Hand-powered WASHING MACHINE

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Introduction: Hand-powered WASHING MACHINE

About: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

I have probably been washing clothes in this hand-powered washing machine for over 25 years. It has two funnels inside the tank that serve as plungers, agitating the water every time the handle is pumped. The inside dimensions of the tank are: 15" tall, 33" long, 14" wide.

The idea was originally for construction in wood. It came from a village technology handbook. I built mine out of iron and cement, and came up with the funnel plunger idea. The rectangular tank uses a special sheet metal with holes for plastering called Hi-rib. It is sealed with a cement-base sealer.

My method is to soak the clothes in detergent and water overnight, pump them for about 5 minutes in the morning, rinse them twice and hang them up on the clothesline.

It's good exercise, and it consumes no electricity.

Step 1: Inside the Washer

The funnels go up and down. Shape-wise, the funnel is streamlined and cuts the water as it moves upward. Coming down, it creates more churning action because of the less streamlined bottom.

The funnels can be easily replaced if they eventually break, but they hold up quite well. The bright red funnel was recently replaced.

Step 2: The Mechanism

One stands to the right of the machine and pumps the handle up and down. As the handle moves it raises and lowers the two red plastic funnels. That agitates the water and washes the clothes. The handle is of welded iron pipe. The cross bar in the middle acts like a hinge. The hinge pin which holds the handle to the washing machine body is a smaller diameter pipe. I used 3/4" EMT metal pipe for the handle and 1/2" EMT for the hinge pin.

The vertical pipes connecting the funnels and the handle are made of PVC pipe. They are heat formed at one end to conform to the funnel. A plug inside, made of wood or heat-formed PVC is secured by a sheet metal screw and holds the funnel in place.

The vertical PVC pipe is heat formed at the other end to conform to part of a hinge made of chain links. The chain links are welded to the handle and a stub of pipe that enters the vertical PVC pipes. See the diagrams.

Step 3: The Hinge

The outer pipe used in the hinge for the handle is 3/4" EMT metal tubing. The "hinge pin" that runs inside it is 1/2" EMT.

Step 4: The Plug

To make the drain hole I heated and flared out the end of the 1/2" PVC drain pipe. I did that by heating it over a gas stove to soften it and pressing it over a ball peen hammer. When the plastic cooled, the end had a tapering hole, ideal for receiving a rubber plug.

The plug is made of silicone rubber. As a mold for it, I used the actual drain pipe. I packed a wad of aluminum foil in the hole to form the bottom of the plug, and coated the foil and the pipe with a mold release agent, such as dish detergent, or Vaseline jelly.

I filled the space in the mold with clear silicone rubber from the hardware store. While it was fresh, I made a loop of nylon string, knotted it, and embedded the frayed ends of the strings in the silicone. The string is firmly held and can be used for pulling out the plug.

With that much silicone, it took about a day to harden up completely. It's a good plug and doesn't leak.

Step 5: The Lid

The original 2-part cover for the washing machine was made of plywood. It rotted away, and was replaced with PVC plastic.

To make the cover, flatten some pipe material by cutting a section of large-diameter PVC pipe lengthwise on one side. Heat it over a gas stove until it gets soft and leathery. Put it on the floor with a flat piece of plywood on top to stand on until it cools.

Sketch out your design. Make long folds by heating the line with a propane torch and folding the plastic with a piece of wood. Cut holes in one side for the vertical pipes that hold the funnels. Fold the outside rim down over the edge of the washer. Folds like that give the flattened PVC more rigidity.

In the previous photos, I showed the lid pieces unwashed. (I like the candid feel of weathered things.) For those who may like to see things cleaner in order to better visualize their manufacture, I cleaned the lid for these photos.

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    61 Discussions

    0
    k24tea
    k24tea

    12 months ago

    Hi Thinkenstein, THANK YOU!!! I just found this (10 years later) and it's just what I've wanted to make since I saw something very similar being used around 1975 (it used heavy round metal plates but I think big funnels should work a lot better than beating on the clothes like on rocks.) New washing machines are really costly, don't work nearly as well as the old ones, require electric power, and even the "best" ones fail in just a few years. Mine died a long time ago, not worth fixing, and I don't intend to replace it. Finally I can build an efficient human-powered washer that's even better than the one I saw so many years ago!

    I've been washing laundry manually most of my adult life, usually feet-powered (stomping on it in the bathtub like pressing grapes, but sadly it yields no wine, only clean clothes and feet, and hopping around in soapy water in a slippery bathtub is a bit dangerous). Now I do the same with a heavy-duty plastic storage bin on the shower floor, or outside in good weather. I glued a PVC drain spigot just above the bottom of the bin. Soak, wash, drain, spin (see below), then 2X rinse/drain/spin. This cleans better than the expensive machines, practically no cost, water can be recycled outside, the exercise is good, also more efficient than the plunger-in-bucket method, but now I'm ready to upgrade to the Thinkenstein washer. I'll need to devise a movable stand to use the lever and fulcrum with my bin, so I can store it all out of the way when not in use.

    I think I'll also drill some holes in the sides of the funnels for better aeration & less resistance, like the holes in the plunger-in-bucket method that works well for small loads.

    I have an easy way to spin (not wring or press) most of the water out of the wet laundry after draining between wash & rinse "cycles" and again before drying. It works in the shower or outside. Just drill lots of 1/8" or so holes in sides & bottom of a 5-6 gallon bucket with a good strong handle (my bucket is from drywall goop). Make sure the holes have smooth edges inside the bucket to protect the clothes. I also drilled holes in a big plastic funnel and glued it to the bottom of the bucket to keep the clothes from lumping up together in the bottom. One could use a short PVC pipe with holes instead. Put drippy wet clothes in the bucket, about half full. Let water drain out of the holes for a minute or two (or use a second bucket to press down on the top of the clothes to drain faster), so it's less heavy to lift and not so drippy. Then hang it up with a length of good rope (not chain), spin it around a dozen or so times to twist the rope, and then let go, stand back and watch it spin the water out through the holes. It will rewind by itself a few times and spin around again the other way. When it stops spinning the clothes will be about as dry as if they were spun in an electric washer. So much easier on the hands than wringing, no damage to clothes, low or no cost to make and use, easy to put away in the washing bin when dry. I made a folding tripod stand from 3/4" emt conduit to hang my spin-bucket either outside or in the shower. Before twisting the rope to start it spinning, the bottom of the bucket hangs about 2 inches above the bottom of my washing bin, so the bin will catch the water as the bucket spins it out.

    The link to that FREE PDF of the Village Technology manual in the previous comments really is dead now (the fastonline address is for sale, and Amazon is selling the same manual for $75 US - no surprise there) but today I discovered it's still available to download free on the Wayback Machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20130329121623/http:/... Lots of good stuff in that big book!

    Thank you again for sharing so many of your useful and interesting projects!

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    Reply 12 months ago

    Hi K24tea (cool handle for an accountant, or someone tax related),

    I appreciate all the thought you have put into clothes washing with muscle-based technology. Thanks for the update on the Village Technology handbook.

    Just to update you on my present system; I was often too lazy, doing one big load instead of two reasonable sized loads. With too much laundry, the machine didn't have enough room to move. I then cut away the pipes, leaving a couple of stubs of the vertical support pipe to possibly attach something to later.

    I tried washing by hand leaning in from the end of the tub, but that strained my back too much. Then I thought of working from the side of the tank, not the end. To take strain off my back, I made a padded chest rest that fit over the stub of pipe left sticking up (PVC and exercise pad foam material).

    That leaves me leaning in over the center of the tank, with my elbows reaching off to either side of center. The arms do all the work, and the hands are useful for moving the clothes around as you wash. The end result is that it the clothes get done with about the same energy expenditure as using the machine. It's much simpler, and you never have to replace ageing plastic funnels that break.

    Anyway, I am no longer using the machine shown in this instructable. My present system uses the old tank and a chest rest added on the side of it.


    0
    k24tea
    k24tea

    Reply 12 months ago

    Hi, Thinkenstein, Thanks for your reply and update. You have the cool handle, not me! No, mine just means "two for tea" in honor of times enjoyed with an old friend. I have as little to do with taxes and accounting as possible, so I don't understand any meaning it might have in that regard!

    I know what you mean about keeping it simple, and it seems that your simpler solution is working better for you. Since it's less strain and about the same energy to yield the same result, it makes sense why you removed the mechanical parts. For the same reasons, although I still think the design has potential I might not build it after all, or maybe make a smaller trial version. Most likely I'll stick with what's been working well enough for me until I see a compelling reason to go a different way. As I get older and less able I'm increasingly interested in finding simple, practical, energy-sparing ways to do what I need on a shoestring budget and with minimal additional stuff. But I do still enjoy thinking about and making design notes for potentially useful projects, even if I never actually build most of them.

    I can guess why so many human-powered designs and devices have fallen to the wayside, except for use in off-grid settings and so-called "developing" nations where modern electric-powered stuff doesn't yet prevail. I've been interested in pre-Industrial designs and mechanical household devices, partly because many of them I've come across seem (to my eye) obviously doomed curiosities that surely wouldn't work well or were overly complicated or cumbersome for any advantage they afforded. One such example is the 1900 or so bellows-style manual vacuum cleaner that spewed out most of the debris it had just picked up. Yet on the other hand, witness the genius design, practical utility, and durability of a treadle sewing machine of the same vintage!

    I'm intrigued by the possibilities for reviving/revising some of the better pre-Industrial designs for practical human-powered applications in our own time. I'm between wryly amused and appalled by the intensity of interest in developing and acquiring more and more "smart" electronics, robotics, and all the things that separate us from one another and from peaceful, sustainable interaction with our natural environment. Conversely, I admire those who choose to make & do what they can imagine with the materials at hand. Sad to say, their ideas too often are viewed as anachronistic oddities deemed to have no place in an ever more automated wireless world. To each his own, but I'd rather be ready with alternatives I can employ the next time a big storm knocks the power out for a long while, and to be satisfied with imagining, doing, making, fixing what I can and living well with less.

    In my younger days I had several opportunities to visit Puerto Rico (mostly around Mayaguez and Aguadilla) on extended business trips. I was fortunate to make some friends there the first trip and usually stayed with them whenever I returned. I would have stayed much longer or moved there if I could. You live in a beautiful part of the world, storm-ravaged though it has been. From your Instructables profile and projects it's apparent that you're living a full and interesting life on your own terms. Cheers and best wishes for good health and happiness!

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    Reply 11 months ago

    24tea translates as "two for tea". K24tea came across like some K240 tax form. Two for tea is better, especially if it comes with some fond memories attached.

    0
    oldmantime
    oldmantime

    8 years ago on Introduction

    This is pretty simple/ingenious. Laundry is one of those tasks that must happen but we are very tied to power consumption to achieve that end.
    I visualize maybe salvaging a front loader and rigging a bike sprocket to drive the drum. Super clean clothes and low ecological impact.

    I would like to see you build a bicycle powered centrifuge to extract more water so the clothes will dry faster plus you could get some good aroebics. I got the idea for the centrifuge in Australia. The local laundromat was equipped with washers, centrifuges and dryers. The clothes could be run through the centrifuge extracting almost all of the water and then a brief stay in the dryer and they were ready to hang/fold and put away.
    I love your simple and inexpensive building techniques. However,I think most cities in the 'States' are now coding out such things as hanging laundry out to dry. The poles and lines are too 'ugly' and damage 'property values'.

    This says nothing of your structures that would send code enforcement officers on a citation writing binge.

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    So, they are coding in obligatory energy consumption to dry clothes now? That does seem like the way of modern civilization. Sunshine and fresh air just ain't good enough any more.

    Great idea. I volunteer at a non-profit rabbit shelter and we usually spend about $60.00 a week doing laundry. If this is as easy as it looks to put together, I may have to scrounge the materials to make it. Our laundry is mostly bedsheets and towels. The only modification I can think of right now would be to hook it up to a stationary bicycle and build a rotating drum dryer as we have no ability to hook up a clothes line.

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    9 years ago on Introduction

    The wooden disks might even agitate the water more. I chose to use funnels because on the upward movement stage they would not get weighted down with laundry. Being a more streamlined design, they would just push it to the side.

    A wringer wouldn't be a bad idea to try, but hand wringing and a good drying day still work.

    kenkou chou jumyou Thinkenstein
    (Thinkenstein wishes you good health and long life, also.)

    0
    bgentry
    bgentry

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    What about those funnel shaped laundry plungers (very reasonably priced at Lehman's) they work pretty well by themselves in a six gallon bucket with a lid (for long term camping)

    BTW what is the name of the book? I left mine with a carpenter in Cambodia and have been trying to find another for more than 10 years

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    http://www.cd3wd.com/cd3wd_40/vita/vthbook/en/vthbook.htm

    Village Technology Handbook. The above link takes you to an online copy.

    0
    thn
    thn

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Download complete book Village Technology Handbook from CD3WD (14Mb pdf):
    http://www.fastonline.org/CD3WD_40/JF/410/02-64.pdf

    0
    TimmyMiller
    TimmyMiller

    9 years ago on Step 5

    where did you get the tub/tank thingy?

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 5

    I made it out of cement. The form was made out of "Hi-rib", an expanded sheet metal with holes in it for plastering. That was then plastered with cement. It weighs quite a bit.

    0
    tinker52
    tinker52

    10 years ago on Step 5

    The pdf for this seems to be broken, unless it's my slow connection. Could someone check it? Also where's the wringer to get the cloths ready to hang on the line?

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 5

    I downloaded the PDF file OK. Being able to do so might be a perk for pro members, but I'm not sure.

    No wringer. I hand twist the clothes to get most of the water out and then just hang them up to dry. It ain't perfect, but it works.

    0
    tinker52
    tinker52

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thinkenstein,
    Thanks for replying, sorry I'm so slow in getting back. My connection which is somehow still legal for my phone company to provide is maxed out at 10-15kbps and wont seem to do the pdf. In the past, once I joined on better connections I had no problem getting them. The link may be good but it's not getting through :( Help! Out here in the 'affordable' land sticks, the internet superhighway is a super toll road that I can't afford, netzero's $10/month is my max. The link may be good, but net segregation isn't.

    Thanks for this instructable btw, seeing someone who's actually used the vita washing machine design gives it more credibility to me, even though I'd still like to see a wringer integrated I can certainly understand making do. :) Cool adaptation with the ferro-cement.
    ~Tinker52

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    We seem to make war collectively with massive amounts of our taxes, but we can't use them to give us all a decent free internet connection. Good communication will maybe be part of world peace someday, I hope.

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Please don't be too impressed. I just saw the similarity in what you said and your Instructables name, so I just repeated what you said and substituted mine. Besides sayanara, I know nothing of Japanese.

    0
    gnomedriver
    gnomedriver

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Great setup and a good way of staying off the power grid. I was without a washing machine for six months or so and would wash things in the bathtub. It got a little tiresome and your rig looks much better. Quicker and easer. Have you tried rubber sink plungers instead of the funnels?

    0
    Thinkenstein
    Thinkenstein

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    No, I have only used funnels. The funnel plastic eventually ages and breaks, but they are easy to replace. The plungers might last longer.