Sunday, May 8, 2011

Making a Homemade Berkey Water Filter

Are you like me?  You want a Big Berkey water filter, but you just can't justify spending so much on one?  Well!  Did you know that you can purchase the filter elements and make one yourself, from a couple food-grade buckets?  It won't be as fancy as a real Big Berkey.  It probably won't be as rugged as the real deal.  But it will work.

A note:  I can't claim credit for figuring this out.  I learned of it from How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, by James Wesley, Rawles.

I made one.  And I took some pictures.  So I thought I'd show you how easy it is.

What you need:

2  six-gallon, food-grade water buckets (You can use smaller buckets, but they aren't recommended.)
2  black Berkey purification elements, with priming button
1 spigot, if you want to use one
1 1/2" drill bit

I didn't have a 1/2" drill bit.  So I went to my go-to guy for hardware.  He said that most home drills aren't big enough to accommodate a standard 1/2" drill bit.  But they make a 1/2" drill bit that narrows down at the end so you can fit it in your drill. I got one, and it worked perfectly.  So that's probably what you'll need, too.

I got my black Berkey purification elements from the Berkey Guy.   I bought from him because he was the last supplier I found on the Internet who was still selling them for $99 and including a free Sport Berkey Water Bottle Portable Water Purifier.  Everyone was selling them for this price last year.  Now, no one is.  Even the Berkey Guy has raised his prices since I got mine. (2 black Berkey purification elements are now $107, and the Sport Berkey is $24.99).

The process is simple:
  1. Prime the purification elements.
  2. Drill holes for the purification elements in the bottom of one bucket and in the lid of the other bucket.
  3. Put the purification elements through the holes in the bottom of the bucket, with the elements inside the bucket, and tighten the wing nuts.
  4. Install the spigot in the bottom bucket, if you want one (I did not).
  5. Assemble the Water Filter.
    1. Set the lid with the holes on the bucket without the holes. 
    2. Put the bucket with the purification elements on the other bucket with the lid, with the stems going into the holes in the lid (the clean water drips through the stems). 
    3. Put the lid without holes on the bucket with the purification elements in it.
Then just pour your dirty water into the top bucket and wait for your clean water to drip into the lower bucket.  If the water has a lot of particulate matter, you'll get better results if you pour it through a couple layers of cheese cloth before pouring into your new filter--you can go longer without cleaning the elements.

So.  Let's get started.

First, you need some clean water to prime the purification elements.  I had some bottled water on hand, so I used that.  It took a 20-oz bottle of water to prime each element.  If you have nice water from your faucet, you can use that.  The instructions for priming the purification elements are in the box.

The priming button looks like a tan rubber gasket.  It goes over the stem and rests against the bottom of the element.  The priming process forces water backwards through each purification element, wetting it and flushing out any residue.  The priming button serves to prevent (mostly) water from squirting out while you're forcing the water backwards through the stem and into and through the element.

You hold the element firmly against the faucet (you'd probably have to take the little screen off) or against your water bottle, and force water through it until it beads up on on the surface of the element and runs down.

Once the elements are primed, you can set them aside.  It's time to drill some holes.

I found it easiest to put the bottom bucket on the floor, with its lid on top, and put the filtering bucket on top of the lid.  That way I could make sure the holes in the bucket lined up with the holes in the lid.  I drilled my holes about 3 inches from the side of the bucket, which left plenty of room for the elements.  The downside to this method is that you have to clean little bits of plastic out of both buckets.

Then I installed the elements.

And finally, I stacked up the buckes to make my filter.

Oops!  Despite my care I got the holes in the lid in the wrong place, and the filter bucket doesn't quite sit on the lid of the lower bucket properly.  Ah well.  It still works.

So.  How do I like it and what have I learned?

It's easy to use.  I just take a third bucket (labeled "Dirty Water") out to my rain barrel and fetch some water.  Pour it into the filter bucket, and a few hours later I have clean water in the lower bucket.

Yeah.  That's right.  A few hours.  It is not a fast filter.  But there are a few things you can do to speed things up.
  1. Keep the water level in the filter bucket topped off.  The higher the water level in the filter bucket, the greater the water pressure against the filters, so the faster they filter.  Just make sure you don't overflow your bottom bucket!
  2. Use 6-gallon buckets.  I used 4 1/2-gallon buckets, because when I wanted to order them Emergency Essentials was out of the bigger buckets and I was impatient.  But by using 6-gallon buckets, I would have started with the water level higher, and would have gotten clean water faster.
  3. Get 4 purification elements instead of 2.  You can cut your filter time in half.  This also lets you filter a lot more water before you have to replace your purification elements.  Of course, it costs twice as much up front.
Each element will purify pu to 3000 gallons.  So if you have 2 elements in your filter, you can purify 6000 gallons before you have to purchase more elements.  And if you have 4 elements, you can purify 12000 gallons before replacing them.  Of course, when you do replace them, it costs that much more!

Another thing to remember is that you can clean the black Berkey purification elements several times.  They recommend using a ScotchBright(r) pad.

You can put a spigot in the bottom bucket, to use it as a dispenser.  I decided not to do this for 2 reasons.   I forgot to purchase a spigot!  But also, I already have a couple water dispensers.  So I just collect water in the bucket and pour it into the dispensers I already have.

I got my first dispenser from The Water Crock Shop.  They have a very nice selection of water crocks.  You can either get a lid, like I did, or put a water bottle on top.  The crock, by itself, holds 2 1/2 gallons of water.

But the water crock was too big for my tiny bathroom counter.  So I picked up a glass dispenser on sale at my local Fred Meyer store.  I think it's supposed to be for serving Limoncello.  But I'm using it for nice, clean, water.

Now, next time the power goes out for a week or so after a winter storm, I'll have all the clean, fresh, water I can drink!  And you can, too!


  1. OK. I'm a dork! The filter bucket sits just fine on the lid if I don't put in on backwards!

  2. Interesting idea. I've never thought about making my own water filter. Great idea and great work on posting all of the details here.

    1. Our portable water filters can be easily put in luggage. Travel-size models are also available these days that can be stored in hotel room and have pure and clean drinking water. Berkey filters remove all dangerous contents included in the water, which is collected from different sources such as lakes, ponds, well etc
      Berkey water purification

  3. Looking forward to reading more. Great article post.Thanks Again. Really Great. A Berkey water filter eliminates bad substances through a process called micro-porous filtration.

  4. I like this concept. I visited your blog for the first time and just been your fan. Keep posting as I am gonna come to read it everyday!! Berkey water filters are considered the best systems in the world, but the average person has never heard of them. They are powerful, reliable, and provide the cleanest and purest water possible, no matter where the source

    1. Thank you. That's nice to hear.

      I chose to use the Berkey filters because they are the best!

      I've been really bad about posting lately. I have several things to post, just haven't sat down to write them up.

      Guess I'd better get busy, huh?

  5. This is very resourceful! I haven’t seen one before so I wonder if it works just like the ones you could buy from the hardware store? Either way, I think I‘m trying this one out, maybe that would save me money for making a water filter of my own instead of purchasing one. Thanks!

    Elia Lester

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