanul (author)2012-07-23

Excellent work! For a small garden is enough! I want to congratulate you for how you combined materials, and for simplicity idea.

flyingpuppy (author)yxanul2012-07-24

Thank you! It's an itch we all have here at Instructables, I think--to "make do" with what we have as simply as possible.

germeten (author)2012-07-23

Getting down to even more simplicity (although I love the 'contraption' aspects)
you can do it all with fabric panels, small weights and tethers. The more surface area exposed to wind and bigger dia., the more torque produced.

germeten (author)2012-07-23

Good job! Now May I suggest you use flats, not bent panels, and more of them!
Limit the range they can rise so they don't overshoot.

flyingpuppy (author)germeten2012-07-23

Yes. I'll also remove the CDs which aren't doing much. Thanks!

germeten (author)2012-07-22

The most efficient windmill I've ever seen was vertical axis, with multiple verticle louvres in panels in a cross shape. The louvers open in one direction to allow air to pass through and close tight under wind pressure on the opposite side/direction. One side offers perfect blockage to the wind and the other side wide open and almost zero resistance to wind passage. Even a gentle wind will move it, because the forces are so unevenly/assymetrically distributed.

flyingpuppy (author)germeten2012-07-23

It works! Thanks to your "louvred" idea, the pump works beautifully now. For details, see the last step in this instructable (with pics of the update and video).

flyingpuppy (author)germeten2012-07-22

Huh. I wonder if I could make the louvres out of CDs. I'm trying to keep it within the means of someone living in a third world country. I guess wood scraps would do. I'd love to see how the louvres were installed in the way you describe!

PeeDonkeyPit (author)2012-07-23

If that is a very thin plastic - easily rolled into a tube, it is likely "mylar". Though with CAD, it's a lot less prevalent, this material was common in engineering plotter rooms in the days of yore. "Yore" being the 90's...

harveyo (author)2012-07-22

Think airfoil. A propeller type blade's power is developed mostly on the outer third of the blade. Obviously the farther out your blades are the more leverage they exert on the hub.

flyingpuppy (author)harveyo2012-07-22

You're right. I originally had the "foils" close to the rim, then scooted them outwards and that improved things a bit. I wonder how I can add somewhat rigid foils and extend them out even further. The weight may bend the long nail I have holding the bike rims onto the... oops, here's a picture of it now... onto the pole (in a high wind, that is).

harveyo (author)flyingpuppy2012-07-23

Suppose you had a single rod going through the airfoil with a 90 deg bend at the end. This would allow the airfoil to fly 'up' when going up wind and flop back down when pressured by the wind. This would creat some more efficiencies. HLO

flyingpuppy (author)harveyo2012-07-23

You're thinking right. I went out yesterday and unhooked the sails from the bottom bicycle spoke and WOW, the thing works now! Will upload a video soon.

kwazai (author)flyingpuppy2012-07-23

the best 'savonius' usually have the foils crossed in an S configuration thru the center with about a 15% overlap- the one side dumps the air to the backside of the other (so to speak). my suggestion would be that you try a 'shaker' style pump. Its nothing more than a short peice of pipe or hose with a one way valve at the supply end. when it moves up and down it pumps water . I've taken the springs out of tire valve stems to make them, but plumbing pipe ones are larger. Computer mouse balls in a pipe with coupling work also.

The biggie with windmills is surface area, the other variables are not usually geometry related (wind, efficiency, etc.)

kirkb150 (author)2012-07-23

Excellent design.

flyingpuppy (author)2012-07-22

Drawing of updated wind pump assembly:

Balord (author)flyingpuppy2012-07-22

Good concept. I have read many of the comments about horizontal piston being more efficient and all. One more thing that might improve your "output" would be to eliminate the "handle", connect the piston to the windmill wheeel rather than the gear system you have and connect the other end to a hinge. This would reduce the drag on your gear system and the bending elbow would not be needed. The only problem I see is the pump would need to be above the windmill. Still in all a very cool idea! Would be very handy for gardeners who happen to have a handy nearby pond to irrigate their garden!. I'll see if I can work up a drawing of what I'm talking about.

raviolikid (author)2012-07-22

Wonderful! And the most amazing thing t(o me) is that I was discussing such a design last night. I thought it would work - but my BF didn't think it would. It's good to see it functioning.
Good instructable!

carlfon (author)2012-07-22


scoottle (author)2012-07-22

I am truly impressed at the simplicity! I like this, You have a wonderful mind! Thanx!!

R167 (author)2012-07-22

Making it a windmill style could help too with power lost in your gearing (although it has some drawbacks) and also allow for better gearing options.

R167 (author)R1672012-07-22

Forgot to also say great project and that I want to build this even with no use for it.

flyingpuppy (author)R1672012-07-22

I know. It's kinetic art if nothing else. : ) Thanks!

harveyo (author)2012-07-22

The first and perhaps easiest upgrade is to change the windcatchers as they are very inefficient. The air needs to flow over them as a sailboat going upwind. I a bit of search on windpowered mechanisms will provide some pictures of efficient devices.

harveyo (author)harveyo2012-07-22

Some are hinged to reduce the upwind drag and swing against a stop
when in position to work with the wind.

flyingpuppy (author)harveyo2012-07-22

Thanks. I'll look into that. I've made quite a few changes including exchanging the PVC piston for a bicycle shock absorber (without the spring) and inserting CD's onto the top rim in between the blades to catch more air. It's more efficient and works in wind gusts now, but it still doesn't pull water in a breeze--which is the goal.
Will upload a video of the changes soon.

gaiatechnician (author)2012-07-22
Hi, flyingpuppy, really good instructable. I think you will always have problems and unnecessary limits if you try pumping water directly. However, if you use your pump to compress air instead, you can pump water with a "nano airlift pump". All you need is 1 psi and you can pump to at least 10 ft high (and any height up to that). The nano airlift pump is a bundle of 1/4 inch or 3/16 inch (internal diameter) tubes that airlift the water to the height you want. I have one of my "world record attempts" using nano airlift at  the video link below.  If you compress air, you can put your windmill in a better windier place and pipe the air to the pond.  You need about 3 ft deep to make the pump work well.
chiangkool (author)2012-07-22

that's MAVIC, right ?
Where's your bike now ?

flyingpuppy (author)chiangkool2012-07-22

I have no idea what it is. Very high end cyclists around here. Today is the last day of the Cascade Cycling Classic, so I'll be able to bring home some real goodies from tomorrow's dumpster diving. : )

flyingpuppy (author)2012-07-19

I just found this instructable on making bearings out of PVC. Wonder if it could be incorporated into this design. Hm....

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