How to Build a Steam Engine

by Paul Vaughn

Steam engine technology is fairly simple. Steam produces the energy to power the mechanical gear, which does the work. Steam power has had all sorts of uses including in textile and iron manufacturing, mining, farming and transportation. During the Industrial Revolution, steam power partially replaced human and animal muscle and powered massive societal and economic changes starting in the 1850s in Europe and America. This steam generator will allow you to power a number of experiments safely.

Purchase a boiler from a dealer or over the Internet. You will see a round cylinder with a round hole at the top and small relief valve next to it. You will building a tripod for the generator to sit in and adding the other parts in the list to complete the generator and powering your mechanism.

The boiler must be purchased from a licensed dealer and by someone older than 18. This project can be done with middle school students but only with direct and constant monitoring.

The boiler you purchase will have two devices on the top, a hole for a rubber stopper and a pressure relief valve. Cut three 6 inch by 2 inch strips of aluminum to attach to the steam generator. These are to be attached directly to the bottom of the generator. Place tripod so that each leg is at a 30 degree angle and equal on all three sides.

Use JB WELD or a similar compound to attach tripod to the base of the generator. Allow tripod the prescribed amount of time per the compound instructions. Do not set your generator generator on the tripod until they are dried properly and even allow extra time. Remember, the boiler will be exposed to heat and pressure each time it is operated. Either can cause jury. Place the generator on the tripod you have made.

Make two holes in the rubber stopper. One to fit 1/8th inch rubber tubing and one for the thermometer. Connect the rubber tubing to the device your want to operate. Monitor the pressure in the boiler constantly so as not to exceed its limit. Do not let the generator run dry. That will result in possible cracks and ruin the boiler. Do not heat above 300 degrees. Aluminum melts at 660 degrees Celsius.


  • check Divide students into two teams. Have one team monitor the boiler temperature and one monitor the device you are running with the generator.


  • close Make sure students wear safety glasses at all times. When working around the generator, face shields and gloves should be worn.
  • close Do not run the boiler dry. It will blow the stopper out and extremely hot water as well.
  • close Tripod legs must be assembled correctly or the generator will fall over.

Items you will need

About the Author

Paul Vaughn has worked in the auto and diesel mechanics field for 10 years and as public school automotive vocational teacher for five years. He currently teaches high school auto tech, covering year model vehicles as old as 1980 to as new as 2007.