Many older homes and farms have utilized the manual hand water pump. The cast iron housing would bring water to the surface from a hand-dug rock-lined well. It may have taken many strokes from the long lever in order to gather just a gallon of water from the underground source. Although the manual hand pump may be of an old design, many are still in use today for wells that are no deeper than 20 to 30 feet in depth.

The Old Days


The round interior of the manual water pump uses a metal disc that is sealed against the smooth sides of the pumping chamber. Generally, two discs are used that sandwich a piece of leather. This leather creates a seal so a suction can be created inside the chamber. As the handle is "pushed" downwards, the lever action draws the disc and leather sandwich up. The upward movement of the disc "sucks" the liquid into the pumping chamber. When the handle is pulled upwards the opposite lever action on the disk then forces the water out of the chamber through a spout located at the top of the hand pump. Generally, one full cycle of the hand pump, a single stroke of up and down, may eject only one glass full of water.

Check Valve

A check valve or a one-way valve is generally used to keep the suction pipe full of water. The check valve is located at the bottom of the pipe and inside the well. This suction pipe is attached to the bottom of the hand pump and is what conducts the well water to the surface. If a check valve is not used, the water that in the pipe can drain back into the well. In order for the hand pump to be used, it must be kept in a closed circuit of water. If air is allowed to enter the pumping chamber it must be removed by priming the pump. Priming the pump can be achieved by filling the pump chamber and perhaps even the suction pipe with water. This can be accomplished by pouring water through the exit spout of the hand pump while stroking the handle up and down. This will allow the water to fill in the chamber and suction pipe to remove any unwanted air.

Still In Use

Many homes in rural areas that use a private well for their source of water may still employ a hand pump as a backup device. These reliable pumps can be attached mechanically to a small windmill or a solar powered motor and be used as an emergency backup whenever the electrical power may be disrupted. Even with modern technology, the same basic design is still used today in the construction and operation of a manual hand water pump.