Introduction: Inexpensive Mini Turbine

Picture of Inexpensive Mini Turbine

Knowing a teacher or two and with Momma Cat's bean counting problem, we thought we better come up with an extremely inexpensive turbine. This way the bean counter and teacher in all of us can be happy :-)

Why build one of these mini turbines? Well they are inexpensive ;-) There is the wow factor. There is the educational benefits. The greatest benefit though is getting someone interested in green energy. Just look how easy it is to generate power. Yeah it is a very small amount of power but to most people electricity is not something easily understood. Get people interested in this easy to build, inexpensive turbine and perhaps they will be inspired to learn more. Have to light a match to get a fire.

These are so easy to make we had Cool Cat (8 year old) build it. That's his hand in the video. Couldn't get him to keep his hands off it lol. We hope that you enjoy this instructable and please check out our other instructables at - and don't forget to follow us!

Cat's Science Club

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

What you will need are easily found at a hardware store.

Okay, we know what some of you are thinking, why a solar path light? Well we had bought around 20 at a dollar store. There are some cool instructables on here that show what can be done with the solar panels. We just need the tube off it. So take the tube off and save the rest of the solar light for your next instructable.


Electrical Tape

Motor- Pull out of old VCR or DVD player or buy off e-bay

Solar Path Light - Just need the pole off it.


Wood or Plastic - To make the tail. We used a shim but you could use just about anything.

3/4" PVC Pipe Fitting Tee

3/4 to 1/2 Bushings (2)

Hot Glue

Super Glue


Drill - Not Shown

Blades - Not Shown - Your own design or use ours


Your cost maybe different depending on what materials you have available. We had things like the glue, wire, shim (many other things will work), wire, and electrical tape ($2). The red LED is under $.10 (Amazon or eBay). The motor can be free if you find an old VCR or DVD. The bushings cost $.37 each and so did the 3/4" PVC Tee (PVC parts less than $1.20). Solar path light from dollar store, only a $1, but you could try some thinner PVC or strong tube that will fit through the PVC Tee. We spent under $5 for all the parts we didn't have. The cheapest turbine we could find on Amazon was just over $11 but the mini turbines go up in price to $60 plus.

Step 2: Solar Light?

Picture of Solar Light?

We don't need the light fixture from the solar light but we need the tube that the light sets on. Take the tube off and save the solar light for another instructable. We will use the tube for our pole. The spike that comes with the tube is great for setting the pole in the grass or in a house plant. Fat Cat even had it stuck in a soda pop can. But be careful with the sharp side of the spike. Try to always have the spike safely in the tube or in the ground.

Step 3: Bushings?

Picture of Bushings?

    Place the 3/4" to 1/2 " bushings into the 3/4" PVC Tee. Make sure to only put them into the openings that are across from one another.

    Okay, most of us didn't know what a bushing was. Good thing that a friendly hardware sales person asked us what we were looking for and pointed these out to us. The bushings narrow the opening to the PVC Tee and makes a great fit for our pole.

    So why not just get 1/2 PVC Tee? Well our motor will not fit into 1/2 :-( but it does fit the 3/4 pretty good :-)

    Step 4: Swivel

    Picture of Swivel

    The solar light's tube needs to be modified slightly so the turbine will swivel on it and face the wind. We added electrical tape until the PVC Tee would set on the tube with out falling but not so much the PVC Tee couldn't move.

    Step 5: Fitting the Motor

    Picture of Fitting the Motor

    The 3/4" Tee is just a tiny bit to big for our motor. To fix this we had to add electrical tape around the motor. Now we have a great fit.

    Step 6: Tail

    Picture of Tail

    Time to add the tail. Many different materials could be used on this and most of them will work. Simply glue the tail of your choice onto the PVC Tee and let dry.

    Step 7: Hole

    Picture of Hole

    Mark where the hole will be for the motor, wire, LED connection and drill to the size of your LED bulb.

    Step 8: Fishing

    Picture of Fishing

    Connect your wires to the motor and fish through the hole.

    Step 9: Add LED

    Picture of Add LED

    Do not actually solder your LED. Simply wrap the wires around the legs of the LED. Long leg positive and short leg negative. When spinning the motor one way the LED will light up but turning it the other way it wont. Make sure the blades that you put on are spinning the motor in the correct direction. If not, simply switch the legs of the LED. Make sure to test before gluing the LED in place.

    Step 10: Glue!

    Picture of Glue!

    Straighten out the LED and glue into place. We show a LED holder to show another possibility for mounting the light into your hole.

    Step 11: Add Blades

    Picture of Add Blades

    Add your blades to the motor. We took two propeller blades, crossed them, and glued them together. Blades could be made from plastic bottle (a good quality one) or wood. Cutting blades from a plastic McDonald's cup, gluing them to a plastic pop lid, poking a small hole in the lid, and placing that on your turbine works well too.

    Step 12: First Design

    Picture of First Design

    This is our first truly inexpensive design. We had it out on the beach for a week. The picture shows some rust caused by the ocean water that was splashing up on it all week long. Not that bad.

    This is an even easier turbine build. No wiring and no drilling needed! Just connect the LED right to the motor.

    We used 1/2" PVC Tee which is to small for our motor and that is why the motor is on the outside.


    Gökhan Türkeli (author)2015-09-10

    I wonder if it is possible to charge a li-ion battery with this? There is an instructable here with similar basic but I am not sure if it works with a computer fan which has its own circuit.

    mohankpm (author)2015-04-10

    Will this motor from eBay will work for this which cost 3.33 $?

    Not able to find cheaper motor lesser than this.

    VCD DVD Player DC 5V 0.1A 6200RPM Wired Mini Electrical Motor

    Yes, that should work fine.

    TheCommander (author)2014-09-22

    Very cool, I like whats being done here.

    alcurb (author)2014-07-31

    Nice project. With a little imagination, it can be scaled up. All you would need is to design the project around a larger motor, maybe with larger PVC pipes?

    Having mentioned motors, I think one should test the motor first with a voltmeter before using it as a generator. It's sometimes not immediately obvious whether motor is 'brushless' or not. I've read that brushless motors cannot be used as generators, that is, they won't generate electricity.

    Fikjast Scott (author)2014-07-29

    wow, this is a nice project. thanks for sharing

    We bought them from Amazon for $9.99 however they are out of stock every time we try to order more, but make your own. It takes time but it will be free. We currently are experimenting with plastic spoons :)

    fuzzyhypothesis (author)2014-07-30

    Nice write-up.

    Say where did you get the propellers and how much where they?

    J-Ri (author)2014-07-28

    Very cool project!

    One thing I would add is to make sure that the motor selected is rated at well above the desired output voltage and rated close to the speed it will be turning.

    Raphango (author)2014-07-24


    Did you measure the voltage and amperage?

    A sugestion for a next project is to embed a rechargeable battery and show the kids a practical use of the stored energy!


    This is our Simple-Backyard-Wind-Turbin that we put through a hole in a table that an umbrella would go through. Don't know why lol. We have it connected to a charge controller and then to 2 AA batteries and an LED. There was enough power to light up and LED and charge up the batteries. Sorry the picture cuts some details out. We may have a video on it if you are interested in seeing it.

    I know _I_ am interested a video (and details)! Where did you get the charge controller and how long did it take to charge the 2 batteries?


    Here is the link to the video of us charging 2 AA batteries on the beach with Fat Cat's simple explanation.

    The charge controller can be bought from We used the lithium battery charge control but they may have a better one for this type of use.

    counterillusion (author)Raphango2014-07-24

    Agreed, that's a project I'd love to see! Together, they could be a great project to bring camping with a bunch of kids: build them the first day, run them to charge some batteries for a while (a day? Less, or more?), then put the batteries in flashlights for the kids to use so they can get a visceral feel for how much energy it really generated.

    Grab the battery right out of that solar light. You can charge those from this with a little mod.

    Great idea!

    Like this?

    Raphango (author)counterillusion2014-07-24

    That's the spirit! =D

    We measured the voltage up to 16 volts. It ranged from 7 to 16 volts. Amps, I believe, was 7 to 21 milli amps.

    Good! If you plug some of these in series you could probably run an arduino board! (Obviously, using some stabilizing circuit).

    wdsims63 (author)2014-07-28

    So, this is pretty cool, but I'm wondering why you used the tee in the direction that you did?

    Wouldn't it work better to use the tee with the through opening aligned horizontally and put the tail coming out of the back of the tee? That would require you to only need 1 bushing then, and would probably rotate a bit better.

    I would also like to see some turbine designs like you mentioned. Maybe another instructable for that? ;)

    Which turbine designs are you referring to?

    Yes the Tee facing the way you mention seems to make more sense. We tried it out, but for us, there was more friction so less of a swing around into the wind.

    patrice.berube.7 (author)2014-07-28

    ty for the instructable.

    i bought a bunch of little personal fans from the dollar store.
    The little fan has the motor and a fan already attached to it so i thought it would save me some work.

    Problem is, i tested it in front of a pretty powerful fan and i only get half a volt out of every motor.
    But the fan is spinning pretty fast.

    you think a bigger motor and a bigger fan is the solution?

    Can you give me more detail about the motor that you were using?

    Thank you!

    Did you try turning the blades around? We turned the blades around on the propellers and found a huge difference. Scoop side facing the wind coming in.

    It may be just that the motors in a DVD player or VCR are more powerful. Go to ebay and look for VCR/DVD motor can get them new for about $2 and maybe another $2 for shipping plus a month of waiting. We are currently looking to sell the motor on our site but only have 5 motors we are not playing with to sell. Best to go garage sale shopping lol

    dirizary (author)2014-07-27

    I think making and attaching the blades is the most daunting part, for me.


    shawnlambert (author)2014-07-28

    How many volts does it produce?

    0 to 16 volts depending on the blades and the wind. We calculate it will produce 1 watt. We are not electricians or engineers and most of what we know is from people on istructables and /or trial and error. If anyone one has calculated volts, amps, watts differently please let us know.

    charris8 (author)2014-07-27

    Could it recharge a AAA battery?

    Yes, if you have the wind it will charge the batteries. Remember to use a blocking diode to prevent the batteries discharging to the motor. We were charging two AA batteries on the beach but used a charge control.

    loachridge (author)2014-07-28

    First of all; Favorited

    Second, the follow up configuration from Raphango is more traditional, NICE!

    I have a suggestion for those with a heat gun or who like working with PVC. Use the heat gun on the back end of the pipe to flatten it. Lower your material cost and resistance by making the tail out of the same material. No heat gun, a hair dryer will work if you have the patience.

    dirizary (author)2014-07-27

    I think making and attaching the blades is the most daunting part, for me.

    pehughes (author)2014-07-27

    Hi Cats Science Club,

    This is great. We made two, but augmented with 2 recharge AA cells and a Solar Cell. We mounted it to a vane, it reserves charge pretty well. It lights up our drive(LED) for most of the night.

    Thank you, Starman

    Oh please show a picture.

    Money_Illusion (author)2014-07-27

    Can you use this to recharge the solar lights you took off? First I thought that was what you were going to do. Replacing the wind turbine for the solar panel would let you have a portable battery charger that would work both day and night - where ever the wind blows.

    That is a great idea! That might be coming in another instructable.

    thomasbleser1 (author)2014-07-27

    It took me a while to figure out what was going on here. "Turbine" suggests conversion from one form of energy to another, but "wind generator" might have been a little more to the point. Electric motors can only work backwards as generators if and when there is at least some permanent magnetism in the field, and the amount of power a motor can generate is contingent on the strength of this field. The recycled motor from the old VCR or DVD player might therefore be tinkered with to increase the output power to useful dimensions by (a) attaching permanent magnets to the field, playing close attention to the alignment of north/south:plus/minus polarities and (b) by winding the output wires to form a feedback field coil before outputting it to the rest of the circuit. (Its nice to know that a lot of these motors fit snugly into 3/4" PVC plumbing). Keep thinking along these lines, you never know when a solar flare will take out your power grid permanently, making it necessary to jerry-rig some other power supply to keep your freezer running and, in turn, to keep you from starving to death..

    MikrySoft (author)thomasbleser12014-07-27

    This is a DC motor. it already has permanent magnets inside. Adding another one will not work due to the shielding the can provides.

    ManuelF1 (author)2014-07-27

    Is there additional steps for the multi-parallel setup to get about 20watts?

    ManuelF1 (author)ManuelF12014-07-27

    I mean 20 volts.

    We do not have the answer for you but hopefully one of the wonderful people on here will.

    immux (author)2014-07-27

    awesome.. add to my favorited ;)

    Cats Science Club (author)immux2014-07-27

    Thank you so much! We hope that you looked at our other instructables and feel free to vote for any or add a comment.

    redrok (author)2014-07-27

    Hi All you Cats;
    Just a nit pick.
    You have the blades mounted backwards. The cupped side must face into the wind.
    This will greatly increase the efficiency and increase the charging current.

    Cats Science Club (author)redrok2014-07-27

    Thanks. That mini has one set of blades one way and the other blades facing the other by accident. We will have to check Cool Cat's work better lol. Thanks for the tip on the blades.

    neo71665 (author)2014-07-24

    it will depend on the local hardware stores stock but they make a 1/2 in to 3/4 in tee.

    Now I'm gonna have to see if my 6 y/o wants to build one. Pretty sure I have all the parts already.

    We looked. Ever just stare at something and it all just looks the same? That is what looking at PVC piping is for us. At Menards they had 3/4, 3/4, 1/2 Tee but no 1/2, 1/2, 3/4 Tee. We will look else where as this project maybe even more inexpensive! Getting rid of the bushing would almost cut the price in half lol :-)

    gravityisweak (author)2014-07-24

    Nice! What kind of voltage does your little motor end up putting out? You may want to consider putting a resistor on the led.

    The voltage on this motor can get up to 12 volts or more but that would be a very strong wind. We have an instructable (bigger turbine) with the same type of motor that shows 10V at about 16 mph wind. The blade shown is only a 2 blade.

    About This Instructable




    Bio: Science Geek! Been to Space Camp 3 times and want to go again!!
    More by Cats Science Club:Solar Tube ProjectorMini KiteEasy Rainbow Shoes
    Add instructable to: