Written by 2:52 pmSurvival

How to Build a Generator

Photo of men installing generator

If the power suddenly went off in your house, what would you do? Well, you’d probably go and investigate the fuse box, or see if your neighbours are having the same problem. After that, you’d just have to wait for someone to come and do some repairs. However, imagine if you had a back up power source ready to go, that you could whip out to save the day. In this article, we’re going to show you a few easy ways to build a generator that will get you out of any sudden power shortages.

Having your own portable generator isn’t just ideal for emergency situations, but building one is a fun family activity. In most cases, all you need is some common household items which results in a very inexpensive build. There are loads of ways you can get creative with a generator build, and we lay out a few different methods below.

Read on to find out more about the materials you are going to need and how to build a generator. You’ll have your house power-cut proof in no time!

Building a DIY Generator

Building your own generator is no where near as hard as it sounds and is actually a fairly straightforward task. The only difficult part is gathering all the materials, but it’s likely that you’ll have most of them in your house anyway.

If you’re looking for a fun family activity that you can use to educate your kids about survival skills, then building a generator is a fantastic idea. It’s also a brilliant science experiment and is the perfect thing to do when your kids are learning about generators in the science classes at school.

A quick google search will reveal just how many ways there are to build a working generator. We’ve collected a few of our favourites below. We’d recommend picking the one that sounds best for you, and getting stuck in. If you need more help with the build, then there’s plenty of videos on the internet that can point you in the right direction.

How do generators work?

Before we go into the different types of power generator you can build at home, it will be helpful to explain how generators actually work, and how they manage to produce their very own electricity.

All electricity is produced by taking one form of energy and concerting it into electrical energy. For example, wind farms make use of wind power to obtain their energy, whilst large electricity plants usually burn coal for heat energy. So, if we want to create electrical energy using our generators, then we need to put some energy in for it to use.

It most of the designs we show you, we rotate something to create our energy, such as a bike wheel or spinning drill and this is then converted to electricity by the generator.

There are two main parts of a generator that will be common in all our designs. These are the generator head and the rotor. The rotor is the thing we will be rotating to create our energy, whilst the generator head is the solid casing around the rotor. The rotor has lots of magnets inside, which create an electrical current inside the stator as it spins. This is how we get out our electrical energy.

This electrical energy can then be stored in a battery so that you don’t have to be constantly spinning the rotor in order to have electricity.

What types of DIY Generators are there?

As we just said, there are many ways to build homemade generators from a variety of different household items. Some ways are easier than others, but they are all fun to build and are actually pretty effective at generating electricity. The first type of homemade power generator we are going to talk about is the bicycle powered generator.

Bicycle

The bicycle generator is easy to build and set up, and also fun to use when you’ve got it up and running. You can even get a good workout whilst generating some power! With this generator, we will be spinning our rotor by pedalling the bike and as we explained before, the generator will be able to convert this movement energy into electricity.

These generators are ideal for low power tasks, such as powering a flashlight or boiling a kettle. You really won’t be able to power a full house with this method, unless you pedal the Tour de France every single night!

The best part about this method is you don’t even need a fulling working bike to generate power. As long as you can get the back wheel to turn when you pedal, then you are good to go. This is the perfect use for that old bike that’s been gathering dust in your shed for years.

Drill

If you don’t fancy having to pedal yourself to power, then a good alternative for you might be the drill method. The principal for this generator is exactly the same as the bicycle version – we will use the drill to spin our rotor, which will generate our electrical energy to be stored in a battery.

The drill method is ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to use manual labour to power their generator. All you do is hold down the trigger and you’ll have power in no time. The drill type of generator also creates a lot more electrical energy than the bicycle method, so can power more demanding appliances.

You might be wondering that since the drill is also an electrical item, how are we going to power that? Well, there is also a method for charging a drill’s battery by using wind power. You can create a makeshift turbine that attaches onto the end of a drill bit, and as it spins it will slowly recharge the battery!

Hydroelectric

If you live next to a river or stream, then you are in luck! One of the best and most reliable ways to generate electricity is to harness the power of water. Water power is the main source of power generation for loads of countries around the world. Of course we won’t be doing this on such a massive scale, but the principals remain the same.

What we want to do is recreate the classic water wheel set up. This has been used to generate energy for centuries, and is still a very effective method. Again, we want to build a wheel that turns in the water, which then spins the rotor and generates electricity.

Rivers and streams flow at basically constant rates, which is why this method is so reliable. This is different to wind energy for example, which can fluctuate greatly between different days. With a hydroelectric method, you know that you are always going to get a steady flow of electricity to your battery.

Engine

If you want to build a generator with a much higher output voltage than some of the other methods, then we’d recommend looking into using an engine in your build. This type of generator makes use of a small motor, such as a lawn mower engine, to spin the rotor in your generator. The result is a high output voltage that can fuel some quite demanding appliances.

This method is definitely not for beginners though and should only be attempted by someone who already has a decent understanding of engines and how they work. If you do manage to make an engine generator, then you’ll be rewarded with a great supply of back up energy.

The disadvantage of this method is that you’ll have to fuel the engine in order for it to run. This can be quite expensive and is also a lot more damaging to the environment than some of the other methods. It’s not as fun to use as a lot of the other designs, but it is definitely the one that will give you the most electricity output and get the generator head working to its highest potential.

Get Creative

If you want a real challenge then you don’t need to follow one of the designs we’ve talked about here. All you need to build a generator that works is a way to get the rotor to spin. There are countless ways that you can get something to spin, so don’t be afraid to get creative and use something out of the ordinary.

What do I need to build a generator?

Although we’ve talked about a few different generators methods above, in this article we are just going to focus on the bicycle method. This is because we think it is one of the easiest ways to get your own small generator and is probably the most fun to use. You’ll need a few different materials, but you’ll probably have most of them in your house or shed already.

Here’s the list of things you’ll need:

  • Bicycle – The bicycle doesn’t have to be in good condition and as long as you can get the back wheel to spin as you pedal, then you are good to go
  • A long piece of copper wire
  • Several strong magnets
  • A battery – the size of the battery depends on what you are going to be using the power for. If you just want to power a flashlight, then a small battery will be fine. Just remember, the bigger the battery, the more pedalling you’ll have to do to charge it.
  • A bike stand – You can find these at all good outdoor or bike shops. The stand will lift up the back wheel of the bike so that the wheel can spin without moving the bike forward.

Once you’ve gathered all the materials you can start constructing your generator. We’d recommend setting your generator up in your back yard, or somewhere with enough space to be able to pedal on your bike comfortably.

How do I build my generator?

The following steps will walk you through how to build a generator powered by a bicycle. As we’ve said, this method doesn’t generate huge amounts of electricity, but it is definitely enough to power small appliances such as a kettle. Make sure you follow the steps pretty closely as it is quite easy to make a mistake that will stop your generator functioning as it should.

The method consists of two parts. The first is to make the generator head that will produce the electricity that we need, whilst the other task is to build a rotor that produces the magnetic field that makes the generator work. The basic principal is that we want the wheel to act as the rotor in our bike generator.

Here’s the method:

  1. The first step is to gather the supplies you will need. We’ve gone through what things you need in the section above. Remember the bicycle doesn’t have to be in amazing condition as long as the back wheel spins freely as you pedal.
  2. We’ll start by building the coil that creates our magnetic field in the generator head. Take your length of copper wire, and coil it so that you have a long cylinder shape and you can access both ends of the wire. (It should look like a slinky). The more coils you can create, the stronger the field you can generate, so use the longest length of copper wire that you can.
  3. Next, you want to connect the coil to our source of energy, which in this case is our bike wheel axel. Ensure the coil isn’t going to be knocked off by any moving parts.
  4. Then we need to create our magnetic field. To do that place the strong magnets around the coil. To maximise the strength of the field, arrange the magnets so that the south pole of one faces the north pole of another.
  5. Finally, attach the bike axel to the battery so that you can store the energy that is produced.
  6. You now have a bike generator that you can use in the event of any unexpected electricity shortages. To use it, just hop on and pedal!

This build is not that easy. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to check out some videos online. It’s often easier to watch someone build something than just reading some instructions. The generator head can be quite hard to get right, so definitely take your time on that bit.

Considerations for Building Your Own Generator

If you want to build a generator in your back yard, then there are a few things you need to consider before doing so. There are quite a few different types and methods to build a generator, so it’s important to work out what you need it for, what kind of materials you have available, and how much you are willing to spend on the project.

This section will go through a few of these considerations and hopefully help you out when you are planning your generator building project.

Energy Source

The main thing you need to think about when planning to build a generator is where your input energy is going to come from. As we talked about at the start of the article, a generator works by converting energy into electrical energy. This initial energy doesn’t just come from nowhere though, and has to provided to the generator in order for it to work.

For example, the generator could take energy from the wind and covert that into electricity. This is the basic principal behind wind turbines – as the blades turn, this spins the rotor in the generator which then produces electricity. Wind is the only source of energy though. Many generators use energy from a flowing river or from burning fossil fuels.

Our bike generator is using the energy created by pedalling to produce its electricity. You can also use things like power tools to spin the rotor, which usually results in a much higher voltage output and can be used to power larger appliances.

So, you need to decide what you are going to use as the initial source of energy. If you want to build a generator in the cheapest way possible, then always try to use materials that you already have. Most people will probably have an old bike stored away somewhere, which is one of the reasons why we chose to focus on the bike method in this article.

Power Levels

Another thing to consider is how much electricity you need the generator to produce. Each of the methods will produce a different amount of voltage. For example, the bike method doesn’t produce that much electricity relative to the other methods. The advantage of the bike method is that it is pretty easy, and is the most fun to use.

If you want more energy, then we’d suggest using the drill method which we talked about near the start. A device like a drill can obviously spin much faster than a person can pedal, so you are bound to produce a larger amount electricity this way.

For the maximum output, you have to use an engine. An engine will cause the generator head to produce the most amount of electricity since it will spin the rotor at a very high RPM. Generators that use a gasoline engine are the most suitable for powering a whole house. Building engine generators can be quite difficult and confusing though, so we’d recommend doing some in depth research before you attempt it.

Budget

The final important consideration is your budget. If you want to build a generator for cheap, then you should focus on using materials that you already have in your house. The bike method is good for this, since you don’t need much stuff, and it’s likely that you will already have most of it at home.

High output generators will usually end up being the expensive builds. This is because they often need some extra specialist materials that you might not have lying around at home. Things like a power inverter, alternators and heavy duty batteries.

Your budget will definitely define how far you can go in your quest to build a generator, but you shouldn’t let a low budget get in the way of making a generator that is effective and fun to use.

FAQs

1. Can you build your own generator?

Yes, definitely! Building your own generators is not actually as hard as it might sound. All you need to do is construct a generator head, and then find away to spin a rotor inside this head. Common ways to do this are to use a spinning wheel or wind and water energy.

If you want extra information about how you can do this yourself, then have a read of our article above. In it we actually set out a simple method to build a generator using a bicycle. This method is really fun and is the perfect family activity. Not only that, but you’ll be ready to produce your own electricity if your power grid goes down unexpectedly.

2. What size generator do you need for your house?

If you want to power your whole house, then you are going to need a pretty serious homemade generator. It will need a large generator head, complete with alternators and huge batteries. You’ll also probably have to use an engine in order to create a high enough RPM in the motor shaft to produce the required amount of electricity.

Building a generator of this capability isn’t for the faint hearted, so make sure you know a bit of information about engines or are working with people who know what they are doing before attempting it. A smaller generator such as the bike generator will be able to provide energy for small electrical devices, but won’t be able to provide for a whole property.

3. What materials are used to make a generator?

There are two main parts to a generator. These are the generator head and the rotor. The generator head is where the electricity is produced, whilst the rotor provides the necessary input energy that is converted to electricity.

Before you buy any materials you need to work out which kind of generator you will be building. There are a few different methods to construct a generator, so ensure you choose the one that works best for you. In the article above, we explain which materials you need if you want to use the trusty bike method.

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