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Projects to Get You 
Off the Grid 

Rain Barrels, Chicken Coops, and 
Solar Panels 






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Projects to Get 
You Off the Grid 

Projects to Get 
You Off the Grid 

Rain Barrels, Chicken Coops, and Solar Panels 

Selected by, Edited by Noah Weinstein 


Copyright © 2013 by 

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced 
in any manner without the express written consent of the 
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is 
available on request. 

ISBN: 978-1-62087-164-5 

Printed in China 



This book is intended to offer general guidance. It is sold with 
the understanding that every effort was made to provide the 
most current and accurate information. However, errors and 
omissions are still possible. Any use or misuse of the 
information contained herein is solely the responsibility of the 
user, and the author and publisher make no warrantees or 
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author and publisher shall have neither liability nor 
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Furthermore, this book is not intended to give professional 
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contained herein, and act responsibly and safely at all times. 


Table of Contents 

Editor ’s Note 

^ Backyard Chicken Coop 
Clipping Chicken Wings 
Small Chieken Traetor for the City Dweller 
Chieken Barrow 

y Colleet Rain Water with a Wine Barrel 
Roughneek Rain Barrel 
Green Solar-Powered Water Barrel 
Rainwater Collection and Distribution System 

DIY 1000 Watt Wind Turbine 

How I Built an Eleetricity-Producing Wind Turbine 

Chispito Wind Generator 


How to Build a Thermoelectric Lamp 

Build a 60 Watt Solar Panel 
Solar Power System 
How to Make PV Solar Panels 
Solar Lawn Mower! 

Solar- Powered Fountain/Herb Garden 
Solar PV Tracker 

-(■•Greenhouse from Old Windows 

An Algae Bioreactor from Recycled Water Bottles 

Conversion Tables 



There is no better way to become self-sufficient than to get 
free energy and water from the sky, and free eggs from 
chickens housed in your own backyard. Projects to Get You 
Off the Grid showcases twenty-one exceptional step-by-step 
projects around the themes of solar and wind power, 
rainwater collection, and raising chickens. Each project is 
authored by an expert with a strong desire to share their 
knowledge and contains multiple images and written 
instructions to help you follow along, step by step. Let these 
projects inspire you to make your own green infrastructure to 
get you off the grid and become more self-sufficient. 

All of the projects in this book are from 
Instructables is the most popular project-sharing community 
on the Internet, and part of the Autodesk family of creative 
communities. Since August 2005, Instructables has provided 
easy publishing tools to enable passionate, creative people to 
share their most innovative projects, recipes, skills, and ideas. 
Instructables has over 80,000 projects covering all subjects, 
including crafts, art, electronics, kids, home improvement, 
pets, outdoors, reuse, bikes, cars, robotics, food, decorating, 
woodworking, costuming, games, and life in general. 

— ^Noah Weinstein 



Editor’s Note 

The wonderful thing about Instructables is that they come in 
all shapes and sizes. Some users include hundreds of 
high-quality pictures and detailed instructions with their 
projects; others take the minimalist approach and aim to 
inspire similar ideas than to facilitate carbon copies. 

One of the biggest questions we faced when putting this book 
together was: How do we convey the sheer volume of ideas in 
the finite space of a book? 

As a result, if you’re already familiar with some of the 
projects in this book, you’ll notice that selected photos made 
the jump from the computer screen to the printed page. 
Similarly, when dealing with extensive electronic coding or 
complex science, we suggest that anyone ready to start a 
project like that visit the Instructables’ online page, where 
you often find lots more images, links, multimedia 
attachments, and downloadable material to help you along the 
way. This way, anyone who is fascinated by the idea of 
converting a car to run on trash can take a look here at the 
basic steps to get from start to finish. Everything else is just a 
mouse click away. 

* Special thanks to Instructables Interactive Designer Gary Lu 
for the Instructables Robot illustrations! 


Chicken Coop 

By robbtoberfest 

( ard-Chicken-Coop/) 

I made this little chicken bam a few years ago to house three 
to five laying hens in my back yard. I’m in town and had to 
design a “pretty” one to keep people from having a chicken 
coup. This one was inspired by some Kansas bams I’ve seen. 
The total cost was about $40 when frilly completed. Chicken 
wire, some 2 x 4s, and damaged siding were the costs. 
Damaged siding is half price at my local lumber store. Other 
things I used were scrap wood from old bathroom cabinets, 
leftover hardware, paint, and wood from house projects, plus 
a lot of scraps and hardware from a condemned house down 
the street (I got permission to take things before they 
bulldozed it). Shingles were given to me by my neighbor, 
leftover from roofing his garage. There are some basic rales 
for designing and mnning a good healthy chicken shack: 

1 . Adequate floor space per bird. 

2. Dry with good ventilation. 

3. Temperature control. 

4. Predator protection. 

5. Keep it cleanlfresh water/food=happy and healthy birds. 


Many towns actually allow up to five chickens but no 
roosters. Check local rules on this if you plan to build. If you 
do get chickens in town, be courteous to the non-chicken 
majority so the rest of the city chicken people don’t get 
punished through politics and zoning. I submitted pictures of 
this coop to someone who was working on a coops book a 
while ago and they included a picture of it in Chicken Coops, 
45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock, by Judy Pangman. 
Sources for my chicken knowledge: Building Chicken Coops 
by Gail Damerow; The City Chicken; Raising Backyard 
Chickens; Feathersite; and the Poultry Page. I recently posted 
another coop, a chicken outhouse with a beer can roof at 

Step 1: Floor Space, Framing, and Nest Boxes 

My floor space includes the exterior run. I knew I wanted 
three heavy egg layers, so from the charts I used 10 square 
feet per bird rule. There are different suggestions in different 
books/guides; there is a pretty good chart at Virginia 
Cooperative Extension. I built this 18” off the ground to 
create a shady part of the pen underneath the coop. The floor 
is 2 X 4s framed like a little porch 3 feet by 4 feet sitting on 4 
X 4s attached with many 3” screws. The walls are just under 
4’ tall and I used 3” screws to put together the 2 x 4s. 
Four-foot walls are a good dimension because siding and 


plywood come in 4’ x 8’ sheets. I framed in the next boxes 
here. I think a rule is one box per three to five laying birds. 
They like dark, comfy places to lay. Making the boxes the 
size of a 12” dustpan works great when cleaning the coop. 
Many books suggest elevated boxes, but these floor boxes 
have worked great for three years now. Avoid treated lumber 
inside the coop or where they perch; the toxic stuff can affect 
the birds (i.e. sickness/death). 

Step 2: Roof 

I don’t have many step-by-step pics for this so you’ll have to 
use your skills to fill in the gaps. 1 cut 2 x 4s with angles to 
make three sets of rafters and attached them with 3” screws. I 
screwed down some old cabinet wood across the rafters to 
make the roof, leaving a little 4” hole near the center peak for 
a cupola. Then I shingled the roof leaving the center peak 
hole open. The cupola is made like a little bird house that sits 
over the vent hole. Use a hole saw to make holes in its sides 
and staple window screen on the inside to keep out the 
critters. Attach it with 3” screws. This helps meet rule #2: Dry 
with good ventilation. 


step 3: Walls 

Cut the siding to fit the framing and attaeh it with nails. Use a 
jigsaw to cut out doors and other openings; save the cutouts 
for building the doors. Keep the following in mind while 
designing walls: Make openings for windows; this is 
important for summer heat control. Build walls tight to keep 
out wind and drafts; this is important for winter cold control. 
This is a standard chicken coop rule: Have good ventilation 
but no drafts. 


Step 4: Doors 

A main door for you to access the coop and a small chicken 
door are the only doors really needed. But I added cabinet 
doors, a nest box door, chicken door and a main door on this 
thing. The hinges I used were from old bath and kitchen 
cabinets. The main door was made with old porch flooring. 
Boards were attached diagonally to the siding cutout with 
nails; then I used the jigsaw to clean it up around the outside. 
This made the door look more old fashioned. The nails will 
stick out the back side; bend them over or cut them and grind 
the stubs smooth. The other doors were made directly from 
the siding material and some trim wood. I just attached hinges 
and handles with some trim around the edges. The trim is 
important to close the gap where the saw cut the siding. I 
added some plastic near the top to shed rain over the cabinet 


Step 5: Finishing Touches 

Add the roost perch for night time. Make a perch out of a 2 x 
4 with the edges rounded a bit. Under the perch make a place 
for the droppings to gather. This roost area is usually the only 
place inside of the coop where the droppings are, which 
makes cleaning easy. (Don’t use treated wood!) When I 
finished the coop, it ended up being very heavy, so I attached 
some boards to the bottom and used a hand truck to wheel it 
(with help) to its home location. The run/pen can be made 
easily with 2 x 2s and 2 x 4s as seen in the pic below. I 
enclosed the top of the run to keep the hawks out. 1 later 
added a matching run on the opposite side when I added some 
more hens. 


Step 6: Extra Notes 

I’ve changed the coop a little over the years to allow for more 
birds. I’ve removed the storage area and added a roost in its 
place. Also, I’ve removed the small pen and made a large run 
for the birdies. 



Clipping Chicken 

By Noah Weinstein (noahw) 


Chickens can’t fly as well as other birds, but they can flap 
their wings enough to carry them over fences and out of the 
coop. If you’ve got backyard free range chickens, clipping 
their wings is a must so that you chickens don’t escape and 
get lost, or worse, like coming across an angry dog or some 
other predator in the area. Clipping chicken wings is a bit 
daunting if you’ve never done it before, but once you’ve 
clipped a wing or two, you’ll discover that it really isn’t as 
difficult or dangerous as you may have thought. 


• Clean pair of sharp scissors 

• Towel (optional) 

• Pliers (optional safety measure) 

• Com Starch (optional safety measure) 

• Gauze or rag (optional safety measure) 


Step 1 : Catch a Chicken 

The hardest part about elipping ehieken wings is eatehing the 
chicken. Some chickens are docile and like being touched, 
others fear humans and run away like their lives depend on it 
(which I guess they do sometimes). A few things that seem to 
help is to comer them in a small space so they have less of an 
area to get away from you. You can also use a towel and 
throw it over the chicken. That should slow them down long 
enough to grab them. Once you grab the chicken, you should 
gently apply pressure to their wings and pick them up, or you 
can go for the pro maneuver and snatch them up by their 
ankles. Watch out for their claws and beaks. The more 
regularly you handle your chickens, the easier it will be to 
catch and hold them. So for some chickens, this may be a non 
issue, but for first timers, it’s a little challenging. 


Step 2: Invert and Calm the Chicken 

Once you have caught the chicken, spend a minute calming it 
down. Pet it softly, make cooing noises, and, what seemed to 
work best — invert it. When the chicken is upside down, it 
goes into a trance and becomes much more docile. 


Step 3: Expose the Wing 

With the chicken upside down, identify which wing you are 
going to clip. Expose what are called the primary flight 
feathers by grabbing the chicken’s wing and gently pulling it 
away from its body. You can tell the primary flight feathers 
from the other feathers on a chicken’s wing because they may 
be a different color, are generally longer, and are the ten or so 
feathers closest to the tip of a chicken’s wing. Many people 
find success by clipping just one wing. Others clip both 
wings. The theory behind clipping just one wing is that the 
bird will be thrown off balance enough by having just one 
smaller wing that its flight capabilities will be drastically 
limited. It seems that chicken owners have not reached 
consensus yet on this issue. We cut back the feathers on only 
the chicken’s right wing. This way they’re all the same, and 
when we need to cut the wings again in a few months, we can 
be consistent with what wing we’d like to cut. 


Step 4: Cut Back the Primary Flight Feathers 

Using a clean pair of sharp scissors, clip around two-thirds of 
the length of the first ten or so feathers on the chicken’s wing. 
Take a look at the diagram below to see roughly how much of 
the feather you should be cutting off. You can also use the 
chickens secondary flight feathers (located in the same 
position on the wing as the primary flight feathers, just closer 
to the chicken’s body) as a guide. The idea is to cut off a 
significant amount of the feathers, while not making a cut so 
close to the chickens wing that you make them bleed. 
Chicken feathers have blood veins extending into them about 
an inch or so. If you cut below this point, the feather is 
completely dead, the chicken feels nothing, and the wings get 
clipped successfully. If you cut above this point (closer to the 
chickens body/wing) the chicken will begin to bleed through 
the cut feather and your chicken will be in danger. If that 
occurs, apply pressure to the tip of the feather with a rag, and 
get your chicken to a veterinarian. Com flour or starch 
applied to the cut feather cuticle can slow the bleeding and 
help the chicken clot. Additionally, grabbing the base of the 
feather with a pair of pliers and removing it completely from 
the chicken wing can also help the chicken clot. This process 
will hurt your chicken, but in a pinch, it may save its life. 
Apparently the veins in the feather itself just don’t clot very 
well. If you cut the primary feathers carefully, there’s no 
reason why you should ever cause your chickens to be in pain 
or to bleed during this process. 


Step 5: Release the Chicken 

Once you’ve trimmed the chicken’s feathers, release the 
chicken. It might be a little disoriented for a moment, but it 
should be unharmed. 


Small Chicken 
Tractor for the 
City Dweller 

By Jrossetti 

In this Instructable, I’ll outline the requirements for a small 
chicken tractor for the backyard chicken enthusiast, such as 
myself, and describe the process of building it. After seeing a 
lot of chicken tractors on the internet for outrageous prices, I 
decided it’d be better for me to build a cheaper one myself 
that fit my needs a bit better. I’ll show you how I did it and 
give some pointers on making your own design. 

For those of you who don’t know what a chicken tractor is, 
it’s essentially a chicken coop that can be moved around. 
Some of the main purposes for a mobile chicken coop are to 
allow the chickens to fertilize the grass (though this isn’t 
pretty at all), eat the grass (keeping it trim if done right), and 
eat bugs and weeds, and so it is easy to hide when your 
parents come to visit. There’s other benefits too, though I’m 
not saying a coop is not the way to go (my city actually has an 
ordinance stating any permanent chicken coop must be forty 
feet away from any human house, so a tractor is a nice, 
efficient way to bypass that ordinance). 

A lot of what went into my design is the direct result of trial 
and error and the input of the very knowledgeable people over 


So let’s begin. 

I started the project with the following goals: 

• Small enough to be moved by hand around my property 

• Big enough to comfortably house one to four chickens 

• General protection from the elements (sun, wind, rain, etc) 

• Protection from predators 

• Easy access to the things I need to access 

And of course, the following elements were required: 

• henhouse (where the chickens could sleep at night) with 
proper ventilation 

• nesting box (where they lay eggs) 

• covered run area (chickens don’t like sun tanning, or 
standing in the rain) 

• food and water support for at least one day 

So moving on to the first step we’ll take a look at the design. 


Step 1 : My Tractor Design 

From the intro, we have a general list of what we need to 
inelude in the design to make it successful. This list is the 
absolute bare minimum I would suggest any chicken tractor 
or even a chicken coop should include to make the upkeep 
easy for you and reduce worry. 

Size and Construction 

I wanted a tractor big enough for my chickens. I started out 
with three chickens but may have as many as four or five. 
Most sources on the Internet agree that chickens need a 
minimum of 1 square foot of indoor space and 2 square feet 
of outdoor space to live, and, of course, any more than that 
and they’re even happier. So based on that math, Fd need a 
henhouse size no smaller than 4 square feet, and a run no 
smaller than 8 square feet. I can do that! 

I ended up on dimensions of 3 feet wide, 7 feet long, and 
about 4 feet tall at the highest point. That is about 21 square 
feet of run space, and the henhouse is 9 square feet (3’ by 3’) 
and is about 3 feet tall at the highest point. 

Most of the frame will be made using 2” by 2” pine, the base 
frame from 2 x 4s, and the rest with whatever is cheapest. 

Protection from the Elements 

Now, with that list in hand, my next consideration is the 
environment the tractor will be in. In my case, it’s all level 
ground with a mix of bare ground (the garden area), grass 
(lawn area), and concrete (driveway and side yard). I also 


have fruit trees and shade trees. The weather is hot and dry in 
the summer and snowy in the winter, so we need to take all of 
that into consideration in designing the tractor. 

So, it’s pretty much a given that with all the different types of 
ground the tractor can travel on, we’ll need wheels. A 
sled-type of setup won’t work too well. 

Chickens don’t do too well in the sun, so they’ll need shade. 
They’ll get that with the trees in parts of the property, but not 
all, so I need to design a roof that will cover the run area of 
the tractor. And since it snows in the winter, it’s probably a 
good idea to slant the roof to shed the snow (and rain in the 
spring time). 

So I decided a roof slanted towards one end, made from PVC 
roofing, is probably the cheapest and easiest solution. 

The base of the tractor is made with redwood, which is more 
water resistant than pine or normal construction materials. 
Plus, I didn’t want to use any chemically-treated woods, as if 
the chickens peck at it they might get sick. 

Protection from Predators 

I want it to be heavy enough that it can’t be moved by any 
‘normal’ predator (dogs, cats, raccoons, etc). But I also want 
it light enough to move by hand. I also want it to be able to 
repel entry by most predators, so I won’t be using chicken 
wire! I don’t want any opening larger than about 1 square 
inch (even though I’m sure mice can get in that anyway, I just 
don’t want anything larger squeezing in). 


I will be using 1/2” hardware cloth for the sides, screwed 
down with big screws and washers, so it can’t be pulled out 
easily. Any doors will be secured with bolts or safety hooks, 
so most predators won’t be able to get in. 


The most important part of the henhouse is ventilation. 
There’s plenty of material out there on the net describing the 
dangers of improper ventilation in a henhouse and what you 
can do to mitigate those dangers. I am of the opinion that 
more is better, so I designed it with that in mind. 

The whole inside wall is open to the outside, with a 
removable panel that covers the lower portion in the winter. 
The upper back of the henhouse is a hinged vent panel, so I 
can open it wide in the summer and close it more in the 

Easy Access 

I want to be able to easily access the food, water, and nesting 
box in order to top off the food and water and take eggs. Also, 
I want to be able to easily get into the henhouse for cleaning, 
and the run area for the same reason. I additionally want to be 
able to open and close the henhouse door from the outside. 

So I’ve kind of integrated the waterer and feeder into the 
design since I don’t have a lot of space to work with. We’ll 
take a look at those in the next couple of steps. 

The Decision 


So, with all of this in mind, I will construct the tractor using 
wood, hardware, cloth, some PVC roofing and whatever other 
bits and bobs I find along the way that I need. The design 
went through a few different revisions, but here’s a couple of 
pictures of what the final design looks like. 

I have the final plan available in Google Sketchup format for 
those wanting exact dimensions. You’ll find it on step 5 of 
this Instructable. 

Step 2: The Waterer 

Normally, a watering system for chickens consists of a 
hanging waterer. They usually take up a lot of space and are 
messy because the chickens can get water everywhere. I 
didn’t want that and don’t have a lot of space to waste on it, 
so I opted for a nipple system, like what’s used in the bigger 
chicken factories. The nipple waterer is very efficient, gravity 
fed because it relies on very little pressure, and is actually 
pretty easy and cheap to implement. 


I got my nipples from TekSupply. They also have a version 
that is a push-in type. These work better for how I used them, 
but this is a DIY-as-you-go type of project so you might have 
better luck with the others. In any case, I bought a handful of 
each just in case. 

The nipples are plugged into 3/8“ ID Vinyl tubing, which is 
plugged into a 2-gallon bucket that sits on a little shelf up in 
the side of the henhouse. I have two of them in this setup: one 
inside the henhouse and one outside down in the run area. The 
TekSupply page for the nipples say they don’t require a drip 
cup, and, for the most part, that’s true; but keep in mind that 
most chickens are partially psychotic and I’ve seen them get 
water all over the place even with these little things. So you 
may want to consider getting a drip cup if yours are 
consistently messy. 

One other thing to keep in mind is that you want at least 12 
inches of height between the nipple and the bottom of the 
water supply, so you can get at least a couple psi to keep the 
nipple from dripping. 

The bucket is more or less in place. I can easily remove it 
should the need arise. I just need to detach the tubing from the 
bucket when I do. It’s easily filled using a plant watering can 
with a long spout; mine holds enough to fill it half way. Win! 

Winter Problems 

When I filled it with water to test it in the winter, I noticed 
it’d freeze up. I solved this by putting a 50 watt aquarium 
heater into the bucket, and kept the nipples from freezing by 
placing the inside nipple immediately next to the small 


radiant heater I’m already using to add a little warmth for the 
chickens. You’ll see what I’m talking about in a photo 
attached to the last step. 

The outside nipple I keep from freezing using a small 35 watt 
halogen reflector bulb. It keeps it warm enough to do the job 
and sheds a little light so the chickens can see what they’re 
doing, if that’s even remotely important. 

Step 3: The Feeder 

I also didn’t feel like I had a lot of room to put in a regular 
feeder, so I built my own. I built it using black ABS pipe. I 


obtained a 2’ length of 3” pipe, plugged it into a reducer with 
a couple of elbows, and strapped it onto the side of the 
henhouse, with the working end sticking through the 
hardware cloth. The chickens dig it. It’s not quite big enough 
that more than one can eat at a time, but they’re generally 
amiable and will wait — or will shove somebody aside so they 
can get to it. 

I spray-painted it to add some UV protection because ABS 
doesn’t play very well with sunlight. 

I put cheap caps on the ends to keep bugs out while I was 
building it. The lower cap I’ll probably stick back on 
whenever I’m moving the tractor to keep feed from going 
everywhere and whenever I fdl it. The upper cap I keep on all 
the time, to keep the mice out. 


Step 4: Construction 

I constructed the whole frame using standard 2 x 2s, 2 x 4s, 
and gold serews. I used some brackets and doodads where I 
thought it would help with stability. 

Check out the pietures to see how it all went together. 

After I got the basic frame put together, I added the henhouse 
floor, worked on the nesting box, and got the henhouse all put 
together before adding the hardware eloth/mesh sides. You’ll 
notiee I used some plastic mesh on the top of the run area and 
henhouse both; it’s much lighter than the steel stuff, and sinee 
the ehiekens are unlikely to ever come in contaet with it, it 
doesn’t need to be as durable. I fastened it in the same way, 
though, with big serews and washers for support. 

The henhouse door has a spring on the baek side to keep it 
closed when it’s supposed to be. It opens by pulling on that 
chain, and is kept open with a long bolt that’s slid into the two 
eye bolts, one on the door and one on the frame. The same 
eye bolt is used to “lock” the door shut at night. Yes, there is 
spaee in the door pieees, mostly for ventilation, but also 
because it looks eool. 


The upper rear vent window uses clear PVC roofing. That’s 
for light inside the henhouse, but also because I had some 
spare clear PVC leftover from another project and this was a 
perfect fit. I can look into the henhouse and see what the girls 
are up to with disturbing them too much. 

Speaking of PVC roofing — I attached the PVC roof using 
small screws and “sealing washers.” These are washers with a 
rubber gasket on one side. Once I got it all fastened down, I 
tested it out with the hose, and yep, it’s waterproof 



Step 5: Finishing Touches 

Well, it’s all put together, and now the chickens are chilling 
out in it. I’ve added the roost to the henhouse, and put a little 
“lip” on it to try to keep the bedding in place. The roost is 
actually another sub-assembly — it’s attached to a piece of 
plywood that screws onto the actual henhouse floor. This is so 
that I can remove the roost and floor entirely for a couple of 
different reasons: easier access to get inside the henhouse in 
case I change my mind about the watering system or need to 
do any work; for easier cleaning of the floor under the roost 
(it has 2 to 3 inches of pine bedding underneath it, which I 
figure will serve about a month before it gets tossed into the 
composter and new bedding is put down). 

I’ve also added a ramp up to the henhouse door. The chickens 
spend 99 percent of their time outside, but I think it’s because 
they’re pretty dumb creatures and haven’t figured out how to 
jump up inside yet. They have a natural tendency (like all 
birds) to sleep in the highest possible location, so I’m still 


scratching my head as to why they’d sleep down in the run 
when there’s a nice cozy roost to sleep in. Maybe this ramp 
will help out. Sorry, I don’t have any photos of it. 

The Final Word 

I’m sorry if I haven’t included specific dimensions for some 
parts and some of the assemblies here in this Instructable. I 
figure that if you download the Sketchup file, you can use the 
measuring tape tool in it to measure stuff out. But anyways, I 
just wanted to show how easy it is to build something like 
this, and I’m sure if you’re going to build your own you’ll 
come up with your own plan, or use mine as a general 
template and work your way from there. 

A Word About Cost 

I started this project with a goal of spending less than $250 
for the whole tractor. In actuality, I spent about $270 or so. I 
could have spent a whole lot less by scavenging wood, but 
that wasn’t a consideration at the time. Most of the expense 
was in the wood. The PVC roofing was rather cheap; I used 
two pieces at $10 a pop. And were I a better hand at 
construction, I could have done without all the little angle 
brackets and stuff. 


Author's note: 

I used 3/8" plywood for ever 5 dhing but the inner floor. 
Originally the inner removable floor was 1/2". I've made a 
few modifications to the tractor since then - now I've got a 
single piece of 3/4" plywood with linoleum for the removable 
floor, it adds stability for the roost, and is easier to clean. But 
the walls and other plywood bits still are the original 3/8". 

One other change I might point out - the vinyl roofing is OK, 
but after having this up for a few months, I don't think the 
roofing will last. It's already slightly warped in some spots 
and while it's still keeping out the rain, it looks ugly. If you 
are ok with the extra weight, or don't plan on moving the 
tractor often/ever, you might want to consider using a metal 
roof It's cheaper, more durable, and will keep the sun/heat 
out better in the summer; on the other hand, it's heavier. 


Chicken Barrow 

By Sarah Noce (scmtngirl) 

WWW. instructables . com/ id/ Chicken-Barrow/) 

I call this a Chicken Barrow instead of a Chicken Tractor 
because it really reminds me more of a wheel barrow than a 
tractor! Anyway, after researching chicken tractors in-depth 
online, I finally decided on the “hoop house” design and am 
very pleased with how it came out. I think this is a good 
project for someone with little to no building skills, and it’s 
easy to get your friends to help because they want to know 
what it is! I enlisted the help of some girlfriends and my 
carpenter husband, who offered a lot of advice for my project 
and helped us end up with a perfectly square frame and very 
solid final structure. For example, I probably would have used 
galvanized nails, but he said pre-drilling and using screws is 
the way to go, which makes sense, but I would have never 
thought of that myself. Additionally, I’m pretty sure you 
could get away with a structure that was not perfectly square, 
but it certainly made it easier to align the PVC. I wanted 
something relatively heavy to deter predators from trying to 
move/lift it, so 2 x 4s were used (and because we had some 
on hand). A smaller dimension of wood could be used if you 
think predators are not as much of a problem. We have 
raccoons, coyotes, mountain lions (rare, but chickens might 
attract them!), and dogs and cats (including my own) that 
freely roam the neighborhood. We already had a 3’ by 6’ 
sheet of plywood in the garage, as well as some 8’ 2 X 4s, so 


we decided to make mine 3’ wide X 3’ high X 8’ long to 
minimize waste. 

A few things still need to be added: 

• On one end, we will use a jigsaw to cut out a door (and 
attach it with simple hinges) as well as two wheels. The wheel 
bolts I bought to attach the 6” ball-bearing wheels are not 
long enough to attach to the 2 x 4s, so I will need to find 
longer bolts at the hardware store, which is why we did not 
attach them yet. 

• On the other end of the barrow, we will add a nesting box 
with a hinged lid (for egg gathering) made out of plywood as 
well as two handles for maneuvering the barrow. The handles 
will also act as extra support for the nesting box. 

• I will attach two 4’ 2 x 4s to the ends of a piece of tarp to 
provide the chickies with shade in the summer and wind 
protection in the winter. 

• Both the hinged door and the hinged lid of the nesting box 
will be secured with padlocks to deter the opposable thumbs 
of determined raccoons. 

I plan to get four chicks. I think they will be quite 

Materials/Tools Needed 

• six 8’ 2 X 4s (three to be used uncut for long pieces, and 
three to be cut down into smaller cross braces and diagonal 


• one 3’ by 6’ piece of 3/4” plywood (can fit into a non 
tull-size truck!) 

• twelve 1/2” pipe straps 

• six 1/2” pieces of PVC cut into 8’ lengths by your local 
hardware store 

• about 20 feet of welded wire (you will have some left 
over — ^use it for garden cages) 

• about 20 feet of chicken wire (ditto) 

• lots of galvanized 2.5” deck screws 

• cordless drill gun 

• cordless screw gun 

• jigsaw 

• circular saw (optional) 

• at least an afternoon’s worth of time! 


Step 1 : Cut the Plywood Ends 

We first cut the piece of plywood in half and screwed both 
pieces together so they could be cut with the jigsaw at the 
same time. Then, using screws as a guide, we carefully bent 
the PVC, following the edges of the plywood, and then 
fastened the ends with two pipe straps for safety. We used a 
pencil to trace the shape of the PVC. We removed the guide 
screws (but not the screws holding the two pieces together) 
and cut through both pieces of plywood with the jigsaw. We 
then unfastened the remaining screws and set the two pieces 
aside. Note: We ended with a flat portion at the top of the 
curve of the plywood, which ended up being useful later. 


Step 2: Build the Frame 

We used two 96” (8’) 2 x 4s for the long ends and two 34 
5/8” 2 X 4s for the short ends (which takes into account the 
true dimensions of 2 x 4s so we would end up with a frame 
that was exactly 36 inches wide to match the width of our 
plywood). My husband cut the short end pieces with the 
circular saw because he’s fast and I’m afraid to use it. We 
added three more 34 5/8“ horizontal cross braces to the 
rectangular frame. These add stability and double as roosts for 
the chickens! We then squared up the frame and added 
diagonal cross braces. Every connection was pre-drilled and 
screwed using two 2.5” galvanized deck screws. It is easier if 
you have two guns: one for drilling and one for screwing. 


Step 3: Take a Break . . . Then Connect the Plywood Ends 

We took a short break. My dog thought the barrow was being 
built for him. Next, we attached the plywood end 
pieces — again, pre-drilling and using screws. I think we used 
three screws on each end. We attached another 96” 2 x 4 as a 
center support and recessed it below the tops of the plywood 
ends by a half inch to account for the width of the 1/2” PVC 
piping that would be bent over the top. 


Step 4: Add PVC Supports 

We measured the distance needed between each PVC pipe to 
accommodate six pieces spaced evenly apart and then 
screwed twelve 1/2” pipe straps to the frame according to our 
measurements. 1 think they were spaced 27.5” apart. We 
snaked the PVC pipe into one end and then the other and cut 
off the excess with the jigsaw. 1 accidentally bought one 3/4” 
pipe strap, so we pre-drilled and screwed that end into the 2 x 
4 since it was loose inside the strap. We later on decided to 
pre-drill and screw all the PVC ends, just in case the pipe 
straps became weak. We also pre-drilled and screwed the tops 
of the PVC pieces into the top support piece. I didn’t think to 
buy six additional pipe straps for this top piece, but 1 think the 
screws will hold it in place just fine. 


Step 5: Cover Your Barrow with Wire 

I decided to use both welded wire and chicken wire as a cover 
for my chicken barrow. The welded wire has the strength that 
chicken wire lacks, but the chicken wire is smaller than the 
welded wire to keep out grabby raccoon hands. The welded 
wire came in 4’ width, so even though the long 2 x 4s are 8’, I 
forgot to account for the depth of the plywood, so two pieces 
of welded wire didn’t quite cover the length of the barrow. 
Each length of welded wire was stapled to the plywood ends, 
leaving a small approximately 2” gap in the middle of the 
barrow. However, I figure that I’m covering the whole thing 
with chicken wire anyway, so the gap probably isn’t a big 
deal. It was easiest to turn the barrow on its side to staple on 
the wire. We wrapped the wire all the way around the bottom 
of the frame, but not so much that the sharp edges stuck out 
beyond the width of the frame. My hand was pretty sore after 
all the stapling. We finished stapling the chicken wire, so now 
all we need to do is cut out the door, attach the door hinges, 
attach the wheels, attach the handles, and build a small 
nesting box. That will have to wait until next weekend, 
though, because it started raining. I will also cover one half of 
the barrow with a tarp secured by 2 x 4s to provide shade and 
shelter for the chickies! 



Collect Rain 
Water with a 
Wine Barrel 

By Mallie (chout) 


Collect-rain- water-with-a-winebarrel/) 

I think I read all of the Instructables about collecting rain 
water. Finally decided to build my own with a wine barrel 
because I didn’t want to destroy the look of my future-to-be 
terrace. I always found rain water collectors super ugly. It’s 
usually an old plastic tank or barrel; handy but not very 
pleasing to the eye (and I didn’t have the motivation to build 
something like this to hide it). Anyway, here’s how I did it. 


• a wine barrel (found on eBay for 50 EUR). Make sure to get 
one with a lid and a cork (usually it’s a special cork located in 
the belly part of the barrel). 

• a rain water collector to hook up to the gutter (found on 
eBay for 19 EUR, but otherwise available in nearly all DIY 
shops). I chose this model because the collected water would 
come out via a little tube and not an “open-air” half-pipe 

• driller 


flat wood drill heads 

• some screws 

• an old piece of board about the length of the barrel’s lid 

• a handle 

Step 1: Prepare the Barrel’s Lid 

Usually the lids of wine barrels are a bit wobbly. They are 
made of planks inserted into each other and are supposed to 
be inserted in a groove at the top, inside the barrel. Because of 
that, I had to make the lid stronger so it would not wear out 
from frequent usage. I found an old piece of wood board in 
my garage and screwed it tight at the back of the lid. I made 
sure to use rustproof (INOX) screws. In order to be able to 
close the barrel and properly put the lid back on (and because 
the lid is round), I had to saw the four comers of the board as 
you can see in the picture. Last year we bought a new kitchen 
and we received two extra handles (don’t ask me why), so 
I’ve decided to use one of them for my barrel. The screws that 


came with the handle weren’t long enough to go through the 
thickness of the lid, plus board attached at the back. So I used 
a flat drill head to make a wider hole and reduce the thickness 
so I could properly attach the handle. Make sure to place the 
handle in the middle of the lid; it’s not only more beautiful 
but also easier to manipulate when you open/close the barrel. 

Step 2: Connect the Rain Water Collector on the Gutter 

I followed the instructions that came with the PVC rain water 
collector (rwc) to hook it up to one of my gutters. It was super 
easy; I just had to saw an 8cm section off the gutter at the 
right height and insert the collector. Important! In order to 
prevent an overflow and avoid my barrel to be overfilled, I 
installed the rwc a bit lower than the top of the barrel. 
Therefore the water in the barrel can’t go higher than the 
height on the gutter where the water is collected. I drilled a 
large hole with the wood flat drill head, inserted the 
transparent tube that came with the rwc, then used silicon 
(same as for a shower tub or bath) to seal it and make it 
waterproof That way the water could flow back via the tube 
should it reach a certain level in the barrel. 


Step 3: Here Comes the Rain 

Within one week my barrel was full to the top (I was even 
surprised by how much water I had in just a week). I now use 
it to water my plants and flowers, to wash my terrace, etc. 
There’s still a little bit of wine smell when you open the 
barrel, but that’s more a positive point than a negative one. 


Roughneck Rain Barrel 

By DonnieDillon 


This afternoon I went to the hardware store, spent $38.22, and 
came out with everything I needed to make a roughneck rain 
barrel. My plan is to use the water I harvest from my roof to 
water my plants and my chickens, wash the car, and fill up 
my squirt guns. It was fun and easy and took less than two 
hours to complete and made me feel very green and 

Parts and Tools 


• 1 32-gallon Rubbermaid roughneck trashcan (from my 

• 1 roll of window screen (on hand from fixing the patio door 
last summer) 

1 90’ hose ($15.00) 
1 nozzle set ($3.00) 


• 1 set of three-conduit locknuts ($0.99) 

• 2 half-inch boiler drains ($9.48) 

• 4 flat metal washers ($2.10) 

• 4 rubber washers ($5.32) Total with tax: $38.22 

• utility knife 

• scissors 

• staple gun 

• pliers 

• screwdriver 


Step 1: Attaching the Faucets 

1. Begin by using the utility knife to eut a hole in the trash 
can for the faucet several inches from the bottom of the can, 
but be careful not to make the hole too big. The rubber 
washers will keep any of your harvested rain water from 
leaking out of your barrel. 

2. Thread the metal washer onto the faucet first, then the 
rubber washer. The rubber washer should be sandwiched 
between the metal washer and the side of the trash can. 

3. Place the faucet through the hole you cut and put another 
rubber washer on the inside of the trash can. 

4. Use the pliers to help screw the locknut on tightly. The 
tighter the screw, the less likely there will be leaks. 

5. Repeat this process for the second faucet several inches 
from the top of the trash can. While a second faucet probably 
isn’t absolutely necessary it can act as an overflow valve. 


Step 2: Attaching the Screen 

The screen is important. It will keep debris out of your rain 
barrel. It will also keep mosquitoes from being able to get in 
and lay eggs in your water. 

1 . Lay the screen over the top of the trash can. 

2. Begin stapling the screen to the top of the trash can. Be 
sure the can is clean inside before you staple it closed. 

3. Use the scissors to trim off the excess screen. 


Step 3: Making the Lid 

I don’t suppose a lid is strictly necessary, but I think it makes 
it look a little better, and it will keep debris from piling up on 
top of your rain barrel. Using the utility knife cut out an 
opening in the lid of the trash can. This will be the intake for 
the downspout from your gutters. Put the lid on over the 
screen and your rain barrel is complete. 


Step 4: Installing the Rain Barrel 

The last step is installing your rain barrel. 

1 . Begin by cutting your down spout to the desired height. I 
used a utility knife, but I suppose a Dremel tool would work 
too. You may need to move a couple of the brackets that hold 
the down spout to the wall. Just unscrew them and move them 
where you want them. 

2. Reattach the curvy bit at the bottom of the down spout and 
set your rain barrel underneath. 

I attached a hose to the faucet at the bottom of the barrel and 
ran it around the side of the house to the front where I need it, 
but you could just as easily skip the hose all together and save 
yourself $15.00. 



Green Solar-Powered Water Barrel 

By Daniel Moeller (damoelid) 



A green way of using rainwater with the convenience of city 
water. The attached solar regenerated pump enables you to 
water plants with pressure, even when the water in the barrels 
falls low enough that it barely passes the level of the faucet. 
The sun-warmed water also aids in the growing of plants as it 
does not shock them. The twin 85-gallon barrels are raised 
onto a very sturdy 4x4 box assembly from recycled wood, 
held together with new carriage bolts because the total weight 
of all the water when full is approximately 17001bs. This 
frame is resting on eight 2”-thick, 1 8” square cement pads to 
prevent sinking. The barrels are raised to increase the head 
pressure and decrease the work load on the pump. 

Step 1: Water Supplied from Mother Nature 

Link barrel to downspout. Be sure that the top of barrel 
remains below level of water entry. I found the Watersaver 
attachment for the 3 x 4 downspout pipe works perfectly. In 
order to enable adequate water flow to the barrel, I adapted 
the Watersaver attachment by drilling out the side and adding 
a flange for a 1” PVC fitting. I sealed this by using a rubber 
gasket and additionally using a silicone sealer. Ensure there is 
a downward slope between the downspout and the barrel 


Step 2: Overflow Back to the Downspout 

Ensure you have a eomplete path for water from the 
downspout to the barrel or barrels and then from the overflow 
to the downspout again. Use 1” PVC overflow line from the 
last barrel back to the downspout. Ensure you maintain a 
drain angle towards the downspout or sediment could collect 
in the line. 

Step 3: Downspout Drain Connection 

One-inch PVC entry back into the downspout. Ensure PVC 
pipe does not fully block the 2” by 3” downspout and keep 
the downward slope to the pipe to make the water flow 
towards the downspout. 


Step 4: Manifold 

Common connection point for using water. This photo of the 
manifold is before I put the water gauge on (shown on intro 
and last step). 

Step 5: Water Filter 

Filter the water from the barrel to protect the pump. This 
keeps the roof sediment from wearing out the pump. This 
water filter will last forever, as it has a reusable nylon mesh 
fdter inside that only requires periodic rinsing. 

Step 6: Battery Box with Power Switch 

Keep the battery and pump protected from the elements inside 
a full size battery case. 


Step 7: Inside View of Battery Box with Motor 

An inside view of the standard size battery case and 
equipment layout. The solar cell was left with clamp 
connections in order to enable quick removal of the battery 
case lid for cleaning and maintenance. The pump was 
recycled from an older sailboat. The battery is a standard size 
lawn tractor 12V, and with proper maintenance should last six 
to ten years before needing to be recycled at the depot. An 
older car battery that just doesn’t have the power to crank the 
car fast enough anymore would be more than adequate for 
this application and a great alternative to buying a new 
battery. The 5.5W solar cell was also recycled for a fraction 
of its original cost from an online classified, and solar cells 
have a lifespan of approximately fifteen to twenty years. I 
wanted this little project to last as long as possible before 
needing any repairs. 

Step 8: Flowjet Pump 

Close up of Flojet 4405-143. Another pump that I have seen 
that is almost identical to this is made by Shurflo. This type of 
pump is used in RVs or sailboats to supply water pressure, as 
well as for using as a wash down pump on boats. I chose this 
type because it has an internal pressure switch that stops it 
from running all the time, only turning on when the water 
pressure in the hose drops. In addition I got a super deal on it 
secondhand. There are many different styles of pumps 


available that will be more than adequate for this application. 
It depends on your budget and the availability of secondhand 
pumps in your area. Other things to consider would be 
whether or not you want the pump running all the time (lawn 
sprinkler) or only when you press the trigger on your hose 
nozzle. Without a built-in pressure switch, the pump will run 
whenever the power is switched on. In all types of 
applications, make sure the pump output pressure does not 
exceed the pressure rating of your hose/pipe or it might burst 
if the outlet closes or becomes blocked unexpectedly. 

Step 9: Water Gauge 

As the water level changes inside the barrel, the level inside 
the tube will follow the same level. This was fiin to install as I 
didn’t want to waste all the nice rainwater and drain the tank 
before I drilled a 3/4” hole in the bottom of the tank to install 
the angled shut-off valve. I reminded myself to only use a 
battery powered drill. I reused some half-inch plastic tubing 
that I had left over from another application and connected it 
to a 3/4” angle valve with a shut off (which came in handy 
during install). I sealed around and under all penetrations into 
the barrel (valve and screws) with a two part epoxy that was a 
waterproof filler and sealer. It is important to not completely 
seal the tube or the level will not change to reflect the level in 
the barrel. 



Rainwater Collection and Distribution 

By Mark Shannon (markl 1 photography) 



This is a custom system I designed to collect the rainwater 
coming off of my roof and have both the ability to store the 
water and distribute it without attaching any temporary 
piping. My apologies in advance that I don’t have pictures 
showing the step-by-step construction. 

Get Your Materials and Tools 

It’s a pretty simple collection of materials, most of which can 
be found at your local hardware store. I did a little hunting 
around to find an appropriate rain barrel and ended up getting 
one from an eco-store here in Calgary. 


• (6)2 X 4 studs (each 8 feet long) 


• approximately (100) 3” long deck screws 

• 5 5 -gallon rain barrel 

• sections of 2” central vacuum tubing (could substitute 
plumbing PVC or ABS pipe, but they cost two or three times 
the price). Length is determined by the distance you need the 
water to travel — I needed six sections. 

• assorted couplings, end caps, 90 degree elbows, 2” ball 
valve, one ‘Y’ section, and two threaded adapters to co nn ect 
into the rain barrel. 

• 2” plastic straps to affix the pipe to the fence. 

• (1) 10’ length of 3” PVC pipe and assorted 3” couplers/ 

• Silicone caulking 

• stainless steel screws (optional, or substitute the deck 

• PVC/ABS Glue 

• C-shaped straps — ^number depends on the length of your 
delivery pipe 


• power drill 

• saw (I used a mitre saw, but a hacksaw would work) 


measuring tape 

• level 

Step 1 : Build the Stand 

I didn’t have any set plans, but I knew I wanted to build 
something that wouldn’t fall apart under the weight of the 
water-fdled barrel. A 55-gallon barrel of water weighs over 
200 kilograms. Also, if the base sags, the connections will be 
stressed, so make the base of the legs wide to support the 
weight. I built mine out of 2 x 4s, roughly 2’ by 2’ by 2’. The 
barrel I purchased (which can be obtained quite 
inexpensively, just make sure what they used to contain 
wasn’t toxic) had a spigot attached, so I had to accommodate 
that during construction. I had to be careful to make sure the 
lengths were correct (measure twice, cut once), and that the 
joints were square. Take a bit of extra time and it will stand 
up much longer. 


Step 2: Prep the Pipe 

In this step I prepared the lengths of pipe by drilling a 1/2” 
hole every foot along the pipe — ^be sure that they are all in 

Step 3: Determine Your Fall Line 

I have a 40’ section of fence I wanted the pipe to travel, so I 
put a screw in the fence at the level the water would be 
exiting the barrel, and then a second screw in the fence where 
the pipe would end. I then took a string and attached it to both 
screws to find out what the fall would be from the barrel. 
From this line I put marks on the fence where I would attach 
the pipe using the straps. 

Step 4: Attach the Pipes to the Fence 

I attached the pipes to the fence with some plastic C-shaped 
straps, which I found in the electrical section of the hardware 
store. Then, using the ABS/PVC glue I connected the end 


cap, and then I went pipe-to-pipe with couplers — almost all 
the way back to the barrel. 

Step 5: Plumb the Barrel 

This step proved to be a bit more complicated than I expected, 
mostly because I was using vacuum tubing/connectors on one 
side. However, the only pieces I could find to connect to the 
barrel were for plumbing. Unfortunately, they were about 
1/16 of an inch smaller than I wanted them to be. So after 
cleaning the inside a bit with a Dremel, I was back in 
business. I designed this system to be able to store rainwater, 
but have a spillover pipe that would take any excess into the 
pipe system and away from the house. This spillover pipe 
enters the main pipe on the opposite side of the valve (see 
pictures). I cut holes in the barrel, as I was concerned that the 
small spigot wouldn’t be able to handle any volume of water. 
I then attached the plumbing fixtures at the top and bottom 
and used some silicone caulking to seal the connection. I then 
measured, cut, and glued the pipes, elbows, and valve 


Step 6: Connect the Valve Assembly to the Watering Pipe 

This is pretty straight forward — it helps to have a bit of 
leeway in your watering pipe (the one you drilled holes into). 
Use couplers if needed and the ABS/PVC glue. 

Step 7: Connect to Your Eaves Trough 

I did this step a day after I did the other steps, and from one 
day to the next I learned that the 2” pipe capacity was just 
barely enough to handle any real volume of water coming 
from the barrel. So, I opted for a 3” diameter ABS pipe to 
handle the water coming from the roof It was a little tricky 
getting the oversized fixture to attach to my aluminum eave, 
but with some minor modifications I got it to work. Again, I 
used some silicone caulking to seal the connection. 


Step 8: Test the Connections for Leaks 

Finally, if you have a rainstorm, nature will do this for you, 
but if not (as in my ease) 1 used my garden hose. I learned 
that I had a small leak coming from the eave 
connection — ^which I fixed once it dried out using some more 
caulking. We haven’t had any real rain as of yet, but I 
anticipate this system working just fine. 



DIY 1000 Watt Wind Turbine 

By Steve Spence (sspence) 

( - 1 000-watt- wind-turbine/) 

We built a 1000 watt wind turbine to help charge the battery 
bank that powers our off-grid home. It’s a permanent magnet 
alternator, generating three-phase AC, rectified to DC, and 
fed to a charge controller. The magnets spin with the wind 
and the coils are fixed, so no brashes or slip rings are 

Step 1 : Build the Magnet Disks 

We had 12” steel disks hydro cut. We cut a template for 
mounting the magnets. Then we mounted 12-grade n50 
magnets around the outside edge. We then built a form, and 
poured the resin with hardener. 


Step 2: Build the Coil Disk 

We wound the nine individual coils, soldered them in a 
three-phase wye configuration, and encased them in resin. We 
used 35 turns of two parallel strands of 14-gauge enameled 
(magnet) wire for 12 volts. Use 70 turns of single strand for 
24 volts. The three-phase diagram shown here shows three 
stator coils. Each coil is actually three coils in a series. Coils 
1, 4, and 7 are series together, 2, 5, and 8 are series together, 
and 3, 6, and 9 are series together. 



Step 3: Build the Bearing Assembly 

Two Harley Davidson wheel bearings are inserted into the 
pipe, with a smaller pipe locked between them to keep them 
in place. 


Step 4: Construct the Blades 

The blades are 2” by 6” pine, cut at 10 degrees on a table saw, 
and sanded into a rough airfoil. Not perfect, but close enough. 

Step 5: Bolt It All Together 


How I Built an Electricity-Producing 
Wind Turbine 

By Michael David (mdavisl9) 


How-I-built-an-electricity-producing- wind-turbine/) 

Several years ago I bought some remote property in Arizona. 
I am an astronomer and wanted a place to practice my hobby 
far away from the terrible light pollution found near cities of 
any real size. I found a great piece of property. The problem 
is, it’s so remote that there is no electrical service available. 
That’s not really a problem. No electricity equals no light 
pollution. However, it would be nice to have at least a little 
electricity, since so much of life in the twenty- first century is 
dependent on it. 

One thing I noticed right away about my property is that most 
of the time, the wind is blowing. Almost from the moment I 
bought it, I had the idea of putting up a wind turbine and 
making some electricity, and later adding some solar panels. 
This is the story of how I did it. Not with an expensive, 
store-bought turbine, but with a home-built one that cost 
hardly anything. If you have some fabricating skills and some 
electronic know-how, you can build one too. 


Step 1 : Acquiring a Generator 

I started by Googling for information on home-built wind 
turbines. There are a lot of them out there in an amazing 
variety of designs and complexities. All of them had five 
things in common though: 

1 . A generator 

2. Blades 

3. A mounting that keeps it turned into the wind 

4. A tower to get it up into the wind 

5. Batteries and an electronic control system 

I reduced the project to just five little systems. If attacked one 
at a time, the project didn’t seem too terribly difficult. I 
decided to start with the generator. My online research 
showed that a lot of people were building their own 
generators. That seemed a bit too complicated, at least for a 
first effort. Others were using surplus permanent magnet DC 
motors as generators in their projects. This looked like a 
simpler way to go. So I began looking into what motors were 
best for the job. A lot of people seemed to like to use old 
computer tape drive motors (surplus relics from the days 
when computers had big reel to reel tape drives). The best 
apparently are a couple of models of motor made by Ametek. 
The best motor made by Ametek is a 99 volt DC motor that 
works great as a generator. Unfortunately, they are almost 
impossible to locate these days. There are a lot of other 
Ametek motors around though. A couple of their other 


models make decent generators and can still be found on 
places like eBay. I managed to score one of the good 30 volt 
Ametek motors off of eBay for only $26. They don’t go that 
cheap these days. People are catching on to the fact that they 
make great wind generators. Other brands will work, so don’t 
fret about the price Ameteks are going for. Shop wisely. 
Anyway, the motor I got was in good shape and worked great. 
Even just giving the shaft a quick turn with my fingers would 
light a 12 volt bulb quite brightly. I gave it a real test by 
chucking it up in my drill press and connecting it to a dummy 
load. It works great as a generator, putting out easily a couple 
hundred watts with this setup. I knew then that if I could 
make a decent set of blades to drive it, it would produce 
plenty of power. 

Step 2: Making the Blades 

Blades and a hub to connect them to were the next order of 
business. More online research ensued. A lot of people made 
their own blades by carving them out of wood. That looked 
like an outrageous amount of work to me. I found that other 
people were making blades by cutting sections out of PVC 
pipe and shaping them into airfoils. That looked a lot more 
promising to me. I followed that general recipe. I did things a 
little differently though. I used black ABS pipe since my local 
home center store just happened to have precut lengths of it. I 
used 6” pipe instead of 4” pipe and 24 inches instead of 19 
5/8. I started by quartering a 24-inch piece of pipe around its 


circumference and cutting it lengthwise into four pieces. Then 
I cut out one blade, and used it as a template for cutting out 
the others. That left me with four blades (three plus one 
spare). I then did a little extra smoothing and shaping using 
my belt sander and palm sander on the cut edges to try to 
make them into better airfoils. I don’t know if it’s really much 
of an improvement, but it didn’t seem to hurt, and the blades 
look really good (if I do say so myself). 

Step 3: Building the Hub 

Next I needed a hub to bolt the blades to and attach to the 
motor. Rummaging around in my workshop, I found a 
toothed pulley that fit on the motor shaft, but was a little too 
small in diameter to bolt the blades onto. I also found a scrap 
disk of aluminum 5 inches in diameter and 1/4” thick that I 
could bolt the blades onto, but wouldn’t attach to the motor 
shaft. The simple solution of course was to bolt these two 
pieces together to make the hub. Much drilling, tapping, and 
bolting later, I had a hub. 


Step 4: Building the Turbine Mounting 

Next I needed a mounting for the turbine. Keeping it simple, I 
opted to just strap the motor to a piece of 2 x 4 wood. The 
correct length of the wood was computed by the highly 
scientific method of picking the best looking piece of scrap 2 
X 4 off my scrap wood pile and going with however long it 
was. I also cut a piece of 4” diameter PVC pipe to make a 
shield to go over the motor and protect it from the weather. 
For a tail to keep it turned into the wind, I again just used a 
piece of heavy sheet aluminum I happened to have laying 
around. I was worried that it wouldn’t be a big enough tail, 
but it seems to work just fine. The turbine snaps right around 
into the wind every time it changes direction. I have added a 
few dimensions to the picture. I doubt any of these 


measurements are critical though. Next, I had to begin 
thinking about some sort of tower and some sort of bearing 
that would allow the head to freely turn into the wind. I spent 
a lot of time in my local home center stores (Lowes and 
Home Depot) brainstorming. Finally, I came up with a 
solution that seems to work well. While brainstorming, I 
noticed that 1” diameter iron pipe is a good slip-fit inside 1 
1/4” diameter steel EMT electrical conduit. I could use a long 
piece of 1 1/4” conduit as my tower and 1” pipe fittings at 
either end. For the head unit I attached a 1” iron floor flange 
centered 7 */2 inches back from the generator end of the 2x4, 
and screwed a 10”-long iron pipe nipple into it. The nipple 
would slip into the top of the piece of conduit I’d use as a 
tower and form a nice bearing. Wires from the generator 
would pass through a hole drilled in the 2 x 4 down the center 
of the pipe/conduit unit and exit at the base of the tower. 

Step 5: Build the Tower Base 

For the tower base, I started by cutting a 2’ diameter disk out 
of plywood. I made a LF-shaped assembly out of 1” pipe 


fittings. In the middle of that assembly I put a 1 1/4” tee. The 
tee is free to turn around the 1” pipe and forms a hinge that 
allows me to raise and lower the tower. I then added a close 
nipple, a 1 % to 1 reducing fitting, and a 12” nipple. Later I 
added a 1” tee between the reducer and the 12” nipple so 
there would be a place for the wires to exit the pipe. This is 
shown in a photo further down the page. I also later drilled 
holes in the wooden disk to allow me to use steel stakes to 
lock it in place on the ground. The second photo shows the 
head and base together. You can begin to see how it will go 
together. Imagine a 10’ piece of steel conduit connecting the 
two pieces. Since I was building this thing in Florida, but was 
going to use it in Arizona, I decided to hold off on purchasing 
the 10’ piece of conduit until I got to Arizona. That meant the 
wind turbine would not be fully assembled and would not get 
properly tested until I was ready to put it up in the field. That 
was a little scary because I wouldn’t know if the thing 
actually worked until I tried it in Arizona. 

Step 6: Paint All the Wooden Parts 

Next, I painted all the wooden parts with a couple of coats of 
white latex paint I had leftover from another project. I wanted 
to protect the wood from the weather. This photo also shows 


the lead counterweight I added to the left side of the 2 x 4 
under the tail to balance the head. 

Step 7: The Finished Head of the Wind Turbine 

This photo shows the finished head unit with the blades 
attached. Is that a thing of beauty or what? It almost looks 
like I know what I’m doing. I never got a chance to properly 
test the unit before heading to Arizona. One windy day 
though, I did take the head outside and hold it high up in the 
air above my head into the wind just to see if the blades 
would spin as well as I had hoped. Spin they did. In a matter 
of a few seconds, the blades spun up to a truly scary speed (no 
load on the generator), and I found myself holding onto a 
giant, spinning, whirligig of death, with no idea how to put it 
down without getting myself chopped to bits. Fortunately, I 
did eventually manage to turn it out of the wind and slow it 
down to a non-lethal speed. I won’t make that mistake again. 

Step 8: Build the Charge Controller 

Now that I had all the mechanical parts sorted out, it was time 
to turn toward the electronic end of the project. A wind power 
system consists of the wind turbine, one or more batteries to 


store power produced by the turbine, a blocking diode to 
prevent power from the batteries being wasted spinning the 
motor/generator, a secondary load to dump power from the 
turbine into when the batteries are fully charged, and a charge 
controller to run everything. There are lots of controllers for 
solar and wind power systems. Anyplace that sells alternative 
energy stuff will have them. There are also always a lot of 
them for sale on eBay. I decided to try building my own 
though. So it was back to Googling for information on wind 
turbine charge controllers. I found a lot of information, 
including some complete schematics, which was quite nice 
and made building my own unit very easy. Again, while I 
followed a general recipe from an online source, I did do 
some things differently. Being an avid electronics tinkerer 
from an early age, I have a huge stock of electronic 
components already on hand, so I had to buy very little to 
complete the controller. I substituted different components for 
some parts and reworked the circuit a little just so I could use 
parts I already had on hand. That way I had to buy almost 
nothing to build the controller. The only part I had to buy was 
the relay. I built my prototype charge controller by bolting all 
the pieces to a piece of plywood, as seen in the first photo 
below. I would rebuild it in a weatherproof enclosure later. 
Whether you build your own or buy one, you will need some 
sort of controller for your wind turbine. The general principal 
behind the controller is that it monitors the voltage of the 
battery(s) in your system, and either sends power from the 
turbine into the batteries to recharge them or dumps the power 
from the turbine into a secondary load if the batteries are fully 
charged (to prevent over-charging and destroying the 
batteries). In operation, the wind turbine is connected to the 
controller. Lines then run from the controller to the battery. 
All loads are taken directly from the battery. If the battery 


voltage drops below 11.9 volts, the controller switches the 
turbine power to charging the battery. If the battery voltage 
rises to 14 volts, the controller switches to dumping the 
turbine power into the dummy load. There are trimpots to 
adjust the voltage levels at which the controller toggles back 
and forth between the two states. I chose 11.9V for the 
discharge point and 14V for the fully charged point based on 
advice from different web sites on the subject of properly 
charging lead acid batteries. The sites all recommended 
slightly different voltages. I sort of averaged them and came 
up with my numbers. When the battery voltage is between 
11.9V and 14.8V, the system can be switched between either 
charging or dumping. A pair of push buttons allow me to 
switch between states anytime, for testing purposes. Normally 
the system runs automatically. When charging the battery, the 
yellow LED is lit. When the battery is charged and power is 
being dumped to the dummy load, the green LED is lit. This 
gives me some minimal feedback on what is going on with 
the system. I also use my multimeter to measure both battery 
voltage and turbine output voltage. I will probably eventually 
add either panel meters or automotive-style voltage and 
charge/discharge meters to the system. ITl do that once I have 
it in some sort of enclosure. I used my variable voltage bench 
power supply to simulate a battery in various states of charge 
and discharge to test and tune the controller. I could set the 
voltage of the power supply to 1 1 .9V and set the trimpot for 
the low voltage trip point. Then I could crank the voltage up 
to 14V and set the trimpot for the high voltage trimpot. I had 
to get it set before I took it into the field because I’d have no 
way to tune it up out there. I have found out the hard way that 
it is important with this controller design to connect the 
battery first, and then connect the wind turbine and/or solar 
panels. If you connect the wind turbine first, the wild voltage 


swings coming from the turbine won’t be smoothed out by the 
load of the battery, the controller will behave erratically, the 
relay will click away wildly, and voltage spikes could destroy 
the ICs. So always connect to the battery(s) first, and then 
connect the wind turbine. Also, make sure you disconnect the 
wind turbine first when taking the system apart. Disco nn ect 
the battery(s) last. 

Step 9: Erect the Tower 

At last, all parts of the project were complete. It was all done 
only a week before my vacation arrived. That was cutting it 
close. I disassembled the turbine and carefully packed the 
parts and the tools I’d need to assemble it for their trip across 
the country. Then I once again I drove out to my remote 
property in Arizona for a week of off-grid relaxation, but this 
time with hopes of having some actual electricity on the site. 
The first order of business was setting up and bracing the 
tower. After arriving at my property and unloading my van, I 
drove to the nearest Home Depot (about 60 miles one way) 
and bought the 10’ piece of 1 1/4” conduit I needed for the 
tower. Once I had it, assembly went quickly. I used nylon 
rope to anchor the pole to four big wooden stakes driven in 
the ground. Tumbuckles on the lower ends of each guy-line 
allowed me to plumb up the tower. By releasing the line from 
either stake in line with the hinge at the base, I could raise and 
lower the tower easily. Eventually the nylon line and wooden 
stakes will be replaced with steel stakes and steel cables. For 


testing though, this arrangement worked fine. The second 
photo shows a close-up of how the guy-lines attach near the 
top of the tower. I used chain-link fence brackets as tie points 
for my guy-lines. The fence brackets don’t quite clamp down 
tightly on the conduit, which is smaller in diameter than the 
fence posts they are normally used with. So there is a steel 
hose clamp at either end of the stack of brackets to keep them 
in place. The third photo shows the base of the tower, staked 
to the ground, with the wire from the wind turbine exiting 
from the tee below the conduit tower. I used an old orange 
extension cord with a broken plug to connect between the 
turbine and the controller. I simply cut both ends off and put 
on spade lugs. Threading the wire through the tower turned 
out to be easy. It was a cold morning and the cord was very 
stiff. I was able to just push it through the length of the 
conduit tower. On a warmer day I probably would have had to 
use a fish tape or string line to pull the cord through the 
conduit. I got lucky. 


Step 10: Erect the Wind Turbine 

The first photo shows the turbine head installed on top of the 
tower. I greased up the pipe on the bottom of the head and 
slid it into the top of the eonduit. It made a great bearing, just 
as I’d planned. Sometimes I even amaze myself Too bad 
there was nobody around to get an Iwo Jima Flag 
Raising-type pieture of me raising the tower up with the head 
installed. The seeond photo shows the wind turbine fiilly 
assembled. Now I’m just waiting for the wind to blow. 
Wouldn’t you know it, it was dead ealm that morning. It was 
the first ealm day I had ever seen out there. The wind had 
always been blowing every other time I had been there. 


Step 11: Connect the Electronics 

The first photo below shows the electronies setup. The 
battery, inverter, meter, and prototype eharge eontroller are all 
sitting on a plywood board on top of a blue plastie tub. I plug 
a long extension eord into the inverter and run power baek to 
my campsite. Once the wind starts blowing, the turbine head 
snaps around into it and begins spinning up. It spins up 
quickly until the output voltage exceeds the battery voltage 
plus the blocking diode drop (around 13.2 volts, depending on 
the state of the battery charge). It is really running without a 
load until that point. Once that voltage is exceeded, the 
turbine suddenly has a load as it begins dumping power into 
the battery. Once under load, the RPMs only slightly increase 


as the wind speed increases. More wind means more current 
into the battery which means more load on the generator. So 
the system is pretty much self-governing. I saw no signs of 
over-rewing. Of course, in storm-force winds, all bets are off. 
Switching the controller to dump power into the dummy load 
did a good job of braking the turbine and slowing it way 
down even in stronger gusts. Actually shorting the turbine 
output is an even better brake. It brings the turbine to a halt 
even in strong winds. Shorting the output is how I made the 
turbine safe to raise and lower, so I wouldn’t get sliced and 
diced by the spinning blades. Warning though, the whole 
head assembly can still swing around and crack you hard on 
the noggin if the wind changes direction while you are 
working on these things. So be careful out there. 


Step 12: Enjoy Having Power in the Middle of Nowhere 

How sweet it is! I have electricity! Here I have my laptop 
computer set up and plugged into the power provided by the 
inverter, which in turn is powered by the wind turbine. I 
normally only have about two hours of battery life on my 
laptop. So I don’t get to use it much while Fm camping. It 
comes in handy though for downloading photos out of my 
camera when its memory card gets full, making notes on 
projects like this one, working on the next great American 
novel, or just watching DVD movies. Now I have no battery 
life problems, at least as long as the wind blows. Besides the 
laptop, I can also now recharge all my other battery powered 
equipment like my cell phone, my camera, my electric shaver, 
my air mattress pump, etc. Life used to get real primitive on 
previous camping trips when the batteries in all my electronic 
stuff ran down. I used the wind turbine to power my new 
popup trailer on a later vacation. The strong spring winds kept 
the wind turbine spinning all day every day and most of the 
nights too while I was in Arizona. The turbine provided 
enough power for the interior 12V lighting and enough for 
120V AC at the power outlets to keep my battery charger, 
electric shaver, and mini vacuum cleaner (camping is messy) 
all charged up and running. My girlfriend complained about it 
not having enough power to run her hairdryer though. 


Step 13: How Much Did It Cost? 

So how much did all this cost to build? Well, I saved all the 
receipts for everything I bought related to this project. 







Misc. pipe fittings 

Homecenter Store 


Pipe for blades 

Homecenter Store 


Misc hardware 

Homecenter Store 



Homecenter Store 


Wood and aluminum Scrap Pile 


Power cable 

Old extension cord 


Rope and turnbucklesHomecenter Store 


Electronic parts 

Already on hand 



Auto Parts Store 



Borrowed from my UPSSO.OO 


Already on hand 



Already on hand 




Not too bad. I doubt I could buy a commercially made turbine 
with a comparable power output, plus a commercially made 


charge controller, plus a commercially made tower for less 
than $750-$ 1000. 

Step 14: Extras 

I have completed the rebuild of the charge controller. It is 
now in a semi-weatherproof enclosure, and I have also added 
a built in voltage meter. Both were bought cheap on eBay. I 
have also added a few new features. The unit now has 
provisions for power inputs from multiple sources. It also has 
built-in fused I2V power distribution for three external loads. 

The second photo shows the inside of the charge controller. I 
basically just transferred everything that I originally had 
bolted onto the plywood board in the prototype into this box. I 
added an automotive illuminated voltage gauge and fuses for 
three external 12V loads. I used heavy gauge wire to try to 
reduce losses due to wire resistance. Every watt counts when 
you are living off-grid. 

The third image is the schematic for the new charge 
controller. It is pretty much the same as the old one above, 
except for the addition of the volt meter and extra fuse blocks 
for the external loads. 

The photo directly below is a block diagram of the whole 
power system. Note that I only have one solar panel built 


right now. I just haven’t had the time to complete the second 

Step 15: More Extras 

Once again I stayed on my remote property during my recent 
vacation in Arizona. This time I had both my homebuilt wind 
turbine and my home-built solar panel with me. Working 
together, they provided plenty of power for my (admittedly 
minimal) electricity needs. 

The second photo shows the new charge controller unit. The 
wires on the left side are coming from the wind turbine and 
solar panel. The wires on the right side are going to the 
battery bank and dummy load. I cut up an old heavy-duty 


100’ extension cord to make cables to connect wind turbine 
and solar panel to the charge controller. The cable to the wind 
turbine is about 75 feet long and the cable to the solar panel is 
about 25 feet long. The battery bank I am currently using 
consists of eleven sealed lead-acid 12V batteries of 8 
Amp-Hour capacity connected in parallel. That gives me 88 
Amp-Hours of storage capacity, which is plenty for camping. 
As long as it is sunny and windy, (nearly every day is sunny 
and windy on my property), the wind turbine and solar panel 
keep the batteries well charged. 


Chispito Wind 

By velacreations 


The Chispito Wind Generator was designed to be simple and 
efficient with fast and easy construction. There are no limits 
to what you can do with wind power. There is nothing more 
rewarding and empowering than making a wind-powered 
generator from scrap materials. Most of the tools and 
materials in this manual can be found in your local hardware 
shop or junk pile. 


• drill and drill bits (7/32”, 5/16”) 

• jigsaw with a metal blade 



• wrench 

• flat head screwdriver 

• crescent wrench 

• vise and/or clamp 

• wire strippers 

• tape measure 

• marker 

• pen 

• compass and protractor 

• %” #20 Thread Tapping Set 

• an extra person helps a lot! 



Buy the hard to find parts at: 


•36 inches of 1” square tubing 

• 2” floor flange 

• 2” by 4” nipple 

• (3) 3/4” self-tapping Screws 

If you have access to a welder, you can weld a 4” section of 
2” pipe onto your square tubing instead of using the flange, 
nipple, and sheet metal screws. 


• 260 VDC, 5 — A continuous duty treadmill motor with a 6” 
threaded hub 

• 30 to 50 amp 

• Blocking diode (one-way) 

• (20) 5/16” by 1 3/4” motor bolts 
•3” by 11” PVC pipetail 


• 1 square foot (approx) lightweight material (metal) 

• (2) 3/4” self-tapping screws 

• Blades 

• 24” length of 8” PVC pipe (if it is UV resistant, you will not 
need to paint it) 

• (6) l/4”-20 bolts 

• (9) 1/4” washers 

• 3 sheets A4 paper 

• Tape 

Step 1: Blades 

Cutting Blades — makes nine blades (or three-blade sets) and a 
thin waste strip. 

1. Place the 24” length of PVC pipe and square tubing (or 
other straight edge) side by side on a flat surface. Push the 
pipe tight against the tubing and mark the line where they 
touch. This is Line A. 

2. Make a mark near each end of Line A, 23 inches apart. 

3. Tape three sheets of A4 paper together, so that they form a 
long, completely straight piece of paper. Wrap this around the 
section of pipe at each of the two marks you just made, one 
then the other. Make sure the short side of the paper is 


straight along Line A and the paper is straight against itself 
where it overlaps. Mark a line along the edge of the paper at 
each end. Call one Line B and the other Line C. 

4. Start where Line A intersects Line B. Going left around 

Line B, make a mark at every 145 mm. The last section 

should be about 1 1 5 mm. 

5. Start where Line A intersects Line C. Going right around 

Line C, make a mark at every 145 mm. The last section 

should be about 1 1 5 mm. 

6. Mark each line using a straight edge. 

7. Cut along these lines, using the jigsaw, so that you have 
four strips of 145 mm and one strip about 115 mm. 

8. Take each strip and place them with the inside of the pipe 
facing down. 

9. Make a mark at one end of each strip 115 mm from the left 

10. Make a mark at the other end of each strip 30 mm from 
the left edge. 

1 1 . Mark and cut these lines, using the jigsaw. 


12. Place each blade with the inside of the pipe facing down. 

13. Make a mark along the angled line of the blade, 3 inches 
from the wide end. 

14. Make another mark on the wide end of the blade, one inch 
from the straight edge. 

15. Connect these two marks and cut along the line. This 
prevents the blades from interfering with the others’ wind. 

Sanding the Blades 

You should sand the blades to achieve the desired airfoil. This 
will increase the efficiency of the blades, as well as make 
them quieter. The angled (leading) edge wants to be rounded, 
while the straight (tailing) edge wants to be pointed. Any 
sharp comers should be slightly rounded to cut down on 

V J 


Step 2: Hub and Mount 

Cutting Tail 

The exact dimensions of the tail are not important. You want 
about one square foot of lightweight material, preferably 
metal. You can make the tail any shape you want, so long as 
the end result is stiff rather than floppy. 

Drilling Holes in Square Tubing: Using the 5/16” drill bit 

1. Place the motor on the front end of the square tubing, so 
that the hub part hangs over the edge and the bolt holes of the 
motor face down. 

2. Roll the motor back so you can see the bolt holes, and mark 
their position on the square tubing. 

3. Drill a 5/16” hole at each mark all the way through the 
square tubing. 

Floor Flange Holes 

This will be dealt with in the assembly section of this manual, 
as these holes are what determine the balance. 

Drilling Holes in Blades: Using the %” drill bit 

1 . Mark two holes at the wide end and along the straight edge 
of each of the three blades. The first hole should be 3/8 of an 
inch from the straight edge and 3/8 of an inch from the 
bottom. The second hole should be 3/8 of an inch from the 
straight edge and 1 % inches from the bottom. 


2. Drill these six holes. 

Drilling and Tapping Holes in Hub: Using the 7/32” drill bit 
and %” tap 

1. The treadmill motor comes with the hub attached. To take 
it off, hold the end of the shaft (which comes through the hub) 
firmly with pliers, and turn the hub clockwise. This hub 
unscrews clockwise, which is why the blades turn 

2. Make a template of the hub on a piece of paper, using a 
compass and protractor. 

3. Mark three holes, each of which is 2 Vs inches from the 
center of the circle and equidistant from each other. 

4. Place this template over the hub and punch a starter hole 
through the paper and onto the hub at each hole. 

5. Drill these holes with the 7/32” drill bit. 

6. Tap the holes with the V 4 ” x 20 tap. 

7. Bolt the blades onto the hub using the %” bolts. At this 
point, the outer holes have not been drilled. 

8. Measure the distance between the straight edge of the tips 
of each blade. Adjust them so that they are all equidistant. 
Mark and punch each hole on the hub through the empty hole 
in each blade. 


9. Label the blades and hub so that you can match which 
blade goes where at a later stage. 

10. Remove the blades and then drill and tap these outer three 

Making a Protective Sleeve for the Motor 

1 . Draw two straight lines, about ¥ 4 ” apart, along the length of 
the 3” by 11” PVC pipe. Cut along these lines. 

2. Make a 45-degree cut at the end of the pipe. 

3. Place needle nose pliers inside the strip that has been cut 
out, and pry the pipe apart. 

4. Making sure the bolt holes of the motor are centered in the 
middle of the missing strip of PVC pipe, push the motor into 
the pipe. An extra person will make this a lot easier. 

Step 3: Assembly 

1 . Place the motor on top of the square tubing and bolt it in, 
using the two 5/16” by 1 3/4” bolts. 


2. Place the diode on the square tubing, about 2 inches behind 
the motor, and screw it into position using the self-tapping 
metal screw. 

3. Connect the black wire coming out of the motor to the 
positive incoming terminal of the diode (labeled AC on the 
positive side). 

4. Connect the red wire coming out of the motor to the 
negative incoming terminal of the diode (labeled AC on the 
negative side). 

5. Center the tail over the square tubing at the back end. 
Clamp your tail onto the side of the square tubing. 

6. Using two self-tapping screws, screw the tail in place. 

7. Place each blade on the hub so that all the holes line up. 
Using the %” bolts and washers, bolt the blades to the hub. 
For the inner three holes, use two washers per bolt, one on 
each side of the blade. For the outer three holes, just use one 
washer next to the head of the bolt. Tighten. 

8. Hold the end of the shaft of the motor (which comes 
through the hub) firmly with pliers, and turn the hub 
counterclockwise until it tightens and stops. 

9. Screw the nipple tightly into the floor flange using a pipe 


10. Clamp the nipple in a vice so that the floor flange is 
facing up and level. 

1 1 . Place the square tubing (and ever 5 dhing that is on it) on 
top of the floor flange and move it so that it is perfectly 

12. Through the holes of the floor flange, mark the square 
tubing at the point of balance. 

13. Drill these two holes using a 5/32” drill bit. You will 
probably have to take off the hub and tail to do this. 

14. Attach the square tubing to the floor flange with two sheet 
metal screws. For a longer life span of your wind generator, 
you should paint the blades, motor sleeve, mount, and tail. 

Step 4: Additional Information 

Use of Chispito Wind Generator 

You will need a tower, wire, ammeter, charge controller/ 
regulator, and a battery bank for your Chispito Wind 


The tower is one of the most important components in your 
wind generator system. It must be strong, stable, easily raised 
and lowered, and well anchored. The higher your tower is, the 
more wind your generator will be exposed to. Guy wires must 
be placed at least every 18 feet of tower height. Guy wires 


must be anchored to the ground at least 50 percent of the 
height away from the base. 


How to Build a Thermoelectric Lamp 

By scraptopower 



The thermoelectric lamp generates electricity off the 
temperature difference between the hot candle and the cool 
heat sink. This we can use to power small devices, like a radio 
or very bright LEDs. You may be able to charge an MP3 
player off of it, too! 

Here’s What You’ll Need 

• A thermoelectric pettier chip, the bigger the better; I used a 
lOOW version. 

• A large heat sink; I used a dell one with heat pipes. The 
success depends on this heat sink, so get the best you can! 

• An emergency phone charger (we are going to steal the 
joule thief out of it). 

• A small amount of rock wool insulation; small amounts 
available from garden centers. 

• A small tin can with a lip around the top. (Heinz beans will 

• A Coke can. 


• Thermal heat compound 

• Some heavy duty foil, about 30 x 30cm 

• A foot of thick copper or steel wire for the handle. 

• (2) 25mm long M6 Bolts 

• (4) 40mm long M5 Bolts 

• (1) 50mm long M5 Bolt 

• The bolts don’t need to be any exact size, just use whatever 
is available; almost any will work. 

Tools You’ll need 

• Tin snips 

• Soldering iron 

• Pliers (with cutters) 

• Drill bits 

• Sandpaper 

• M6 tap for cutting the threads. This is not essential as you 
could just use an ordinary nut, but it’s neater. 

• Drill (drill press makes life easier . . .) 

• Glue or glue gun 


Step 1: Drill the Holes in the Can and Fit the Feet and 
Central Adjustment 

You can see that I have drilled five holes in the bottom of the 
can. These are for the feet and candle height adjustment. I 
fitted little rubber feet to them; this is not essential. 

Step 2: Tighten Them All Step Up and Glue the Central 
Nut in Place 

Once you’ve tightened all of the feet up, you need to glue the 
central nut in place. 

You can see I’ve added a cardboard shim inside of the can. 
This because the Coke can is slightly too small for the tin can. 
The shim prevents it from tipping slightly when the candle 
height is adjusted. The cardboard only needs to be about 
25mm high. 


Step 3: Cut the Candle Door 

Next you need to cut the hole for the candle in the side of the 
can; this should be around 30 to 35 mm by about 50 mm long. 
I started by drilling a small hole and worked from there using 
the tin snips. After this you can drill the ventilation holes all 
the way around the top of the can. I used a 3mm drill bit for 

Make sure you sand all the edges so you can’t cut yourself on 
the metal! 

Step 4: Cut the Coke Can to Size 

Now cut the Coke can to about half off the height of the tin 
can. You can see in the photo I am testing the height of the 
flame; we want it to be around 6mm away from the ruler with 
a new candle. You’ll probably have to make a few 
adjustments to get this right. 


Step 5: Fit Some Rock Wool to the Coke Can 

Next turn the Coke can over and fill it with rock wool 
insulation. Poke a space in the middle with a pen or 
something similar for the bolt to go into. 

Step 6: Test if the Coke Can Fits in the Tin Can 

Now you can fit the coke can in place. You can see a little 
dimple in the middle; this is because the coke can was forced 
down to give the bolt something to rest on. The coke can 
might not fit perfectly on the bolt because of the insulation, 
you might need to wiggle it about a bit. Test the movement to 
make sure you can adjust the height smoothly. 

Step 7: Fit the Handle 

Next, you can form the handle for carrying the device. I used 
some thick copper wire as a handle because it matches the 
heat sink pipes. You need to bend the handle back through the 
holes to prevent it from turning (see the photo). This stops the 
device rotating upside down when you are carrying it (the 
heat sink is the heaviest part). 


Step 8: Drill the Heat Sink for the Peltier Holder 

Now we can work on the heat sink. Here I have drilled two 
holes to mount the peltier. You can either tap the holes or use 
a locknut on the other side. The two holes need to be set so 
that the bolts fit inside of the tin can; this keeps the peltier in 
the right position. I have also cleaned the heat sink, so it will 
be ready for the thermal compound. 

Step 9: Cut the Peltier Holder to Size 

Next you can make the cover for the peltier. It’s easier to cut 
the square out with this part still attached to the can — cut the 
square and then use a can opener to remove the bottom. Mark 
around the peltier with a marker or a scribe and drill a hole in 
the center. Work out from this using the tin snips to make the 
square. The square needs to be slightly smaller than the 
peltier chip so that it grips it. Mark the two holes the same as 
on the heat sink and drill them for the correct size. I made the 
cut out slightly round so I wouldn’t cut through the 
strengthening ribs on the tin lid. 


Step 10: Apply Thermal Compound 

Now you can apply the thermal compound to the heat sink. 
Make sure it is clean and spread the compound over the 
contact area. Note: The thermal compound only needs to be a 
very fine layer, not a thick paste like I have done here. There 
is a little too much thermal compound in the photo. 

Step 11: Fit the Peltier 

Now you can fit the peltier to the heat sink. Press it down into 
the thermal compound and wiggle to smooth out the 
compound. You can see that the peltier is very dirty from 
soot, this is from my testing. The side that is in contact with 
the heat sink must be clean though. When you use the device, 
try and avoid getting soot on the peltier as it blocks the heat 
transfer. Use the candle height adjustment to get this right. 

Step 12: Insulate the Peltier 

Now you need to make a thermal insulator for between the 
heat sink and the fire tin. Cut a square out of the foil the same 
size as the peltier chip and fit this over the peltier. Fill around 
the sides with 5mm thick strips of rock wool. Fold the foil 
over and you should end up with something like in the 


picture. Don’t worry if it is too thick, as the bolts will 
compress it when tightened. 

Step 13: Cut an Aluminum Patch for the Peltier 

Now cut a square of aluminum the same size as the pettier 
chip. Sand the patch with fine paper to remove the paint. 
Apply thermal compound (the same as in step 10) and gently 
place it over the pettier ready for step 14. 

I ended up replacing the steel and aluminum plate with a thick 
aluminum plate to help keep the temperature steady. See the 
photos for how I made it. 


Step 14: Bolt the Peltier Down 

Now you can bolt the peltier down. You’ll need to punch 
some holes in the rock wool insulator for the bolts. 


Step 15: Solder and Fit the Joule Thief 

You can remove the battery pack from the emergency charger 
and just use the plastic end cap with the circuit in it. 

First check the polarity of the wires to make sure that you 
know which way to solder them on. You can do this by just 
trying them both ways to see which way works. Do this with 
the pettier heated by the candle. You’ll need to solder the 
wires onto the joule thief and attach the joule thief to the tin 
can. I just used hot melt glue to fix it in place. You should 
have a nice 2.5mm output jack where you can plug things in. 

Step 16: Finished Product 

It should be finished now! Try various loads in the output to 
see what kind of power you get. Different peltiers will put out 
different amounts of power; it also depends on the 
temperature difference you manage to achieve. I managed to 
charge my small MP3 player, but it didn’t have enough power 


to charge my phone. You can see it powering an LED torch 


Build a 60 Watt Solar Panel 

By Michael Davis (mdavidl9) 


Several years ago I bought some remote property in Arizona. 
I am an astronomer and wanted a place to practice my hobby 
far away from the terrible light pollution found near cities of 
any real size. I found a great piece of property. The problem 
is, it’s so remote that there is no electricity available. That’s 
not really a problem. No electricity equals no light pollution. 
However, it would be nice to have at least a little electricity, 
since so much of life in the twenty-first century is dependent 
on it. 

I built a wind turbine to provide some power on the remote 
property (will be another Instractable in the future). It works 
great, when the wind blows. However, I wanted more power 
and more dependable power. The wind seems to blow all the 
time on my property, except when I really need it to. I do get 
well over 300 sunny days a year on the property though, so 
solar power seemed like the obvious choice to supplement the 
wind turbine. Solar panels are very expensive though. So I 
decided to try my hand at building my own. I used common 
tools and inexpensive and easy to acquire materials to build a 
solar panel that rivals co mm ercial panels in power 
production, but completely blows them away in price. Read 
on for step-by-step instructions on how I did it. 


Step 1 : Buy Some Solar Cells 

I bought a couple of bricks of 3 x 6 mono-crystalline solar 
cells. It takes a total of 36 of these type solar cells wired in 
series to make a panel. Each cell produces about V 2 volt. 
Thirty-six in a series would give about 18 volts, which would 
be good for charging 12 volt batteries. (Yes, you really need 
that high a voltage to effectively charge 12 volt batteries.) 
This type of solar cell is as thin as paper and as brittle and 
fragile as glass. They are very easily damaged. The eBay 
seller of the cells I purchased dipped stacks of 1 8 in wax to 
stabilize them and make it easier to ship them without 
damaging them. The wax is quite a pain to remove though. If 
you can, find cells for sale that aren’t dipped in wax. Keep in 
mind though that they may suffer some more damage in 
shipping. Notice that these cells have metal tabs on them. You 
want cells with tabs on them. You are already going to have 
to do a lot of soldering to build a panel from tabbed solar 
cells. If you buy cells without tabs, it will at least double the 
amount of soldering you have to do. So pay extra for tabbed 

I also bought a couple of lots of cells that weren’t dipped in 
wax from another eBay seller. These cells came packed in a 
plastic box. They rattled around in the box and got a little 
chipped up on the edges and corners. Minor chips don’t really 
matter too much. They won’t reduce the cell’s output enough 
to worry about. These are all blemished and factory seconds 
anyway. The main reason solar cells get rejected is for chips. 


So what’s another chip or two? All together I bought enough 
cells to make two panels. I knew I’d probably break or 
otherwise ruin at least a few during construction, so I bought 

Step 2: Build the Box 

So what is a solar panel anyway? It is basically a box that 
holds an array of solar cells. So I started out by building 
myself a shallow box. I made the box shallow so the sides 
won’t shade the solar cells when the sun comes at an angle. It 
is made of 3/8”-thick plywood with 3/4 x 3/4 pieces of wood 
around the edges. The pieces are glued and screwed in place. 
This panel will hold 36 3 x 6 inch solar cells. I decided to 
make two sub-panels of 18 cells each just so make it easier to 
assemble. I knew I would be working at my kitchen table 
when I would be soldering the cells together, and would have 
limited work space. So there is a center divider across the 
middle of the box. Each subpanel will fit into one well in the 
main panel. The second photo is my sort of back of the 
envelope sketch showing the overall dimensions of the solar 
panel. All dimensions are in inches (sorry you fans of the 
metric system). The side pieces are 3/4 by 3/4 and go all the 
way around the edges of the plywood substrate. Also a piece 
goes across the center to divide the panel into two subpanels. 


This is just the way I chose to do it. There is nothing critical 
about these dimensions, or even the overall design. 

Step 3: Finishing the Box 

Here is a close-up showing one half of the main panel. This 
well will hold one 18-cell sub-panel. Notice the little holes 
drilled in the edges of the well. This will be the bottom of the 
panel (it is upside down in the photo). These are vent holes to 
keep the air pressure inside the panel equalized with the 
outside, and to let moisture escape. These holes must be on 
the bottom of the panel or rain and dew will run inside. There 
must also be vent holes in the center divider between the two 
sub panels. After using the panel for a while, I now 
recommend that the vent holes be increased to at least %” in 
diameter. Also, to keep dust and critters out of the panel, stuff 
a little fiberglass insulation in the holes in the bottom rail of 
the panel. The insulation is not needed in the holes in the 
center divider. 

Next I cut two pieces of Masonite peg board to fit inside the 
wells. These pieces of pegboard will be the substrates that 
each sub-panel will be built on. They were cut to be a loose fit 
in the wells. You don’t have to use peg board for this. I just 
happened to have some on hand. Just about any thin, rigid and 
non-conducting material should work. To protect the solar 


cells from the weather, the panel will have a Plexiglas front. 
In the third picture, two pieces of scrap Plexiglas have been 
cut to fit the front of the panel. I didn’t have one piece big 
enough to do the whole thing. Glass could also be used for 
this, but glass is fragile. Hail stones and flying debris that 
would shatter glass will just bounce off the Plexi. Now you 
can start to see what the finished panel will look like. 

Step 4: Paint the Box 

Next I gave all the wooden parts of the panel several coats of 
paint to protect them from moisture and the weather. The box 
was painted inside and out. The type of paint and color was 
scientifically chosen by shaking all the paint cans I had laying 
around in my garage and choosing the one that felt like it had 
enough left in it to do the whole job. The peg board pieces 
were also painted. They got several coats on both sides. Be 
sure to paint them on both sides or they will warp when 
exposed to moisture. Warping could damage the solar cells 
that will be glued to them. 


Step 5: Prepare the Solar Cells 

Now that I had the stracture of the panel finished, it was time 
to get the solar cells ready. As I said above, getting the wax 
off the cells is a real pain. After some trial and error, 1 came 
up with a way that works fairly well. Still, I would 
recommend buying from someone who doesn’t dip their cells 
in wax. This photo shows the complete setup 1 used. My 
girlfriend asked what I was cooking. Imagine her surprise 
when I said solar cells. The initial hot water bath for melting 
the wax is in the right-rear. On the left- front is a bath of hot 
soapy water. On the right-front is a bath of hot clean water. 
All the pots are at just below boiling temperature. The 
sequence I used was to melt the bricks apart in the hot water 
bath on the right-rear. I’d tease the cells apart and transfer 
them one at a time to the soapy water bath on the left-front to 
remove any wax on the cell. Then the cell would be given a 
rinse in the hot clean water on the right-front. The cells would 
then be set out to dry on a towel. You should change the 
water frequently in the soapy and rinse water baths. Don’t 
pour the water down the sink though, because the wax will 
solidify in your drains and clog them up. Dump the water 
outside. This process removed almost all the wax from the 
cells. There is still a very light film on some of the cells, but it 
doesn’t seem to interfere with soldering or the working of the 
cells. Don’t let the water boil in any of the pans or the bubbles 


will jostle the cells against each other violently. Also, boiling 
water may be hot enough to loosen the electrical connections 
on the cells. I also recommend putting the brick of cells in the 
water cold, and then slowly heating it up to just below boiling 
temperature to avoid harsh thermal shocks to the cells. Plastic 
tongs and spatulas come in handy for teasing the cells apart 
once the wax melts. Try not to pull too hard on the metal tabs 
or they may rip off. I found that out the hard way while trying 
to separate the cells. Good thing I bought extras. 

Step 6: Solder the Solar Cells Together 

I started out by drawing a grid pattern on each of the two 
pieces of pegboard, lightly in pencil, so I would know where 
each of the 1 8 cells would be located. Then I laid out the cells 
on that grid pattern upside-down so I could solder them 
together. All 18 cells on each half panel need to be soldered 
together in series, and then both half panels need to be 
connected in series to get the desired voltage. Soldering the 
cells together was tricky at first, but I got the hang of it fairly 
quickly. Start out with just two cells upside-down. Lay the 
solder tabs from the front of one cell across the solder points 
on the back of the other cell. I made sure the spacing between 
the cells matched the grid pattern. I continued this until I had 
a line of six cells soldered together. I then soldered tabs from 
scrapped solar cells to the solder points on the last cell in the 


string. Then I made two more lines of six cells. I used a 
low-wattage soldering iron and fine rosin-core solder. I also 
used a rosin pen on the solder points on the back of the cells 
before soldering. Use a really light touch with the soldering 
iron. The cells are thin and delicate. If you push too hard, you 
will break the cells. I got careless a couple of times and had to 
scrap a couple of cells. 

Step 7: Glue Down the Solar Cells 

Gluing the cells in place proved to be a little tricky. I placed a 
small blob of clear silicone caulk in the center of each cell in 
a six-cell string. Then I flipped the string over and set in place 
on the pencil line grid I had laid out earlier. I pressed lightly 
in the center of each cell to get it to stick to the pegboard 
panel. Flipping the floppy string of cells is tricky. Another set 
of hands may be useful in during this step. Don’t use too 
much glue, and don’t glue the cells anywhere but at their 
centers. The cells and the panel they are mounted on will 
expand, contract, flex, and warp with changes in temperature 
and humidity. If you glue the cells too tightly to the substrate, 
they will crack in time. Gluing them at only one point in the 


center allows the cells to float freely on top of the substrate. 
Both can expand and flex more or less independently, and the 
delicate solar cells won’t crack. Next time I will do it 
differently. I will solder tabs onto the backs of all the solar 
cells. Then I will glue all the cells down in their proper 
places. Then I will solder the tabs together. It seems like the 
obvious way to go to me now, but I had to do it the hard way 
once to figure it out. Here is one half panel, finally finished. 

Step 8: Interconnect the Strings of Solar Cells and Test 
the Half Panel 

Here I used copper braid to interconnect first and second 
strings of cells. You could use solar cell tabbing material or 
even regular wire. I just happened to have the braid on hand. 
There is another similar interconnection between the second 
and third strings at the opposite end of the board. I used blobs 
of silicone caulk to anchor the braid and prevent it from 
flopping around. The second photo shows a test of the first 
half panel outside in the sun. In weak sun through clouds the 
half panel is producing 9.31 volts. It works! Now all I had to 
do is build another one just like it. Once I had two half panels 


complete, I installed them in their places in the main panel 
frame and wired them together. 

Step 9: Install the Half Panels in the Box 

Each of the half panels dropped right into their places in the 
main panel frame. I used four small screws (like the silver one 
in the photo) to anchor each of the half panels in place. 

Step 10: Interconnect the Two Half Panels 

Wires to connect the two half panels together were run 
through the vent holes in the central divider. Again, blobs of 
silicone caulk were used to anchor the wire in place and 
prevent it from flopping around. 


Step 11: Install the Blocking Diode 

Each solar panel in a solar power system needs a blocking 
diode in series with it to prevent the panel from discharging 
your batteries at night or during cloudy weather. I used a 
Schottky diode with a 3.3 amp current rating. Schottky diodes 
have a much lower forward voltage drop than ordinary 
rectifier diodes, so less power is wasted. Every watt counts 
when you are off-grid. I got a package of 25 31DQ03 
Schottky diodes on eBay for only a few bucks. So I have 
enough leftovers for lots more solar panels 

My original plan was to mount the diode in line with the 
positive wire outside the panel. After looking at the 
spec-sheet for the diode though, I decided to mount it inside 
since the forward voltage drop gets lower as the temperature 
rises. It will be warmer inside the panel and the diode will 
work more efficiently. More silicone caulk was used to 
anchor the diode and wires. 

Step 12: Run Wires Outside and Put on the Plexiglas 

I drilled a hole in the back of the panel near the top for the 
wires to exit. I put a knot in the wires for strain relief and 
anchored them in place with yet more of the silicone caulk. 


It is important to let all the silicone caulk cure well before 
screwing the Plexiglas covers in place. I have found through 
past experience that the fumes from the caulk may leave a 
film on the inside of the Plexiglas and on the cells if it isn’t 
allowed to thoroughly cure in the open air before you screw 
on the covers. 

And still more silicone caulk was used to seal the outside of 
the panel where the wires exit. 

Step 13: Add a Plug 

I added a polarized two-pin Jones plug to the end of the panel 
wires. A mating female plug will be wired into the charge 
controller I use with my homebuilt wind turbine so the solar 
panel can supplement its power production and 
battery-charging capacity. 

Step 14: The Completed Panel 

Here is the completed panel with the Plexiglas covers 
screwed into place. It isn’t sealed shut yet at this point. I 


wanted to wait until after testing it because was worried that I 
might have to get back inside it if there were problems. Sure 
enough, a tab popped off one of the cells. Maybe it was due to 
thermal stresses or shock from handling. Who knows? I 
opened up the panel and replaced that one cell. I haven’t had 
any more trouble since. I will probably seal the panel with 
either a bead of silicone caulk, or aluminum AC duct tape 
wrapped around the edges. 

Step 15: Testing the Solar Panel 

The first photo shows the voltage output of the completed 
panel in bright winter sunlight. My meter says 18.88 volts 
with no load. That’s exactly what I was aiming for. In the 
second photo I am testing the current capacity of the panel, 
again in bright winter sunlight. My meter says 3.05 amps 
short circuit current. That is right about what the cells are 
rated for. So the panel is working very well. 


Step 16: Using the Solar Panel 

Here is a photo of the solar panel in action, providing much 
needed power on my remote Arizona property. 1 used an old 
extension cord to bring the power from the panel located in a 
sunny clearing over to my campsite under the trees. 1 cut the 
original ends off the cord and installed Jones plugs. You 
could stick with the original 120V connectors, but 1 wanted to 
make sure there was absolutely no chance of accidentally 
plugging the low-voltage DC equipment into 120V AC. I 
have to move the panel several times each day to keep it 
pointed at the sun, but that isn’t really a big hardship. Maybe 
someday I will build a tracking system to automatically keep 
it aimed at the sun. 

Step 17: Counting the Cost 

So how much did all this cost to build? Well, I saved all the 
receipts for ever 5 dhing I bought related to this project. Also, 
my workshop is well stocked with all sorts of building 
supplies and hardware. I also have a lot of useful scrap pieces 


of wood, wire, and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff (some 
would say junk) laying around the shop. So I had a lot of stuff 
on hand already. Your mileage may vary. 




Solar cells 



Misc. lumber 

Home Center Store $20.62 


Scrap Pile 


Screws and misc. hardwarcAlready on hand 


Silicone caulk 

Home Center Store $3.95 


Already on hand 





Jones plug 

Newark Electronics$6.08 


Already on hand 


Total: $104.85 

Not too bad! That’s a fraction of what a commercially made 
solar panel with a comparable power output would cost, and it 
was easy. I already have plans to build more panels to add to 
the capacity of my system. 

I actually bought four lots of 18 solar cells on eBay. This 
price represents only the two lots that went into building this 
panel. Also, the price of factory second solar cells on eBay 
has gone up quite a lot recently as oil prices have 

This price represents one out of a lot of 25 diodes I bought on 
eBay for $5.00. 


Solar Power System 

By Mr. Chicken 


This Instructable will show you everything you need to put 
together a pretty good sized electric solar panel system. 

Things you will need: 


• solar panels 

• charge controller 

• battery charger 

• 2 AWG cable 

• at least one 12 volt marine deep cycle battery 

• mechanical lugs 

• 1 power inverter 

• 1 Rubbermaid tote or other container 

• 1 battery charger 


cable cutters 

• red electrical tape 

• screwdriver 

• drill 

• crescent wrench 

Gather supplies and let’s get started. 


Step 1: Preparing the Batteries 

The first thing you want to do is charge your batteries with a 
charger. This will insure they are charged to capacity and 
ready to go at set up. I purchased my batteries new and they 
were only at about 60 percent. While the batteries are 
charging, you can set up the solar panels and get them wired 
up and ready to go. 


Step 2: Place Batteries in Container 

Once the batteries are fully charged, place them in the 
container and make sure all the positive (+) terminals are on 
one side and negative (-) on the other. Once in place, measure 
from terminal to terminal to make the jumpers. 

Step 3: Creating the Jumpers 

Next, we want to connect the batteries in parallel. To do this, 
make some jumpers out of 2 AWG cable. Note: Make sure to 
size your jumpers for your system. If you want to use a larger 
inverter you will need to use a larger cable. 1200 watts/ 12 
volts 5100 amps. Depending on where you look, 2 AWG 
cable is good for around 100 amps. If you want to run say, a 
2400 watt inverter, you should use two cables per jumper. 
Measure between terminals and cut the cable to length. Then 
add the mechanical lugs. Since the battery terminals were a 
bit bigger than the holes in the lugs I bought, I drilled them 
out to fit. 


Step 4: Preparing the Lid 

Now, add some holes in the lid to ran the wires for the charge 
controller and the inverter. 1 wanted the charge controller 
outside so it was visible. You could just as easily put it inside 
the container for a more concealed look. 


Step 5: Connecting the Charge Controller and Inverter to 
the Batteries 

Next we connect the charge controller and the inverter to the 
batteries. You will want to make sure the inverter is turned off 
and the charge controller is not connected to the solar panels 


Step 6: Final Set Up and Test 

It should all be wired together. All that is left is to conneet the 
charge controller to the solar panels and turn the inverter on 
and check to see that it works. 

Step 7: Some Final Thoughts 

I originally made this set up as a backup power source for 
when the power went out. But, I think I will use it more often 
than that. I don’t think the solar panels are powerful enough 
to charge the batteries after depleting them every day. I will 


use it for a few days and update how well the system charges 
with constant use. I originally tested out a single battery and 
was able to run a lamp and my laptop for about five hours 
before I finally shut it off. The good thing about this inverter 
is it will shut off automatically if the voltage drops too low to 
prevent depleting the batteries. I’m pretty confident that with 
the three batteries I will be able to power larger items for an 
extended period of time. Also, this is a pretty expensive set 
up, about $650. 

My costs (without tax or shipping charges) and where I got 

• Solar panels — $250 (used from craigslist) 

• Marine batteries — $240 (for three from Wal-Mart) 

• 2 AWG Cables — $5 (for about 2 feet from Lowe’s) 

• Lugs — $8 (for eight from Lowe’s) 

• 1200 W inverter — $130 (Amazon, com) 

• I had the Rubbermaid container and battery charger, and the 
charge controller came with the solar panels. 

I don’t think it unrealistic to spend around $700 or so, 
possibly more depending on how you set your system up. 
Depending on how this works I will most likely upgrade to 
some better solar panels, increase the solar panel array size, 
and get some more batteries. 



How to Make PV Solar Panels 

By viron 


This is not “How to Make PV Solar Cells'". It is possible to 
home-make Copper Oxide and other kinds of materials, but 
that is a whole other story, which I may do in the future. It 
might be a little ambitious to explain how I made PV solar 
panels out of various types of cells, how and where I obtained 
those cells inexpensively, the differences in various kinds of 
cells, and how to work with them to get free electricity from 
the sun and other sources of light. In essence, this involves 
ways to connect cells, which may produce more or less than 
one volt. Also, you are not only trying to increase power 
output but also decrease the load; that is, efficiently conserve 
the energy whether it is meager or significant. For example, 
even the weakest solar panels can run watches, calculators, 
and radios, charge batteries, and, if it were specifically 
designed to, power a computer as it would a calculator. Here 
are some pictures of Solar Panels that I have constructed. 

Supplies and Sources 

What you may be able to use to build a useful solar panel: 

• “Broken” solar cells. They are very cheap and they work, 
they are just randomly shaped. They are usually crystalline 
silicon ones, which always look broken even when they are 


• Surplus solar cells: Amorphous silicon printed on glass are 
excellent, usually producing more than a volt, and much 
sturdier than the thin ones that break in bulk quantities. If 
these break, they usually can be fixed. 

• Indium Copper Selenide Cells: These are “new” and are 
conveniently sold as glass tiles with easy to solder tabs. 

• Any of the above, sold as cells prepared for assembly into 
panels; in other words, complete and solder-ready or with 
wires and tabs. (I will explain how to prepare inferior quality 
cells in this Instructable.) Miscellaneous items: 

• wire glue — There is already another Instructable for using 
wire glue on broken solar cells. 

• brass extrusions bracket |_| shaped — Convenient for 
connecting to glass cells. 

• solder 

• soldering iron — low wattage 

• small flat-head screwdriver 

• thin (around 20 AWG or less) stranded copper wire 


• lamp cord or speaker wire 

• alligator clips 

• deep picture frames or shadow boxes — look for imported 
frames at the El Cheapo store and pray a machine made them 

• acrylic/Lexan/Plexiglas/etc. clear polymer sheets 

• router or Dremel to cut out the middle of one out of three 

• RTV (Silicone Glue) or high temperature hot melt glue 
(Caution — you don’t want the sun to melt it!) 

• Rectifier diode such as 1N4001 or 1N4004 

• voltage doubler or multiplier circuits (you can make) to 
increase voltage output — examples: ICL7660, MAX 1044, 
MAX232, etc. 

• wide sticky tape 

• double sticky foam tape 

• rechargeable nickel batteries 

• gel cells or car battery (you have one, might as well use it 
until it’s useless) — Li-Ion are not recommended because they 
are harder to charge 

• analog volt meter (only because it doesn’t need batteries like 
a digital one) 


• AC inverter — if you are charging a powerful battery and 
would occasionally run some main-powered appliances. 
Some UPSs can be easily modified to be inverters, if they can 
be turned on after a power failure. 


Broken Solar Cells: 

Herbach and Rademan 
Silicon Solar 

Electronic Goldmine Glass 
(Amorphous) Solar Cells: 

Electronic Goldmine 

Note: Other stores listed may also supply glass solar cells. 
Indium Copper Selenide Cells. All Electronics 
Edmund Scientific 
Electronic Goldmine 
Other sources 

Cheap weather damaged solar powered outdoor night 
lights — (common failures are circuit corrosion and defective 
batteries, not the solar cells). Defective solar calculators, solar 
charged flashlights, etc. 


Perhaps a little off topic 

For a reasonably good deal on Complete and Useful Solar 
Panels I recommend “Solar Car Battery Chargers” that are 
about one or two watts and between $20 and $30 whenever an 
opportunity to get some arises. But those are what I am trying 
to show how to make an approximate equivalent of 

Step 1: How to Use “Broken” Cells 

They are the crystalline ones that always look broken, but if 
they really are, then they have not been fully prepared for use. 
It is an extra challenge to solder wires onto them but this is 
how I do it: Look for the wide line on the pieces, and sort out 
ones that only have thin lines. The thin line ones might be 
useful with wire glue but are too hard to solder. Then sort the 
pieces with wide lines by how big they are. They will all be 
about 0.55 volts, but the larger pieces make more current than 
the smaller pieces, and it’s nice to have a panel with 
consistent current, especially the one you make with the 
biggest pieces. Let’s save the big pieces until we learn what to 
do with the small pieces. Strip apart a short length of stranded 
wire and put the now loose strands in a small box just so you 
can find them and so they don’t wander into another project 
and cause a short circuit. Actually, another option may be to 
use wire-wrap wire instead of bare strands, if you don’t mind 
stripping the end of each piece. The broken cells have a very 
thin conductive layer on the blue side and a very rough. 


thicker one on the other. It will be more challenging to solder 
onto them than on perfect cells but this is how. First the blue 
side . . . 

Step 2: Preparing Broken Cells 

If you can solder onto the cells then they are higher quality 
than the ones I have so you can skip these preparing steps. On 
the blue side, scratch the thick line with a very small flat 
screwdriver with just a little force so that the cell doesn’t 
break, and the line should turn from white to shiny unless it’s 
already shiny and ready to solder. Try to make a little shiny 
circle. We will solder there. Make the flat edge of the 
screwdriver completely touch the scratched area so it rubs 
wide. Mostly push back and forth so that the rubbing removes 
the thin oxidation. After scratching the line, turn the cell and 
scratch the circle back and forth again. Maybe turn it once 
more and scratch it once more. Now flip the cell over and 
notice the rough stuff on the back. If there appears to be two 
different roughnesses or shades of grey, we are going to 
scratch in two places. Again, turn the cell and scratch it in one 
or two little circles by pushing the edge of the screwdriver up 
and down to remove the coating that solder won’t stick to. 
Now back to the blue side. Try to get a solder ball to stick. If 
it does not stick, and rosin gunks up the area, scrape it off and 
try again, and if it seems hopeless, scrape another part of the 
wide line on the cell. I did not have that problem because of 
practice. Now try to put a bump of solder in the two places 


scratched on the bottom of the cell. I was only able to get one 
bump to stick. There are areas on the bottom where solder just 
won’t stick. But if neither spot sticks, try scraping the rosin 
off the spots and soldering again, or carefully scratching 
another spot. If you have a bump on the blue side, it’s good 
but you can’t lay the cell flat now. The spot that worked was 
rougher and thicker than the one that didn’t, and that means 
there’s a lot more silver there, and more likely it will solder. 
Now that you have two solder bumps, you can attach two thin 
wires, either strands from stranded wire or thin wire-wrap 
wire. What about thicker wire? It can pull the lines off the cell 
and then you can forget about soldering it. Put it in the “wire 
glue” bin. Now that there are two wires on the cell, test it with 
a meter. The blue side of the cell will make up to 0.55 
negative volts, so connect the meter PLUS to the wire on the 
silver-gray bottom of the cell. My cell isn’t getting much light 
but the meter needle is indicating that it is making electricity. 


Step 3: “Broken” or “Crystalline” Cell Panels 

In the last step I mentioned that the blue side is negative and 
the silver side is positive. Now all you have to do is solder 
your cells in series to get more voltage. To do that you only 
need one more wire for each additional cell you add. 
Remember each cell makes up to half a volt, so consider a 12 
volt panel to have 24 or more cells. A few extra is good. One 
reason for that is a diode lowers the voltage just a little bit, 
and another is that it’s nice to have 12 volts for charging 
batteries when it’s not the sunniest time of day. A diode is 
used when the panel charges batteries, so the batteries don’t 
give any power back to the panel in the dark. That would be a 
waste of free power. Because the cells are so fragile, it would 
be good to install them in a deep picture frame (shadow box) 
with double stick foam tape or RTV glue. Be careful, this is 
permanent. You could make it less permanent with hot-melt 
glue also. At this point you don’t need to think that the cells 
are “already broken”, and you will have a well working panel. 
You could hide the shard-shapes with fluorescent lighting 


diffraction plastic over the framed panel if you like. Perhaps 
you’ve seen a shard-cell panel just like that being sold before. 

Step 4: Preparing Glass (Amorphous) Cells 

I received a surplus glass cells with instructions on how to use 
copper mesh to make a connection to the glass cell. The glass 
cell was pre-scratched in the area where the mesh and wires 
were supposed to go. But . . . even with the copper mesh, it 
didn’t stick. It was doable, but difficult, and not very strong. 
All the wires pulled off. Some of you may have had success 
with using copper mesh soldered to scratched areas of glass 
cells, but there is an easier way. Perhaps you have a broken/ 
damaged glass cell. You may still be able to use it, unless the 
damage has made the glass transparent, in which case there is 
severe damage to the photovoltaic part of the cell. One 
interesting thing about the glass cells: Looking at them, you 
see lines, just as you may on broken or crystalline cells, but 
those lines are not current-collecting conductors. They are 
gaps between areas of the glass cell that each make about half 
a volt. So, glass cells can be expected to have two lines for 
every volt of output. And they can make 6 or 9 or 12 or 20 
volts. So, we want to connect the wires to places with the 
most amount of lines between them to get the highest voltage. 
And out of the wires on the silver side, of course. Scratch the 
silver (probably aluminum) near the edges and test the 
voltage and polarity. I usually use a red wire for positive and 
a black or green for negative. Easy connection method: You 


need two brass extrusions, carefully cut with a Dremel (safety 
goggles!), and wires soldered on this side of the extrusions 
Note: The extrusion must have enough space inside it for the 
glass cell to fit. The extrusion is then crushed a little (before 
putting it on the glass) so that it will bite the glass with some 
pressure and make contact with the scratched edge. Slide the 
crushed extrusion onto the glass. If it’s too crushed it won’t 
go on, so pry it open. If it’s not crushed enough it falls off, so 
crush it more. When it bites, and there is voltage in the light 
across the two extrusions, put sticky tape or just a little plastic 
cement over the extrusion to help it stay there. The glass cell 
is now ready to use. The long one shown is actually two 
9-volt ones on one glass, and is the one that I put extruded 
contacts on because the copper mesh wouldn’t stick. 

Step 5: Preparing Copper Indium Selenide Cells 

These are rather well prepared already. They have easy to 
solder tabs and are marked which end is negative with a dash 
of a black marker. The ones I got, I mounted in frames and in 
an acrylic polymer sheet sandwich. Three in series ... in 
parallel with three more in series . . . makes nice 12 volts. I 
have been advised that these cells undergo some kind of 
reaction if first exposed to full sun with no load for about 15 
minutes, and that the result is good. I’m told that the result 


generates more output than if they are not treated this way. 
Just FYI. I didn’t notice the difference between the panel that 
had pre-sunned cells and another that didn’t. The cells are 
glass tiles that appear to be made similar to the Amorphous 
glass, but they are more efficient and produce around 4.5 
volts and lOOma each in full sun, approximately. As they say, 
your mileage may vary. I have no advice for broken CIS cells. 
It is very easy to connect CIS cells together. Peel back the 
tabs a little, which point to each other under the cell, and start 
to peel back the sticky tape that holds it on, just enough so 
that you can solder them in series. And watch the polarity! I 
goofed it up a couple of times. No damage done, but I had to 
do it over. When soldering, wet the ends of the tabs with 
solder, then press down quickly with a popsicle stick or 
something to flatten them against the bottom of the cells. The 
cells go together nicely like tiles. With moderate carefulness, 
you don’t need to worry much about ruining them yourself, 
just don’t leave them alone with curious people until your 
panel is done and safe inside a solid frame. I’ve fastened them 
with both RTV silicone and double-sticky-foam tape. I prefer 
the silicone-glued result, with the cell tiles grouted against the 
glass from behind. (No silicone between the cells and the 
frame glass.) DSFT (foam tape) is more likely to (it has, in 
fact) let go of a couple of the cells. As mentioned before, 
although I don’t know if it’s necessary for CIS cells, use a 
diode when charging batteries with the panels. 


Step 6: Applications for Small Solar Panels 

The solar panels I made and pictured generate around 1 or 2 
watts generally. These are the applications I use them for: 

• Charging batteries. In the blackout of 2003, those batteries 
ran our blackout party, which included black lights, fans (it 
was a hot day), radio, small TV, and low voltage lights. And 
an AC inverter. (I go to the rechargeable battery recycle bins 
with a meter and if they are not really dead then I borrow 
them until they are. I didn’t buy any of these batteries.) 

• Solar night lights — ^nowadays a very common thing where I 

• Solar powered fans — although my solar panels run computer 
fans directly when it’s hot (the sun makes it hot, and the sun 
runs the fans!), I notice that solar charged battery powered 
fans are much more powerful. 

• Solar flashlights 


• Solar powered radios — including my ham radio shack. 

About solar-powered computers 

I guess people don’t leave their laptops in the sun. . . . My 
approach to designing a solar powered computer, (and my 
definition of computer is a processor with memory and a 
keyboard and a screen that runs 
not-necessarily-an-operating-system) is to use very high 
resistance CMOS chips, which use very little electricity, just 
like watches and calculators. A computer is also a calculator 
with lots of memory, and CMOS memory is a common thing! 
At nighttime, the computer has not used up all its solar power 
so it uses what is stored in the rechargeable battery. There is 
simply no demand for the solar powered computers, nor any 
obstacle to solar powering a PDA or a laptop with similarly 
sized panels. 

Duty cycles 

In simple theory, if you get eight hours of sun and need one 
hour of power, you can get by with one eighth the solar power 
by saving it up in batteries. Also, if LED lights should run all 
night, it’s easy to collect more than enough solar power 
during the day in batteries with the right sized panel. 


Step 7: Getting More Practical Power from Your Panel 

It is very easy to get a few solar eells and put them together 
into a panel, but sometimes it gets expensive to get enough 
cells to make a useful voltage. If you obtained one or two 
large cells, you may have a whole watt or two, but only a volt 
or less, and that’s sad. Not too many things run on less than a 
volt. Perhaps you got enough big broken cells to make 6 
volts, but wouldn’t it be nice to have 12 volts? Then maybe 
you could keep a battery charged and occasionally run an 
inverter on it. In the last step I mentioned how time could be 
used to save up power for another time when it will be used. 
And a small panel can make enough power over a long time 
to run a big load for a short time. In this step I am talking 
about matching the voltage of the panel, whatever it may be, 
to the voltage that you find useful. Or generally, matching 
supply and demand in a satisfying, practical way. It may be 
possible to design a 2 volt circuit for a 2 volt panel, but 
unnecessary. It is possible, only using germanium transistors 
as far as I know, to get any voltage out of a big half- volt cell, 
but I don’t know a modem way, so I’ll leave that idea alone. 
But there are many voltage doubler or multiplier circuits that 
work at slightly higher voltages, and I’ve made a few panels 
around 6 volts, which I’d like to get 12 out of There is a 
voltage doubler chip still available called ICL7660 or 
MAX 1044 that is very convenient to use. So I will use it as an 
example, since I’d rather have around a watt at 12 volts than 
at 6 volts. There is something else I did that was very obvious 
in the picture for step 1, where I had three broken cell panels 
around 6 volts and put them in series to get around 18 volts . . 
. and since the cells were large, that array has a lot of current. 
But if I use just one 6 volt panel and want 12 volts, I use the 


voltage doubler and get twice the voltage in exchange for half 
the current. AC transformers do the same thing . . . almost the 
same power goes out as goes in, but at a more useful voltage. 
Some circuits that do this are called “DC to DC converters”. 


Solar Lawn Mower! 

By marsh 


I’ve had battery powered lawn mowers before and they are a 
real pain to keep charged. You have to either plug them in or 
take the battery out and that sucks. 

This is one solution to the problem. Install solar panels on the 
mower and just leave it parked in the sun to charge it. 

Here’s how I did it! 

Tools and Materials Needed 



• soldering iron 

• wire stripper 

• volt meter 

• screwdriver 

• wrenches 

• battery-powered lawnmower 

• (2)12 volt photovoltaic solar panels 

• 4 general purpose rectifier diodes 

• double-stick tape 

• nuts, bolts, and washers 

• solder 


Step 1: Evaluate the Lawnmower’s Current Condition 

I had a DR Neuton Mower, but this Toro came up on 
Freecycle (www. It was way more mondo than 
the DR, so I decided it would be the donor machine. 

The first thing I did was check the batteries. They were toast, 
so I had to build a new battery pack. 

I got four replacement batteries at my local electronic supply 
for $18.00 each. To keep them as a cohesive pack, I applied 
double-stick tape between each battery, just like the original 
setup had. 


Step 2: How to Wire It Up 

A photovoltaic (PV) solar cell has a power output recognized 
in watts. When the sun is shining, the potential of the PV cell 
is greater than that of the batteries, so energy will flow from 
the PV cells to the batteries. 

But what happens when the sun goes down? Then the 
batteries have a greater potential. That means that if you don’t 
take steps to prevent it, energy will flow from the batteries to 
the PV cells. This energy will be wasted as heat emanated 
from the PV cells, ultimately burning them out and draining 
the batteries. 

We can prevent this by installing diodes in the circuit. A 
diode is like a one-way check valve for electricity. It makes it 
possible for the solar panel to charge the battery, but 
impossible for the battery to heat the solar panel. 

The circuit below shows the typical wiring for this type of 
application. This system uses four 6 volt batteries and is 
charged by two 12 volt solar panels. The overall system 


voltage is 24 volts. When you line up batteries, their voltage 
adds as you place more in the series. The panels are 12 volts 
so we need to isolate them from each other. The diodes also 
accomplish this task. 

Step 3: Hook up the Batteries 

Returning to the battery pack. Let’s treat these four batteries 
as two sets of two. Hook them together as shown and test the 
voltage to make sure they show 12 volts per pair. OCV 
(open-circuit voltage) may be on the order of 14 volts. This is 
normal. In fact, if it’s below 10 volts you may have a bad 
battery. Finally, there will be an interconnect between the two 
sets. As shown in the schematic, we need to tap this 
interconnect to hook up our PV cells. Do this using a wire 
stripper. Do not cut the wire, just breach and separate the 


Step 4: Install the Power Taps 

Just as we did on the interconnect, breach the positive power 
lead and install a diode. Make sure the band on the diode is 
closest to the red wire. 


Step 5: Repeat the Process 

Do the same thing again on the negative side. 

This time make sure the band of the diode is facing away 
from the black wire. 


Step 6: Scavenge Some Parts 

With this PV panel came a cigar lighter plug. Yes, 1 said cigar 
lighter. Read your owner’s manual. That heat source is a 
CIGAR lighter. 

We’re not going to use it, but we need to take a look at it. 

First, cut the PV connector off. Leave a foot or so of wire on 
it and strip the ends. 

Set that aside and let’s look at what we have left. 

Open up the cigar lighter plug. There’s a circuit board in 
there. What do you think it does? 


Step 7: Continuing with the Wiring 

We’re now ready to connect the power taps to the PV power 

Slide heat shrink tubing over the wire before soldering the 
wire to the diode. Attach the wires to the diodes and solder 


them in place. Next, slide the shrink tubing over the solder 
joint and the diode and shrink it down to insulate the joint. 

Make sure to get the polarity right! The stripped wire from 
the PV panel is positive. Make sure this wire is connected to a 
diode that points toward a positive terminal of the battery. 
I’ve tried to make it clear on how to make this determination. 


Step 8: Check Your Wiring! 

At this point you should have two connectors wired through 
diodes to the batteries. Check these with a volt meter; there 
should be no voltage present. The diodes are a one-way check 
valve for electricity from the PV panels to the batteries, not 
the reverse. 

Step 9: Continue Checking Your Wiring 

At this point you’re all wired up and you can make some 
voltage checks to make sure you can safely proceed. 

Step 10: Mount the PV Panels 

Now that the hard part is out of the way, let’s get to the easy 


These panels have keyhole shaped mounting holes. Place a 
screw in the hole and tighten a nut down over it. This gives 
you a stud mounting. Align the stud onto the cover and drill 
mounting holes for the PV panels. Next, cut spacers to 
conform to the contour of the motor cover. Don’t forget, it’s 
all plastic and the stuff flexes really well. It’s pretty forgiving. 

In this installation there were some reinforcements on the 
underside that had to be removed. Tin snips and an X-ACTO 
knife took care of the offending plastic pretty quickly. 

Use the other half of the contour-cut spacer to shim the 
bottom of the mounting. 



Step 11: Run the Wiring 

Now that the PV panels are mounted, run the wires into the 
motor cover. 


Step 12: Check the Solar Panel Output 

OCV (open-circuit voltage) of these PV panels is on the order 
of 16 to 20 volts. If it is especially light out, this is the reading 
you should get. 

Step 13: The Final Hookup! 

Connect the PV panels to the battery banks. 


Next, check your voltages. You should have two banks of 12 
to 15 volts and the overall voltage should be at least 24 volts. 

Step 14: There It Is! 

It works and really works well. I’ve been mowing my lawn 
every day for three days and the mower is fiilly charged every 
time I turn it on. All I need now is a lawn. 


Solar-Powered Fountain/Herb Garden 

By James Harrigan (sleighbedguy) 



Here is a simple garden fountain utilizing a $20 solar panel/ 
pump combo, some sewer pipe, bamboo, and a strawberry 
pot. Tbe fountain will only ran in direct sunlight, but the 
herbs will thrive in the same conditions. This one isn’t hard to 
do, and again doesn’t require any special tools. Ever 5 dhing 
should ran you about $50. 

Gather the Materials 

• floating solar fountain (from Harbor Freight Tools) 

• bamboo 

• clear spray lacquer 

• strawberry pot 

• 4” ABS pipe (2’ segment) 


• 4” end caps 

• (2) 3/8” vinyl tubing 

• shrink tubing 

• wire 

• epoxy 

• ABS pipe cement 

• drill 

• saw (handsaw, band saw, jigsaw, or miter saw) 

• router (useful) 

• lathe (optional) 


Step 1: Disassemble the Fountain 

This is waterproof and, therefore, taking it apart is a bit of a 
pain. In my case. Harbor Freight sent the wrong item as a 
replacement and I do not have a pool ... so this was my only 
option. Flip over the fountain. Along the bottom are circular 
bumps. Drill through each one with room to spare. If this does 
not loosen it, you will have to cut the two halves apart. Your 
reward for this arduous task will be a pump and two solar 
panels. This was the by far the hardest step! 

Step 2: Cut the Pipe and Bamboo 

The fountain does not need to utilize bamboo, I just really 
like it. Cut the bamboo to the height you want. The fountain is 
supposed to have 19.5 inches of lift. Remember the water is 
traveling from the bottom of the pot. Measure the pipe with 
one cap on. After the two halves are dry-fitted, it should fit 
like it does in the picture below. I used a band saw, so I 
haven’t provided a measurement. The pot might be different, 
and we all know no one can just draw a straight line around a 
cylinder. This might be a bit of trial and error. The bamboo I 
chose to use has the nifty little spout. This was cut on the 
band saw, then the horrible cut was covered with twine 
(epoxied in place) to hide the flaws. The sewer caps are $6 a 
piece, and I glued the top on first. I chose to save the $6 and 
make the project harder. The caps are also domed, so I routed 
a small trough near the edge and drilled some drainage holes 
to capture most of the water. Due to another one of my 


mistakes, I had to make the plug to hold the bamboo upright. 
This isn’t necessary. If you don’t have a lathe, the large hole 
will need to fit the end of your bamboo. Or you can epoxy the 
bamboo to the cap. Just remember to drill for the wire and the 
tubing. I left out the wiring/solar panel portion. There are only 
two wires. Be sure to use the shrink tubing to make sure the 
wires are fairly well protected from the water. 

Step 3: Dry Fitting 

Assemble the fountain without gluing anything in place. If 
you use the a plug to hold the bamboo upright as I did, make 
sure the wire and tubing clear the cap and that the wire can 
get out of the pot. Another issue I found with my original 
configuration was that the spout was too long. I had to cut it 
nearly in half It is better to find this out before it is totally 
assembled! If everything fits, lacquer up the bamboo and 
twine. When it’s dry, you’re all set. 


Step 4: Plant Those Herbs and Enjoy 

Some contrasting rocks hide the ABS pipe and really cap off 
the whole fountain. I had to add some clear vinyl around the 
edges of the pipe to keep the water from draining off as 
quickly. It has been two days, and the water is getting to the 
plants, but keeping the fountain running. For the solar panels, 
I chose to use the part of the fountain already containing 
everything just because it was easier than building another 
setup. If you do plan to make your own container for the solar 
panels, use super glue and clear acrylic. I did some tests with 
this, and it works very well. 


Solar PV Tracker 

By bwitmer 


For a class project, I decided to try making a low cost PV 
(photovoltaic) tracker. Being able to follow the sun’s path 
through the sky can raise your solar panel system’s output 
considerably (30 to 50 percent), but the argon filled ones can 
be a bit pricey, and seem to be a bit unsteady in wind. I 
looked at several different designs, looked at what materials I 
could find, and this is how I did it. The panel is mounted to a 
frame, which is attached to two bike wheels. The wheels are 
mounted to a larger wooden frame, and the wheels and panel 
are moved by a 12 volt linear actuator. The sensor is an LED 
model and is purchased from Redrok Energy. The LED 
sensor senses the path of the sun and tells the actuator how 
much to move to keep the panel properly oriented. At the 
front of the tracker are two legs that can be adjusted to the 
proper altitude for seasonal changes. I used bicycle wheels 
because they are durable, strong enough to handle some 
weight, and, best of all, in my case, free! 


What do You Need? 

Here is what I used to make this tracker, and where 
everything was obtained: 

• Several treated 2 x 4s (Lowes) 

• Two wheels from a free bicycle (free or almost free bikes 
are pretty easy to find from the local landfill or thrift store) 

• A piece of angle iron with pre-punched holes (Lowes) 

• A 12 volt linear actuator (~$75 from eBay) 

• An LED tracking sensor (~$40 from 
ledSxassm. htm#led3xforsale) 

• Various nuts, bolts, screws, cable, and wire (scrounging 
around my workshop) 

Step 1 : Making the Base and Mounting the Wheels 

To make a nice, sturdy base I cut the 2 x 4s at angles and put 
them together to make two triangles. You can make them 
whatever size you need, depending on the size of your panels. 
I then tied them together with a couple of 2 x 4s at the base, 
and a couple up top. This made a nice, sturdy base to mount 
the wheels to. I cut a couple of small pieces of angle iron with 


a hacksaw, found the mid-point on the cross members, and 
attached them with exterior woodscrews. I put the wheels 
through the holes, and spun them with satisfaction. Here is a 
picture of the top wheel being mounted. 

Step 2: Adding the Wooden Frame to the Wheels 

I then mounted the 2 x 6 piece to the bike wheels by drilling 
holes through the bike rims and the 2 x 6 and bolting them 
together. I also used big U-bolts to clamp the rims to the 
board by drilling holes through the board and clamping it 
down tight. The board pivoted nicely on the two bike rims. 
The 2 X 6 isn’t wide enough to mount the panel to, so I added 
some smaller 2 x 4s to the top and bottom of the board, cut to 
the size of the panel. Each 2x4 board is as long as the solar 
panel is wide, and was attached to each end of the 2 x 6 with 
screws and bolts. This allows a nice flat place on which to 
mount the panel. I attached small pieces of angle iron to the 
holes on the end of each panel, and then screwed them to the 
wooden frame. This secured the panel to the frame. 


Step 3: Adding the Linear Actuator 

I purchased the 12 volt linear actuator on eBay. It’s built to 
hold up in the weather, is strong enough to move however 
many panels I would want to add to it, and has a long enough 
stroke to move the panels all the way from one side to 
another. I mounted it on the one side of the frame with a 
through bolt and attached it to the movable solar panel frame. 
To mount it to the side of the frame holding the solar panel, I 
just used a staple on the board that moves on the bicycle 
wheels. A short piece of cable goes through the hole on the 
linear actuator and the staple, and I used a small cable clamp 
to secure it. This allows everything to move around and flex 
as needed when it’s moving. When hooked to the battery the 
actuator moves the panel all the way to one side and, 
reversing it, moves it all the way back. The next step is giving 
the tracker the smarts to know when and how much to move. 


Step 4: Adding the LED Tracker 

I wish I had more pictures of the LED tracking unit, but there 
is plenty of info at Redroks website. The unit uses LEDs to 
measure the position of the sun and tells the linear actuator 
how much to move and where to position the panel. It’s really 
a slick little unit, and at a great price. I mounted mine by 
putting it in an empty peanut butter jar and mounting it to a 2 
X 4. 1 attached the 2 x 4 to the side of the unit to get the LED 
tracker up above the panel to give it an unobstructed view of 
the sun. 

Step 5: Finishing It Up 

This is pretty much the finished product, and it works well. I 
had an issue of condensation accumulating inside the peanut 
butter jar and had to seal it better. The size of the tracker can 
be made to fit however many panels you need, and there are 
many ways to configure a tracker like this. 



Greenhouse from Old Windows 

By Michael Taeuber (cheft) 


This is a brief guide on how I took some old windows from 
houses they were tearing down in my neighborhood and 
turned them into a small greenhouse in my backyard. I 
collected the windows over the course of a year and a half and 
the build took about three months, spending one day a week 
on it. I spent about $300 for the lumber for the frame and 
screws, caulk, latches, etc. That’s almost 10 percent of what a 
greenhouse kit would cost. The size I built was 7 feet high x 
10 feet deep x 6 feet wide. But the size of your greenhouse 
will depend on your windows and the time you want to put 
into the project. 


Step 1: Collect Windows and Plan Two Pair of Equal 

Look for old windows and save every one you get. After you 
have many, lay them out and play a game trying to make two 
pairs of “walls” both the same height. Two to three inches 
won’t matter as you can cover the difference with wood. 
Smaller holes will need to have glass cut for them or filled 
with something else. Keep in mind that one end will need a 
door and the other a hole for a fan. 

Step 2: Create a Frame 

Using the windows you chose as a guide, construct a frame 
for each wall. Use good lumber for this, as it is the structure 
that holds all the weight. I used all 2 x 4s for the studs and 4 x 
4s for the comer posts. Choose a length that allows at least 14 
inches of the stud to be placed in the ground for support. 

Step 3: Brace the Walls 

Start placing the walls up, bracing them well so they don’t fall 
over. Be sure to check that they are level. 


Step 4: Make the Foundation Secure 

To avoid certain problems with pesky city building permits, I 
built the structure shed height and did not pour a concrete 
foundation. Instead I buried cinder blocks to stabilize the 4 x 
4 comer posts. They keep it from moving an inch. 


Step 5: Screw on Windows 

I used some nice coated deck screws to affix the windows to 
the frame. This will allow for easy removal and replacement 
if any break. This side facing the camera has the empty 
window for a fan. 


Step 6: Get a Floor 

I was able to find someone who needed rocks removed from 
their yard. Using rocks or stones is good for two reasons: 
good drainage and heat storage. 

Step 7: Build the Roof 

This was tricky. I ended up getting siding from an old shed 
someone had tom down. Any material you use, look for 
lightweight and waterproof material. Be sure that you have 
some that will open for ventilation, at least 20 to 30 percent of 


your floor space. You can get by with less if you use a fan for 
ventilation. Also build the slant roof with at least a 4-degree 
pitch, otherwise rain may not sheet off well. 

Step 8: Add the Shelves and Fans 

I found an old picnic bench and this fan and shelf in the 
garbage. I figured I could use them in my greenhouse and 
save them from a landfill. 

Step 9: Caulk and Paint 

Use a good outdoor caulk and seal all the cracks and holes 
between the windows. Paint the wood to protect it from the 


Step 10: Winter 

One winter was especially bad near me. We had several feet 
of snow weeks on end. Luckily, 1 had already emptied the 
greenhouse and removed the roof panels in late November. I 
live in a zone five area. During the last month I brought out 
an electric heater to keep the temperature more consistent 

Later I was able to obtain a large picture window and decided 
to install a windowed roof in the spring. It will allow much 
more light in and therefore heat. I used the same deck screws 
to affix the windows to the roof frame I already had built. For 
the roof vents, I took two windows and screwed them 
together. I found old door hinges and used a piece of PVC as 
a brace. I added a screw holding it to the frame as a cotter pin. 
Lastly, in case a huge gust of wind came along and tried to 
yank open the windows, I nailed a small chain to the frame 
and window to prevent the window slamming backwards onto 
the rest of the roof 

I also modified the south facing bench. It connects to the 
frame on one end and still uses cinder blocks on the other. 
This will hopefully allow me to utilize the space inside better. 
It’s filling quickly! 

Now that the roof will allow so much light through, cooling 
will be a greater issue this summer. I may place some of the 
old panels back up in July or August to reflect some of that 
light. I also obtained some reflecting fabric. 

Lastly, I think in the future, I will completely rebuild the roof, 
using the windows for a gable type structure. It will force me 


to use some sort of poly material to cover up the gable ends. 
The current pitch of the roof is not enough to slope water off 
the windows completely. 

Step 11: Fan Window 

I was unhappy with having to remove the fan/vent window 
and having to prop it against something while cooling the 
greenhouse during the day. The frame was already designed 
to fit the window into it. I decided to have it slide up and be 
held in place. I started by salvaging some hinges from an old 


entertainment center. They are the kind that sit completely 
outside the door. Plus these had a unique shape that fit around 
a right angle. This allowed the wooden “stops” to swing in 
place and hold the window up while I was venting or when 
the fan is in place. Across the frame I nailed some boards to 
hold the fan window against the frame. Lastly, I found an old 
pulley and fastened it to the window so I can pull it up easily. 

Step 12: Spring Roof Vent Upgrades 

Had a major score! A local community greenhouse was tom 
down and replaced. I was able to get some great parts. Here is 
a picture of the new window system. It originally opened the 
windows on the side of the greenhouse. The wheel is turned 


and rotates the gear attached to the pipe, opening the 
windows, which makes opening and shutting easy. While 
every window now must be open at the same time, I can 
control the angle at which they are open. 

Also pictured is a gutter claimed from the trash. The hinge 
side of the roof windows always leaked profusely. The gutter 
catches the water and stores it in a bucket for easy watering. 

Step 13: Spring Shading 

Bought some secondhand rolling shades that are working 
great. They easily roll up and down the south facing wall 
while not taking up too much room. 


Step 14: Winter Two Years Later 

Here is the greenhouse in a mild winter. I overwinter many 
potted perennials inside. To insulate the roof, I stretch a sheet 
of poly across the top to keep out the drafts. Last October, I 
repainted both the inside and out. All the wood is doing well. 
I hope that, with care, the greenhouse will last over ten years. 
It has changed the way I garden, making my backyard much 
more productive. 


An Algae Bioreactor from Recycled 
Water Bottles 

By Michael H. Fischer (mfischer) 



In this Instructable, we describe how to build a 
photo-bioreactor that uses algae to convert carbon dioxide and 
sunlight into energy. The energy that is produced is in the 
form of algae biomass. The photo-bioreactor is built from 
plastic recycled water bottles. By designing the apparatus to 
be compartmentalized, we are able to do many experiments in 
parallel. By using algae as a biofuel, we can increase the 
world’s supply of oil while at the same time we decrease the 
amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide used during its 
production. The resulting product is a sustainable biofuel 
whose carbon footprint is neutral inasmuch as the CO2 
produced on consumption is essentially balanced by the CO2 
used in its production. In this Instructable, we first make the 
carbon dioxide delivery system, then mount the water bottles 
on a rack, and then inoculate the bottles with algae. After 
letting the algae grow for a week, we extract the biomass. 

Step 1: Make Carbon Dioxide Delivery System 

To make the carbon dioxide delivery system, connect an 
eight-port sprinkler system manifold to a 1 ” long PVC pipe. 
To get good seals, use Teflon tape to tape the threads before 


attaching the pieces together. Next, attach the 1” pipe to a 
T-connector. Block off one end of the T-connector and attach 
the other end to 1 ’ long PVC pipe. 

Step 2: Attach Tubing to Manifold 

For each manifold, cut eight pieces of flexible tubing and 
connect each piece to a port of the manifold. The manifold 
that I am using has a dial on each port to control the rate of 
flow. Make sure all the ports that you use are open and allow 
approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide to flow 
through the port. 

Step 3: Mount Carbon Dioxide System 

Mount the air system to a metal rack using zip ties. Attach the 
air system to a tank of carbon dioxide. 


Step 4: Mount Water Bottles 

Hot glue the water bottles to the metal rack. 

Step 5: Make Algae Media 

We next make the medium to grow the algae. Although there 
are many possible mediums, a standard garden store fertilizer 
contains all the nitrogen and nutrients that the algae need. 

Step 6: Media Inoculation 

A good source of algae is pond algae, if available. If not, 
there are a large number of online vendors that sell batches of 
algae. To inoculate the culture, measure out a fixed amount of 
algae and add it to the growth medium. 


Step 7: Growth and Harvesting 

After several days of sunlight and CO2 exposure, the algae 
are mueh denser. A Freneh press is then used to extraet the 
algae from the solution. The biomass of the dried algae ean 
then be used as a fuel. As a by-produet of this process, a large 
amount of atmospheric CO2 is sequestered. 




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