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How Do I Build a Steam Engine?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2014
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To build a steam engine, all you need are a few items around the home and hardware store. They include an empty can, a few small metal pipes and a length of beaded chain. A can of jellied alcohol, a few wooden dowels and a small flat piece of wood are also needed. You can poke two holes near the top of the can, stick your pipes into the said holes, and solder them in place; solder a length of the beaded chain into the center of the lid and seal it. Use the dowels and the flat piece of wood to create a harness for the can and then fill the can with water, heat it with jellied alcohol, and watch the can spin.

To build a steam engine properly, you must know its important components. The first of these is a heat source, which is the jellied alcohol that will turn the water into steam. The second is a boiler, or the can, a container for the water to be turned to steam. This component also delivers the steam to the engine’s motor. The third basic component of the steam engine is the motor unit, the part that receives the steam at high pressure. It also converts the steam’s energy into work or “harness,” the mechanical form of the energy.

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The steam engine is, in principle, an external combustion engine, a machine that heats its fuel with a source outside it. Turning water inside the boiler into steam greatly increases its mass. When the boiler is directed at a certain direction, it can propel and generate a great deal of mechanical energy for various uses.

To be able to understand how to build a steam engine, it will also be helpful to understand the device that is similar to the machine. This was the Greek aeolipile: a heated container with two release valves, which allowed steam to escape along the valves and spin the container along an axis. The machine may be simple compared to the ones of today, but it is still a common activity to build a steam engine as a simple experiment in demonstrating the capabilities of steam power.

The steam engine was revolutionary in the sense that it did not have some of the more difficult requirements of other power sources at the time. Water for boiling was easy to obtain as compared to coal and wood, and the machine can easily be transported, unlike windmills that had to be stationary. These and many more conveniences are what allowed the steam engine to power the Industrial Revolution, an important phase in the history of technology. When you understand the concepts and components behind it, it is easy to build a steam engine and demonstrate the force that drove the Industrial Revolution.

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