DIY Airlift Pump Design: Pump Water with Compressed Air

A Simple Homesteading Tutorial for Pumping Well Water

DIY Airlift Pump Design: Pump Water with Compressed Air

By Clifford E. Jones – There is no reason to pay a lot of money for a water pump when this DIY airlift pump design will do all you want. The cost is very low. The materials list is for a 100-foot well; adjust this to meet your well depth.

Materials List for Your DIY Airlift Pump Design:

• 1/8” strong woven nylon line, 110 feet
• 110 feet of 1-1/4” plastic (PVC)
• 110 feet of ½” plastic (PVC) pipe
• 1 box of 100 stainless steel screws 3/8” long
• 1 well cap (built or bought)
• 1 stainless steel clamp to hold bottom pipes together
• 1 stainless steel clamp to hold 1-1/4” pipe at top of well cap
• 2 1-1/4” 90-degree elbows
• 2 ½” 90-degree elbows
• 1 roll duct tape

Screening Material:

• 1-1/4” and ½” connectors
• PVC joint compound (get a new can, it will hold better)
• 1 air compressor (useful for many things)
• 1 connector from your compressor to the ½” PVC

DIY Airlift Pump Design Using Plastic Pipe and Air Compressor

To start, you will need to remove the well cap. If damaged, build or buy a new one. Keep the well clean. Put four holes in the well cap. (Illustration 1.) Two holes for vents, one for the 1 ¼” discharge pipe, and one for the ½ air pipe. Screen the vents.


Next, tie a weight, like a large nut, on one end of the 1/8” nylon line and let it down the well to measure the depth to the water standing in the well. Mark the point on the line. I used wire ties from the grocery store. Continue dropping the line to measure how deep the well is, and put a wire tie on the line for a marker. Now remove the nylon line and lay it straight out from the well, to measure how long to make the pipes.

The discharge pipe is 1 1/4” diameter, the air pipe is 1/2“ diameter. Use adhesive and two small stainless steel screws at each connection. Make the 1-1/4” pipe the same length as the well depth. Put the end furthest from the well through the hole you made in the well cap and have it protrude out past the well cap enough to reach over your barrel top. (See illustration 2).

Water Pump
Compressed air is forced into the well through the 1/2″ pipe, pushing water up the 1-1/4″ pipe and out of the ground in a continuous flow.

Now put the 1-1/4” clamp on top of the well cap. This will eventually keep the pump from dropping down the well, so make it tight and be sure it won’t slip down the hole in the well cap. Next, make the ½” line. Starting at the bottom, put on two 90 degree elbows and a 30” piece of pipe and insert it up into the 1-1-4” pipe and clamp both pipes together (Illustration 3).


Tape the two pipes together every 10 feet. Continue building the ½” line up to the top, through the well cap plus 4 inches. Put a stainless steel clamp on the ½” pipe on top of the well cap and then hook up a connector to connect to your compressor.

Now it is time to put it all down the well. Tie a bag or feed sack around the well cap to help keep it clean as you drag it across the yard. Do get some help.

Put the pipes down the well. They aren’t heavy, just awkward. It helps if you have something to arch the pipes over, like a large truck box. Do arch the pipes high so as not to break them and lower away, finally resting all on the top of the well, and holding it all up with the well cap you affixed earlier.

Now hook up the two elbows on the 1-1/4” pipe, putting a piece of pipe over to your barrel and a short piece to point down into the barrel. Don’t poke the end of the discharge pipe into the barrel. The air needs to escape.

Now hook up the compressor and you are ready for water thanks to your airlift pump design.

What is happening here is air is pumped down the small pipe and released into the larger pipe forming bubbles which rise and capture the water and bring it to the top.

You may not have a large well and can get by with a ¾” discharge pipe and a 1/4” air line. Just don’t block the bottom of the large pipe with the small one. Leave room for the water to enter.

This article wouldn’t be complete without something on the air compressor. The main effort is to put some air down the small line that is only blocked by water. Any compressor capable of pumping up an auto tire will do. Air volume is more important than great pressure. I used an automobile air conditioner pump with great success but it did pump oil, and that isn’t good. Get yourself a good air compressor.

This airlift pump design may seem like a poor man’s pump, but there are some advantages over other pumps. It won’t freeze; you can do it yourself; any servicing is done at the compressor and not down the well; and if you just happen to live past the power company, you can still have the water and not cost you an arm and a leg.

For more information about water usage on your homestead, take a look at tips from Countryside on 10 ways to conserve water, recycling water at home and how to filter well water.

Originally published in 2000 and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

One thought on “DIY Airlift Pump Design: Pump Water with Compressed Air”
  1. My well is about 300′ deep with a static water level around 150′ down. Would a pump of this type work for my situation?


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