Homemade Soil Screener/sifter




Introduction: Homemade Soil Screener/sifter

About: Like inventing, woodworking, tractor gadgets, gardening, making Youtube videos, wind turbines, ham radio, making instructables, etc

This soil screener features springs and hinges made from old car tires so there is no need for regular steel springs and metal hinges (and the major hassle mounting them). The screen actually "floats" on rubber. The screener is sized and designed to be loaded with a compact tractor, and the vibration is powered by a 6-1/2 HP gasoline engine - but the design is just as applicable to a smaller (or larger) screener working on the same tire "suspension" idea and driven with either an electric motor or a larger gasoline engine. So far I've screened about 100 tons of material without any major screener problems. The one problem I did have is described in Step 8.

I was lucky enough to find an old galvanized steel work table at a scrap metal yard that I tipped over to form the U shaped chassis needed to get the tractor bucket in to scoop up the sifted soil. I paid just $100 for the table which is probably less than the cost to make one from scratch. The table dimensions weren't ideal (see video below) but it worked fine after I dug the ground to get enough screen tilt (30 degrees to horizontal). I load the screener from the "wrong" side as the "right" side is too high. This all works fine and I get a great view of the screening action from the loading side.
I have some breaking news on the soil screener: I just finished publishing a new instructable on converting this gasoline operated screener to electric motor operated. Check it out here. Soil screener from gas to electric

Step 1: This Video Gives an Overview of the Screener

Step 2: Screen Scrounging & Screen Frame Construction

A friend put me on to a construction/quarry outfit that had bits and pieces of commercial screening that were discarded and lying around the property.  I got two pieces for free. 

One piece has a mesh size of about 1 inch and the other about 3/4 inch.  Neither piece was large enough to cover the whole frame size needed so I just cut them to fit half of the frame size each.

Cutting the screen was surprisingly easy with the 4-1/2 inch angle grinder.  I installed a "super thin" metal cutting wheel and cut away with ease.

The size of the screen and screen frame were based on the size of the "chassis" that I bought at the scrap metal yard. I cut the angle iron on the metal chop saw (with an abrasive wheel).

I bolted the frame together with 3/8 inch hex bolts and nylon locking nuts.  No welding used here or anywhere on the screener (other than the bought chassis that was already fastened together with welds).

Although I set up a tent to do outside work, whenever possible I brought the angle iron inside to drill holes with my drill press. (The tent was eventually blown to pieces in a hurricane so after that I moved the screener inside to do the rest of the work).

Step 3: Making and Mounting the Three Hinges

Cutting through the rubber and embedded steel wires of the tire was easy with the jig saw equipped with a metal cutting blade. I tried cutting tires with a reciprocating saw and even an angle grinder but the jig saw was by far the best way.

The three hinges were cut cross-wise (radial direction) from the tire and were a "perfect" size for this screener.  

I mounted all three hinges while the screen frame was propped up clear of the chassis with a couple of 2X4 spacers.  3/8 inch bolts and locking nuts secure the hinges in place.

Step 4: Making and Mounting the Two Springs

These springs, made from old car tires, are what makes this screener unique. Steel coil springs are seen most often on other screeners.  Trouble with coil springs is finding an effective way to mount them. The tire springs are easy to mount and are also free! One tire took care of all rubber needs for the screener.

I tried using springs made from radial sections of the tire (same as the hinges in Step 3)  but that shape was a bit too flexible.  The springs shown were cut from the center circumference of the tire.  Each spring is about 16 inches long before being formed into the required U shape.

The jig shown in the photo is pretty well essential to hold the spring in position for drilling.

I clamped the pressure treated 2x4 leg, along with the tire spring, in the jig and drilled the holes completely through the whole works with an extra long 3/8 inch twist drill bit.

After I removed the spring from the jig I ran a 1/2 inch drill bit through the 3/8 inch holes to make it easier to insert the 3/8 inch bolts.

Once mounted on the hinges and springs the screen frame and chassis have no metal to metal contact.    The V belt makes another "rubber" connection to the engine. This all helps make a smooth running and quiet screening machine.

The jig labelling (photo above) shows where a hole is drilled for a "spring tension bolt".  The idea was to install a bolt with washers and a nut to adjust the bulge of the spring if the screener frame,  and belt tension, loaded the spring down too much.  After many tons of screening the spring has maintained its shape so the spring tension bolt has not been tried.

Step 5: Engine and Drive Train

The screener is powered by an inexpensive 6-1/2 hp gas engine. This one cost me $100 new (on sale).

I want this screener to last so I selected 3/4 inch pressure treated plywood for the engine mounting panel and the engine platform. The pictures show the angle iron brackets that support the platform and engine. The brackets are held together with 1/4 inch hex bolts and locking nuts.

The 4 inch dia pulley on the engine drives the 6 inch dia unbalanced pulley that gives vibration to the screen. The pulleys are linked together with a cogged V belt. A 4 inch dia spring-loaded idler pulley takes up the belt slack under vibration and keeps the belt where it belongs - on the pulleys.

The vibrating pulley is mounted on a shaft and the shaft is mounted in two inexpensive flange bearings that sandwich the bearing plates. (I made two identical plates to give enough rigidity.) The bearing assembly is secured with bolts and locking washers as well as locking compound. The bearings, that I had on hand, require a large clearance hole -  a couple of the pictures below show these holes being made with a metal cutting hole saw. The sealed bearings have held up so far without any problems.

I mounted the bearing plates with one 5/8 inch hex bolt to the screen frame. The plates hinge on this bolt until the system is bolted permanently in place. Once the belt is in place the bearing plate is pulled up with the belt tensioning turnbuckle. I used chemical locking compound on the threads of the turnbuckle to prevent loosening.  After adjusting the turnbuckle I always double check that all related nuts and bolts are fully tightened.

When adjusted and tightened the screen frame, bearing/pulley plates, and turnbuckle, form a rigid triangle that all vibrate together.

Step 6: Covers and Access Features

I made the drive train cover to protect the mechanism from the weather and also to make it safe to be around.  To satisfy the need to see the total vibrating system I covered the pressure treated 2x6 frame with a piece of clear polycarbonate.  The cover hinges open and is secured shut with one large wood screw eye bolt.

I cut down a large plastic storage container for the engine rain shield.  A bungee cord holds the cover in place.

Installing, adjusting, or removing the engine pulley is made easy by having access through a circular door that I jig-sawed out in the engine mounting panel. The access door is held in place with three wood screws driven in around the cut line.

I protect the screener with a large plastic tarp during the winter months.

Step 7: It's All About the Shake

The main photo in this step shows the vibrating pulley and the added weight that unbalances the pulley to make it vibrate.

I did some experimenting with various weights to get what I ended up with here. One picture in this step shows the belt thrown off the pulley due to too much weight and too much vibration.  But other factors play a role in getting the desired shaking action and to keep the belt secured on the pulleys.  For example the idler spring may not have enough tension, or the pulleys may not be in proper alignment, or the turnbuckle might not be tightened up enough.

It's easy to adjust the weight on the pulley if you end up with too much or too little vibration. Just change the weights on the eye bolt - making sure that the last component is a locking nut.

I found that with the present vibrating pulley set-up (main photo) I needed to run the engine at pretty well full speed to get good vibration after a heavy load of soil is dumped on the screen.  A different size pulley or pulleys and/or more weight on the vibrating pulley might allow a slower engine rpm to get the desired vibration.

That grey gunk on the pulley and shaft is anti-seize compound.  I used this material on all parts where there was a chance of metal to metal seizing - highly recommend using it as the screener will be outdoors most of the time.

Step 8: Where There's Shake There's Break

So I had just one component fail on the screener and it failed three times.  The turnbuckle belt tensioner is the culprit.  I saved the broken turnbuckles for further study and they are shown in the photo below.

A higher quality turnbuckle and better mounting alignment would make this part last longer.

A turnbuckle with swivelling mounting ends should solve this problem totally - so far I haven't found one of suitable size.

Anyway, changing the turnbuckle is only a 15 min job and the turnbuckles that I have been using are cheap.  

Step 9: The Finished Screener Being Loaded and Screening Away!

I plan on making a protective shield for the front of the tractor to deflect the larger rocks that sometimes bounce off it.  Might mount it with magnets to make installing and uninstalling easy. Been too busy screening to get that job done! Same with screened soil overflow panels that I need to install on each side of the screener.  They will be made (eventually) from pressure treated plywood.  

Step 10: Video Showing More Build Info

Step 11: Video Shows More Screening Action

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    8 years ago

    Great alternative construction materials.. its cool how you found uses scrap like a tire.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks Wolfbane221 - Hoping others will come up with even more ideas to use tires for springs and suspensions, etc.


    Reply 7 years ago

    That is pretty amazing. You fabricated something that really works well, and has potential use in many other applications. The "tire hinges" I have seen similar industrial ones used for more $$$!! did you consider using steel cable "hinges" similar u shape yokes of stranded cable? I have seen these on shaker tables and other applications before, but those likely transmit more vibration to the framework. re the turn buckle, that seems to function as a "shear point" of sorts. Anyway GREAT INSTRUCTABLE!!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Nope I didn't consider stranded cable hinges as the tire idea seemed feasible and lots of free raw material to play with. Thanks for the comments. (Getting ready to set up for another season of screening and I'll be checking out a more reliable turnbuckle assembly this time.)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    You might be able to replace the turnbuckles with a length of steel cable. Cables are very strong, and they are not vulnerable to compression loads, which will help prevent fatigue failures like you have been seeing.

    It may negatively affect the vibrating though.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yup iamtojo I think that it would be trouble using steel cable re vibration - underline "think" as not really sure of the actual action. Maybe a turnbuckle and a chain quick link in series might work much the same as the cable idea.


    8 years ago

    You could use this for gold mining.