Converting a Lawnmower Engine To Run on Compressed Air

Our most likely exposure to a steam engine these days will probably come courtesy of a railway locomotive. A machine capable of immense power and probably with significant complexity and engineering  in its construction, something the majority of us will only ever be able to see at second-hand. But there was a period when steam engines were much more accessible, before internal combustion engines and electric motors took on the task of automating hard work you would have found small stationary steam engines in all corners of industry.

These engines are on a scale much more easily embraced by hackers and makers, and though vintage stationary engines are thin on the ground these days there are a significant number of people pursuing their construction by converting modern petrol and diesel engines to a more old-fashioned medium.

[Lindsay Wilson] has a lawnmower engine which a few years ago he converted with the addition of a sleeve valve to run on compressed air. It’s not a steam engine because creating a safe and legal steam boiler is an expensive process, but despite this it amounts to the same thing. The engine in question is a small sidevalve single cylinder Suffolk Punch lawnmower engine from which he has removed and blocked the valve gear, and added a sleeve valve powered by a linkage from the crankshaft and using the spark plug hole as an inlet and outlet. He provides a lot of detail on the sleeve valve’s construction, and it really is a surprisingly simple arrangement. We might look for a harder metal than copper pipe for the guide in which it runs though.

The video below the break shows the engine being run up after a period of storage. It’s an effective device, easily capable of taking more air than his compressor can supply.

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Steam-Powered Machine Shop

It’s sometimes hard to believe how stuff was made over a hundred years ago when electricity wasn’t widely available. One of the most common ways of powering tools was via belt drive — powered by a water mill, or a steam engine, or even horses. [David Richards] has spent a good chunk of time making his own period accurate steam powered machine shop — and it’s fantastic.

It represents approximately what a 1920’s machine shop would look like in America. Not a single tool is newer than 1925. The whole shop is powered by a line shaft using steam power. A massive boiler provides steam for a Pennsylvania built 5 by 5 steam engine, dating back to approximately 1895. Using belts and clutches, it powers a few lathes, drill presses, a mill, and even a shaper — an identical machine to one in the Edison Museum!

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The Simplest Steam Engine

[RimstarOrg] has posted an awesome writeup on his Hero’s steam engine . Hero’s engine is a Greek design from the first century and is the earliest known steam engine. It’s amazing to think he developed the engine seventeen centuries before the industrial revolution, and yet it was largely ignored. While you can find more faithful replicas, of this landmark machine [RimstarOrg]’s rig can’t be beaten for simplicity and he does a great job of explaining the principal of operation and construction.

Using a soda can filled with water and a propane torch [RimstarOrg] was able to get the can to rotate rapidly by ejecting steam from two holes in the side of the can. A fishing swivel is used to provide a pivoting joint and allow the can to rotate freely.

While we’ve covered steam engines before, we loved this simple design, and can’t wait to see what [RimStarOrg] comes up with next.

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A Remote Controlled, Fully Functional, Steam Powered Tank

Steam Powered Tank for the 21st Century

Steam power anything these days is pretty cool, but rarely have we ever seen such a complex build as this steam powered, remote controlled 1/16th scale tank.

[Ian] is an electronics design engineer whose hobbies include messing around with steam power. The Steam Turret Tank is based on a 1/16th scale Tamiya King Tiger die-cast model tank. It features a 3.5″ diameter marine boiler from MaccSteam, which is a fully equipped miniature version of a real boiler, complete with pressure gauges, safety valves, and a ceramic burner. It can produce pressures of up to 70PSI (max 120PSI), but for this project, [Ian] is limiting it to around 30PSI.

A small 2″ diameter fuel tank contains a propane mixture to fuel the boiler. Two Regner 40451 Piccolo steam engines make up the drive train, with mechanical linkages controlled by servos to engage the various features. The tank can go forward, backward, spin in place, and the turret can both rotate and adjust trajectory. It also has controllable headlights, and can even “fire” the turret.

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Steampunk Battleship complete with Steam Engine!

steampunk fortress

The photo above doesn’t do this huge and whimsical Steampunk Battleship justice. It’s an amazing project that took its creator, [Ed Ross], over 2500 hours to complete.

Called Barnum’s Dream, it was said to be originally commissioned by Queen Victoria as a ship for the Crimean war, and was the largest paddle wheel steam warship ever built. It was then retrofitted with a massive train carriage to be used in the Franco-Prussian war (that’s right, on land!).

The model is just over 4 feet long and just under 4 feet tall. Aside from the steam engine (which was modified) it was completely build by hand. Almost all of the mechanical linkages and powered by the internal steam engine. The level of detail that went into this is absolutely awe-inspiring. 

If you enjoyed the background history of the ship, there’s a delightful tale of the ship’s apparent origins on [Ed’s] blog which is thoroughly enjoyable. Make sure to check it out after watching the video after the break.

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Second grade science project: a steam engine

2nd-grade-steam-engine

If you’re looking for a way to let the kids get hand-ons with science this is a perfect example of how to do it. [Erich] wanted to help out with his 7-year-old’s science project. They decided to build a working model of a steam engine but couldn’t find online instructions appropriate for the age group. So the two of them not only pulled off the build, but then they wrote a guide for others to follow. The thing about it is, you really have to understand a concept to teach it to someone else. So we think the write-up is equally important to having actually done the experiment.

Steam can scald you if you’re not careful. But you don’t really need steam to explore the concepts of a steam engine. The main reason to use steam is that it’s a fairly rudimentary way to build pressure which can be converted to motion. For this demonstration the blue balloon provides that pressure. It’s feeding a reservoir that connects to the valve built out of straws. A plastic piston inside pushes against the crank shaft, spinning the cardboard wheel on the left. When the piston travels past the valve opening it releases the air pressure until the machine makes a revolution and is in place for the next push. This is well demonstrated in the clip after the break.

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Steam-powered pickup winder

[Valve Child] has been building a few three-string cigar box guitars. Of course he’ll need a few pickups, but three-string guitar pickups aren’t exactly easy to come by. To solve this problem, he’s built a guitar pickup winder powered by a steam engine.

The pickup winder is powered by a Wilesco D20 model steam engine, connected to the actual winding mechanism via a rubber belt. To the right of the bobbin bracket is a mechanism built out of Meccano – Erector sets for us americans – that provides a mechanical counter for the number of wire turns and a wire traverse to keep each layer of wire somewhat even across the width of the bobbin.

Previously, we’ve seen [Valve Child]’s really sweet sounding lap steel build from a log using a hand-wound pickup and a preamp tube as the bridge. It’s questionable if the guitar signal came from this lap steel via the pickup or the microphonic tube, but now [Valve Child] has a really, really good method of improving his pickup production abilities.

Video after the break.

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