Water Pumps

Leonardo did much work with water pumps and wells. During Leonardo's time man had already built up considerable knowledge in these areas and Verrocchio was an experienced hydraulic engineer; it was him who first introduced Leonardo to the subject.

Though much of his work was in no way new, or revolutionary, he did come up with a number of improvements on items like the Archimedean screw. Leonardo's version had much less seepage and friction, so was more reliable. Leonardo designed a waterwheel which, through the use of two of these screws, would be able to fill a water tower, perhaps for the town water supply. Another possible use for Leonardo's design was the draining of swamps.


An excellent drawing of a canal system has been dated to 1480-1485. It displays the canal complete with two sets of locks built alongside weirs. Houses for those operating the locks stand alongside the canal and boats are shown making their way through it. Another area of this sheet shows the gates in detail.

Leonardo was consulted regarding canal engineering and it is known he was responsible for the design of a canal which would have linked Milan to the sea. It seems Leonardo intended to dig some fairly vast canals -- up to 60 feet wide and 21 feet deep. He designed sets of hinged gates that met at an angle and formed a watertight joint caused by the pressure of water on their mitred edges. In 1497 six locks were built using Leonardo's system and it is still in very common use today.

 Drilling Machines

Designs for both vertical and horizontal drilling machines can be found in Leonardo's records. His vertical drilling machine drilled upwards and could be used to bore a hole in a tree trunk to make wooden pipes. The idea was the trunk would be held firmly and vertically in the top of the frame while the drill bit moved up from below. By having it boring upwards the sawdust fell down and away, preventing it blocking up the hole. Finally, Leonardo considered the comfort of the operators and placed a cone above then designed to deflect the sawdust. In 1798 Dresden engineer Peschel was to develop a machine like this. Three hundred years had passed since Leonardo did his drawing.

The horizontal drilling machine has no accompanying notes, but it performs much the same operation as Leonardo's vertical design and uses a screw system to move the drill and the log closer together as the hole was formed. In appearance this piece is surprisingly modern.