How To Make A Vacuum Pump
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Any cookie that may not be required for the website to function, cookies specifically used to collect personal data about users through analytics, advertising and other embedded content are called non-essential cookies. User consent is required before implementing these cookies on your website. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we remove the clutter in our lives. Feathers fall like stones. The bells fell silent, and the water boiled at room temperature. The balloon inflates itself. Frozen food dries out but retains its shape.
Sometimes all you need is a little vacuum to help dry something, or move liquid through a tube, or remove liquid gas.
In this project we will make a vacuum pump out of common cheap plumbing parts. We then use it to inflate the marshmallows to double their size, squeeze the air out of them, and shrink them into a shriveled, rubbery candy that’s only as dense as a drop of fudge.
The pump consists of a smaller diameter tube (called a piston) inserted into a larger diameter tube (called a cylinder).
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The diagram shows two points during the pump’s operation. The image above shows air being sucked into the duct by pulling out the piston. The image below shows the air coming out of the tube as the piston is pushed back. On the right end of the tubing is a commercially purchased check valve. The valve allows air to enter the pipe, but does not expel air from the pipe.
Homemade check valves are made using a rubber “O” ring that slides up and down the piston. Cut a hole in the piston and attach two “stoppers” so the “O” rings cannot go through them.
As the piston is pushed into the cylinder, the “O” ring slides back, allowing air in the cylinder to escape through the holes and out of the hollow piston.
When the piston is pulled out of the cylinder, the “O” ring slides into a stop on the end of the piston, preventing air from entering the bore. The right end of the piston is closed (the tube is sealed). The left end is open to allow air to escape.
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As you can see in the picture below, the pieces are put together to make it easier to understand.
The first step is to make the piston. We start by adding the stops that prevent the “O” ring from sliding. These stoppers are made from short ¾-inch thin-walled tubing. We set a cut along the thin wall to squeeze in the ½ inch piston tube.
Using a generous amount of PVC cement, we glued the posts to the pistons and pressed them into place with rubber bands. The stops should be about ¾ inch apart.
In the center of the space between the stops, we drilled a ½ inch pipe. Here you can see that we punched three holes around the pipe at roughly equal distances.
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A commercial check valve is glued to a 1 inch cylinder tube. Make sure the arrow on the valve is facing the cylinder.
A short 1″ piece of tubing is secured to the other end of the commercial check valve into which some reducing fittings are secured, resulting in a barbed hose. I found it convenient to use the right angle reducer, the gray threaded pipe, and the gray hose barb that threaded onto the gray pipe. Be sure to cement the threaded portion to ensure a tight vacuum seal.
We’ve also attached a ½” “T” fitting to the left end of the piston tube as a handy handle.
The next step is to make a thin plastic disc to close off the right end of the piston tube.
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We make thin discs by flattening a small piece of 3/4″ thin walled tubing and then cutting a circle out of it.
To flatten the tube, cut a slit lengthwise and heat on the stove to soften the plastic.
When the plastic softens, you can flatten it by pressing it against a heat-resistant surface, such as a tile table or concrete floor. We used pliers, but fingers in leather gloves (to avoid burns) will work just as well. Lay the bottom of the drinking glass over the plastic to keep it smooth and cool.
We then slid the “O” ring over the stop on the end of the piston and into the space between the stops, where the holes were drilled. We added a generous amount of petroleum jelly to lubricate the “O” ring and ensure a tight vacuum seal.
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The piston can now be inserted into the cylinder. Putting the “O” ring into the cylinder should be a little tight, but the petroleum jelly should help lubricate it as it slides into the cylinder.
The hose can now be attached to the hose barb. To make this easier, place the end of the hose in a cup of very hot water for a few minutes to soften it. Now it fits easily on the barb and shrinks to a very tight fit.
The completed pump is shown below, hooked up to a vacuum gauge from an auto parts store. The gauge reads 23 inches of mercury, although with more pumping we could get as high as 26 inches of mercury with this pump.
Next, we make a “bell jar”. This is the glass that we connect to the pump with a hose. We can pour things into jars and blow the air out of the jars. Canning jars are best because they can withstand a vacuum.
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To make the bell, we punched a hole in the middle of the glass cover and attached a hose barb. In the photo we used a brass hose barb and soldered it into the hole. If desired, you can use a barbed plastic hose and attach it to the tank lid with epoxy.
The photo above shows a pair of marshmallows we put in the jar before twisting the top. When the air is expelled from the jar, the marshmallows will grow to double their normal size. They then gradually shrink as air leaks from the marshmallows into the evacuated glass. When we later remove the hose from the jar, air will enter the jar and the marshmallows will condense into a dense, shriveled candy with the density of a drop of chewing gum. They feel heavy compared to regular marshmallows, even though they weigh the same (in air).
The next pump is actually simpler (but more expensive since it uses two factory check valves, which were the most expensive part of the first pump).
This pump can pull a vacuum like the first pump, but it can also inflate or pump beach toys and air mattresses. Whether it is a water pump or an air pump, the material is discharged from one side and out the other, rather than through a hollow piston like the first pump.
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First, we start by drilling a hole slightly smaller than the wood screw at the end of the wood dowel. We also pierced the rubber cap. Then, according to the picture below, we screw the rubber cap onto the end of the dowel pin.
We can control the thickness of the rubber cap by tightening the screw, make it thicker if necessary. The cap should block the tube completely but still slide in and out when lubricated with petroleum jelly.
The next step is to glue the PVC pieces together. Make sure that the arrows on both check valves are in the same direction!
Here’s a close-up of the check valve before gluing. On this valve, the arrow is molded into the plastic to the left of the label.
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After the glue dries, grease the cap with petroleum jelly and slide it into the tube. When you slip the cap on,
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