A Low-Cost Homemade Wind Turbine

article image
Some people did express interest in using a wind turbine for irrigation or power generation but eventually they'd ask, "What do you do when the wind doesn't blow?" and I'd answer truthfully, "The machine doesn't work, of course."

Long before the recent breakthroughs in vertical axis wind
turbine design, the basic idea was conceived independently
by many experimenters and worked up in several forms. One
such invention has been operating continuously since 1958,
and its owner was kind enough to send me the following
description. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

In answer to an inquiry from MOTHER EARTH NEWS about my family’s
experiments with the vertical axis wind turbine: This
machine made its first appearance, to my knowledge, about
1921… when William H. Swett (my father) built such a device
and installed it on a well somewhere in the vicinity of
Lovelock, Nevada. The plant was a failure due to the lack
of a governor and was demolished by a strong wind.

We did nothing further with the concept until 1958, when I
built a small commercial garage and decided to install a
wind turbine to pump the water I needed for my operations.
I designed perhaps half a dozen governors … all of them
either too easy to vandalize or too complex to construct,
with many critical parts that tended to wear out. Finally I
came up with a satisfactory solution: a hydraulic governor
of sealed construction, with two bearings that run in an
oil bath at all times and carry a very light load. This
device limits the speed of the turbine to 475-600 rpm and
has very little drag below 475 rpm.

The completed windplant has been in continuous service
since its installation in 1958 and has had its bearings
greased twice during the 16-year period. All that time it
has pumped water for the shop, and I’ve used it
simultaneously to charge batteries with the help of an
automobile generator and alternator.

The device attracted quite a bit of attention at first, but
no buyers. (There was no apparent energy crisis during
1958, you’ll recall, or for several years thereafter.) Some
people did express interest in using a wind turbine for
irrigation or power generation … but eventually they’d ask,
“What do you do when the wind doesn’t blow?” and I’d answer
truthfully, “The machine doesn’t work, of course.” That
ended the matter, and the prospective customer proceeded to
install a diesel,gasoline, or electric-driven pump.

Recent events, however, have very materially changed the
picture, and a good many people are now looking to one o:
man’s oldest power sources, the wind. (There’s at least one
recorded instance of a working windmill in 600 B.C . … and
how far back in history do we find mention of sailing
ships?; Now we’ve gone the complete circle, back to the
same cheap and inexhaustible resource used in ancient

This renewal of interest made me decide to build another
vertical axis wind turbine from easily obtainable materials
with a minimum of cash outlay. I finally finished an 8 foot x 6 foot
rotor turbine with a total expenditure of $42.00. All the
makings other than the galvanized sheet iron for the wind
deflector and rotor vanes were selected from scrap and
acquired at no cost.

This newer model (see the image gallery) has a large vee
pulley on the rotor drive shaft and a belt with a half
twist to turn a small pulley on a horizontal jack shaft. A
large pulley on the jack shaft to a small pulley on an
alternator or generator imparts sufficient speed to
generate full capacity with any wind of 10 mph up. A belt
runs from the jack shaft to a reducing gear and thence to a
pump jack that operates a plunger-type cylinder pump to
fill an overhead tank.