Inexpensive Mini Turbine




About: The name Cat’s Science Club comes from my daughter Aly, whom I call Aly Cat. She inspired me to take my love of science, and the fun I have with my students, to as many people as I can. Both my daughters hel...

Knowing a teacher or two and with Momma Cat's bean counting problem, we thought we better come up with an extremely inexpensive turbine. This way the bean counter and teacher in all of us can be happy :-)

Why build one of these mini turbines? Well they are inexpensive ;-) There is the wow factor. There is the educational benefits. The greatest benefit though is getting someone interested in green energy. Just look how easy it is to generate power. Yeah it is a very small amount of power but to most people electricity is not something easily understood. Get people interested in this easy to build, inexpensive turbine and perhaps they will be inspired to learn more. Have to light a match to get a fire.

These are so easy to make we had Cool Cat (8 year old) build it. That's his hand in the video. Couldn't get him to keep his hands off it lol. We hope that you enjoy this instructable and please check out our other instructables at - and don't forget to follow us!

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Step 1: Materials

What you will need are easily found at a hardware store.

Okay, we know what some of you are thinking, why a solar path light? Well we had bought around 20 at a dollar store. There are some cool instructables on here that show what can be done with the solar panels. We just need the tube off it. So take the tube off and save the rest of the solar light for your next instructable.


Electrical Tape

Motor- Pull out of old VCR or DVD player or buy off e-bay

Solar Path Light - Just need the pole off it.


Wood or Plastic - To make the tail. We used a shim but you could use just about anything.

3/4" PVC Pipe Fitting Tee

3/4 to 1/2 Bushings (2)

Hot Glue

Super Glue


Drill - Not Shown

Blades - Not Shown - Your own design or use ours


Your cost maybe different depending on what materials you have available. We had things like the glue, wire, shim (many other things will work), wire, and electrical tape ($2). The red LED is under $.10 (Amazon or eBay). The motor can be free if you find an old VCR or DVD. The bushings cost $.37 each and so did the 3/4" PVC Tee (PVC parts less than $1.20). Solar path light from dollar store, only a $1, but you could try some thinner PVC or strong tube that will fit through the PVC Tee. We spent under $5 for all the parts we didn't have. The cheapest turbine we could find on Amazon was just over $11 but the mini turbines go up in price to $60 plus.

Step 2: Solar Light?

We don't need the light fixture from the solar light but we need the tube that the light sets on. Take the tube off and save the solar light for another instructable. We will use the tube for our pole. The spike that comes with the tube is great for setting the pole in the grass or in a house plant. Fat Cat even had it stuck in a soda pop can. But be careful with the sharp side of the spike. Try to always have the spike safely in the tube or in the ground.

Step 3: Bushings?

    Place the 3/4" to 1/2 " bushings into the 3/4" PVC Tee. Make sure to only put them into the openings that are across from one another.

    Okay, most of us didn't know what a bushing was. Good thing that a friendly hardware sales person asked us what we were looking for and pointed these out to us. The bushings narrow the opening to the PVC Tee and makes a great fit for our pole.

    So why not just get 1/2 PVC Tee? Well our motor will not fit into 1/2 :-( but it does fit the 3/4 pretty good :-)

    Step 4: Swivel

    The solar light's tube needs to be modified slightly so the turbine will swivel on it and face the wind. We added electrical tape until the PVC Tee would set on the tube with out falling but not so much the PVC Tee couldn't move.

    Step 5: Fitting the Motor

    The 3/4" Tee is just a tiny bit to big for our motor. To fix this we had to add electrical tape around the motor. Now we have a great fit.

    Step 6: Tail

    Time to add the tail. Many different materials could be used on this and most of them will work. Simply glue the tail of your choice onto the PVC Tee and let dry.

    Step 7: Hole

    Mark where the hole will be for the motor, wire, LED connection and drill to the size of your LED bulb.

    Step 8: Fishing

    Connect your wires to the motor and fish through the hole.

    Step 9: Add LED

    Do not actually solder your LED. Simply wrap the wires around the legs of the LED. Long leg positive and short leg negative. When spinning the motor one way the LED will light up but turning it the other way it wont. Make sure the blades that you put on are spinning the motor in the correct direction. If not, simply switch the legs of the LED. Make sure to test before gluing the LED in place.

    Step 10: Glue!

    Straighten out the LED and glue into place. We show a LED holder to show another possibility for mounting the light into your hole.

    Step 11: Add Blades

    Add your blades to the motor. We took two propeller blades, crossed them, and glued them together. Blades could be made from plastic bottle (a good quality one) or wood. Cutting blades from a plastic McDonald's cup, gluing them to a plastic pop lid, poking a small hole in the lid, and placing that on your turbine works well too.

    Step 12: First Design

    This is our first truly inexpensive design. We had it out on the beach for a week. The picture shows some rust caused by the ocean water that was splashing up on it all week long. Not that bad.

    This is an even easier turbine build. No wiring and no drilling needed! Just connect the LED right to the motor.

    We used 1/2" PVC Tee which is to small for our motor and that is why the motor is on the outside.

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      54 Discussions

      I wonder if it is possible to charge a li-ion battery with this? There is an instructable here with similar basic but I am not sure if it works with a computer fan which has its own circuit.


      4 years ago on Introduction

      Will this motor from eBay will work for this which cost 3.33 $?

      Not able to find cheaper motor lesser than this.

      VCD DVD Player DC 5V 0.1A 6200RPM Wired Mini Electrical Motor

      1 reply

      5 years ago on Introduction

      Nice project. With a little imagination, it can be scaled up. All you would need is to design the project around a larger motor, maybe with larger PVC pipes?

      Having mentioned motors, I think one should test the motor first with a voltmeter before using it as a generator. It's sometimes not immediately obvious whether motor is 'brushless' or not. I've read that brushless motors cannot be used as generators, that is, they won't generate electricity.

      We bought them from Amazon for $9.99 however they are out of stock every time we try to order more, but make your own. It takes time but it will be free. We currently are experimenting with plastic spoons :)


      5 years ago on Introduction

      Very cool project!

      One thing I would add is to make sure that the motor selected is rated at well above the desired output voltage and rated close to the speed it will be turning.


      5 years ago on Introduction


      Did you measure the voltage and amperage?

      A sugestion for a next project is to embed a rechargeable battery and show the kids a practical use of the stored energy!


      10 replies

      This is our Simple-Backyard-Wind-Turbin that we put through a hole in a table that an umbrella would go through. Don't know why lol. We have it connected to a charge controller and then to 2 AA batteries and an LED. There was enough power to light up and LED and charge up the batteries. Sorry the picture cuts some details out. We may have a video on it if you are interested in seeing it.


      I know _I_ am interested a video (and details)! Where did you get the charge controller and how long did it take to charge the 2 batteries?



      Reply 5 years ago

      Agreed, that's a project I'd love to see! Together, they could be a great project to bring camping with a bunch of kids: build them the first day, run them to charge some batteries for a while (a day? Less, or more?), then put the batteries in flashlights for the kids to use so they can get a visceral feel for how much energy it really generated.