Human Powered Tools

What skills to learn, what tools to get
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white belt
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Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Human Powered Tools

Post by white belt »

We have some threads on prepping and one specifically about living without an electric washing machine, but I'd like to create a dedicated thread to share resources, ideas, and experience using human powered tools and appliances. I don't want to restrict that discussion too much, but I'm more interested in mechanical solutions rather than solutions that generate electricity. I'm also mostly interested in designs with commonsense utility (e.g. building a pedal/crank-powered stand mixer might not make much sense if one can just use a whisk) and simplicity/resilience (e.g. components that can easily be sourced and repaired in low energy intensity future).

First off there is this overview of a variety of such solutions (it seems most plans are from the 70's or NGO proprietary plans for the developing world): ... ories.html

One of the most interesting parts from the above article talks about efforts to create multi-functional pedal machines, which can be used for a variety of purposes by changing gears and attachments. I could see applications for tools that are regularly used like a washing machine, grain mill, some kind of woodworking thing, gardening tools etc.

Here is a design for a pedal powered washing machine:

I think the above washing machine design could be improved by using a flywheel design. I do like that the design is relatively simple and can be utilized for large laundry loads, which I think is an easier transition for those that are used to doing laundry once a week. I know there are other products available on the market for doing laundry without power, but most of them can only be utilized for small loads.
Last edited by white belt on Fri Jan 14, 2022 5:45 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Human Powered Tools

Post by AxelHeyst »

Lathe made out of concrete and scrap metal… might need some ingenious transfers and flywheels to get enough torque, I’ve no idea if it’s in the realm of reasonable to human power it.

white belt
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Re: Human Powered Tools

Post by white belt »

The now defunct GravityLight:

I know I said I'm not that interested in solutions that generate electricity, but I think the GravityLight concept is different enough to garner some attention. I think you could probably come up with many applications other than just powering a small LED bulb. Gravity "powered" systems serve as a low tech battery, meaning they can be combined with a variety of other human powered tools. Presumably one could even combine them with a bike pedal system designed to lift a weight up high with a rope and pulley system. I'm imagining a pulley system that stretches from the attic/roof to the basement through a small shaft (maybe something like the old school dumbwaiter?), in order to maximize the height available for the weight to fall.

Edit: Another possibility could be to combine this with a solar powered rig and have a low tech battery.

Edit2: I guess this is not a new concept:
Last edited by white belt on Fri Jan 14, 2022 12:47 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Human Powered Tools

Post by theanimal »

Some things that come to mind:

-Hand cranked meat grinder
-Hand cranked grain grinder
-Water hand pump (I used this as a main water source for over a year)
-Pedal powered table saw
-Sewing machine with foot pedal
-Manual drill
-Hand cranked radio

There's an interesting list of old human powered mechanical woodworking machines here: ... -tools.htm

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Re: Human Powered Tools

Post by jacob »

Around 1900 there was a transition from steam or foot (or animal) driven power-tools to electric. It's almost always based on a pulley system. The key is to make the framework that will hold the pulley system, the tool, and whatever engine whether it's a motor or a crank.

I've built a disc sander and I have the parts for a grinder. Construction activities pretty much stopped with COVID after I ran out of wood and since then I've pursued other interests.

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Re: Human Powered Tools

Post by mountainFrugal »

This may be one level of complexity below what you were shooting for, but here are some Axe and wood resources:
Gransfors Bruks Axe Book: ... e-Book.pdf
USDA Forest Axe Manual: ... 400dpi.pdf
USDA Axe Manual 2 (older black and white): ... dpi300.pdf
USDA Wood Engineering Book: ... gtr190.pdf

Just right complexity:
Seed Planter: https://gardens.theownerbuildernetwork. ... d-planter/

This is a level or two above what you are asking for energy use wise, but opensourceecology has not been mentioned on the forum since 2017 and is still an active project so I feel okay bumping it here. OSE are still doing workshops every year.
Open Source Designs and builds of modern machines: ... ine-index/

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