Living out in the country has afforded me some piece of mind by not having to rely so much on city utilities. However, water has still been a concern out here. Sure we have our own well, but the pump is run off of electricity. If a winter ice storm were to roll through and take out some power lines, we would be out of luck on the water front. Furthermore, since we do live in Oklahoma where ice storms happen on average about once or twice a year, driving to the store to buy more water would be dangerous with the unplowed roads and dangerous drivers. I needed a way to hand pump the water from my well in an emergency.
Now I will give credit where credit is due. I first got this idea from Flojak which makes hand powered water pumps. However, I don’t have $500 to spend on one of their systems and I was certain that I could build something similar for cheaper. After a little more research I came across SlapShot plans by HydroMissions. I used these plans along with the Flojak idea and other random bits of knowledge from the internet to come up with my own design for a 50′ well pump which costed me around $50.
First comes the planning. This well pump is designed to fit into a well that has a 5-6 inch diameter case. In a smaller well this system may not work. It is important to know how far down your water table resided in your well. There is two ways to do this. The easiest is to tie a weight to a long piece of string and attach a small fishing bobber to the string about a foot above the weight. Lower the string down into the well until the string goes slack. Give it a few jerks to make sure it is the bobber resting on the surface of the water and it isn’t just caught up on something. Then tie a knot in the string at the top of the well, pull it all up, and measure from the knot to the bobber. That is how far down your water table is.
The second method will allow you to determine where your water table resides and how far down your well is drilled, and possibly how far down your current electric water pump is. Take an absorbent string that is preferably made out of a natural fiber. Think about twine. Attach a weight to one end and drop it down the well. The weight will likely get hung up on the electric pump so multiple jerks and pulls might be required to get it past that. Keep lowering the string until it goes slack. In my well the string slowly went slack in the last 5 feet of the well (probably due to sedimentation) versus suddenly going slack as it will when it gets hung up on the pump. Make a knot, pull up the string and measure to where the string becomes wet (this is the water table) and to the end of the string (this is how deep the well is drilled).
For my well, the water table is around 35′ down so I initially decided to build a 40′ pump. This was a bad idea as I found out because it has been so dry around here and we have been using a lot of water for the plants. That usage dropped the water table below 40′ pretty quickly and the well did not recharge very fast. So plan to build a well that is at least 15+ foot below your water table, the further the better.
After reading through this post I decided that it can get sort of confusing, so I drew up some diagrams. Now bear with me because I am not an artist, but hopefully this with clear up some of your confusions.
Without further delay, here is my design and supplies needed for a 50′ water well hand pump that cost around $50. I was able to fill a 5 gallon bucket in 1 minute and 4 seconds, and Kallie did it in 1 min and 14 seconds. So a 5 gallon flow rate is possible however, a 2-3 gallon flow rate is more practical over an extended period of time. Also, the pump holds its prime very well. I can leave it sitting for days and it will produce water on the very first pump. Each full stroke produces 24-28 ounces of water.
Please read all directions completely and thoroughly before buying or building this pump. I used thin walled pipe to keep the weight down. This is for ease of installation and to reduce the amount of extra weight that one has to lift every time you pump up water. If you choose to buy regular walled pipe just be aware that the parts might not fit together and the inner pipe connections may not be able to slide into the outer pipe.
Also a quick reminder on female versus male connectors. A male connector has its threads visible on the outside and a female connector has the threads on the inside. The male connector screws into the female threaded connector. Just think of human anatomy and you won’t ever forget what the difference is between a female and a male connector is again. I know that analogy is kind of wrong but you won’t forget.
- 4 – 10′ long 1/2″ thin walled PVC pipe
- 5 – 10′ long 1-1/4″ thin walled PVC pipe
- 5 – 1/2″ slip connector with Male threads
- 6 – 1/2″ slip connector with Female threads
- 5 – 1-1/4″ slip connector with Female threads
- 1 – 1-1/4″ Male thread to 3/4″ Female thread adapter
- 4 – 1-1/4″ slip connector with Male threads
- 1 – 10′ long 1/2″ regular walled PVC pipe
- 1 – 5 foot long 1-1/2″ PVC pipe
- 1 – 1-1/2″ to 1-1/4″ pipe reducer fitting
- 3 – 3/4″ slip connector with 1/2″ male threads
- 1 – 1/2″ female to 1/2″ male connector
- 1 – 3/4″ slip connector with 3/4″ male threads
- 2 – 1/2″ threaded PVC connectors (female threads on both ends)
- 1 – 5′ long 3/4″ PVC pipe
- 1 – 4″ long 1/2″ diameter black iron “nipple” pipe. (take a look at the LP gas line post)
- 6 – washers. The 1/2″ black iron pipe must be able to slip through the center and the washer should be able to just barely slip into the 1-1/2″ PVC pipe (or come close to fitting into the pipe as we can fix it later).
- 1 – 4″x4″ 1/8″ thick rubber sheet
- 1 – 1/2″ slip to 3/4″ male thread adapter
- 1 – 3/4″ Tee (slip)
- 1 – 3/4″ cap
- 1 – 3/4″ slip to male thread
- 2 – regular sized marbles (try a dollar store)
- 2 – rubber hose washers
- 2 – 1″ or longer thin penny type nail
- *1 – 1-1/2″ slip connector
- *1 – 1-1/2″ slip to 3/4″ female threaded connector
Now I know this is a long list but by making this pump out of PVC, it can still be made relatively cheaply. The items marked with an asterisk * are my original designed parts. Below is a short list of substitution parts for a better design that would allow for access to the piston after being fully assembled.
- 1 – 1-1/2″ slip to female thread connector
- 1 – 1-1/2″ male thread to 3/4″ female thread connector
Tools and other items required to complete this project
- PVC primer and glue
- 2 pairs of channel lock pliers or pipe wrenches
- Saw to cut through PVC
- Bench grinder (or a file or belt sander could also work)
- Pipe dope
- Petroleum Jelly
- 100% clear silicone
- Electric drill
- 1/4″ drill bit
- Razor blade or exacto knife
Steps below. Please read all steps and follow them closely. Failure to do so will likely result in mistakes leading you to have to buy more parts.
Take all the 1/2″ connectors (all of them) and grind any excess plastic off with the bench grinder so that they are round and the same diameter.
Trim the inside of all the 1-1/4″ female PVC connectors so that a trimmed 1/2″ connector can slide through. This is easiest to do with a knife.
First to make the check valves.
- For the check valves take a 3/4″ slip with 1/2″ male threaded connector and add a small bead of silicone glue in the bottom of the connector on the slip side. Place a water hose washer on top of the silicone and press the washer down and centered. Wipe off excess glue. Prime the inside of connector with PVC primer but be careful not to get any on the silicone. It might be best to let the silicone dry for an hour first. Repeat this step for the second check valve.
- Cut a 2.5″ long section of 3/4″ PVC pipe, deburr, and clean the ends with primer. Apply a thin layer of PVC glue to one end of the short pipe and press it into the connector from step one. Wipe off any excess glue. Repeat this step for the second connector from step one.
- Place a marble in the bottom of the check valve and check to make sure it sits well in the center of the washer. With the valve facing down you can blow into the pipe end and you should have very little air slipping past the marble and washer seal.
- Take one of the thin nails and chuck it into the drill so that it spin without wobbling. Now with the drill spinning at full speed, press the nail into the PVC pipe just above the connector or 1/4″ above the marble, whichever is greater. Continue to drill the nail through the PVC pipe and half way through the other side of the pipe. Now stop the drill and hold it very steady for about 30 seconds to allow the nail and PVC to cool and solidify. This method is a type of plastic welding. Now un-chuck the nail from the drill and trim the nail as close to the PVC pipe as possible with a pair of pliers or metal saw. Repeat for the second check valve.
- Here is where things get different for the two different check valves. For the lower check valve prime a 3/4″ slip to 3/4″ male thread connector, apply a thin layer of glue and press it onto the pipe of one of the check valves. For the upper check valve prime a 3/4″ slip to 1/2″ male thread connector and apply a thin layer of glue. Press the connector onto the pipe end of the other check valve. Afterwards you should have two check valves. Both have 1/2″ male threaded ends on one side and one has a 1/2″ male thread on the other side (the upper check valve) and the other has a 3/4″ male thread (the lower check valve).
Now to make the piston:
- Take the rubber sheet and use one of the washers to trace 4 circles on the rubber. Use a razor blade or exacto knife to cut out the circles from the rubber. Cut out the center holes too. These rubber circles are now rubber gaskets that will be used to get a water tight fit between the piston and the outer pump casing. Set the gaskets aside for now.
- Now we have to make sure the washers will fit inside the 1-1/2″ PVC pipe. I had to shave mine down. To do this I placed the washers on the 1/2″ black iron pipe nipple, donned some leather work gloves, and pressed the outer edges of the washers into a bench grinder stopping periodically to check if the washers will fit into the pipe. The perfect fit will be for the washer to loosely fit into the pipe, with no more than a millimeter of space around the outer edge of the washer and the inner side of the pipe. Place the washers off to the side.
- Take the black iron pipe nipple and cover the threads on one end with pipe dope. Screw on one of the 1/2″ female threaded connectors and tighten with a wrench. Place one washer on the iron pipe, followed by a rubber gasket, then another washer, and another gasket, and finally a third washer. Now this next part takes a little guess work. Measure from the end of the washer to the beginning of the threads on the other side. Cut a piece of 3/4″ PVC pipe to this length. Slip that piece onto the black iron pipe followed by a washer, gasket, washer, gasket, and finally another washer. Then coat the threads of the iron pipe in pipe dope and screw on a 1/2″ female to 1/2″ male connector. Tighten until all the washers and gaskets are very snug together. If you cut your 3/4″ pipe spacer to short you might have to cut a longer piece.
- Check the fit of this assembly to the inside of the 1-1/2″ pipe. It should fit very snug. If the gaskets are too big around, carefully and slowly shave them down on the bench grinder or by using hand files until they just barely fit in. The assembly will fit better in the next few steps once the piston is properly lubed up.
- Attach the 1/2″ male connector of the upper check valve, the side that does NOT have the marble in it, to the 1/2″ female connector on the piston. Just to reiterate, the side with the marble should be away from the piston.
Now to make the pump assembly:
- Take the 5 foot long 1 1/2″ PVC pipe, a 5 foot section of 1-1/4″ pipe, and the adapter, prime and glue them together so you have a 10 foot section of pipe.
- Now take a 1/2″ pipe, prime and glue a 1/2″ female adapter to one end. Screw that female adapter to the 1/2″ male adapter on the piston using pipe dope (not the check valve).
- Apply a generous amount of petroleum jelly to the inside of the 1-1/2″ PVC pipe and the outside of the piston around the gaskets. Slip the piston into the pipe with the 1/2″ pipe going in first, then the piston going in last. Work the piston back and forth in the pipe several times and add more petroleum jelly if needed.
- ***Next step indicates improved design. Old design requires different parts. See list above and substitute those parts.*** Glue on the 1-1/2″ slip to female thread connector and screw in the 1-1/2″ male thread to 3/4″ female thread connector with plenty of pipe dope. Then, with pipe dope, screw in the lower check valve by the 3/4″ adapter. This change will allow access to the piston at a future date if service is required.
- Lastly, glue a 1-1/4″ female connector to the top of the pump assembly. Pull the 1/2″ pipe until the piston stops at the top and cut the pipe about 2-3″ from the female connector. Now glue a 1/2″ female connector to the 1/2″ pipe and be careful to not push the pipe back in.
- Then take the 1/4″ drill bit and drill 4 holes in the 1-1/4″ pipe about halfway up. This will allow any water that slips past the piston to drain back into the well and not be forced all the way up to the surface.
Make the drop pipe assembly:
- Follow directions carefully.Make as many of these 10 foot sections as you need to equal the length of the total assembled well depth, minus 10 feet (for the lower pump).
- Take a 1-1/4″ pipe and glue a male connector to one end. Take a 1/2″ pipe and glue a female connector onto one end. Slide the 1/2″ pipe with the side without the connector into the 1-1/4″ pipe side without the connector. Once the 1/2″ pipe comes out the end of the 1-1/4″ male connector, glue a male connector to it. Now glue a female connector to the end of the 1-1/4″ PVC pipe.
Final assembly and fitting: (use pipe dope on all connections)
- Take a middle drop pipe assembly and screw the 1/2″ inner pipe into the 1/2″ inner pipe on the pump assembly.
- Next, take a second middle pipe assembly and screw the inner pipe to the inner pipe of the previous assembly. It is much easier to screw all the inner 1/2″ pipes together first before screwing the outer pipes together. Assemble all the inner pipes of the drop pipe assemblies together. You will need help from another person to hold once side of the pipe with a wrench since the connections are actually being made inside the larger outer pipe.
- (This is to make part of the handle assembly. This next part will slip into the top most drop pipe). Take the 1/2″ regular walled PVC and glue a male connector onto one end. Slide the 1-1/4″ Male thread to 3/4″ Female thread adapter onto the other end of the pipe with the male threads first. This is the cap for the outer pipe to keep the inner pipe centered and to keep debris out of the pump. So at the end of the 1/2″ pipe should be both sets of male threads. Connect the 1/2″ regular walled pipe to the inner pipe of the assembled drop pipes. (The very top drop pipe)
- Once all the inner pipes have been connected, you can go about threading together the outer pipes. When you get to the last section of drop pipe, thread on the 1-1/4″ to 3/4″ adapter that we talked about in step 3.
- Now push on the inner pipe while holding the outer pipe. Check to make sure you can get a full stroke. When everything seems to work like it should, push the inner pipe all the way in carefully. Make a mark at where the the inner 1/2″ pipe is visible coming up through the outer cap.
- Pull the inner pipe back out a little ways and cut it off about an inch down (towards the pump end) of the mark. Now glue a 1/2″ slip to 3/4″ male thread connector on the end. This will ensure that the inner pipe can never be pushed in so far as to break the upper (inner) check valve that is at the bottom of the piston.
- Finally, screw on the 3/4″ tee. Cut two 6″ lengths of 3/4″ pipe and glue them into the tee. This makes the handle. Now glue a cap on one end and a 3/4″ slip to male adapter on the other.
Now you just need a friend to help you lower it into the well. You will also need to find a way to secure it to the top of the well. I will let you come up with a clever solution to that since every well is different. For mine, I replaced my old well seal with a new one that has two main pipe holes.
When I first made my pump I did not take into account fluctuating water levels and so it was too short and therefore only pumped air. I had to add another 10 feet so that I can pump water. In the future I want to experiment with tying this pump into the house system and see if I can build up any pressure in the pressure tank. It would be exciting to know that during some cold winter storm when electricity is out that Kallie or I could take a hot shower (propane water heater) while the other pumps.
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. If I missed anything or you have suggestions on how to make improvements, please leave me a comment.