Vacuum Hand, DIY
How to make your own Vacuum Hand
It is very easy to make a vacuum suction device for lifting and moving objects.
The 30 second video at the left shows a homemade vacuum hand being used to dip ceramic vases into a mixed glaze.
The most important and expensive piece of equipment is a VACUUM PUMP. Here are three fairly inexpensive, fairly easy-to-find, and fairly simple Vacuum Pump options:
Vacuum Cleaner: Any vacuum cleaner will work. Even a Dirt Devil will pick up light objects. The trick is to reduce the size and shape of the intake down to 1/4" tubing size. Noise is a drawback.
Harbor Freight vacuum pump: readily available, and not too terribly expensive, especially if you use a 20% off coupon. It is a rotary vane pump, which means that it requires oil, and is slightly messy. It draws 29 inches of mercury, which is about twice what you need for glazing ceramics.
eBay vacuum pumps: I bought the vacuum pump in the pictures on ebay for almost nothing. It is a used Thomas diaphragm pump that requires no oil or maintenance. It draws 15 inches of mercury, which is perfect for dipping ceramics. The prices on eBay have gone up, but you might get lucky. Try "Thomas vacuum pump" or "Gast vacuum pump" as search terms. BE SURE to get a 120 Volt A/C, not a D/C model. Diaphragm units are nice -- they have a big, flat, SQUARE -- not rectangular -- housing on the top which houses the diaphragm, like in my pictures. A lot of eBay ads do not list inches of mercury, but almost any pump that looks similar to mine will have enough suction for ceramic glazing.
The next thing you need is a hand-held "wand" with a suction cup or "head" on it.
The picture at left shows my "Small" Vacuum Hand. All parts are available at home centers and/or electrical, plumbing, and/or automotive supply houses. The 7/8 x 1-3/4" rubber gasket was cut from an old auto inner tube with scissors.
The gray PVC couplings are glued to the 45 degree elbow with PVC cement. NOTHING else is glued! The 7/8 x 1-3/4" rubber gasket is simply stretched over the PVC coupling. This allows for interchangeability and also allows the gasket to "float" on the coupling as it conforms to the shape of the object being lifted.
The 5/8" PVC tubing fits into the PVC coupling, but is not glued, which allows interchanging of vacuum hand wands.
The various tubings are simply slid into each other. When the vacuum pump is turned on, the vacuum created seals any possible leaks.
The 1/8" release hole in the PVC elbow is placed such that it can be easily operated with an index finger while grabbing the wand and lifting objects. View the video at the top of this page. As I lift and set down the third vase you can see my index finger operating the release hole.
Note my index finger on the re- lease hole in the picture to the left.
The "Tiny Head" to the right is simply the same piece of 5/8" PVC tubing as in the left-hand picture, but without the PVC elbow or couplings. The rubber gasket in this case is 3/4" I.D. x 1-3/8" O.D. Note my finger covering the 1/8" release hole that has been drilled directly into the 5/8" PVC tubing. When using the other, larger wands, a piece of tape is put over the release hole.
If it turns out that the vacuum pump that you end up with draws too much suction, just add an extra, permanent 1/8" hole somewhere near the wand for "relief."
If it takes too long to release the object being lifted, then you need to enlarge the index finger release hole.
In general, larger heads need larger release holes. It's physics.
My "Large Head" is so powerful that I have an extra 3/16" relief hole drilled right into the PVC head. Again, it's physics.
At left is my entire wand collection. The white fittings are plumbing PVC reducers. The center "Medium Head" is a 1-1/4 x 1/2" reducer. The "Large Head" at the top is made up of a 3 x 1-1/2" reducer fitted into a 1-1/2 x 1/2" reducer. The larger, red gaskets were cut from a sheet of silicone, but inner tube rubber, or any rubber sheet should work.
The 5/8" flexible PVC tubing is reduced down to 1/4" flexible tubing size with a series of short pieces of consecutively smaller slip-fit tubing pieces.
The fuel filter I use is a Purolator F20011. It is intended to protect the vacuum pump.
The white plumbing PVC reducers are of the slip-fit type. Do not buy the threaded style.
The gray electrical PVC elbows that I saw at Lowe's recently were low-quality, but they will work. You can also buy a length of 1/2" gray electrical PVC tubing, cut it to length and bend it. To bend it, heat it with a heat gun, blow dryer, or other heat source until soft and pliable. When you achieve the bend you want, "freeze" it by cooling it with a wet cloth.
You will probably need to bevel the end of the 5/8" flexible PVC tubing to get it to fit into the 1/2" PVC coupling. Use a razor knife to bevel the flexible tubing.
You can probably make all of the wands without using PVC cement. Suction will keep everything together. The advantage of avoiding cement is interchangeability. However, you may encounter air leaks at the couplings. These can be sealed with a thin coil of Plastalina.