Simple Heat Engines

Hero's Engine

This live steam engine is available here:

From EngineDIY: BUY NOW: Hero's Engine

Hero’s Engine: the very first steam engine ever devised, the Aeolipile is a radial steam jet reaction turbine, an a invention attributed to Hero of Alexandria in the year 1 AD. Water within the spherical container is heated to produce steam which exits through nozzles directed at right angles to the radial direction, and by Newton’s third law these jets produce a torque about the rotation axis. There is no historical record of this engine being put to practical use in ancient times- except perhaps as the world’s first physics toy!

Pop Pop Boat

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From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Pop-Pop Boat 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Pop-Pop Boats 

Wikipedia has the details on the physics and history of this little steamboat toy 

Pop-Pop Boat: birthday candle powered, super simple steam engine named after the sound it makes when operating. The engine is just a metal box, heated by the candle, with two pipes coming out of it. Steam builds up pushing water out with an explosive pop- which then creates a vacuum sucking more water in to repeat the process. Patented in 1915 these were very popular in the 1940's.

Oscilating Cylinder Steam Engine

Get this tiny working engine here: (brass and stainless steel) 

From engineDIY: BUY NOW: Tiny Steam Engine

Two other similar mini-engines to consider: BUY NOW: Mini-Steam 1, Mini-Steam 2 

Oscillating Cylinder Steam Engine: a functional “wobbler” type piston steam engine complete with boiler and flywheel. In this design the cylinder and piston both rock back and forth, acting as the valve mechanism to allow the hot steam to enter through a small hole, and then exit on the next stroke out through the tiny exhaust port in the top. Takes about 4 minutes to get going after the lamp is lit. A tiny version of the invention that powered the industrial revolution.


Vintage Wilesco Steam Engine

Available here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Wilesco Model Steam Engines 

Wikipedia has a very nice description of the history and inner workings of steam engines 

Vintage Wilesco Steam Engine: a working model reciprocating piston steam engine complete with boiler, flywheel, governor, and whistle. The invention that powered the industrial revolution on a desktop! My father bought this model D16 in 1970- with just a little cleaning and oiling it fired right up. Wilesco has been producing model steam engines since 1960 and still manufactures and sells the D16.

Tea Candle Steam Engine

Get one from these fine sources: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW Tea Candle Steam Engine 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Tea Candle Steam Engine 

Tea Candle Steam Engine: a functional piston steam engine complete with boiler and flywheel. Takes about 2 minutes to get going after the candle is lit. The invention that powered the industrial revolution on a desktop! Made by Wilesco. 

Drinking Bird Heat Engine

Get this famous physics toy from these sources: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW 
Drinking Bird Engine 

From Amazon: BUY NOW 
Drinking Bird Engine 


Wikipedia has wonderful details about the rich history (and further descriptions of the operational principals) of the Drinking Bird
Drinking Bird Heat Engine: time lapse of 15 minutes into 15 seconds (4 cycles). Cooling by evaporation at the head leads to lower pressure in the top bulb, the dichloromethane fluid rises up the neck making the bird top heavy and the bird tips over dipping its beak and letting the fluid return to the bottom bulb. The time lapse allows a clearer picture of how the fluid rises, shifting the center of mass, and how tipping makes the glass column lift out of the fluid in the bottom allowing the pressure to equalize and letting gravity pull the fluid to return to the base. Process repeats as long as the top stays wet. So much physics in one hypnotic toy!


Tea-Light Floating Engine

Get one from my friends at Grand Illusions! 
From Grand Illusions Ltd.: BUY NOW Floating Steam Engine 

Tea-Light Floating Engine: a candle powered super simple steam engine. The engine is just a coil of copper tubing filled with water. Steam builds up pushing water out with an explosive jet- which then results in a vacuum in the coil which pulls more water in to repeat the process. The water expulsion is in the form of jet directed out the end of the tube whereas the refill comes back in to the tube from a larger range of angles- so on balance the engine moves opposite to the direction of the jets. 

Thermobile: Nitinol Engine

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From eBay: BUY NOW  Nitinol Loop Heat Engine

Thermobile: Nitinol wire loop heat engine- the memory wire straightens out when heated (contact with heat conducting brass wheel) causing the wheels to spin, providing mechanical kinetic energy from a cup of warm tea water. See previous post for a demonstration of Nitinol wire.

Bimetal Seesaw Engine

Available in limited supplies here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Candle See-Saw 
From eBay: BUY NOW Candle See-Saw

Bimetal Seesaw Engine: candle powered heat engine- with bears! A coiled bimetal strip, like that found in a thermostat, uncoils when heated by the flame while moving a counterweight that shifts the center of mass to the left and takes the coil out of the flame. The coil then cools returning the counterweight to the right which places the coil back over the flame- and the process repeats until the candle burns out. Any device that converts heat energy into mechanical motion is called a heat engine- like the very simple one here.


Rocking Stork Drinking Bird

This artisitic version of the Drinking Bird available here:
From drinkingbird.eu: BUY NOW: Rocking Stork

Get a standard Drinking Bird from these sources: 
From Educational Innovations: BUY NOW 
Drinking Bird Engine 

From Amazon: BUY NOW 
Drinking Bird Engine 


Wikipedia has wonderful details about the rich history (and further descriptions of the operational principals) of the Drinking Bird
Rocking Stork: this species of drinking bird toy comes from the Czech Republic where each is crafted in blown glass by an artisan. This classic physics toy is a functional heat engine- cooling by evaporation at the head/beak leads to lower pressure in the top bulb, the pressure in the bottom bulb pushes the dichloromethane fluid (here dyed red) up the neck making the bird top heavy and the bird tips over dipping its beak and letting the fluid return to the bottom bulb. The process repeats, and as long as the top bulb stays wet and cooler than the bottom this heat engine will continue to cycle.

Curie Point Heat Engine

This DIY project is pretty easy to build. One half of one of these inexpensive magnetic necklace clasps will work well for the heated magnet. 

From Amazon: BUYNOW: magnet for curie point engine

Curie Point Heat Engine: when the magnet on the end of the wire heats up to a particular temperature (the Curie point) its magnetic field is temporarily lost until it cools. This engine design uses a second magnet to pull the swinging magnet back into the heat source once the magnetic field is reestablished. Repetition of this process creates mechanical motion as long as the heat source is fueled.

Stirling Engine

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From Amazon: BUY NOW Low Temp Stirling Engine 
From eBay: BUY NOW Stirling Engines 

Stirling Engine: low temperature difference engine turns a fraction of the heat of hot tap water into mechanical motion. For this engine the heat source is the hot tap water, and the heat sink is the room temperature air. Really nice model and super inexpensive for a display engine of this type.


Turbine Convection Color Candle

Available here: 
From MOMA: BUY NOW Convection Color Candle 

Turbine Convection Color Candle: a simple heat engine by designer Achille Castiglioni- rotational motion resulting from the convection of hot air due to the candle flame of a tea light. All moving parts of thin stainless steel with semitransparent colored panels. Energy transfer: chemical bonds to heat to kinetic energy of the rising air to rotational kinetic energy of the turbine. 

Horizontal Hand Boiler

This device available here:

From Edicational Innovations: BUY NOW: Horizontal Hand Boiler

Horizontal Hand Boiler: liquid-gas phase transition. The boiling point of dichloromethane is slightly below body temperature and heat from a hand will induce vaporization of the liquid which increases pressure in one bulb pushing the red (dyed) liquid through the glass pipe to the other bulb. The process can repeat by switching the hand to the other side, but as both sides heat up the transfer is less vigorous. An inexpensive toy demonstrating phase changes and other thermodynamic physics.