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Do You Enjoy Little Working Model Engines? If you make them or have one, show us

Discussion in 'Other Genres' started by Iconindustries, Jun 14, 2010.

  1. Iconindustries

    Iconindustries Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Ever since I was 5 I was fascinated with working engines and most machines in particular. As a mechanic I work on big engines and machinery all the time so my enjoyable hobby is making little working engines. I'm a kinda guy who likes small intricate things. Things that are built well. Mum has always encouraged me to build things and she used to help me when I was young to build these creations my head thought up. One thing I really wanted to build was a little steam engine. For many years I dreamed about building one but I never had the right parts. As got older around 13 my desire to build a little engine was still burning and I new I needed a metal lathe. So i got stuck into thinking of a way to make some money to buy such a thing. Mum had the idea of making ornamental birdhouses. Whoa, what a hit they were to all the crafty women around the neighbourhood. I could not keep up to the demand for awhile. These birdhouses I made were the type that crafty people enjoy with little nicknacks, lace and cute shapes ect. Everyone in the neighbourhood wanted one and slowly my little piggy bank started to grow. 2 shops asked I would like them to sell them so I kept my head down manufacturing birdhouses and I got quite good at decorating them. One day I counted up my money and I had a 1000 dollars. Dad and I went into town and bought a little metal lathe for exactly 1090 dollars. My dream had come true, I could now build my very own Steam engine. I was 15.

    Ever since owning a lathe I have taught myself and after many mistakes and things not working and I succeeded to make my first steam engine. And it ran! I cannot express the joy of seeing a little engine run for the first time.
    I have an old friend who has encouraged me to tackle harder and harder things and he and I get together and run our new little creations from time to time. Even though the steam engines are fun, unfortunately they are messy. Mum and mess don't go together really well in the kitchen so I discovered another engine called the Hot Air Engine. Hot Air engines don't need boilers so therefore there is less mess:smile: I built a few hot air engines that ran off a small metho burner and then I wondered if i could build the extremely delicate Low Temp Hot Air Engine. After quit a few failures I have succeeded to get better and now I have made 8 of them!!

    Now, you're probably thinking, "what is a Low Temp Hot Air Engine?"
    Essentially it works by the fact that when air is heated it expands and when it cools it contracts. The 'Low' bit is that it does it on a very low temperature difference of about 12 degrees. I wont go into how it works in detail otherwise you'll be bored to tears. My latest hot air engine will run approx 50 RPM if I place it on top of a warm cup of water or on my internet modem. It has been running on the warmth of the modem for about the last 2 months.




    So you see how fine and intricate the parts have to be to keep the friction down. For the flywheel I have put 4 hardrive disks together. The base is from one of those magnetic spinning things, the piston is machined from a graphite brush out of an old DC generator. The piston bore I cut from a glass syringe. Inside the base is a piece of styrofoam that is connected onto a shaft and is lifted up and down by the crank. This took me about two weeks after work to make and only cost about $4 in parts. It runs on my modem so I'm as happy as larry.


    Here are some other engines running together on the table. The second one from the righthand side I didn't make (it's an ebay one)


    Few more different engines.

    This one is a Laminar Flow Hot air Engine with only one piston. I believe the guy who is the designer for this type of engine Lives in Tasmania.


    Columnar Steam Engine. The governors on this are just for looks and don't actually work. You can see how I've transferred power to turn the governors with a small spring, just in the same way your whipper snipper engine turns the chopper on the end.



    Little magnetic engine. This just uses a set of contacts that is operated by a pin on the crank to intermittently turn the solenoid off and on causing the pin to be pulled into the solenoid. This creates a small impulse to spin over the flywheel and break the contacts, just to be repeated over and over. It has a 7 volt mobile battery underneath.


    I hope it isn't too boring for you. Please let me know if you enjoying making engines yourself! Or even I'f you have inherited an old model heirloom model engine from bygone days. Post your pictures here:smile:
    • Like Like x 10
  2. grebeman

    grebeman Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2010
    South Brent, south Devon (UK)
    Hi Icon,

    Your birdhouse enterprise certainly did very well. Congratulations on teaching yourself lathe skills. I had the advantage of serving an apprenticeship, and although training as an electrical engineer, the first 10 months were basic workshop skills, hand tools, lathe and milling machine work. Also my father was a skilled toolmaker by trade so I inherited a lot of his tools, micrometers, vernier gauges etc.
    Sadly my model making interests are now behind me and I got rid of my finished models before the age of digital photography. I had a 3.5" gauge live steam railway locomotive based on a welsh narrow gauge engine of the type built by Hunslet and a 2" scale live steam traction engine, both of which I sold at auction some years ago.
    I still have partially made a 5" gauge railway locomotive (chassis only) and a model stationary steam engine featuring Corliss valve gear of a type that used to be used to power factories such as spinning mills (the end process to your growing cotton). Perhaps I'll dig them out and post a photograph or two, as I say only partially finished and not exhibiting the excellent finish evident in your hot air engines.
    I had a good friend who had made several hot air engines and was sufficiently skilled to have won a gold medal at the model engineer exhibition in London many years ago. I never fully understood the science behind hot air engines but certainly marveled at the skill required to produce the finish and close tolerances needed for some of the components.
    Great to hear of your skills in this area, a hobby that is perhaps falling out of favour to some extent these days.

    • Like Like x 1
  3. cosinaphile

    cosinaphile Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    new york city
    i am in awe of your skill set , i would love to own a low temp engine ,of your design , for my tea mug

    i own a wonderful konica 50 1.7 "portrait' lens with excellent contrast color and sharpness with an adapter for use on micro 4\3 .....

    care to trade?

    cheers from nyc
  4. JoeG

    JoeG Mu-43 Regular

    The mechanics of your engines are a mystery to me--like the mechanics of most things--but I love the way they look. Each one is a lovely little sculpture. That they work is a considerable bonus!

    Thanks for the images and the story behind them.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. grebeman

    grebeman Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2010
    South Brent, south Devon (UK)
    Hi again Icon,

    I've copied (not very well) some of my old en-prints (I guess you're too young to know what they were) showing two of my engines plus a friends most fantastic 3.5" gauge locomotive.
    I reckon your Mum would have a fit if you turned up with any of these in her kitchen :smile:

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    This was my first completed engine, named after my late Father. It's a 3.5" gauge loco based on a narrow gauge Hunslet type loco and was capable of pulling 4 people with ease.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    A couple of shots of my 2" to the foot Traction engine, the second being the first traction engine rally at our local model engineering club. I'm in the middle with two of my friends, one with the same type as mine, the one in the front being a 3" to the foot scale Burrell.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    The last two shots are perhaps the finest engine that I ever drove. The old gentleman who built it designed it from scratch and based it on the engines made by a french engineer called Andre Chapelon for the french railways. The engines were compound, this is where a high pressure cylinder exhausts to a low pressure cylinder. There are two of each with the high pressure cylinders between the chassis frames. It took Sam 30 years to complete. After his death the family sold it at auction for what I think was at the time a world record price for a 3.5" gauge engine, £7,500.

    I still have a small lathe and have been tempted to build smaller engines, but so far my natural history studies have taken most of my time, but, hey it rains a lot in the UK so who knows, I've just bricked up the front of my garage, would make a good workshop.

    Good luck with your continuing efforts with your hobby.

    • Like Like x 5
  6. cosinaphile

    cosinaphile Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    new york city
    wow wow wow wow

    simply astounding
  7. Iconindustries

    Iconindustries Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Thanks fellas!
    Grebeman, the traction and engine and the loco look awesome. There's alot more work been put into them than my little hot air engines. Thanks for showing us them. I knew there would be somebody here that would have dabbled in model machinery and you certainly haven't dabbled but done a brilliant job. I think I need to build myself a Traction engine now:smile: It could pull me around the yard as I take pictures of butterflies and birds.
    The 5" gauge you have started to undertake to make sounds interesting. I know sometimes I get stuck with my models sometimes and wonder what the worth is in making them, but occasionally see others models it gives me the desire to get back out in my Garden shed again. Your friend who won the Gold medal for his hot air engines must be very skilled. Can you remember whether his engines were Low temp at all?

    Joe, thanks for the approval of my design architecture. I reckon I'll try to build one with an old time look next.:smile:

    Cosinaphile!!!! Gee you're a funny guy. I probably can't really part with my engines yet. I haven't got enough of them yet before i start getting rid of them but to give you a little hint so you can put your coffee mug to use. Try ebay:smile: Ebay have kits where everything is already machined and manufactured and all you have to do is put it together. I bought one on ebay and to tell you the truth it actually runs just from the sun!.

    Even if you can't actually make one yourself I recommend just getting one from ebay and building it (it only takes about an hour) and it really is a cool gadget to have. Brilliant for a conversations starter.

    Thanks fellas.
    I'll post a picture of a higher temp hot air engine later on.
    • Like Like x 2
  8. nokiamia

    nokiamia Mu-43 Regular

    May 20, 2010
  9. BBW

    BBW Super Moderator Emeritus

    Brady, I was sure I'd posted on this thread, but apparently I only posted in my mind.:redface: This is a great photo essay thread and I do hope you, and others, will continue to add to it because it is interesting, and I enjoy all the photographs.:thumbup:

    The closest I've come to anything even remotely like this was my older brother's miniature steam steam engine which he kept in our basement workshop. grebeman, I expect you might have had one of these, too.:wink:

    Keep up the great work!
  10. Auntiepode

    Auntiepode Mu-43 Regular


    Very nice engines! Using hard disk platters for flywheels it an excellent idea. I confess I've never quite understood how Sterling Cycle engines work. Perhaps if I bought a kit and put one together it would make more sense to me. For now, photography soaks up all my spare time and thought.

    It's good that photography as a hobby so well compliments your engine crafting.
  11. f6cvalkyrie

    f6cvalkyrie Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 12, 2010
    Brussels, Belgium
    Very nice pics, and a very interesting topic !
    Great achievements also from both our mechanical engineers/artists :biggrin:

    C U,
  12. cosinaphile

    cosinaphile Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    new york city
    thanks i think i will buy a kit as you suggest perhaps i can modify it to make it as unique
    as the marvelous engines you build , hmmmmm ill build it anyway!

    got a link?
  13. grebeman

    grebeman Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 13, 2010
    South Brent, south Devon (UK)
    Hi Icon,
    I guess that all the hot air engines that I have seen have been high temperature types.
    The fact that your engines are small actually means that more attention has to be paid to tolerances, finish etc since not only are the components smaller but the power input to the engines is also so much smaller.
    Also the field of hot air engines lends itself very much to innovative design and construction techniques, their have been some very clever engines produced over the years that show great ingenuity on the part of their constructors so keep it up young man, a fascinating hobby to be undertaking.

  14. Iconindustries

    Iconindustries Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Hey I'm back again and as i promised with another set of pictures of one of my favourite higher temperature engines.
    I'm speechless from all these wonderful comments, what can I say. Thankyou!

    Thanks for looking Nokiama

    BB it's good to know that you allowed your brother to keep his engine in your basement. We don't have basements in Australia, sometimes I wish we did because I'm running out of shelf room.

    Auntipode! Well we sure do have some well versed people in this forum, thanks for bringing up 'Stirling Cycle'. Nice old chap he was, Reverend Robert Stirling. He was so saddened by the fact that the men in his parish were slowly being picked out by Massive Boiler explosions that he decided he would invent an engine that didn't need boiler. Better to have a safer engine so his men could live longer and come to church he thought. So back in 1816 he built Stirling engines (or hot air engines) and they were used mainly for pumping water.

    f6cValkyrie, I never though myself to be an artist:rofl:

    Cosinaphile, I have a link for thee. This is a gem and will run when put in the sun. I bought it to see how it was made compared to mine.
    KONTAX KS80 SOLAR Low Temperature Stirling Engine kit. - eBay, Steam, Toys Games. (end time 19-Jun-10 08:22:05 AEST)

    Ok here are the pictures. Can you see the heatsink i pulled out of an old stereo amplifier?

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/4705339963/" title="P1040434 by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 146253 "1024" height="575" alt="P1040434" /></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/4705355289/" title="P1040437 by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 146254 "432" height="500" alt="P1040437" /></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/4705989032/" title="P1040442 by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 146255 "500" height="281" alt="P1040442" /></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/4705984702/" title="P1040439 by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 146256 "500" height="281" alt="P1040439" /></a>
    • Like Like x 4
  15. Auntiepode

    Auntiepode Mu-43 Regular

    Very cool ... er... warm! :) 
  16. Auntiepode

    Auntiepode Mu-43 Regular

    I built one

    This thread inspired me to buy a kit from Kontax. I was a little intimidated by all the small parts, but taking my time, I put it together in perhaps 45 minutes. Worked perfectly first time!

    It's very cute:

    YouTube - P1010584.MOV
  17. Brian Mosley

    Brian Mosley Administrator Emeritus

    Dec 15, 2009
    Thanks icon, for sharing your work with us here... fascinating stuff!

    Well done :2thumbs:

  18. Iconindustries

    Iconindustries Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Thanks Auntipode, I'm glad I was able to inspire you to have a go with the kit. I reckon they are the coolest little machines. It feels good to look at something you put together and it runs hey.
    And aren't they so quiet?

    I guess you'll have some people intrigued in how it runs when you bring it out.

    I was thinking the other day wouldn't it be cool to have the displacer rod go through the bottom plate and have a little hook on it. Then we can hook a tea bag onto it and then sit the engine on top of the cup and the engine will dip the bag up and down!!
  19. Iconindustries

    Iconindustries Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    In my holidays I've kept myself busy and have made a small little steam engine to add to my engine collection. I finished it yesterday and gave it a run. I had to sort out a few little issues with air flow around the boiler but she runs like a pearler now. I use metho as the fuel and it sits soaked in fibre glass rope acting as a wick.

    The whole thing cost me about 10 dollars to make. The little thing chugging along, with steam curling up from the exhaust is very entertaining to watch.

    The valve is operated by the steel arm that rides on top of the wobble plate on the crankshaft. As the wobble plate turns the arm moves back and forth sliding the valve back and forth. This in turn allows the steam to enter the cylinder and exhaust at the correct time.

    Stroke is 1/2 inch
    Bore is 3/8th

    Pictures taken with GF1 and 20mm lens.

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/5362209513/" title="Untitled by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 155831 "640" height="489" alt="" /></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/5362821338/" title="Untitled by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 155832 "413" height="640" alt="" /></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/5362210497/" title="Untitled by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 155833 "640" height="489" alt="" /></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/5362208673/" title="Untitled by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 155834 "640" height="489" alt="" /></a>

    <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/50527022@N02/5362205205/" title="Untitled by iconindustries, on Flickr"> View attachment 155835 "640" height="439" alt="" /></a>
    • Like Like x 1
  20. oris642

    oris642 Mu-43 Regular

    You are a very talented person. Thank you for sharing!
    • Like Like x 1
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