The Trouble with Old Model Steam Engines

Model steam engines have intrigued hackers and makers for over 100 years. Many of us have seen old steam engine models up for sale at garage sales and various internet auction sites. The problem with these engines is the fact that many of them were sold as rough casting kits. This means the quality of the model is only as good as the original owner’s machining and fabrication skills.

[Keith Appleton] is something of a steam engine expert. In this pair of videos, he takes us through troubleshooting two engines. Keith goes on to show some of the common failures he’s found while working on these wonderous little machines.

First off is the paint. If you find nuts, bolts and random parts painted in different colors, the engine is probably bad. It sounds strange, but [Keith] has found this to be a rule over his years of working with these engines.

Another problem is rattles. [Keith] found one of these engines rattled terribly. The culprit was the crankshaft. Not only was it the wrong size, but it was built wrong. These engines use built up crankshafts, rather than shafts machined from a single piece of metal. This engine’s crankshaft was threaded into the crank webs rather than pinned. Whoever built it tried to re-engineer the design of the crankshaft, and failed miserably.

You can check [Keith’s] videos out after the break. Want more displacement? We’ve covered the simplest steam engine, and an insanely detailed steampunk battleship, which of course is powered by steam.

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Are Powdered Metal Fuels Just a Flash in the Pan?

It’s no secret that fossil fuels are quickly becoming extinct. As technology charges ever forward, they are disappearing faster and faster. Many of our current dependencies on fossil fuels are associated with high-energy applications like transportation. Since it’s unlikely that global transportation will ever be in decline for any reason other than fuel shortage itself, it’s imperative that we find something that can replicate the high energy density of fossil fuels. Either that, or go back to the drawing board and change the entire scope of global transportation.

Energy, especially solar and wind, cannot be created all over the world. Traditionally, energy is created in situ and shipped to other places that need it. The proposed solutions for zero-carbon energy carriers—batteries and hydrogen—all have their weaknesses. Batteries are a fairly safe option, but their energy density is pretty poor. Hydrogen’s energy density is higher, but its flammability makes it dangerously volatile to store and transport.

Recently, a group of researchers at McGill University in Canada released a paper exploring the use of metal powders as our zero-carbon fuel of the future. Although metal powders could potentially be used as primary energy sources, the transitory solution they propose is to use them as secondary sources powered by wind and solar primaries.

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Building a coal forge

We don’t get to see Blacksmith hacks around here too often. But even if they were rolling in on a weekly basis we think this one would be considered the special expanded edition with full-color centerfold. The sixty-five images in this coal forge build log are all commented and just begging to steal your attention for part of the afternoon.

The build mostly involves fabricating a system for injecting air into the forge and providing a mechanism for evacuating the waste ash. [BillDaCat] starts with a 3″ pipe as the ash dump, adding a latching door used to empty it when full. He then welds together a metal trough with a slotted bottom to hold the fiery fury, attaching the ash dump below. He uses a plasma cutter to add an opening in the upper portion of the ash dump for a blast gate.

If you’re excited about his build you should also check out the metal pour and the induction furnace.

[via Reddit]