Fun with Less Kilowatts: Build Your Own Electric Motor

By Vernon Trollinger, January 18, 2017, Family

Welcome to Fun with Less Kilowatts! We believe that science experiments at home can be a creative way to engage kids in learning while having fun. They can be educational AND great activities to keep your kids busy and away from the television. Each month, we’ll feature a new science experiment that can be a great resource for parents and teachers.

Learn How to Build Beakman’s Motor

Have you ever wondered how an electric motor works? They’re practically everywhere, doing so much for our modern world – just by spinning. Some motors using direct current (DC) can actually make electricity! And many motors are really powerful — some are strong enough to move a train over 200 miles per hour.

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Build Your Own Electric Motor | Bounce Energy Blog

While this is not actually Beakman, you kinda get the idea of the aesthetic of the show.

Fundamentally, electric motors use three things: coils, magnets, and electricity. And you can even build one right in your kitchen! It’s called Beakman’s Motor, after the host of that wacky science show from the ’90s –Beakman’s World.

The Materials

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Build Your Own Electric Motor | Bounce Energy Blog

Two jumbo paper clips, a battery, rubber band, magnet wire, and a magnet are all you need.

  • One battery (AA, C, or D size will work fine)
  • A kitchen magnet. [Note: I couldn’t find one in our house. Instead, I used a broken magnet from an old speaker. It was way more powerful than needed for the experiment, but by putting a little extra distance between this magnet and the coil, the experiment worked properly.]
  • Toilet paper tube (Optional — see directions)
  • Two to three feet of 22-24 AWG-enameled magnet wire
  • Two bare metal large paper clips (Jumbo is best, and do not use coated paper clips)
  • One rubber band (I prefer the ones used for holding broccoli bunches at the grocery store)
  • Piece of sand paper, nail file, or emory board

The Directions

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Build Your Own Electric Motor | Bounce Energy Blog

Wrap the magnet wire around the battery 7 times.

1) Create the motor’s coil.

  • If you use a C or D cell battery, start at about 3 inches from the end of the magnet wire and wrap the magnet wire firmly around the toilet paper tube 7 to 10 times. Leave 3 inches hanging from the opposite end and cut the wire.
  • If you use an AA battery like I did, start about 2 inches in from the end and then wrap the wire around the battery 7 times. Leave about 2 inches hanging at the opposite end and cut the wire.

2) Hold onto the wire to keep the coil together and slide it off the tube / battery.

3) Take the first loose end of wire and loop it through the coil three times. Pull the end tight so it that it hold the coil together. Do the same thing with the other side. These two lead ends will form the axle for the coil so they must be aligned at opposite directions.

4) Sand the enamel completely off one lead. Then on the other side, sand off the enamel from only one side. Leaving the enamel insulation in place here breaks the electrical contact and works as an off switch.

5) Attach the kitchen magnet to the battery. It sticks by itself.

6) Put the rubber band around the battery length-wise.

7) Bend the two paper clips into an “S” shape. Twist the tops of each to form a curved bracket. These will hold the coil’s axles.

8) Tuck the bottom of each paper clip into the rubber band so it’s in contact with one of the battery’s ends.

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Build Your Own Electric Motor | Bounce Energy Blog

The motor before attaching the magnet.
Think it will work?

9) Place the coil so it’s axles fit into the paper clip brackets.

The Result

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Build Your Own Electric Motor | Bounce Energy Blog

You’ve built a Beakman’s Motor in your kitchen!

The little coil starts spinning – though you may need to give it a nudge – and will continue spinning.

The Science

Fun with Less Kilowatts: Build Your Own Electric Motor | Bounce Energy Blog

Note to Parents: You don’t need a magnet this large for this experiment. Trust us.

When you take two magnets, you find that opposite poles attract and like poles repel. Electric motors work by alternating the attraction and repulsion of two magnets.

On our Beakman’s motor, the kitchen magnet is a rather basic form magnet. But when you run an electric current through a coil, you create an electromagnet — the same kind of magnet used on by big scrap metal cranes. These are really handy because you can turn them on and off.

When our little coil receives electricity from the battery, it behaves like a magnet and its field pushed away from the kitchen magnet. When the coil spins to the point where the enameled part of the wire lead breaks the electrical current, the coil’s magnetic field turns off and stops repelling the kitchen magnet. This lets the spinning coil complete the turn without having to repel the kitchen magnet until the un-insulated part makes contact again. Then, our coil magnet turns on, and it’s magnetic field pushes away from the kitchen magnet again, continuing the spin.

Do you have any fun and kid-friendly science experiments you’d like to see us try for Fun with Less Kilowatts? Share with us in the comments!

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About 

A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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