#262: Build a steam engine

One of the things that’s so wonderful about steampunk technology is that, given five minutes, anyone can understand how it all works. I took that five minutes yesterday, and felt so good about it that I decided to build one.

After some thought about which saucepans I wasn’t too fond of, and how I could weld something into a boiler shape, I decided to use paper instead of metal – which means no setting the house on fire this time *sigh*.

I messed around for a long while with paper, cardboard (from Lindt extreme orange packets, FYI), stickytape, paperclips, a metal skewer, and blue-tack (no time for glue! I’m inventing here!) and did make something capable of rolling (before I removed the back wheels, anyway).

You’ll notice I used our clock table as a workspace – it honestly just happened that way.

I realised I needed better wheels, so I started over – using a sliced toilet paper roll and several mangled cocktail umbrellas to great effect.

We had some friends drop by, who watched my “craft” with horrified fascination. It was quite embarrassing because I don’t know them all that well, and this was a VERY steep (and dodgy) learning curve.


After learning a huge amount (particularly the importance of axle grease, and the joy of SCIENCE!!*), I had a semi-functional steam engine (minus the steam engine part, which is too heavy and too flammable – but I know where it goes, and what it would look like).

Basically, the steam engine sits on the back and blows steam onto the large cog, which turns the smaller cog at the front, which turns the front wheels (the back wheels are pulled along). To go forward, it blows steam downward onto the lower half of the big cog, and to go in reverse it blows steam up onto the higher part of the cog.

I expect I’ll build many more over the next few months.

In the meantime, here’s a general writerly-type interview I did for another blog:


*Those who read the Girl Genius graphic novels by Phil and Kaja Foglio will know what I mean. (Ditto for those who like cackling in basements while wearing welding goggles – which, if I’m not mistaken, is all of you.)

Published by Felicity Banks Books

I write books (mainly adventure fantasy for kids and young adults), real-time twittertales, and a blog of Daily Awesomeness. @Louise_Curtis_ and http://twittertales.wordpress.com. My fantasy ebook is on sale at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/278981.

11 thoughts on “#262: Build a steam engine

    1. Awkisopen: It is actually a clock. I designed the table for a carpenter friend of ours, went to a glass-cutting place for the glass top, and bought the hands, numbers and “high torque” mechanics (basically, a bigger “engine” for bigger hands) off this place: http://www.jknowles.com.au (I hope you’re Australian; they are).

  1. Your mechanical abilities appear to go further than mine. I’m limited mostly to gluing things together, and even then they don’t seem to hold together very well. So as long as that holds together for more than a day, you’re ahead of most of my projects!

  2. Nice work! That might be something to try on a rainy weekend with my son. Have you ever heard of putt-putt (or pop-pop) boats? They use an even simpler steam-engine but it only works for boats. I learned about these after watching Ponyo (a putt-putt boat figures prominently in the plot).

    The video link below shows some samples and how to make a simple boat with household items.


    – Mark F – http://brassbolts.blogspot.com/

    1. Thank you Mark. I hope your son has more patience than I do – which is almost a certainty.

      1. Mark: It’s not functional enough for a video – and it takes two careful hands to make it run even a little way.

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