20 Gal Tabletop Washing Machine (4 Da Poor Man)




About: Im a Machine Tool Electrician, I wire machines and assembly lines, Control Panels. I like to make my own stuff and help show others how to live better, cheaply, Self Reliant. If you give a man a fish, he w...

I like calling this one 'The Fifth Wheel', as you'll see why as we proceed. I don't think Ill be finished with these man-powered washing machines for a while. I'm drawing up plans for a Full Sized Front Loading Washing Machine, as this has seem to open up some more ideas to me. I'm really disappointed that there are other man-powered washers out there that tend to come with a ridiculous price tag to them. I don't know if I could legally name them here, so just run a Google search on 'man powered washing machines'.

As always... I can only show you what I have done to make this

*** For educational Purposes Only, This should not be attempted***



Step 2: Da B.O.M.

You will need the following materials

20 gallon Galvanized garbage can
2- pieces 2 x 4 x     for the ribs these need to be ripped and cut with 45 degree bevels on ONE end and go toward the bottom
2- pieces 2 x 4 x     for the frame
2- pieces 1 x 4 x     for the frame
1- piece  2 x 4 x      to attach fifth wheel bolt
1- 3/8" x 6" hex bolt for the fifth wheel
4- fixed castors (or suitable wheels of your choice)
1- 8" wheel  for fifth wheel
1 5/8" deck screws I recommend using sheet metal screws
2- 2" x 2" x 4" blocks these will need the inner edge clipped (or filed) diagonally to make blocks to secure the lid
roll of duct tape (used only for moral support)
1/2" conduit scrape (or suitable spacer)

Step 3: Lets Get Together

Review all the photos to be sure you have a grasp on how this comes together.

Lay 2, 2 x 4 x  parallel to each other and on the bottom edge screw a piece of 1 x 4 x  and secure them to the 2 x 4's. check for square, measuring diagonally for the same distance, now Repeat with the top of your frame with the other 1 x 4. 

Now you have your box frame. Take your 2 x 4 x   and secure to the other side of your bottom 1 x 4 x   as this is where your hex bolt will go to support your 5th wheel. I dont recommend using less then a 2 x 4 for this as it will support all the weight of the water.

Your can maybe designed differently then the one I used. I looked for flat spots on the can to use so the castors will ride smoothly on the can as it is rotated. They press splines on the cans to make them more ridged. But, in all searches Ive done you should have a flat spot at the bottom and top of the can

I am your guide...

Step 4: The Ribs

The photos are from the first prototype and you will see 4 ribs as I didnt take photos of the 3 ribbed washer, but the procedure is the same. I have a problem wanting 4 ribs, but they seems to be too much for the small diameter of these vessels.

The can I used had pressed splines around it, so I choose 3 spots inside the can to place the ribs. In a triangle pattern, one rib every 120 degrees

the ribs were two 2 x 4 x height of the can (as your dimensions maybe different). I ripped them both length wise to make three and cut 45 degree angles on the corners that go toward the bottom. the extra piece will be used as blocks to attach the lid (cover) to the can.

I cut a length of 3/8" plastic tube I had laying around to 1/2" for spacers to separate the ribs from the wall of the can. This really cuts down on splash and lets the solids (sand, dirt, etc) in the water separate from the clothes (in my opinion). I think some plastic washers will work just as well because I dont think the space between the ribs and can are critical opposed to preference.

I laid the can on its side and drilled three holes length wise in it to accept screws to fasten the ribs to the can. since my can had been pressed it kind of had lines to follow from top to bottom.

Placing the holes toward the light I placed the ribs (one at a time) and lined them up to the holes I had drilled letting the light shine on the wood through the holes and using a scratch awl, poked the hole from the out side into the wood rib. I used deck screws for this, but think sheet metal screws would last longer. I dont feel deck screws are a good choice as they are so thin and break off at some time. I did pre-drill the wood a bit to get a good start on the screwing using a smaller drill then the diameter of the screws

I screwed the three screws in about 1/2" and placed the spaces on them them and got all started into the rib and then tightened middle, bottom then top

Step 5: Placing the Wheels

Find the flat spots of the can and place your wheels on the frame, to allow the wheels to roll uninterrupted. Secure them to the frame.
the easest way to set the fifth wheel is let it rest on the inner lip of the bottom and using the bolt hold it straight as possible and have a 'trusted' family member firmly 'tap' the bolt for it to leave an impression on the 2 x 4 brace. find the center and drill a small hole at straight as possible. Using the same diamater drill as the bolt, drill the hole through and 'work' the drill up and down to open the hole up slightly as you will need to tap the bolt into the hole. cut a piece of 1/2 inch conduit spacer to hold the wheel up and make sure it is rolling freely on the bottom of the can.

I will have a instructable on adding a lid to this soon



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    9 Discussions


    5 years ago on Step 4

    wat abut leakage around the screws. should also put in a rear drain of some kind.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Adding a drain is prolly a necessity on this one as it is harder to just empty this. Even a half inch hole on the bottom out of the way of the fifth wheel. Keep in mind, I've had 5 gals of water at times in here, your looking at 40+ pounds just with water. There is some leakage, but I found it to be minimal. I do not recommend indoor use


    5 years ago

    I dont know if you intended to or have watched the t.v. series the colony (a study on post apocalyptic survival) but they made this exact washing machine setup to eash there clothes and then they just jacked a bicycles back wheel up (exercise bike style) and had it rub the side. nice instructable though but maybe if you happened to see your idea somewhere it would be proper to give proper credit to where you came up with it

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I have heard of the series tho I have never watched it. Thank you for giving credit where it was due. I dont know if they made an instructable about it or published it on the web


    5 years ago

    Good idea! Now you should build a system that powers this from a bicycle. Make it even better: add something to reverse rotation direction and youare golden!


    5 years ago

    Excellent concept. not far from motorisation. I made a paperclay tumbler in a similar way on an upside down skateboard. motorizing it was just a matter of a belt around the tumbler and a motor to drive the belt around.