Steam engine conversion for small IC engine

Posted by jerry on February 10th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Motorcycling, Steam, Technology

There have been a number of projects over the years to convert internal combustion engines (petrol engines) to work on steam, either for vehicles or, more widely, for small generators.

Some use a bash valve, welded onto the piston of a small two-stroke motor, such as this steam conversion of a Motobecane moped.

Steam moped

But Lynx Steam Engines discuss in detail how to convert a small four-stroke motor to work on steam or compressed air, to run electricity generators, mowers ec – perhaps even small karts. Their approach is a good one, keeping it simple, and making minimal modifications. This one requires modification to the cam by smoothing the cams to round, and adding a valve lift lobe to the correct timing (90 degrees between inlet and exhaust) by adding round-headed screws 90 degrees apart on the cam. And there is some discussion on the site on making a steam generator that complies with various laws on pressure vessels (best to get it made by a certified boilermaker) to produce a near silent engine that won’t disturb the neighbours. These would not be self-starting motors, but seem like a good beginners project using off-the-shelf components.

Steam mower engine

The 90 degree valve timing is consistent with the model steam engines I have previous tried making, and seems to be a good standard – with teh main variation being in the cut-off or ‘dwell’ of the valves – ie how long they stay open once opened. The beauty of this design is it uses low temparature, low pressure saturated steam, making it no more dangerous than a kettle, and able to operate without having to worry about separating the oil from the steam when you re-use it.

I also like the way Lynx engines have put their concept into practices as an apporpriate technology project to power a coffee producing firm in Nigeria, using waste biomass as fuel, rather than expensive petrol.


Instructables – DIY Laptop Bag

Posted by jerry on February 8th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Technology

There’s a great simple design for a laptop bag on the Instructables site – looks easy to make with no sewing skill required and an elegant way for it to go together! I like the integrated mouse pad too.

Better yet – imagine this with a crazyquilted exterior 🙂


Go check it out!


Clement Ader’s ‘Avion’ pioneer flying machine

Posted by jerry on February 7th, 2007 — Posted in History, Journal, Steam, Technology, Travel

Another exhibit in the Musee des Artes et Metiers is that of a long forgotten French Aviation pioneer, Clement Ader (click on ‘NoFlashMuseum’ then Transports’ then ‘1850-1950’ and finally the last small image on the right.

Again, I had no idea before going there that this pioneer aircraft had been preserved for posterity – one of the great ‘almost made it’s among the early aviators. Like the Wright brothers, he was a bicycle designer.

Ader was born in 1841 at Muret in Haute-Garonne. He was multi-talented and was awarded numerous patents during his lifetime, including a ralway system and telephone. But he had a lifelong fascination with flying – inspired by birds and bats, using the latter as a model for his aircraft design. Ader built kites and small-scale gliders and measured the forces needed to keep them flying, using dynamometers. He was the first engineer to know the value of lift and thrust needed for flying.

Clement Ader - Avion3
Clement Ader’s Avion III
He built his first machine between 1882 and 1889, known as the Eole I which reportedly made a low-level hop on 9 October 1890 at an altitude of about 30cm for about 50 metres. Ader was credited with introducing the French word for aircraft – avion – into the French language.

His second machine, Eole II was damaged during trials in 1891. Avion III was built with the help of the Defence Ministry and was completed in 1897. It had a wingspan of 16 metres and had a tricycle undercarriage. It weighed a mere 258kg unladen, and less than 400kg with pilot. It was powered by two lightweight 20hp steam engines designed by Ader, which independently drove two contra-rotating four-bladed propellers. The two motors shared a single flash steam boiler and condenser. The wings were made from bamboo covered with lightweight fabric.

Clement Ader - Avion3
Ader’s steam engine for Avion III

Clement Ader - Avion3
Flash Steam Boiler for Avion III
This plane made one flight attempt at the French Army’s Satory proving ground on 14 October 1897 – without success.

Clement Ader - Avion3

But later in life Ader claimed success for both the Eole and the Avion III. Irrespective of his success or failure – he was far-thinking in terms of his innovative design – the enclosed body, the tricycle undercarriage and the power-to-weight ratio commensurate with the scale of the wings.

His big failure was in not making any provision for control once airborne. But his was a big step on the way towards successful heavier than air flight.

Clement Ader - Avion3
Avion III

This plane was certainly the inspiration for a number of steampunk fanciful depictions of the future of flight – including this automaton 🙂

Clement Ader - Avion3
Avion III
There is a good summary of his achievement at this US Air Force site.

Close, as they say, but no cigar. An elegant design though 🙂

Serpollet steam tricycle – in Paris

Posted by jerry on February 6th, 2007 — Posted in History, Journal, Steam, Technology

One of my favourite museums in Paris is the Musee des Artes et Metiers – home of the surviving second Cugnot steam wagon (fardier a vapeur). But it is also home to much more as I found when I started to look more closely at the photos I brought back from there last year.

One of the exhibits, not far from Cugnot’s wagon is another remarkable survivor from the pioneering days of self-propelled road vehicles.

Serpollet steam tricar

Serpollet-Peugeot steam tricar (1889)
Leon Serpollet – largely credited with inventing the flash steam boiler (by which steam is generated almost instantaneously as needed rather than by the slower process of boiling in a pressurised vessel). It is said that he came up with the idea when watching his father quench newly-forged horseshoes in his blacksmiths shop. It’s as good a tale as that of James Watt and the kettle!

After a couple of lightweight ‘test-bed’ three-wheelers based on pedal vehicle, in 1889, in conjunction with Armand Peugeot, he built a much heavier more business-like tricar.

In the book Steam Cars 1770-1970 Lord Montagu of Beauleiu and Antony Bird describe this tricar as follows:

… a large three-wheeled carriage.. it ran on wooden spoked wheels with a cricket seat above the single front wheel and a more comfortable bench for two, just ahead of the back axle with the engine concealed beneath it. The Serpollet hopper-fed coke-burning flash boiler, with a downtake flue, was hung behind the back axle on which the wheels were driven by side chains from a differential countershaft connected to the two-cylinder engine by spur gears. Unlike the contemporary Benz petrol tricars, which it otherwise resembled, the Serpollet-Peugeot had the front wheel fork curved to provide castor action. The fork itself was unsprung, but leaf springs were interposed between the mounting of the fork and the chassis frame.

Serpollet steam tricar
Serpollet-Peugeot steam tricar 1889

I knew from the description that I had stumbled across the exact vehicle being described.

After it was shown at the Paris Exposition in Autumn 1889, the carriage was driven from Paris to Lyon – a journey of around 300 miles (480km) – a journey which took, on various accounts, between ten and fourteen days. It was not a blessed journey and showed the tenacity required of a motoring pioneer:

[during this journey]… almost everything which could break or fall off did so, including the steering arm, the brake, the back axle and a wheel. The engine and boiler gave relatively little trouble except that a piston rod gland nut worked loose and was mangled by the connecting-rod before the engine could be stopped, and the door of the ash-pan fell off allowing too much draft through the fire which overheated and melted two grate bars.

After this journey from hell, Peugeot decided to explore petrol engines and another marque was launched.

Nevertheless, the few Serpollet carriages were known for their outstanding turn of speed – even on hills and were known to achieve 12-14 mph (19.3-22.5kph). And the flash boiler meant that steam could be raised in a couple of minutes, rather than the half hour or more for standard boilers.

Be warned though, the Musee des artes et Metiers website is not easy to navigate!

But the buildings are delightful 🙂

Musee des Artes et Metiers, Paris

Musee des Artes et Metiers, Paris


Canberra Floriade 2006

Posted by jerry on October 2nd, 2006 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology

The tulips are in full bloom at Floriade – Canberra’s flower festival – and with a sunny long weekend it seemed a perfect day to check it out.

tulip 2006

Well, the flowers are wonderful and the record crowds seem to agree, despite the sun being just a bit too intense (can they turn it down a bit?) and the cars parking in the dirt were kicking up a fair bit of dust.

The flower beds are arranged in contrasting colours and heights and stretch off into the distance in Commonwealth Park between the lake and Stage-88.


And with a carnival theme the balloon benders and street performers delighted the kids and adults alike with their skills.

floriade balloon bender

After a pleasant walk back over Commonwealth Bridge, we headed to the Pancake Parlour for a short stack of pancakes and iced coffees. And there I found that the place had a free wifi access point – so I just had to do some quick photo edits on the iPaq and upload a quick blog entry! What a great idea – the place gets a thumbs up from me 🙂