Rebuilding An Old Piston Water Pump

Well the fun has begun! I began Project Water Pump today, tearing down my old Southern piston pump, the old stalwart that has been providing us with water at the cottage for the last 40 or more years….yes…at least 40 years and it was second hand when my Dad bought it for the cottage! 

Folks wondering why I am not buying a new pump, considering a new one is probably only 3 or 4 hundred dollars, here’s why…tradition is one thing, I love and understand this old pump, from years of just me and the pump, under the camp….me swearing at it as it refuses to pump,  but when I did get it going, it always ran almost without fail, no matter how bad it was leaking, no matter how badly I neglected it.

Also, I hear more bad stuff about the new jet pumps than I do good, and many folks who had piston pumps and replaced them with jet pumps, are now wishing they hadn’t. I’m not saying the jet pumps are no good, just that in my mind, the piston pumps are better. Besides, it’s fun to work on something old like this and make it go. I’ve been threatening to do this for about two years, but the time has finally come. It starts now…..

So today I started tearing it down for the rebuild. First I took the pressure switch off, as I have a new one to replace it, below is a picture of the old pressure switch on the left, beside the new one.

In addition, I got myself a fairly heavy extension cord, which I cut to a suitable length. The cut end will be wired into the pressure switch, when I get the rest of the rebuild finished. This will replace the old plug wire that was to say the least, worn bare in places and kind of scary to plug and unplug from the socket.

Next thing I did was take the electric motor off the pump. Four bolts and it came off easily. The motor is a 1/6 hp and seems to still work very well dispite being quite old. I am not going to mess with it much. Here is the pump without the motor. The drive belt is in good shape, it’s not that old, I actually replaced it a couple of years ago, so I may leave it alone as well. No sense spending money I don’t need to spend.

Next I took apart what I call the “water end” that is the piece that pulls the water in, the grey piece in the above photo. The top and bottom of this comes off, and inside is where you find the parts that need frequent replacing on a piston pump.

This is where a ‘pump kit’ comes in necessary, with the gaskets, new springs, cotter pins etc. The water corrodes this stuff overtime, that’s why it needs to be replaced. I am actually having a bit of trouble finding a kit, but think I have one tracked down locally now. I will know for sure in the next day or so. Here is a picture of the two gaskets I am replacing… can see why……

The inside of the ‘wet-end’ of the pump is pretty rough looking, although, I don’t think it really hurts it, as long as the gaskets are in good shape. The water has done quite a job on the metal, but even so, it is still pretty solid, actually looks worse than it is.

This is the bottom of the ‘wet-end’ Notice the corrosion and rust, this will clean up somewhat, before I put it back together. The top is not much better. I think I will take this down to the local car wash and clean it out with their pressure hose, just to get rid of any loose, flaking rust.

The next step is to get at the piston and check the state of the “leathers” that is, the plunger that creates the pressure that creates the suction, that results in us being able to turn on the tap and get water…..provided they are in good shape, I will leave them alone, otherwise, new leathers will be installed as well.

The amazing thing is, this old pump is actually in fairly good shape all things considered. I suppose one thing that has lengthened it’s life is that I only use it for about 6 months a year at the cottage. On the other hand, it is underneath the camp, exposed to the elements, and hasn’t had much maintenance other than what was absolutely necessary for years. So I am pleasantly surprised to find it in as good a shape as it is.

Since I began writing this post, I have found a place here locally that says they specialize in water pumps and systems, which is fantastic news, especially since the folks I asked in two of the local building supply stores had no idea where I might find parts for my Southern Piston Pump. 

So, stick with me, I will be reporting on how the piston pump rebuild is going as I start to put it all back together….that is, if I can remember how to put it all back together……

*Update: Since this post I have changed my opinion. After fooling around with the old piston pump I finally got fed up and bought a new “jet pump” from Canadian Tire. It has proven to be one of the best decisions I have made thus far.

The new pump, in addition to being a whole lot newer than the old Southern piston pump, is lighter and therefore easier to drag and out from under the camp. It works like a charm and primes easily. I have to say, I am pleased with the new jet pump. I still have the Southern, I keep it as a reminder of the old days and as a backup that I may hook up someday to use for watering the garden etc, but it won’t be going back under the camp anymore.

That doesn’t change my love affair with the old pump. It was a tradition begun by my Dad, and he and I spent many a day under the camp working on that pump. For that reason, and the fact that it ran for a long, long time, I am keeping it as part of the cottage momentos. But as far as I am concerned, I am now recommending cottagers who need a new water pump go the way of the centrifugal jet pump.

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10 thoughts on “Rebuilding An Old Piston Water Pump”

  1. Guess ya'll are up a creek without a paddle if ya can't. Boy that's an oldie but a goodie! Heeeheehe!

    Have a fun~filled day, man!!!

  2. What a great project. I'm all for rebuilding the old rather the buying new. Less to throw away is good, plus they do not make things like they used to. You can't get pumps with metal that thick now! I bet the pump has lots of life left in it after your TLC.

  3. A friend just gave me a Duro piston pump, in working order but hasn't been used for a while. I plan to replace the gaskets, clean it up, and use it for a drip irrigation system for the flower boxes around our boathouse, where we currently do not have a water pressure system (quite a distance from the cottage) but obviously have lots of water. Will report progress in a few weeks when I am next there.

  4. Home Hardware is a good place to start looking for parts.
    My Duro just stopped pumping, and when I checked, the rod that attachs to the leathers was disconnected on the crankshaft end. Now I am looking for a scematic to figure out how it is 'supposed' to be.

  5. Hi Allen, thanks for your question. I am not sure, but Home Hardware used to carry piston pumps. In any event, one Canadian company that is pretty well stocked with pumps of all types including piston pumps is Pompco. There website is here:

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