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

About: Check out my blog for more information
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.