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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Crowdsourcing plastic model kits

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Flexiscale, the company that crowdsources and crowdfunds model kits, made a showing at the World Maker Faire. We’ve seen their work before, but this time we got to touch base with [Chris Thorpe] and get a handle on the future of user-requested model kits.

Right now there are over one hundred proposals for what Flexiscale should do next. They’re mostly narrow gauge railroad locomotives and rolling stock, but [Chris] tells me they’re looking to branch out into larger projects including American locomotives as well as planes, ships, and buildings. This is a really, really cool project, and if you’re into models at all, you should at least be aware of what Flexiscale is trying to do.

If you have an idea of what Flexiscale should do next, write up a proposal. I made one for the PRR GG1 electric locomotive, and if enough people support it, [Chris] will scan an engine and make a kit.