How does a Water Wheel work?

Why is it called a Water Wheel? How is it Useful to us? When and Where was it first used? What are the Types of Water Wheels? How does a Water Wheel work to generate Electricity?
how does a water wheel work

There have been several inventions made over time to make life easier. Along with simplifying the daily work needs, the inventors also considered the fact of saving and utilizing natural resources. Thus, the use of solar, wind, and water energy became popular, and various technological advances were made. One such advancement was the invention of the water wheel. So, do you wonder, how does a water wheel work and what are the types of water wheels? If so, then this is the right place for you!

1. When was the Water Wheel invented?

A water wheel is a machine invented over 3,000 years ago by the ancient Greeks. An engineer of the Augustan Age, named, Vitruvius, is given the credit for creating and using a vertical water wheel during Roman times. At that time, a water wheel used to have a large wheel with grooves, and the wheel was made up of either wood or metal. Moreover, buckets and blades were attached to the outside rim. However, the time period of the invention of the waterwheel is an unsure topic. Some say that it was invented in the 1st Century C.E in China, whereas others say that it was invented by Leonardo DaVinci in 1510. (See Who invented the Flushing Toilet?)

2. What were the Uses of the Water Wheel in the early years?

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In the early ages, waterwheel became the first source of mechanical energy that replaced the labor of humans and animals. Before you read about how does a water wheel work, go through its uses.

  • Grinding grains,
  • Fulling cloth,
  • Raising water from the lakes,
  • Crop irrigation,
  • Milling Flour.

However, John Smeaton’s scientific investigation of the water wheel during the mid-late 18th century led to the increase in its efficiency in supplying power. During Industrial Revolution, it became more useful and popular because of the amount of power it could generate. Hence, later it was used for purposes like driving pumps, tilting hammers, powering textile mills, driving sawmills, and forging bellows. Continue reading to find out how does a water wheel work and its types. (See What is the Main Source of Water?)

3. What are the Types of Water Wheels?

Depending upon their direction of alignment they are classified into two categories and how does a water wheel work is different for each one of them. (See How to Become a Tower Crane Operator?)

  • Horizontal wheel with a vertical axis,
  • Vertical wheel with a horizontal axis.

Although, the second one is further classified into different categories depending upon the direction from which the water hits the wheel. They are as follows:

  • Undershot wheel: Suitable when the flow is at little or no height from the wheel,
  • Overshot wheel: Suitable for streams that are small with an average height of 6.5 feet,
  • Backshot (Pitchback) water wheel: Suitable for small reservoirs,
  • Breastshot wheel: Suitable when there is a large flow of water and the fall is moderately high,
  • Hybrid water wheel, and
  • Reversible water wheel. (See What is a Flight of Stairs?

4. How does a Horizontal Water Wheel work?

How does a water wheel work? As described in the Arabian Treatise of the 9th century, a horizontal wheel has broad blades that are attached to the wheel or rotating axis. These blades are pushed or pulled by water. The rotors are circular discs connected to each wheel, then rotate and create the power of energy. Since the force of the moving water is exerted against the paddles, the consequent rotation of the wheel is transmitted to the machinery via the shaft of the wheel. However, the earlier design was altered by modern Europe, in which they used natural flowing water to create water turbines. (See How Cranes Work?)

5. How does an Undershot Water Wheel work?

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The undershot water wheel is also known as the stream wheel. So, how does a water wheel work if it is the oldest, simplest, cheapest, and easiest design? In this design, the wheel is supported from the above, i.e., the lower part is submerged in the flowing water and the flow of the river pushes the paddle. Though the wheel rotates in one direction owing to the flow of the water, they are suitable for large reservoirs where the flow of water is high or from the river. (See What is a Chuckwagon?)

6. How does a Backshot Water Wheel work?

The water falls from a certain height (above) on the backshot water wheel. Although the height of the fall is not much, the wheel rotates using the gravitational force of the water falling. The push of the water flowing below the wheel also helps in the rotation. Moreover, the water is added to the bucket below that is flowing vertically. Thus, the wheels rotate in opposite directions and no water is wasted, neither from below nor from above. These wheels are considered most efficient as even when the wheel submerges inside the water because of the rise in water levels, the wheel continues to rotate. (See Do Water Towers Hold Water?)

7. How does an Overshot Water Wheel work?

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The overshot water wheels have a much more complex design. But how does a water wheel work and how does the design affects its working? Here the water flows from the top of the wheel, and buckets or containers are used to hold the water. As the buckets are filled, their weight increases which cause the gravitational force of the buckets to rotate the wheel. As a consequence, the water falls, and the bucket becomes lighter in weight. This phenomenon keeps the wheel rotating at a uniform speed. It uses the water-energy once and then as it falls off the bucket, it flows itself accordingly. Thus, to produce the output power, the water, and its weight is used. The overshot method requires the wheel to be bigger than other wheels and is suitable for hilly countries. (See What Is the Average Garage Door Size?

8. How does a Breastshot Water Wheel work?

The breastshot water wheel is built where the flow of water is not on the top of the axle. It is either on the half of the wheel or slightly above that. To put it simply, the position of water entering the wheel is the same as the position of 9 or 10 on a clock. The water falls into the containers or paddles of the wheel and the wheel rotates towards the flow fall. The buckets in this method are made bigger in size to hold large water which in return increases the gravitational force. This is done because the height of water fall is lower than the wheel and does not provide the required amount of force needed to produce a quality amount of energy. This design uses both kinetic energy as well as potential energy. This design works well with steady and high-volume flows and gives you the answer to how does a water wheel work. (See When was the Unicycle Invented?)

9. How does a Hybrid Water Wheel work?

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Some water wheels are made in such a manner that they have features of two types of water wheels. They are called hybrid water wheels. For example, a water wheel built like an overshot wheel at the top and a backshot water wheel at the bottom provides the function of both the water wheels. Hence, making the best possible use of the flowing water to generate power. This is how does a water wheel work.  (See How does a Thermos Work?)

10. How does a Reversible Water Wheel work?

water wheel work

This is a special type of overshot or backshot water wheel. It can turn on either side depending upon the direction of the water. There are two sets of buckets or blades which runs in opposite directions. This way they can generate power even when the flow of water changes its direction. The buckets attached to the axle of the wheel are chain baskets or cable drums. They were called braking wheels because they had braking equipment in them. Such wheels were used in the mining industry to provide power for ore conveyance. (See 5 Types of Road Construction)

11. How does a Water Wheel work to generate Electricity?

A water wheel can also be used to generate electricity. The electricity so generated is known as hydroelectricity and the system of the water wheel is known as the hydropower system. The electric generator is connected to the rotating shaft of the water wheel using pulleys or drive belts. Once the water wheel starts rotating with pressure, the electric generator uses that power to create electricity. So, this is how does a water wheel work and generates power. (See What Does 3D Mean?

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