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Every year around June, the swans in our local river, (the Itchen in Southampton, UK) shed their large wing feathers. I go rowing in the river and I wanted to make something out of them that would amuse my kids.

Years ago I made a rough windmill from feathers for my children. So, I thought I would tray again but make it better - which to my mind, means making it more simple and elegant.

We collected the feathers over a couple of trips during June but it took a few months for me to get around to making anything. In the end the fading of Autumnal light forced me to get it finished. It only took a short time once I got started.

Step 1: What I Used to Build the Mechanism

I wanted to make it for no cost, so I just used stuff I had lying about in my shed, to prove the concept.

Other similar cheap materials could easily be used.

I used...

  1. 8 swan feathers (collected from the river Itchen)
  2. A stick of wooden dowelling
  3. An aluminium rod
  4. A small chunk of hard wood (Mahogany)
  5. A champagne cork (you never know when one of these might come in handy)
  6. Some corrugated plastic disks
  7. A biro
  8. Gaffer tape
  9. Gorilla Glue
  10. Various small saws and drills

Step 2: Working Out How Will It Work

Because I wanted to make the windmill as simple and elegant as possible, the difficult part was always going to be making the bearing, to allow the propeller to spin - and the pivot, to enable the mill to swig around to face the wind.

In the end I decided to have the rotating feather propeller spinning freely (not driving anything), on the end of the fixed aluminium shaft and then to have this shaft pivoting off centre, around the upright.

This windmill does not power anything at all, so it's not technically a Wind-Mill. I originally thought to use it as a bird deterrent for my allotment. I guess you could call it a mobile garden sculpture. It is certainly an eye catching thing and its movement has proved a fascinating talking point for friends and neighbours.

Step 3: Making and Testing the Feather Windmill

  1. The first thing I did was to glue the plastic disks together and wrap them with gaffer tape, just to make sure, to form the centre of the propeller. I then drilled through the centre and pushed the shell of the biro through.
  2. Next I drilled, inserted and glued six large feathers around the propeller centre, I used feathers that all pointed the same way, to ensure rotation in one direction.
  3. I made the upright, shaft and pivot by gluing a hardwood platform onto the upright dowelling and then slotting the hardwood bearing down onto the platform. The aluminium shaft was fixed through the hardwood pivot off the centre and the two hardwood parts (one fixed the other moving) were sanded smooth and slightly convex, then lubricated with candle wax.
  4. I fitted a tail onto the end of the shaft that would not hold the propeller. This is to swing the machine round to face the wind. I made this by sticking two opposing feathers into half a champagne cork and gluing this onto the shaft.I used the other half of the cork as a stopper to prevent the whole shaft and propeller from taking off and flying away from the top of the upright.
  5. Finally I slid the propeller onto the shaft and stuck a block of hardwood onto the end to prevent it from flying off the front. I also put one behind the propeller to prevent it from becoming snagged on the upright pole.
  6. Finally, I mounted the upright, by eye, and fixed it into place using cable ties.
  7. Sit back and enjoy... See next step for the action!

Step 4: The Simple Swan Feather Windmill in Action

I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the machine.

It shrugs of rain (like water off a swan's back).

It made me think about how amazing feathers are, so light and so strong and so brilliant at what they do.

It requires very little wind to get it spinning freely and it looks really great as it flickers away in the garden.
It does not always face the wind, possibly I should have chosen bigger feathers for the wind vane/tail. I think next time I would also cut the stems of the feathers back a bit before inserting them into the disc.

One decision I made on the hoof was to make the feathers curve outwards, this was to prevent snagging on the mechanism. I hadn't accounted for this in planning. In fact most of what I did I made up as I went along.

It would be simple to make tiny windmills from the feathers of a robin or sparrow but the key to this was the availability of large feathers at a given time of year, when the swans molt.

I hope people enjoy my instructable and watching the film. I also hope that this project inspires better makers to create more awesome feather based projects, they are such wonderful things.

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Bio: Keeping things simple can sometime seem complicated but it is always worth the effort and you can build new skills along the way.
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