This is how I built a little beam engine powered by a solenoid which runs on 12v DC.

Due to the harsh winter I have been stuck in the house most of the time over the last few months, before Christmas I gathered up all the old hard drives, CD ROMS, Floppy drives, a zip drive, 2 printers, a flatbed scanner and a video recorder that where no longer working or no longer any use, after a couple of days of dismantling all this i was left with several boxes of very well made components to be put to use in other projects.

I decided that if i could not venture out into the shed, then the shed must come to me.  So I setup a work bench in a corner of my computer room and brought the piller drill and a selection of hand tools in out of the cold.

I bought a decent 6" combination square with scriber for this project, I have a 12" version of this already but the smaller one is much easier to work with on smaller projects.

I visited Banbridge Coach Works a month or so ago and asked if i could buy some of their cuttings of aluminium, I gathered up an armful of various pieces and was asked for £15 which I gladly payed. 

Many years ago when I was an engineering student I built a model steam engine as my end of year project which earned me a distinction.  Since then I have had a love for all types of steam engines.  In more recent years i have become fascinated by sterling engines and more recently solenoid engines and Froment engines.

This is my first real project that has mainly used aluminium, back in the day we used very little aluminium as it was much more expensive than steel and was an absolute bugger to weld.  I recently discovered Durafix Easy Weld rods which is a low temp welding rod for aluminium and non ferrous metals.

Design wise this project just sort of happened, it followed no set plan other than I wanted it to have a walking beam as part of the mechanism. because of this there are some stages that I don't have pictures of, there where a few dead ends on some of the stages but then again certain failures led to better ideas.

Materials used:

1" x 1" alu angle
3" x 1" alu angle
6 x 6 mm alu bar
5mm alu plate
3mm alu plate from an old Hard drive
20 x 15mm alu channel

10 x 5 x 5 roller bearings (RC car type)
12v solenoid from an ancient telephone switch board.
various nuts bolts and washers
various components salvaged from old computer and household tech goods.

Tools used:

Almost every thing I have, including the bathroom sink ( which required quite a bit of cleaning afterwords )

Pillar drill
Drill vice
Band saw
sanding table
Dremil type thing

Durafix rods
Blowtorch with propane / butane mix gas

Hand tools, including
Junior Hack saw
numerous small files
numerous needle files
6" combination square
tap wrench and taps.

2 part Epoxy

I had planed to make a governor for this engine and also to try and power it with a solar panel, for now the project is finished, I will continue tinkering with this engine and will post any modifications I make as they happen.

To save much typing there will be a brief description of each stage, the bulk of the info will be on the photos.

Thanks for looking, I hope you liked my design

Step 1: What Is a Solenoid Engine.

The solenoid engine or electromagnetic engine also known as a pulse motor was the forerunner to the modern electric motor. the following is taken from The Old Model Company who sum it up much better than I can


When Michael Faraday in Great Britain and Joseph Henry in the United States both discovered electricity at roughly the same time no one knew what to do with it because in those days nothing worked on electricity.

In the thirty or so years that followed, between 1831 and 1861, the great experimenters of the day tried to use this new discovery by copying steam engine design and practice.

Many early electromagnetic engines were of reciprocating design and used connecting rods, beams and flywheels that had to be constantly accelerated.

These early reciprocating engines were quickly followed by revolving armature designs of which Paul Gustave Froment’s was the first in 1844. These were much more efficient and a variety of different and increasingly sophisticated designs emerged.


To fully understand the unique properties of the solenoid engine you need to track down a copy of Secrets of the Electric Motor (it out there on the interwebs if you know which stone to look under)

This video is a scientific lecture is not for the faint of heart as it  kicks some major science re many of the properties of the modern electric motor that we just take for granted because we know the motor works rather than learning why and how it works.

I lost my only copy of this video so I'm a very rusty on the topic, but if you can find this video you will learn allot maybe even more that 1 brain can handle. the video explores work by Tesla plus the other great minds of that golden age and more recently John Bedini who's motor has achieved over unity (if you mind is open enough to believe such things)

I intend to explore the world of the Bedini motor as part of a future project once i get my lathe operational and my engineering tolerances back down to those i was once capable of back in the day.

<p>Pretty neat. As a mechanical engineering grad who programs for a living, I getting my hands dirty cutting up metal. However, I do have an issue with your circuit diagram. You need a diode across the solenoid to protect the switch.</p><p>Let's go back to Physics 101. The voltage across a coil is V = L di/dt. When your cam opens the contact switch, current drops to zero instantly. This instant change in derivative means the voltage across solenoid must spike to inifinity. Since we can't have that, what really occurs in the physical world is that current keeps flowing for a short while by arcing across the contact switch. This arcing will eventually erode the switch. </p><p>To avoid that current jumping over an opened contact, you need to add a diode (aka flyback diode) that allows the current to flow from the negative end to the positive end of your solenoid.</p>
<p>how can i download this pdf..???</p><p>if any one help me then i will be vry greatfull to him/her,,,</p>
This is a good project. Can i have some advice on using the solenoid actuator to open and close a drawer.
No..... Google would be the place to look.
When you mention the &quot;Secrets of the electric motor&quot; video, is that its actual name? <br>because i found one by dr lindemann that is called &quot;Electric Motor Secrets&quot; and im not sure if its the same one or not
Yes that's it, the lecture is by Dr Peter Lindermann, the torrent I found was labeled as &quot;secrets of the electric motor&quot; but when I Googled it just now it is actually called Electric Motor Secrets
Is this design <em><strong>reversible</strong></em>? i.e. is it possible to build a Stirling engine that works the solenoid and creates enough juice to charge&nbsp;an AGM or other deep-cycle 12v battery? Thanks for your insight and ingenuity!<br>
No, a solenoid engine be used a s a generator.
Having now taken the time to read the whole of your instructable, I now appreciate the neatness and quality of the design and craftsmanship. <br>This Durafix aluminium welding rod is a new one on me. Can you buy it on the net ? And does it come with instructions ? I assume that a small blowlamp is sufficient to do the job - no oxy-acetylene ? <br>Your Froment engine plans in the post today. <br>All the best, <br>Mike
I've used these aluminium welding/bronzing rods before ( i forget the name of the one i purchased, I bought mine off ebay from a seller with excellent ratings) Anyway my welds are still intact and solid. I used 2 standard plumbing torches to get the aluminium hot quick.
If you use a stainless steel rod to stir the weld you get much more cleaner weld joints, clamping is the real secret. I have not used it much yet but have a use for it in some future project that are not far from starting.<br> <br><br> <br>Durafix is impressive stuff but it does have its limitations, its almost worth it just to do the &quot;fix the hole in the bottom of a coke can trick&quot; as some people will almost bet money to say you cant do it.
very nice finished project! i cant beat the sound of a mecanical electric motor!
Oh there is one much sweeter sound buy far, the sound of a decent sized steam engine, the sweetest mechanical sound of all.
I like the look of the final design and it's a great Instructible. However, why did you go to the complication of making the right angle linkage to the solenoid. Couldn't you have just mounted the solenoid vertically and eliminated the need for this?
Well spotted,<br> <br> I only solenoid big enough for this project I had at hand was this flap type, They do not seam to be as powerful as the plunger type solenoids. This was on a phone exchange box an would have been 50V, it works well on 12v without overheating if left running for a long time.&nbsp;<br> <br> I have made a plunger type solenoid before, but it was prone to overheating after a few minutes.<br> <br> Most designs for solenoid engines use the plunger type solenoids and have them mounted directly under the beam pulling directly down on each power stroke.<br> <br> I feared that the flap would be to heavy for the flywheel to lift if the flap was mounted in the horizontal position.<br> <br> With the flap mounted vertically all the weigh is carried on the pivot of the hinge and requires much less effort to return the flap to the open position.<br> <br> The overly complicated design of the linkage came about by me experimenting with the low temp aluminium welding rods to see what could be done with them.<br>
Thanks for your comprehensive reply. It was interesting to see why you made the design decisions you did. Good calls all round! <br><br>Other options could have been to put a counterbalance weight on the solenoid flap or to have used a balance weight on the beam itself.<br><br>Visually though, I think the right angle crank makes the whole design more mechanically attractive and interesting to look at.<br><br>Nice job!
The momentum in the flywheel is what pulls the solenoid flap back to the open position.&nbsp; so you want beam etc to be as balanced as possible.<br> <br> Because the flap is almost vertical it requires the least energy to return it to the open position.<br> <br> If you imagine a plank lying flat on the ground and the force needed to lift&nbsp; one end to the vertical position is much greater than the force needed to push a vertically standing plank over if pushed at the top.<br> <br> I agree with you that the more mechanical parts it has the more pleasing it looks, I guess it just gives you more to look at.<br>
&quot;there where a few dead ends on some of the stages but then again certain failures led to better ideas.&quot; <br> <br>There is no such thing as failure in experimentation, only more data.
True and also not true,<br> <br> The other ideas would have worked, they just would have looked like I had made them using my feet while working in the dark.&nbsp; :-)<br> <br> Thats not a bad mantra though.<br> <br> <br>
<em>Egyptians discovered electricity and created what's known coloquially as the &quot;bahgdad battery&quot;&nbsp;because of where some had been found.&nbsp;By using a canopic jar, copper rod, acids, iron and such, these old piles were used&nbsp;for electroplating and, I s**t you not, according to some ancient heiroglyphs, to either cure &quot;impotence&quot; or as a method of torture. Hard to tell exactly given the wires were just simply attached to the testicles in the pictures. Benjamin Franklin, who 70+ years earlier in his infamous kite and key experiment, already knew about electricity but wanted to prove that lightning was static electricity in the extreme. The leading wire from the kite, to the key had a second copper wire that went right into a dryden jar....</em><br> <br> Blah blah, you get the idea. We still use these on newspaper hopper lines, well pumps, saw mills&nbsp;and other useful modern contraptions.<br> <br> Let's see a bigger one on a model train. That would be an instant contest winner.
Yes indeed they did, although I would go as for as to say that they where aware of electricity rather than discovered it or a use for it. Have you seen the Mythbusters episode where they recreated the Egyptian batteries
Nah, I missed it. I've been missing a lot of episodes lately and can't download them anymore (library's blocked torrenting even via proxy)
Nicely done model, but from the video it seems to run a bit fast for a stately beam engine. Not much you can do about that I suppose. However, if you are interested in Froment, I have the plans and instructions for the construction of a small Froment motor, which were published in the 27 March 1941 Model Engineer magazine. I am not much of an IT whizz , so if you like to let me know your address I will put a copy in the snail mail for you . You can email me on mikemc3gill@aol.com.
Thanks for the comment,<br> <br> Yes it is a bit fast, the contacts are basic and unrefined for now, a plunger type solenoid would be much better and do away with the L shape linkage. I had planned to build a governor but couldn't find a reference on how to make one.<br> <br> This is my first attempt at an engine in 22 years and I'm a little rusty and my hands now have 22years worth of collective injuries that make the small fiddly work&nbsp;difficult. But as my collection of tools grows my ability to do better work increases.&nbsp;<br> <br> I would be very gratefull for a copy of the plans you have, Im more of a just get wired in and build it type person, but plans are very useful to get references from. I will send you my snail mail address asp.<br> <br> My next engine will be Froment like in construction but I plan to give it a bit of a twist, I don't want to say to much yet as it may rattle the trolls cages and we don't want to do that now.<br>
Spanish sculptor Carlos Corpa made nice machines powered by solenoid pulse engines:<br><br>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jzt6aHwHZPA<br>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmSnlQBlp_o&amp;feature=related
LOL<br> <br> This is the the same video that inspired me to build, just a different link.<br>
Forgive me for being so clueless, but what is a Solenoid Beam Engine? I just googled it and only got 12 hits, all based on your instructible. what is the scientific principle, or what does it do (besides rotate)?
I've never heard of it before either, but u believe it is an engine (rotational energy) created from a solonoid (back and forth motion) using just a beam? That's my simple explanation.
And we have a winner :-) give yourself a cigar.<br> <br> Its actually a form of electric motor, but because it resembles a steam engine most people use the term engine.<br> <br> Have also heard the term electromagnetic engine, and pulse motor.<br>
I think a lot of the problem is that the reflection of the table on the wheel does not convey that it is rotating, but wobbling. I wasn't sure if it was a glass disc filled with sand or something and you were trying to shake it to sift it.<br><br>Perhaps it would help if you put a dot sticker or something on it so we can see it's rotating.
I had though of etching the hard drive platter, but then it is platinum coated and it would be a shame to destroy or cover such a perfect finish.<br> <br> I find that under normal use the amount of dirty great finger prints on the platter show up the rotation perfectly.&nbsp; I would hazard a guess that my its my 3.2 mega pixel camera just ain't up to modern day HD standards, but until it dies have no intention of replacing it.<br>
Same type construction as an oil rig/pump, this one has just been modified.
No, nothing to do with an oil rig pump, a common misconception, it just happens to look like the nodding donkey type pumps.<br> <br> Its based on a steam engine design known as a beam engine or walking beam engine (based on James Watts design of 1784) where an oscillating beam (walking beam) transfers the power from the piston through a parallel link to the rod attached to the crank shaft.<br> <br> Check out the plans for a walking beam engine <a href="http://www.john-tom.com/html/SteamPlans3.html">here</a><br> <br> Crude oil pumps would not have been around until the 19th century<br>
Solenoid engines or electromagnetic engines where the forerunners to the modern electric motors, when electricity was first discovered there was no practical use for it and early inventors of the time based their initial&nbsp; designs around things they already knew&nbsp; i.e. steam engines<br> <br> You should have looked on youtube not Google, I was trying to emulate this <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eJiLHI5mM4">masterpiece </a>but my worn out fingers no longer have the manual dexterity to do work so small and besides that thing look s like it was lazer cut.<br> <br> A good site to visit is the <a href="http://www.oldmodels.co.uk/">Old Model Company</a> which should explain all.<br> <br> If you truly wish to banish your ignorance find and download a copy of a science lecture called <strong>Secrets of the electric motor</strong> it contains information that will melt the brain of most mere mortals.<br> <br> Solenoid engines where never fully explored because it was quickly superseded by the modern electric motor, but solenoids have unique quality's that are only now being explored fully now.&nbsp;<br> <br> Many great inventions and inventors of the past where suppressed buy rich greedy men who twisted laws you wipe out their competition and become&nbsp; millionaires in the process.&nbsp; Tesla was shut down by JP Morgan because his wireless power system could not be metered.&nbsp;&nbsp; Rockefeller funded prohibition to kill of the ethanol producers and creat a market for the gasoline which until then was dumped into rivers as waste as it was considered to flamable to have any practical use.<br> <br> Sometimes we must look to the past to find a way forward, we should pick up the torch where these great men got shot down and further explore their work.<br> <br> So.. other than rotate it <strong>educates</strong> this model also demonstrates an alternative method of turning electrical energy into rotary motion, it demonstrates several types of mechanical linkages&nbsp; and the platinum clad flywheel makes an adequate mirror if you are in a push.&nbsp;<br> <br> <br>
Hey I noticed in your intro you mentioned you wanted to do a governor and learn more about electronics. I have a great, quick idea that would allow you to add a speed control onto your project.<br><br>You can use your contact switch and solenoid and everything how it is, just adding a couple of things in between them.<br><br>If you were to take your switch mechanism and wire it into a monostable 555 timer, you could easily regulate the solenoid on time, effectively giving you a crude PWM control of the power output on the solenoid with the period set by the switch, and duty cycle set by a variable resistor. Then to acutaly power the solenoid (since a 555 can only output a few mA) Take the output of the 555 and put it through a transistor and that will give you your power output for it.<br><br>With just 4 or 5 components you have a cheap speed control.
You idea is perfectly correct and valid but is not in keeping with the overall historic design of the engine.<br> <br> I had though of using a tiny neo magnet mounted on the crank shaft and a reed switch to control the power stroke but this is still not historically accurate.<br> <br> To be honest the modern rocker switch is close but not accurate enough to be honest and when I find a nice set of contacts that suit the overall design I replace the switch.<br> <br> Check <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eJiLHI5mM4">this </a>You-tube video, this is what inspired me to build my engine although i have toyed with solenoid engines before but only in an experimental bodging way.<br> <br> I want to add a mechanical governor so the engine only fires every couple of cycles, those spinning balls on a mechanical governor&nbsp; are very aesthetically pleasing to behold for that real steampunk&nbsp; effect.<br> <br>
Very nice, I appreciate the detail in the pieces you made, you are a true craftsman.
Thanks for the comment,<br> <br> I try my best to do things as good as I can, my hands are not just as good as they once where as they have accumulated numerous injuries over the years that limits their movement a bit.<br> <br> They key to a good work piece is how well it is marked out. and how accurate you center punch the mark where the holes go.&nbsp; The holes where all drilled 2.5mm to start and then in 1mm mm increases tell they reach full size removing the burr each time, slow and tedious if you have 20 or 30 holes to drill but worth it in the end.<br> <br> Some of the decorative holes are there just for show, but I will let you in on a secret some of the holes where located in places that allowed me to clamp the pieces together for the welding process.<br>
I built a couple of these around 20 years ago - One of them is still running ! <br>One of mine had TWO solenoids, one at each end of the beam. <br>I cannibalised that for some other project, but my single coil one is still here. <br>My solenoid runs off the full mains voltage. <br>The prototype was called the &quot;Borboise Engine&quot;, after the inventor. <br> <br>
Nice,have you any pics of your engines?<br> <br> If you check You-tube there are many solenoid engines listed there and some of them have extremely complicated mechanisms.<br> <br> They may have been a bit of a no runner in the race to find a usable electric motor, but I like them.<br> <br> They are a nice option if you want that steam engine but have safety issues about building a steam engine and boiler.<br> <br> I built a model steam engine some 20 years ago as my final engineering project at Tech, but then that was in the days when you where allowed to build something with the potential to explode.<br>
good work
Me likey!!!
Nice modern looking twist to a not so modern design. I am fascinated with all types of external combustion engines such as sterling and steam engines. 5*
Thanks,<br> <br> This was a practice piece before I start work on a large Stirling Engine, although I am going to Build a Froment engine first as these solenoid based engines are kinda fun.<br>
In the zone! Saved the pdf for later reference<br>
Check out You tube if you planing to build something yourself.<br> <br> If you can find a decent sized plunger type solenoid you will get much better power and efficiency and you will have no need for the overly complicated L shaped mechanism.&nbsp;<br>
Great construction! <br><br>There must be a bug with instructables subscriptions, because I didn't see any of your previous videos of this!
Cheers, it was initially practice for a scaled up sterling engine but I really want to built a Froment engine now, a friend is also working on a large sterling and I may wait to see what he does and then see if i can add anything to the mix.<br> <br> Yeah, I had to resubscribe to you and Lemonie a couple of times before it started working, I think its OK now.<br>
Noting short of being over done. It's a work of art.

About This Instructable



Bio: Learning to live with Fibromyalgia brought on be numerous injuries some old some quite recent. Currently under no fixed agenda, just going with the flow ... More »
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