Chugging Along: A Steam-Powered Sawmill Still Makes Its Mark

[Rural Heritage TV] has video of a private tour of a working, two-story, steam-powered sawmill at Lake Itasca, Minnesota. This is believed to be one of the only working steam-powered band-sawmills in the country with a shotgun (or reciprocating) feed carriage. The carriage moves back and forth with a log while a monstrous 44-foot long bandsaw cuts pieces off on every stroke. There’s even a log turning mechanism, because if there’s one thing that never changes, it’s that time is money.

There is great footage of the whole thing in action, and also a serious tour of just how much work was needed to keep such a tool running. For example, in its heyday a machine like this would be swapping bands out for maintenance and sharpening every few hours.

Viewers unfamiliar with such machinery may notice the lack of rims or guard rails on the bandsaw and other belts and pulleys. How do bands stay centered on spinning wheels without falling off? The crowned pulley was the steam era’s solution, providing a means for belts to self-center without any need for rims or other additions.

This tour of the sawmill is a nifty peek at a technology that, at one point, ruled the roost. Watch it in action in the video, just under the page break. If that leaves you hungry to know more, there’s a second video that goes into added detail about saw sharpening and more.

One last tip: if you’re hungry to know more about the history of the steam engine, The Perfectionists is absolutely a book you should read because it goes into fascinating detail about that, and more.

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A Steam Engine For Empty Beer Cans

If Hero — the ancient Greek inventor — had been able to enjoy a beer after work, he might have pulled a trick like [BevCanTech] did: use it to create a simple steam engine. Of course, we aren’t sure why it has to be a beer can, but even with a soda can there is a fundamental problem: the can is open, assuming you’ve already enjoyed the beverage.

A pressure vessel with a big gaping hole in it isn’t much of a pressure vessel. The resealing process was actually quite simple. First, you bend back the tab to close up the opening as best you can. Next, you use cyanoacrylate glue and baking soda to seal up what’s left. We wondered if you could use epoxy, hot glue, or UV-curable resin. The top might get too hot for hot glue to last, but we aren’t sure.

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A streamlined black boiler with a headlight at the tip dwarfs the 5th wheel trailer and secondary trailer it is attached to.

Bringing A Steam Train Back From Extinction

There’s no denying that while railroads have switched to diesel and electric as their primary power sources, there’s a certain allure to the age of steam. With that in mind, a group of Pennsylvania train fans are bringing the alleged fastest steam train back from extinction.

It takes real dedication to build a 428-ton device from scratch, but these rail aficionados seem to have it in spades. Armed only with the original blueprints and a lot of passion, this team has already finished construction of the boiler and nose of the Class T1 replica which is no small feat. This puts the train at approximately 40% complete.

Some changes are planned for the locomotive including a change to fuel oil from coal and replacing the poppet valves prone to failure with camshaft-driven rotary valves. While not original hardware, these changes should make the train more reliable, and bring the world record for the fastest steam locomotive within reach. If the T1 replica can reach the 140 MPH storied of the originals, it will smash the current record of 126 MPH held by a British train, the A4 Mallard, which would be exciting indeed.

Speaking of Pennsylvania and steam, a trip to Scranton is a must for anyone interested in the age of rail.

A V2 Rocket Inspired Steam Turbine Skateboard Is Just Around The Corner

[Integza] never fails to amuse with his numerous (and sometimes really sketchy) attempts to create usable thrust, by pretty much all means possible and the latest video (embedded below) attempting to run a reaction turbine from decomposing hydrogen peroxide, doesn’t fail to disappoint. The inspiration came from the WWII V2 rocket, which used Sodium Permanganate to breakdown Hydrogen Peroxide. This produced high pressure steam, which spun a turbine, which in turn drove the turbopumps that delivered the needed huge quantity of alcohol and liquid oxygen into the combustion chamber.

After an initial test of this permanganate-peroxide reaction proved somewhat disappointing (and messy) he moved on to a more controllable approach — using a catalytic converter from a petrol scooter in place of the messy permanganate. This worked, so the next task was to build the turbine. Naturally, this was 3D printed, and the resulting design appeared to work pretty well with compressed air as the power source. After scaling up the design, and shifting to CNC-machined aluminium, it was starting to look a bit more serious. The final test shows the turbine being put through its paces, running from the new precious metal catalyst setup, but as can be seen from the video, there is work to be done.

There appears to be a fair amount of liquid peroxide passing through into the turbine, which is obviously not desirable. Perhaps the next changes should be the mount the catalyser vertically, to prevent the liquid from leaving so easily, as well as adding some baffling to control the flow of the liquid, in order to force it to recycle inside the reaction vessel? We can’t wait to see where this goes, hopefully the steam-turbine powered skateboard idea could actually be doable? Who knows? But we’re sure [Integza] will find a way!

With steam power, there’s more than one way to get usable rotational work, like using a reciprocating engine, which can be expanded to a whole machine shop, and whilst boiling water (or catalytically decomposing Hydrogen Peroxide)  provides high pressure gas, how about just using boiling liquid nitrogen? Possibly not.

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You Can 3D Print A Working Reciprocating Steam Engine

3D prints aren’t typically known for their heat resistance. However, [Integza] noted that using the right techniques, it was possible to 3D print parts that could handle steam heat without failing. Thus, the natural progression from there was to build a piston-type steam engine.

The sliding valve alternately feeds steam to each side of the piston.

Resin prints are key here, as the melting point of such parts is much higher than that of those turned out by typical FDM printers. Try this same build using PLA for the hot parts, and you’ll quickly end up with a pile of molten goo.

To make such an engine work, valves are required to allow steam to flow into alternating sides of the piston to let it reciprocate continuously. A simple slide valve is used, allowing steam to flow to one side of the piston and the other alternately, as driven by an arm coming off the flywheel attached to the engine’s output shaft.

Tested on compressed air and steam, the engine ran continuously, chugging away enthusiastically. However, steam performance was compromised by the low pressure output of just 1.5 bar from [Integza]’s pressure cooker. Similarly, the cooker’s steam capacity was low, so the engine ran for just 15 seconds.

However, it suggests that with a better supply of steam, the printed steamer could indeed run for some time. If you’re not into the wetter engines out there, though, consider extruding a Stirling engine instead. Video after the break.

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The interior of a failed boiler.

Fail Of The Week: Learning How Not To Silver Solder

Sure, there are subtleties, but by and large it’s pretty easy to pick up soldering skills with a little practice. But wait! Not all soldering is created equal, and as [Quinn Dunki] learned, silver soldering is far harder to get right.

Granted, the job [Quinn] is working on is much more demanding than tacking some components to a PCB. She has been building a model steam engine, a task fit to put anyone’s machining skills to the test. And a steam engine needs a boiler, which is where the silver soldering comes in. As she explains in the video below, silver soldering, or “hard” soldering, uses solder that melts at a much higher temperature than “soft” solders like we’re used to in electronics. That’s a big advantage in the heat and pressure of a boiler, but it does pose some problems, many of which [Quinn] managed to discover as she tried to assemble her copper beast.

It turns out that heating a big hunk of copper evenly without burning off the flux actually isn’t that easy, though you can’t say she didn’t give it the old college try. In the process, she managed to share a number of tidbits that were really interesting, like the fact that drawing acetylene from a tank too fast can be dangerous, or that model steam boilers have to be certified by qualified inspectors. In the end, her boiler couldn’t be salvaged, and was put to the saw to determine the problem, which seems to be her initial choice of heating with oxyacetylene; after that initial failure, there was little she could do to save the boiler.

As [Quinn] says, “Failure is only failure if you don’t learn from it.” And so it may be a bit unfair to hang “Fail of the Week” on this one, but still — she has to go back to the beginning on the boiler. And we already know that model steam engines aren’t easy.

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Liquid Nitrogen Isn’t Suitable For Steam Engines

Liquid nitrogen is fun stuff to play with, as long as you’re careful and avoid freezing your own fingers off and shattering them on the workbench. As the liquid turns to gaseous nitrogen at around -196 C, [The Action Lab] figured that it could be used to propel a simple steam engine at room temperature. Testing this out had amusing results.

The device under test is a Hero’s Engine, otherwise known as an aeolipile. This consists of a hollow sphere filled with water, fitted with a series of nozzles that shoot out steam when the vessel is heated. Via the rocket principle, this causes the device to rotate about its axis.

When filled with water and heated with a candle, the aeolipile spun at up to 2520 RPM. [The Action Lab] next tested it filled with water in a vacuum chamber, with the low pressure causing the water to boil at room temperature. The effect was less impressive however, with the engine spinning at a much slower rate.

The best result was with liquid nitrogen inside the engine. With the nitrogen quickly boiling at room temperature, the aeolipile quickly spun up to a great speed. The engine stand had to be steadied to avoid it tipping over, before the seal at the top of the engine blew off from overpressure.

We’d love to see the same experiment done with a piston-type steam engine, too. Video after the break.

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