In a 1976 MOTHER EARTH NEWS article (Draw Water From Your Well Without Electricity) writer Clifford Gwinn said he was without water, electricity and money when he decided a well bucket would be a simple, temporary solution.
Gwinn asked his well driller about it and was told no one in their area of Pennsylvania used a well bucket anymore to get water since electricity was readily available. Most people do not even know how to use a well bucket, he said. In the days before the Internet, Gwinn also could not find a source for buying a bucket, also known as a bailer or torpedo bucket.
However, with his dad’s help, Gwinn produced a homemade well bucket for less than $5. According to the article, the bucket worked so efficiently that Gwinn scrapped his idea of eventually installing an electric submersible pump on his homestead.
Today, more folks everywhere are making the move to self-reliant living (180,000 off-grid Americans in 2006 according to “Off the Grid or on, Solar and Wind Power Gain,” (USA Today), with more people disconnecting every day. Their reasons for forsaking the power grid vary – from saving money and the environment to self-sufficiency and privacy.
Many of those choosing to transition to an off-grid lifestyle also do not want to rely on alternative energy systems, but prefer to operate their households independent of technology. As Gwinn discovered, a well bucket can meet the water needs of a family temporarily or until a more expensive water-pumping system can be installed.
Since most American homes have had access to reliable electricity for more than a generation, many have never used a well bucket. The following instructional video explains how to use a bucket either by hand or with a windlass:
In hand-dug wells, a traditional well bucket was used. When modern equipment enabled wells to be drilled with a much smaller diameter hole, a long skinny bucket was needed to fit inside the casing. These can still be found in antique stores or as porch ornaments, bringing back memories of bygone days.
Well buckets today are made in a variety of styles and of tin or plastic pipe. Most fill from the bottom and must be poured out from the top. This can be awkward when handling a full bucket. The bucket Gwinn made uses a rubber ball as a check valve and empties by setting the bucket into a container, which pushes up and opens the valve. The simplest (and most sanitary) buckets to use are the original style, those that fill from the bottom and can be emptied from the bottom with a lever at the top.
Before buying or making a well bucket, measure your well casing and determine if there is a liner. Also, determine the static water level with a weighted string to ensure you have enough rope to reach the water. More information can be found on our blog, “How to Measure Your Well and Static Water Level.”
Also, the well must be free from obstructions, including an electric submersible pump, before using a well bucket. Do not attempt to measure the static water level with a pump in the well without first turning off the power.
Before using a bucket, it is helpful to understand well construction. This 1997 Popular Mechanics article, “How It Works: Water Well Pump,” includes illustrations of the inside of a well casing.
Because water is heavy, roughly 8 pounds per gallon, and we generally need more than a few gallons at a time, raising and lowering a bucket is easier with some sort of tripod and pulley or windlass.
Well buckets are ideal for a secondary well without a pump installed. But, no matter what type of system you have now to pump water from your drilled well, a well bucket is inexpensive insurance that you can always get to your water.
Photos and Youtube video by Linda Holliday
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to producing products for off-grid living.