Turning Water Into Power: Water Wheels

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An Up-close View of the Chapman – Beverley Mill Water Wheel .

The Chapman – Beverley Mill used a 30 foot overshot water wheel to power its millstones.  But what does that mean?

The following text explains how an overshot water wheel works and the advantages of using this type of wheel.  To read the full article including this and other kinds of water wheels, Click Here.
overshot waterwheel design

The Overshot Water Wheel Design is the most common type of waterwheel design. The overshot waterwheel is more complicated in its construction and design than the previous undershot waterwheel as it uses buckets or small compartments to both catch and hold the water.

These buckets fill with water flowing in at the top of the wheel. The gravitational weight of the water in the full buckets causes the wheel to rotate around its central axis as the empty buckets on the other side of the wheel become lighter.

This type of water wheel uses gravity to improve output as well as the water itself, thus overshot waterwheels are much more efficient than undershot designs as almost all of the water and its weight is being used to produce output power. However as before, the waters energy is used only once to rotate the wheel, after which it flows away with the rest of the water.

Overshot waterwheels are suspended above a river or stream and are generally built on the sides of hills providing a water supply from above with a low head (the vertical distance between the water at the top and the river or stream below) of between 5-to-20 metres. A small dam or weir can be constructed and used to both channel and increase the speed of the water to the top of the wheel giving it more energy but it is the volume of water rather than its speed which helps rotate the wheel.

Generally, overshot waterwheels are built as large as possible to give the greatest possible head distance for the gravitational weight of the water to rotate the wheel. However, large diameter waterwheels are more complicated and expensive to construct due to the weight of the wheel and water.

When the individual buckets are filled with water, the gravitational weight of the water causes the wheel to rotate in the direction of the flow of water. As the angle of rotation gets nearer to the bottom of the wheel, the water inside the bucket empties out into the river or stream below, but the weight of the buckets rotating behind it causes the wheel to continue with its rotational speed. The empty bucket continues around the rotating wheel until it gets back up to the top again ready to be filled with more water and the cycle repeats. One of the disadvantages of an overshot waterwheel design is that the water is only used once as it flows over the wheel.

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