Simple steam engine

Posted by jerry on September 3rd, 2006 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Steam, Technology

Inspired by McCabe’s runners I decided to have a go at adapting one of McCabe’s designs using standard plumbing hardware and a few basic tools. I bought an ‘L’- join from a hardware store, and a brass screw cap for the valve chest. The one I modelled mine on was the ‘Paul-Zee’ design.
I smoothed the bore as McCabe suggests – using a dowel in a drill with some sandpaper wrapped round. With the bore smooth, I took a three-eighth inch bolt and mounted it in a portable drill and spun it against a grinder wheel – with the grinder going in opposite directions – that gave me a nice rounded bolt head ground to just fit the bore of the plumbing pipe. I then found a washer and ground it to fit inside the plumbing sleeve on the end of the joiner.

I cut off the threaded portion of the bolt and drilled a small hole near the end – this would take the connecting rod.

I then took a small bolt, cut off the head and drilled down through the centre to make a small tube with a thread. I then drilled a hole in the plug cap just big enough for the bolt and cut a thread into it using a tap and die, and screwed it in place, held by a lock nut to keep it in place. This is the steam inlet pipe.

Then I drilled a transverse hole through the plug in line with the body to take the slide valve. The valve is made from small diameter steel rod, with a hole drilled near one end for the valve connecting rod, and another hole drilled to line up with the steam inlet hole when the piston is about halfway along the cylinder.

I filed the valve flat about half a centimetre from the steam inlet hole so it would line up with the edge of the valve chest internal wall – as I hadn’t used a solid plug as recommended.

Then I made a wooden base for the engine

Then after scraping off the flux from a steel welding rod I then cleaned the rod and cut it to be a good length to make the crankshaft. I carefully bent it to make two cranks 90 degrees out of phase, then made short connecting rods from wire to connect the crankshaft to the piston and the valve. With lots of spray grease the whole lot rotated quite smoothly, and when spun in the chuck of my drill it made a very satisfactory engine sound.

Tomorrow I shall make a flywheel, and then hopefully I will know if I have made a fatal error in construction. Here is the current state of the engine, and an animation based on rotating the crankshaft.

simple steam engine

simple steam engine

Anyhow – it’s a fun weekend project 🙂


Steam aircraft – the sequel

Posted by jerry on August 26th, 2006 — Posted in History, Journal, Steam, Technology

Well the plane may be long gone, but it appears that the Besler aircraft engine has survived, and may be seen either at the Warner Robins Air Force Museum in Warner Robins, Georgia USA, or at the Savannah Science Museum (from where it was loaned). This came from the Tiny Power website – makers of model and marine steam engines. Tiny Power has now started making scale model replicas of the aircraft engine. Their site has versions of the following two photos. (I’ve tinkered to make them more legible). According to the museum sign, the engine is a three cylinder single-acting radial design, putting out 70HP at 300PSI steam pressure. Bore and stroke: 3.125″ x 4.125″, displacing 165.38 inches and the whole unit weighed 100lb including pumps and propellor.

besler steam aircraft engine

And here is the engine itself…

Besler steam aircraft engine

There is a picture of the original twin cylinder engine here at


Steam aircraft

Posted by jerry on August 25th, 2006 — Posted in History, Steam, Technology

I wonder what ever became of the Besler steam powered aircraft that reportedly flew in 1933?

The aircraft used a 150 HP V-twin engine and a steam plant designed by Nathan Price, a former employee of the Doble motor company (of the car maker fame). I believe it was designed as a test-bed to prove a concept of a light but powerful steam plant with potential automotive applications.

Presumably the aircraft itself was either scrapped during WW2 or perhaps it found its way into a collection somewhere. It would be nice to think this aircraft might have survived somewhere.

It was first flown on 12 April 1933 – the aircraft being a Travel Air 2000 biplane. It was reportedly so quiet that at low altitude the pilot could exchange words with people on the ground.
William Besler next to the steam plane

Besler steam aircraft in flight

And there is some movie footage on YouTube – there is a segment after a demo of the Doble steam car, showing the aircraft taking off, flying and landing.


fitness challenge week 6

Posted by jerry on August 21st, 2006 — Posted in Journal

Well? Actually… not so well this week 🙁


But the challenge continues. Just need to find another 2000 steps a day!


Fitting a motorcycle O-ring chain

Posted by jerry on August 20th, 2006 — Posted in Journal, Motorcycling

Last year when I last replaced my motorcycle drive chain it came with a spring-clip split link – which I have found quite safe for the past thirty years of riding. This time the new chain came with a rivet link.

Sure it seemed like a good idea, until I realised that I would require a new $200 tool to fit it. Moreover, I found that very few bike shops sold such a tool. The obvious inference is that replacing a bike chain has now become a specialist job.

Of course my bike was already at home, and I don’t have a bike trailer, and I had already removed the old chain in anticipation of fitting the new one.

Finally, I went to a bike shop that did sell the tool – but the mechanic said ‘of course that’s not how we fit them…’ My curiosity was aroused – could there be a simple solution? Sure – it just requires two hammers – one to brace behind the link, the other to pein it home.

So how does it work in practice? With the chain guard removed and the axle nut loosened and the chain tensioners slackened off I lined up the chain on the rear sprocket (having already fed it over the front sprocket). Having found the amount of overlap (about ten links) I used a dremel-like tool with a grinding wheel to grind down the rivets on the crossover link, then used a chain breaker to drive out the pins.

Now here’s the trick – I found that by then I had some grease on my hands and that when I fed the joining link through, I kept losing the side plate because it would stick to the grease on my hand. The answer was a small rubber band fed around the link to act as the third hand – one to support a small lump hammer behind the sprocket (an anvil) and a small ball-pein hammer in the other. I first drove the side plate on by peining in the centre of the plate with the ball end of the hammer.

o-ring chain

Then, once the rivet heads protruded, I peined the rivet heads until they expanded over the plate to hold it in place. Remember there will be no side force on the plate, so you just need enough to ensure the plate won’t come off.

o-ring chain

And within minutes I had the chain fitted and the bike ready to ride (after ensuring the wheel was straight and the chain had the correct play, and the axle tightened and a new split pin through the nut, and the chain guard re-fitted.
The result? a nice quiet chain, and no chain snatch 🙂

And the tools? Two hammers and one chain breaker!

chain tools