Engine Hacks – Tesla Turbines

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You probably weren’t expecting a project based on [Nikola Tesla’s] work to show up during the Engine Hacks theme. Most people know of him because of his pioneering work with high voltage equipment. Never the less, [Tesla] designed a device that later became known as the Tesla Turbine. Tesla turbines are made out of a series of thin disks attached to a central rotor. Air or steam is injected into the closed turbine housing at the outer edge of the disks. It swirls around through the turbine blades and eventually exits near the rotor. This type of turbine can achieve very high rotational speeds but doesn’t have a lot of torque, which limits their usefulness. Check out this instructable that shows you how to build your own Tesla turbine out of hard drive platters.

We have featured a Tesla turbine in the past on Hackaday. In this previous post, [Rick] shows us how to carve a pumpkin with a skill saw blade that is powered by one of these turbines.

20 thoughts on “Engine Hacks – Tesla Turbines

    1. If you need more torque, couldn’t you power a flywheel system with this? It would certainly take a while to get moving, but once up to speed it should have as much momentary torque as the flywheel’s momentum can provide.

  1. Tesla gave us so many cool inventions. The Tesla turbines are used quite a bit in movement of things like blood, live fry ( baby fish). They are unique in that they don’t harm and chop of what you are trying to move like traditional impellers.

    1. They are unique in that way, but the problem is that they can’t develop any significant pressure. Peristaltics and progressing cavity pumps also have very low shear and can pump blood, live fish and live yeast without damage.

  2. It is true that used as turbine the low torque limits its usage, but it can be used as a pump too.

    When used as a pump it is amazing. If the space between blades is large enough it can pump liquids with solids in it, without any damage to the pump or the solids. It can even pump water with fishes without harming them.

  3. As a turbine the Tesla turbine is terrible. As a pump it can do some really cools stuff as other people have posted.
    I have seen Tesla fans try to make jet engines using the Tesla turbines for both the power turbines and the compressors and they fail.
    Frankly Tesla is one of those tragic figures IMHO. He was both brilliant and mentally ill. He real accomplishments changed the word and are still with us but so many of his fans cling to his insane fantasies like his earthquake machine and death ray that they over shadow his real work and accomplishments.

      1. I am a huge Tesla fan. Have copies of all his patents that I have read and studied. Really good information in those. His ‘earthquake’ machine actually works. It works like a lot of his stuff on resonant frequency. If you can determine the resonant frequency of something like a building and apply that frequency with enough magnitude the building will shake itself apart. The device to do it wouldn’t need to be big either. If they would have paid attention things like galloping gertie never would have happened. Brand new bridge destroyed by resonant frequency.


      2. The maser makes a pretty impressive weapon in protecting against intruders. Look up ‘ADS microwave’ in a search engine. Not a ‘death’ ray but still a pretty good weapon. The actual use of microwaves to kill is probably too nasty to contemplate. Think of boiled eggs… The eye is horrible at dispersing heat. :/

        From what I’ve read, his ‘death ray’ was really a radio transmitter that worked much like a microwave oven. The electrical energy could also be tuned to attack electronics or such. The practical limitations were the humongous energy costs. Imagine trying to scale up a microwave generator to the 100MW range. Even with enough electricity, the waste heat alone would be immensely hard to deal with. The volume would be another issue. I don’t seriously see how he could have built one big enough to have been of any practical military use at the time.

      3. Didn’t the mythbusters bust the idea of Tesla’s Earthquake machine. I also thought the Tacoma Narrows bridge was brought down because of wind and not resonance frequencey.

        A bridge shaking and twisting apart because of wind =/= resonance frequence.

        1. Super necro but it’s a super interesting topic to me so here we go…
          Wind may not be the implementation Tesla was talking about, but it is an applicable demonstration of the principal behind it.

          Specifically “Mechanical Resonance” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mechanical_resonance.
          For a particularly interesting example see this: http://mentalfloss.com/article/31349/how-power-literally-rocked-house
          And if you’re up for some fun Math blunders check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JwEYamjXpA

      4. There’s a lot similarities. The sound wave was a low frequency oscillation that eventually tore the bridge apart. It’s true though that it’s more like a swing sliding off a hook holding it, than a glass shattering. The glass has roughly the same material throughout, while the bridge (or swing) has very different materials (some elastic, some rigid) working together. Keep hitting the bridge with wind that has just the right timing to overall increase the amplitude and eventually, you’ll see something get stressed too far. Once that happened, all that twisting pulled in opposite directions since by definition there was 2 half wavelengths.

        Also, take Mythbusters with a grain of salt. After all, even Jamie makes mistakes, hehe. Not very d*** often, though because of his experience testing these things. I’d be more likely to bet that they’re right, than that they’re wrong.

        BTW: At a high enough amplitude, even simple bass speakers can make pictures fall of walls and do other annoying “earthquake-like” activities.

        1. My vibrations professor said that when the wind speed reached the right velocity, there was aerodynamic osculatory effects. The wind blowing across the bridge produced lift that twisted the bridge and then since it was twisted, the drag would twist it back. At the right wind speed this would become resonant and destroy it. That’s crudely paraphrased but possibly a more satisfying explanation than wind speeding up and slowing down at a resonant frequency

  4. Teslas had over 3000 patents, although he did alot of AC electrics, his also did high voltage DC electrics. The space industry uses Argon plasma thrusters. For example, Cassini had a DC nuke power and an electrical propulsion system. Thats the real engine hack Tesla should be proud of.

  5. I don’t mean any disrespect to the builder in anyway, I have to consider Tesla turbine projects proof of concept, and a nice novelty/ toy. I’m not going to have a boiler, and living in Western KS means water power is out, so a Tesla turbine has no practical use for myself. I’m likely to use readily available air motor with an air compressor for low power application. A hydraulic gear pump, and gear motor for applications that really need a higher power transfer. Perhaps the Tesla turbine as a vacuum pump might interest me, but something tells me that would have a greater degree of difficulty of building.

    As a note on instructables, sorry if this is old news, but it’s the first I noticed it. After dismissing the pro registration, and reading the first step I noticed that there where download pdf & view all steps buttons. Appears that downloading the pdf still requires pro registration, but the view all steps works without logging in at all. YMMV is always in play.

    1. I was annoyed enough with instructables that I call them obstructables after being forced to create a temporary email account. People have to make a living so they charge for convenient PDFs(nice idea to keep up with bandwidth costs), but it’s still annoying to register just to see the whole set of instructions on separate pages. ;)

      There are ways to distribute the bandwidth costs among volunteers in exchange for some kind of rewards like faster downloading or game tokens.

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