Celebrating ingenuity

  • Rather than having to splash out on an expensive borehole pump, Kevin Doveton decided to make a Stirling motor out of the scrap he had lying around instead.
  • Rather than having to splash out on an expensive borehole pump, Kevin Doveton decided to make a Stirling motor out of the scrap he had lying around instead.
Date:23 August 2009 Author: Sean Woods Tags:, , ,

For me, one of the most stimulating aspects of writing for PM is spending time with the creative individuals whose inventiveness provides the content for the magazine.

The other day I took a drive out to Napier near Cape Agulhas to interview Kevin Doveton. He makes exquisite model steam and Stirling engines from his home workshop (to watch a video of one of Doveton's Stirling engines in action, |click here). This good-natured lateral thinker perfectly illustrates the kind of person I’m talking about.

His all-metal models are impressive, but that’s not what this blog’s about. Doveton’s not only extremely creative, but also a talented scavenger and hoarder of note. For him there’s no such thing as scrap – it’s just useful stuff that hasn’t found a new purpose yet. And he’s regularly dipping into his valuable stash to come up with ways to make his life a little easier.

Take his home for instance – it runs mainly on solar, so his electricity bill is virtually zero. For most of us solar panels costs serious money, but not for Doveton. All his panels have been patiently acquired over a number of years for either nothing or very nominal amounts.

The batteries required for you to harness the full benefits of a solar system also cost a small fortune – but again, not for Doveton. Instead he uses some ancient alkali batteries he found on a neighbouring farm, they may be 60 years old but they still work fine. To supplement his alkali battery bank he also rigs up the lights in each room to a separate car battery.

Because car batteries were never designed to be continually discharged Doveton manages their use very carefully, ensuring that he only draws about 15 per cent of their capacity each night. And, when they eventually die (as they are destined to do) he takes them to his local battery repair centre. Once there he spends some time rummaging through the pile of returned “dead” batteries to find the odd one or two that are still working okay, and then swops them out. So effectively his batteries cost him nothing.

Then, to pump water from his borehole he made a Stirling engine. His only cash outlay was R20 for the flywheel he found in a scrapyard, for the rest he just used what was lying around. Doveton took two used car oil filters, gutted them and then joined them together to make the displacer. An old lawnmower engine provides the piston and crank, and an old water boiler works as the firebox. He also fitted an old tin scoop (one of those you used to find in old general dealer stores) to the chimney as a spark preventer. Granted, it might not look like much, but it works.

It just goes to show what can be accomplished when you have an inventive spirit.

To read about Doveton’s model engines check out the October 2009 magazine – on sale on 21 September.

Related material:
* To watch a video of one of Doveton's Stirling engines in action, |click here|
* Article: Read more about Doveton’s model engines, check out Sean’s article titled "Power play", which featured in the October 2009 issue of Popular Mechanics.

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