Water-Powered Fire Alarm

reliable water powered sprinkler alarmMid-nineteenth century, water motors operated by tap water became a valuable power source in addition to hand and foot powered machines. Most of these small-scale water motors for indoor use were Pelton turbines, which are up to 90% efficient regardless of their size.

A demonstration of how water power may be used efficiently even on a very small scale is the water-powered fire alarm. The device is still for sale today. Buildings protected by sprinkler systems often have outside alarm bells that are activated by very small Pelton turbines on the other side of the wall.

The hydro-mechanical device signals the flow of water in an automatic sprinkler system. The main flow of water lifts a valve that sends a small amount of water to the little turbine, sounding the bell. The great advantage for fire protection is that the system works independent of electricity.

Picture: a water-powered fire alarm. Source: The Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co. Via The Museum of Retrotechnology.

Sand-Powered Water Wheel

“Out in the Bodie mining district, California, they have a peculiar motor in use. It is called an arastra, and consists of an overshot wheel operated by sand instead of water. A windmill runs a belt containing buckets, which carry the sand up to a big tank, just as grain elevators carry wheat in a flouring mill. A stream of sand is let out upon the overshot wheel and it revolves just as it would under the weight of a stream of water. The arastras move steadily at their work. When there is much wind, sand is stored up for use when calm weather prevails, so the arastras are never idle. It is perhaps needless to say that the sand is used because water is scarce. The arastra is an invention of a miner named Townsend.”

Quoted from: The Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 0016 Issue 2 (February 1884).

Micromachines: Decentralized Urban Services in South-Asia

VelochariotArchitects Damien Antoni and Lydia Blasco have compiled an interesting document that focuses on small-scale technology in countries like India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. They photographed, and made technical drawings of miniature taxi’s, family run water turbines, domestic rain harvesting systems, pedal powered kitchens, home digesters, and the like.

The architects consider their work to be a toolbox, a starting point for thinking outside the conventional norms and recepies. They argue that decentralized services are more flexible, provide more autonomy, and are more efficient in space, energy and materials.

Antoni and Blasco present, in their own words, an equivalent to Neufert’s “Architect’s data“, the book for architects that records standardized dimensions for centralized systems. “Micromachins” is written in French but the visuals dominate.

“Micromachins”, Damien Antoni and Lydia Blasco, 2011 [download the page to get the high resolution PDF-document]. Thanks to Yann Philippe Tastevin. Update: the architects have added a new link with colour pictures and English translation.

How to Build a Spiral Pump

spiral pump

“A spiral pump, first invented in 1746, has been recreated and tested at Windfarm Museum using lightweight and inexpensive modern materials. A 6 foot diameter wheel with 160 feet of 1-1/4 inch inside diameter flexible polyethylene pipe is able to pump 3,900 gallons of water per day to a 40 foot head with a peripheral speed of 3 feet per second.

With its low torque requirements, the pump is particularly suited to be mounted on and driven by a paddle wheel in a current of two feet per second or greater. This easily built, low maintenance spiral pump can be used to provide water without the need for fuel wherever there is a flowing stream or river. It can also be hand turned or otherwise driven to provide a low cost, efficient pump.”

Read more: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4. Thanks to Paul Nash.

See also:

Ship mills

Ship mills on the rhine anton woensam

Boat mills: water powered, floating factories” at Low-tech Magazine. Some extra images below:

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Old Watermills Turning Again

“They belong to an England that, these days, we only glimpse through Constable paintings. But old watermills could once again become a working part of the landscape under ministers’ plans to power a million homes with hydro-electricity.” Read. Via UK Windmills.

Water Powered Rope Making Machine

Water powered rope making machine

Drawing of a water powered wire mill, taken from “The Pirotechnia” by Vannoccio Biringuccio (1540). Illustration credit. For the hand powered method, see: Lost knowledge: ropes and knots.

Update January 2015: Kurt B. writes us to say that “what you are looking at is a wire drawing machine, not a rope making machine. That is, taking a large wire and drawing it through a series of ever decreasing dies (holes in the die plate) to make the wire smaller. It is powered by water. The fellow with the rope in his hands is taking up the slack on the tongs which grip the wire. Every stroke of the wheel crank pulls the wire through the die just that amount and he takes up the slack each stroke, or tries to. Here is a guy drawing wire on a much smaller scale  Home made electric jeweller wire puller  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sieNdwdCQug“.

Floating Citadels, Powered by Wind and Water Mills

floating citadels

This engraving, published in 1798, shows the gigantic St. Malo raft, designed in 1791 during the French Revolution. The engraving informs us that this extraordinary structure was 600 feet long by 300 broad, mounts 500 pieces of cannon, 36 and 48-pounders, and is to convey 15,000 troops for the invasion of England. In the midst is a bomb-proof, metal-sheathed citadel.

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