How to build an old-fashioned hand water pump

Written by kathleen lake
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How to build an old-fashioned hand water pump
An early old-fashioned hand water pump. (girl using water pump image by sonya etchison from

A homemade water pump is a convenience. Building one is an interesting project to make with children to teach some basic ideas about physics, and the principles used in making a water pump can be applied to other science-based projects. You can make an old-fashioned water pump using everyday parts from hardware and home stores. A water pump can form a practical addition to your garden as well, reducing the necessity for filling and carrying buckets of water. Creating a manual water pump requires only an hour or two of your time.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • PVC cutter or hacksaw
  • 5/8-inch dowel rod, 4-foot length
  • Drill
  • Craft foam, 1/8-inch thick
  • 3/4-inch schedule 40 PVC pipe, 10-foot section
  • Scissors
  • 5/8-inch steel washer
  • 3-inch wood screw
  • Screwdriver
  • 3/4-inch PVC T-fitting
  • Two 3/4-inch PVC check valves
  • Threaded hose fittings

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  1. 1

    Cut a 4-foot piece of PVC pipe with PVC cutters. Cut the remaining leftover piece of PVC pipe in half, creating two 2-foot lengths.

  2. 2

    Fit your pipe against a piece of craft foam. Lay the foam down on something hard; put the circular end of a piece of pipe against it and then press down on the foam, as if pressing a cookie cutter into dough. Repeat three times.

  3. 3

    Cut out the pieces of craft foam, cutting just slightly outside the circle you made. Your three circles should be about 3/4 of an inch around. These will form your gaskets.

  4. 4

    Drill a hole exactly in the centre of one flat end of the dowel rod. This rod will be the piston.

  5. 5

    Apply the gaskets over the hole you made on the end of the dowel rod. Place the washer over them, centring it carefully. Insert the screw into the washer. Tighten it with the screwdriver to fasten the gaskets and the washer to the dowel rod.

  6. 6

    Glue one piece of pipe to each side of the T-fitting, and wait until dry. Glue one check valve onto each pipe that is now attached to the T-fitting. Add a threaded hose fitting to the opening of each valve when it is dry. Ensure that the arrows on the check valves are both pointing in the same direction, showing the way the water will flow. Let dry thoroughly, or joints will be fragile.

  7. 7

    Glue the 4-foot piece of PVC to the side opening on the T-fitting. After the glue dries, insert the gasket end of the dowel rod into the same pipe.

  8. 8

    Pull the dowel rod to draw water in one direction into the pump, and push the dowel rod to force it out. This is the principle by which old-fashioned water pumps worked. Install your pump in your garden where you can both use it and enjoy its visual appeal.

Tips and warnings

  • Sand all your pipe ends before you put them together, for easy fitting and to avoid cuts.
  • Use primer before gluing to strengthen connections and joints -- follow primer instructions on container.

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