Water Power: Building a Pelton Wheel

Consider supplementing you home electric portfolio by generating power from a flowing water source with a moderate head using the Pelton wheel.

| March/April 1972

  • Pelton wheel
    Example of a Pelton wheel that receives water through a pipe. While the penstock may be set up to provide either a precipitous or sloping fall, it should be of as large a diameter as possible, have minimum bends, and hold down flow friction to the least amount.
  • Pelton Wheel - 25 ton wheel
    This 25-ton Pelton wheel is designed for installation in a 30,000-hp. unit. It turns at 171 r.p.m. and has a 1,008' head.
  • Pelton wheel - 12 inch
    A 12" Pelton wheel with reducer and gatevalve throttle.

  • Pelton wheel
  • Pelton Wheel - 25 ton wheel
  • Pelton wheel - 12 inch

Though one of man's oldest prime movers, a water wheel generator is still a fascinating piece of machinery. Perhaps this is because it appears comprehensible at a glance (although an efficient wheel is actually a product of subtle and inconspicuous design refinements), and because it seems to be a way of getting power for nothing. The wheel we describe here, with accompanying technical diagram, was especially designed for this series on harnessing small streams, and will reward a careful craftsman by delivering years of constant service. It's particularly suited for an installation having a moderate head (25' to 60') and relatively small flow (0.45 to 0.75 cubic feet per second). Subsequent installments will describe the construction of wheels suited for lesser heads of water and other varied conditions.

The wheel is an impulse wheel, driven by the impulses produced as water strikes revolving blades or buckets. In a perfectly designed wheel, the water strikes at high speed, exhausts its energy in driving the wheel to which the bucket is attached, and then falls free of the wheel.

Known as a Pelton wheel, this type developed from the "hurdy gurdy", a paddle wheel used in California by the forty-niners. The hurdy-gurdy was a wheel that rotated in a vertical plane, had flat vanes fixed around its circumference, and was driven by the force of water striking the vanes. It was not an efficient machine, but it was simple to construct. Then an engineer named Lester Pelton substituted a cup-shaped, divided bucket for each of the vanes, and by that step added a high degree of efficiency to the wheel's other virtues.

No single wheel will meet all operating requirements, but some will perform under a reasonably wide range of conditions. The following table indicates the r.p.m. and horsepower output that will be delivered by this wheel under given conditions of head and flow. The latter is measured in cubic feet per second:

Head: 25'
- Flow: 0.43; RPM: 350; HP: 1.0

Head: 30'
- Flow: 0.51; RPM: 390; HP: 1.3



February 15-16, 2020
Belton, Texas

Join us in the Lone Star state to explore ways to save money and live efficiently. This two-day event includes hands-on workshops and a marketplace featuring the latest homesteading products.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me