Wheel alignment

Tuesday 30 May 2023

And now for something completely different....

It's funny how statements which you make come back with a vengeance and bite you again!  The last photo on my May 9th post showed a banner which was a tongue in cheek version of John F Kennedy's speech about going to the moon.  The banner read "We do this not because it was easy, but because we thought it would be easy".  This certainly applied to a recent activity!

Our 11 year old granddaughter Georgia started intermediate school this year.  She's a smart cookie and is in an accelerated class where the work is set up to challenge them.  Each student was recently asked to come up with a project, implement it and report the results.  Georgia had seen something on power generation using a waterwheel and thought it would be cool to see how power output changed with water flow and gearing.  All this because they have a small stream passing through their property!  She asked her dad Kerryn (our youngest son) what he knew about the subject and the answer was very little. As the lead time for completing the project was only a couple of weeks or thereabouts, he was straight on to me to see what I knew about the topic. The answer was Sweet Fanny Adams, apart from understanding the physics and engineering principles.  The short time deadline was going to be quite a challenge.

A brief discussion was had over the phone with Kerryn, with the thought that the 3 generations could work together as well as Georgia conducting the experiments and writing the report.  Wherever possible, everyday recycled materials could be used.  How hard could it be? And then the catch.... would Nana and Granddad mind doing the 400 km round trip this coming weekend to help make it all happen?  Immediate thoughts went back to the first paragraph of this post - no pressure then!

The best part of day one after the phone call was spent on YouTube and other sources learning about different types of waterwheel and it became quickly apparent that an undershot wheel was the only practical option because their stream was relatively shallow.  Next step was to see what resources we already had which might be useful for constructing a waterwheel.

Jennie had an old bicycle which had been unloved and not ridden for 3 or 4 decades.  That might be a useful source of big sprockets and maybe a chain.  I had an alloy bike rim which we inherited with the house decades ago and a quick bit of dismantling got underway.  I also dug out some threaded bar, stainless tube and other bits and pieces which Jennie previously referred to as hoarded junk, sigh...  I also requisitioned one of Jennie's nylon chopping boards to make thrust washers for new axles. It wasn't strictly theft as it had been re-purposed some time ago as a fishing bait board for the boat!

Collecting possible components with only a vague design plan at this stage

Next step was to head to the village transfer station and see if there were any old bikes with sprockets of various sizes.  One was spotted under sheets of corrugated iron in a pool of disgusting water.  Quite a job pulling it out in those unsanitary conditions.  Good value for a couple of bucks!  A quick bit of hacksaw work to get the sprocket and chain off, followed by soaking the chain in kerosene to loosen up the rust.

Raiding the village dump for more sprockets and chain

A call with Kerryn revealed that he had some plastic downpipe which could be made into vanes for the undershot waterwheel.  He built a shopping list of bolts and other fittings, plus our one and only purchase of a new piece of equipment.  We had intended to use a car generator from a wreckers yard but found a brand new mini-generator online at much the same price we would have paid for a car component.

Mini 12/24v DC generator

Armed with tools, boxes of bits and fingers crossed, we set off on the 200 km trip. I got stuck in and made a large sprocket carrier to the bike rim which was going to carry the vanes whilst everyone else departed for Georgia's Friday night hockey match.  Next morning, another family departure for our grandson's rugby match whilst Georgia and I measured and cut up the piping for the vanes.  She'd never used a jigsaw before so we had a short practice and then onto the real thing.  She was outstanding and made beautifully straight cuts.

Georgia splitting the piping with a jigsaw

After splitting the pipe, she then marked the halves up for cutting into individual vanes.  The width was a pure judgement call on our part, having seen the professional wheels on YouTube for serious domestic power generation. Let's call it an educated guess.....

Using a jig for marking out the individual vanes

With weekend school sport taken care of, I made up the axle assembly whilst Georgia and her dad mounted the waterwheel sprocket then drilled the wheel rim and vanes and bolted them up.  Another judgement call about how many to use, just using years of accumulated engineering experience and the obligatory crossing of fingers.

Bolting the sprocket to the carrier

Fitting the vanes

The completed wheel

With the axle in place and the wheel spinning freely, a support frame was made from timber by Georgia and her dad, with adjustable legs from threaded bar, then carrying it to the stream to see if it actually worked - the real acid test!  A brilliant outcome with 60 rpm being attained in a faster part of the stream.   I should mention that the stream is at the bottom of a steep gully so getting all the kit there and back wasn't a straightforward exercise by any means!

Happiness is a spinning wheel

Sunday dawned with the main goal of hooking up the generator.  It was spun up at various rpm using an electric drill to obtain voltage output characteristics, particularly at speeds that the waterwheel would rotate at. A good confidence boost as it worked just fine.  A mount for the generator was made, using clamps for chain alignment and tensioning.  With time being a precious commodity, a rudimentary coupling was made to mount the generator sprocket. Not a perfect solution but adequate for the experiments to be run.

Setting it all up

With time getting on, Jennie and I had to make the 3 hour trip home whilst Georgia and her parents headed for the stream again to test how the completed rig worked.  Very much in our thoughts on the way home and a hope that I hadn't lost any engineering mojo with that dodgy coupling!

Got a message soon after we arrived home, complete with videos and photos - an outstanding success in every respect, apart from the chain periodically jumping off the sprockets.

Measuring the output voltage with different sprockets

Documenting the results

Georgia hooked up with fairly lights!

An immensely satisfying weekend for multiple reasons.  The pleasure and fun of the family working brilliantly together across 3 generations, pride in seeing how hard Georgia worked and her focus, overcoming problems on the run with very tight timelines plus all of us learning new stuff.  None of us are ever too old to learn new things, it's what keeps us alive.  It really doesn't get any better than that!  The future is in good hands with young folk like Georgia around.


Georgia has to complete her report and submit it this week.  Her parents and grandparents might be a teensy bit biased but when it's finally assessed, it's hard to imagine that the outcome will be a poor one!

Addendum late June: Georgia has just given her oral presentation at school and was given an "exceeded expectations" result.  The project also won a silver rosette at the regional science fair.  So darned proud of that young lady!

Proud Dad and daughter


  1. Bloody awesome Geoff! You must be as proud as punch!

    1. Spot on Dave! Georgia gets her work ethic and attitude from her parents. However, I'm inclined to think that most kids are capable of achieving extraordinary things with the proper encouragement and expectations. Not just by family, but by everyone involved with their development. And yes, the last few days were pretty uplifting 👍

  2. That's cool. She must be proud as punch with that effort in such a short time frame.

    1. Hi Steve! She was pretty pleased with the outcome. The tight time constraints put a bit of stress on us all, which made it a real challenge. Quite amusing how a project designed to challenge a student put stress on the adults too 😄.

  3. A very cool project! And you did an entertaining write up. It’s nice to see stories such as this.

    1. Thanks Richard! A great projects where everyone gets something out of it. It would be lovely if Georgia followed the sciences but she'll be successful whatever she chooses.

  4. Definitely an engineer in the make, Geoff. The parents can be proud and well, yes you can also be a bit ;-). In Germany we have a saying for this: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Great job done by all.

    1. Hi Sonja,
      Jennie says "Anything but an engineer", haha! Georgia's Dad has a technology degree and her Mum has a commerce degree so we'll have to see what wins out 😄

  5. You had the hability for to build this. And the most important really, is your personal capacity!

  6. Thank you! It's always fun to learn something new.


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