The Wheel v1.0

Contents of this tutorial:
How to use this tutorial
Step by step instructions
Finalizing and tuning

What does it do?

Basically just a simple water wheel, The Wheel is what provides the rotation to turn the SolarFlower towards the sun.

How does it do it?

Ethanol is pumped by The Box and pours into the cups of The Wheel, which turns The Gearing, which turns The Collector.

How to use this tutorial

To view the animation to the left you will need to install Quicktime
There is also a YouTube based version, if needed, but the Quicktime version is recommended for better playback and control.

The best way to view the animation is to click and hold the time slider at the bottom and move it left and right to view whichever part of the animation you like, at your own speed.

You can download the animation here (right click, 'save link as'):
High quality (23.2 Mb)
Low quality (2.1 Mb)

If you are using a netbook or other small monitor, you may need to press F11 in your browser to view the page full screen.


Power drill
3mm, 6mm, 10mm metal drill bits
Adjustable grips, also called Pipe wrench pliers, or Adjustable pliers

Crescent spanner, also called Adjustable spanner

Small flathead screwdriver

Bolt cutters or Angle grinder

For cutting bike wheel spokes



3 Aluminium drinks cans

This tutorial will assume you're using the standard 355ml size, but really any will do.

1 Bicycle wheel hub

Take a bike wheel, cut the spokes close to the hub with a hacksaw/angle grinder/bolt cutters.
Easiest is to use a front wheel, but if you have to use a rear one don't use anything that has internal gears, and if there are any sprockets or ratchets involved, remove them.

Remove the nuts and axle and give the insides a good clean with some paper tissue, and re-grease if possible. Be careful not to lose any of the ball bearings.

There should be 2 cone nuts and 4 normal nuts on the axle, if there are less than that you'll need to get more from somewhere else.

6 bike spoke nipples

Unscrew with a small flathead screwdriver from the wheel rim. They may be wrapped in a loop of rubber tape, remove that first.
Yes, they're called nipples.

3 bike spokes

Cut to about 16cm long, keep the threaded end, not the hooked end.

4 M3 bolts, about 40mm long

8 M3 nuts

3 pieces flat metal

65mm long by roughly 15mm wide.

1 bicycle cable tensioner bolt, also called a cable adjuster

Most bikes have these to keep the brake and gear cables tight. There are two kinds, the larger ones with a cut down one side, and the smaller ones without. Don't use the ones with the cut.

1 bicycle Woods valve, also called a Dunlop valve or English valve

These are common in parts of Europe and other places, but you might need to have a bike shop order them in or buy them online.
The above left image is how it will look on the wheel before being taken apart, which is just a matter of unscrewing the cap and pulling out the valve. Make sure the inner tube is deflated first...

Bike inner tube rubber

You won't need much.

Some kind of airtight plastic container

Can be square or round, must be at least 16cm diameter and at least 15cm deep, and be sealable.
Doesn't have to be clear, but somewhat helpful if it is.

Plastic jar with a lid, about 500ml

Something like a peanut butter jar. Clean well.

Optional things to make your life easier:

Hole saw, also called a Hole cutter

About 20mm diameter, or large enough to fit your bike wheel nuts.

Bicycle cone spanner

Tin Snips


Step by step build instructions

These relate to the animation to the left.

Step 1:
Take one of the aluminium cans and remove the tab. With a hacksaw and scissors, tin snips if you have them, cut the can so that it looks something like this:

Drill a 3mm hole in the small raised circle to which the can's tab was attached, and another in the centre of the can's base.

Take one of the bike spokes and with a vice and hammer, or with two pairs of pliers, bend it like so:

Insert the spoke through the holes you drilled, with the threaded end at the top of the can.

Screw a nipple down onto the spoke so that there is at least 5mm of thread showing above it.

Take one of the 15mm x 65mm pieces of flat metal and drill a 10mm (or the size of your bike wheel axle) hole 55mm from one end and a 3mm hole 5mm from the other.
Insert the end of the spoke through the smaller hole and secure tightly with a second nipple. It's best if you have the nipple heads against the metal.
Turn the bent end of the spoke so that it's pointing at the nearest edge of the metal, like so:

Repeat these first five steps twice more so that you have three cans+spokes+flats.

Wind a cone nut about a third of the way down the bike axle, then two nuts. Take the three cans and place the tip of the axle through each of the 10mm holes in the flat metal. Arrange them so that they are as close to evenly spaced (120 degrees between) as possible, then tightly secure with another nut.

Place the wheel hub over the axle, making sure all the ball bearings are where they should be. You want the base of the cans sitting slightly forward of the base of the hub, so place the hub as such and wind down the cone and nut to meet it. Tighten the cone and nut well against each other so that they can't slip as the axle turns. (This is much easier with a bike cone spanner, if you don't have on grab the cone in a pair of adjustable grips or vice, and tighten the nut with a spanner. You may need to remove the axle from the cans to be able to reach.)

Wind the second cone nut and nut against the hub so that the axle turns without friction but doesn't rattle. Tighten the cone and nut against each other.

Your hub probably has 18 spoke holes, and you're going to be putting M3 bolts through four of them:

If there's some other number of holes just space them as evenly as you can. You may need to drill them first with a 3mm drill.

Cut a circle of innertube rubber large enough to cover the base of the hub, and cut holes in it for the axle+nuts, and for the M3 bolts.

Cut a hole in the centre of the base of your sealable plastic container large enough that the nuts on the axle won't touch it as they turn. The easiest way is with a hole cutter, but if you don't have one either drill a circle of small holes, or cut with a knife, or something. Be careful not to split the plastic. The hole doesn't need to be precisely round, but make sure it isn't larger than the base of the hub.

Drill four 3mm holes for the M3 bolts. This is simple to line up if the plastic is clear, otherwise the easiest way is to secure your bolts to the hub with nuts, place some kind of tape around the hole in the container, then align the axle within the hole and press the ends of the bolts into the tape. Drill where they leave an impression.

Place the bolts through the spoke holes in the hub, place the innertube rubber over the bolts, put the whole thing inside the container and secure with nuts.

If your hub has a flat face contacting the plastic then the configuration will look like this:

If not, then like this:

Position the nuts so that they and the hub are tight against the plastic and form a good airtight seal. Test by pouring some water into the container. If any leaks out anywhere, adjust.

Drill a 6mm hole in the wall of the container, just far enough from the front edge that the lid of your plastic jar won't hit on anything when it's placed there.
This will be facing downwards when the wheel is in place and the SolarFlower tilted to the sun, but since you can attach the wheel any way round you like, it shouldn't really matter where you put this.

Take a cable tensioner bolt. Cut a small circle of innertube rubber, cut a small hole in its centre and push the tensioner bolt through. Put this through the hole in the container with the thread facing outward.
This is where the ethanol will drain from the wheel into the jar, so if you want to cut off the top of head of the tensioner bolt so that it drains better, do that now.

Drill a 6mm hole in the plastic jar lid.

Place the lid onto the tensioner bolt and secure with an M6 nut.

Drill a 6mm hole in the base of the plastic jar.

Take a Woods valve. Cut a small circle of innertube rubber, cut a small hole in its centre and push the valve through. Put this through the hole in the container with the thread facing inward. Secure with an M6 nut.

Screw the jar onto its lid.

Place the lid on the large plastic container. If it's not completely watertight you may need to pack the seal with tape or similar. Test that it doesn't leak with a little water.

It should take practically no force to turn the axle+cans. If there's any friction at all check that nothing is rubbing, and that the cone nuts aren't too tight against the hub.


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