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.



    • Pets Challenge

      Pets Challenge
    • Fandom Contest

      Fandom Contest
    • Colors of the Rainbow Contest

      Colors of the Rainbow Contest

    34 Discussions


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Watts is independent of time; what the figures show is that , if he gets 12 volt, he measures 5-8 amps. Time does not enter into it.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Watts converts strait to kilowatt hours. a 100W device on for one hour its 0.1kilowatt hours.

    For the price of materials and amount of time it took to build that, that's pretty impresive. The solar panels I'm considering building would end up being something around $40 for 14 watts I think it was.


    5 years ago on Step 7


    I'm just wondering what the output is like? AC right, you don't convert to DC to store?


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I would think over time the ball bearings would be damaged due to heat caused by friction. I would suggest a small grease gun with high temp wheel bearing grease would solve the problem and make it quieter. Someone may have already suggested that though. Great Job!

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    i saw a scrapped hard drive used as a bearing
    or a harbor freight magnetic nut and bolt holder two for the bottom and two for the top
    north and south magnet repel each other thats your frictionless bearing


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    One option might be to not use a lazy susan at all (they're not designed for a heavy duty cycle, really) but to recycle an automobile brake disk or drum as the load bearing device. They're extremely strong, have low-friction tapered roller bearings, very strong mounting studs, are quiet, last virtually forever, and are dirt cheap at any auto wrecking yard. They're also very well balanced and, due to the mass of the disk or the drum, add a bit of a flywheel effect to the rotating turbine. Only drawback I can think of would be that you'd need a bit of welding to anchor it to a bit of steel plate. You could also include an engine's countershaft pully to allow connection to the alternator via an old fan belt. Reuse, recycle :)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I found Mother Earth News thru a friend back in the early 80's and am always on the lookout for the older issues, the newer glossy paper style just isnt the same and seems more corporate than geared to to earthers, but thats just me so... Really nice ible but Id like to see more info on the alternator/generator, how is it hooked up, how many batteries does it keep charged

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    18 nite you can buy the entire archive of Mother Earth News on CD for a very reasonable rate from Mother . just go to their website Cos

    I'm just charging one marine battery at the moment using a sunforce charge controller which is designed for solar panels, not wind turbines. I am going to grid tie this before winter hits along with several other barrel turbines to help offset my electrical bill. At that point I will make another instructable for the DIY grid tie.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Don't the "Lazy Suzans" keep you awake at night? And couldn't you drive the generator with a v-belt?A fair sized pulley for mounting on the turbine can be had at the hardware store for a lot less than the cost of the gears.

    1 reply

    8 years ago on Introduction

    cuanto te costo el lazy susan y las bridas???