Our society has become accustomed to using equipment and appliances that run on AC power provided by our local power provider. In most cases this is ideal, but in some cases, AC power is not available. AC power may be unavailable because the distribution grid of the power provider is not operating, or because no distribution grid exists in the area, as would be the case on camping or hiking excursions. AC power can be made available in areas that cannot get AC power from a distribution grid by using a gasoline powered generator to make AC power. Gasoline powered generators also may be used to recharge the 12 volt DC batteries of portable equipment. The 12 volt DC batteries allow equipment and appliances to be used in the absence of a power grid, but have limited run time available. Use these tips to learn how to build a generator.

Method 1
Method 1 of 2:

Obtain the Main Power Pieces

  1. The required engine size is dependent on the amount of power that the generator will need to supply. A good rule of thumb for a useful, compact generator is to choose an engine in the range of 5 to 10 horsepower. Note that most engines rate their horsepower at a speed of 3,600 rotations per minute (RPM). These motors are about the size of lawn mower engines, and are typically available at lawn equipment stores, industrial supply shops or power equipment outlets.[1]
  2. This head will use an internal magnet to create electricity when the shaft mounted magnet is spun by the external engine. For most applications, output levels of 2,500 to 5,000 watts is suitable. In sizing the head, use the specification of the manufacturer to determine the engine size needed to drive that head. As a rough estimate, a generator can produce about 900 (749 watts per horsepower is the actual conversion) watts per input horsepower. Heads are available through industrial supply outlets and industrial equipment catalogs.
  3. This alternator will generate 12 volts DC when the shaft is driven by the external engine. The alternator chosen must have a built-in voltage regulator. A 500 watt alternator is typically sufficient, and would require about another horsepower from the chosen engine. Alternators are widely available at auto parts suppliers.[2]
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Method 2
Method 2 of 2:

Connect the Main Power Pieces

  1. [3] This mounting plate can be made of any sturdy material that can withstand the vibration of the gasoline engine. The 3 main power pieces (engine, generator head and alternator) must be mounted so that their shafts are parallel and the shaft attachment areas for drive pulleys are in the same plane. Mounting holes and mounting hole patterns must be derived from the manufacturer data for each of the 3 major power pieces.
  2. A pulley must be mounted to the engine shaft to belt drive the pulleys that will come already installed on the generator head and the alternator. This pulley size must be chosen so that when the engine is rotating at the nominal running speed given by the manufacturer, the belts will scale this up or down to the pulleys of the generator head and the alternator. Choose the scaling so that the generator head and the alternator are running at the rated speed indicated on the manufacturer data sheet. In most typical generators, this will result in an engine pulley of 5 to 10 inches (125 to 250 mm). Pulleys are available at industrial supply stores and through equipment supplier catalogs.
  3. The design of the generator may need different pulleys on the engine to apply proper shaft speed to the generator head and the alternator, or this may be workable with 1 engine pulley and 1 belt. Run the belt over the pulleys and make sure that they are taught. Slotting the mounting holes of the engine will provide good adjustment to achieve this. A V belt is preferable to a standard belt as it will have less tendency to slip. Belts may be acquired from the outlet that supplied the pulleys.
  4. Fill the gasoline tank and place the fuel feed lines to the engine.
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Community Q&A

  • Question
    What are the magnets for and how do I use them?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    When a conductive metal passes through the magnetic field you create with the magnets, a current is produced in the metal that can be used to power appliances.
  • Question
    I want to make an object of a simple AC power generator. How can I do this?
    Community Answer
    Your best bet is using a lawn mower engine and an alternator to charge a battery to power an inverter.
  • Question
    Do alternators rotate either way?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Typically, alternators only rotate one way so be sure to check that before installing it.

Things You'll Need

  • Gasoline powered engine
  • Gasoline tank
  • AC generator head
  • 12 volt DC alternator
  • Pulleys
  • Drive belts
  • Direct drive shaft couplers (pulleys)
  • wires
  • magnets
  • bulbs

About This Article

wikiHow is a “wiki,” similar to Wikipedia, which means that many of our articles are co-written by multiple authors. To create this article, 19 people, some anonymous, worked to edit and improve it over time. This article has been viewed 359,154 times.
139 votes - 71%
Co-authors: 19
Updated: January 30, 2023
Views: 359,154
Article SummaryX

To build a generator, you’ll need a mounting plate made out of any sturdy material with holes drilled in it to attach the main power pieces. You’ll also need a small 5 horsepower engine, such as a lawnmower engine, to drive the pulleys that are mounted on top. Then, you’ll want to install an AC generator head to turn the power from the moving belts on the pulleys into usable electricity. Finally, you’ll attach a gasoline tank to the plate and filled with gas before attaching its feed lines to the engine. For tips on how to find the proper engine for your generator, read on!

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