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STEM projects are typically a combination of two or more core elements: Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics. STEAM projects are similar to STEM projects but also include ART in the process. Most all STEM projects, including the ones highlighted here, can easily be turned into STEAM projects by using some simple craftsmanship to add design or detailed elements to a project.

In this Instructable I will highlight three different boats that are powered by various methods. If you are interested in just making one of these boats skip to the appropriate step. The boats are made in order of difficulty with the first boat (putt putt boat) being the most difficult and time consuming and the balloon boat being the easiest and quickest to make.

STEP 1: Putt Putt Boat

STEP 2: Paddle Boat

STEP 3: Balloon Powered Boat (two versions)

Projects that involve water are typically a huge hit with kids of all ages. When completed these boats can be tested in a kiddie pool, a small pond, a bathtub, or a large sink.

STEM Projects = Learning Made Fun!

Step 1: Putt Putt Boat


The first STEM boat in this series is a Putt Putt Boat. This will be the most time consuming of the three boats and best suited for teens. To set a putt putt boat in motion, a simple steam engine is created by coiling a copper tube, filling it with water, and heating the water in the tube. Steam is created in the coil which causes suction up through one side of the coil and pushes the water out through the other side. The forcing of the water coming out the tube putts the boat along. It's very fun little boat!

MATERIALS

You will need the following items and tools to create a putt putt boat:

  • Coiling Mechanism (instructions follow)
  • 6x3x1 inch balsa wood block
  • Ruler
  • 18 inch piece of 1/4 inch diameter copper tube
  • Scissors
  • Utility Knife
  • Pencil
  • Small Screwdriver
  • Wood Carving Tools
  • 1/4 inch drill bit
  • Awl
  • One sheet white printer paper - or scrap piece of paper
  • Copper Tube Cutter
  • Tape (I used electrical tape but any will do)
  • Tea Light Candle
  • Fine Grit Sandpaper
  • 2-3 Tablespoons sugar, salt, or sand
  • 1/3 inch diameter Steel Tube (not pictured)
  • Fire Starter (not pictured)

BUILDING THE COILING MECHANISM

Preparation for making putt putt boats with students will require constructing a coiling mechanism. This is a very simple tool that will help make coils that don't collapse or flatten during bending. I recommend doing this first and having it ready before beginning the boats. The process of coiling only takes a few minutes so you only need to make one of these that you could use over and over with multiple students.

You will need the following tools:

  • Drill
  • Drill bit (slightly smaller than screw size)
  • Screwdriver bit
  • 12 inch piece of 2x4
  • 3 inch screw
  • 1 1/2 inch screw
  • 1 inch diameter dowel - approximately 2 inches long

1. Mark a spot where you want your dowel to be positioned on the 2x4. I suggest centering the hole toward one end. This will allow you to hold the other end when it comes time to coil the copper tube. Drill a pilot hole in the wood and the dowel.

2. While holding the dowel in place over the pilot hole in the 2x4, screw the 3 inch screw through the wood into the dowel making sure it is tightly secured.

3. Measure and mark a spot that is slightly larger that the diameter of the copper tube. In this case 1/4 inch. Screw the 1 1/2 inch screw into place.

CUTTING, SANDING, & SHAPING

1. If you can find 6x3x1 inch balsa wood blocks great! I could only find 12x3x1 inch pieces so cutting was necessary! Measure a six inch mark on each side of the balsa and draw a straight line with a ruler. Cut the balsa wood using a utility knife. Make several passes as to not crush the balsa wood cells. Some will inevitably crush, but several shallow passes will get the best result.

2. Make another mark in the middle at one end of the block. Measure down 1 1/4 inches on each sides and draw lines to match up the middle and the side marks. We are making a pointed end for the front of the boat.

3. Using the utility knife and a ruler cut on the lines using the same method as described above.

4. Sand the cut sides and edges with fine grit sandpaper to smooth them out. This is a good point to choose whether or not to shape the boat or round the bottom edge. If this step is omitted it won't affect how the boat functions, but will add an artistic element (making it a STEAM project). The boats could also be painted or decorated in some manner.

COILING COPPER & MAKING HOLES

1. In order to coil the copper tubes without them bending, collapsing, or flattening entirely, they will need to be filled with sugar, salt, or sand (I used sugar). Make a simple funnel out of a piece of printer paper or scrap paper. The small hole in the funnel will need to fit inside the end of the copper tube, so the opening will need to be less that 1/4 inch. Tape the paper to keep it in place. (Alternately, you can use a small plastic funnel if you have access to one or can find one.)

2. Using tape, close off one end of the copper tube so the sugar won't spill out. Fill the tube by adding small amounts of sugar to the funnel. This takes some patience as the sugar tends to get stuck in the funnel. Add in very small amounts for the fastest result.

3. Once the tube is completely full, gently tap the taped end on the table to help settle the sugar. Add more if necessary and tape the end closed.

4. With a pencil, draw a mark on the copper tube about 6 inches from one end. Insert the copper tube into the steel tube. Line up the mark (on the copper tube) with the screw on the coiling mechanism making sure the copper tube is between the dowel and the screw. Gently start bending the copper tube around the dowel by only torquing the steel tube. With every small bend move the steel tube farther out to make room for more bending. Take your time with this. The sugar inside the tube will help it from collapsing but if the copper is bent too fast it can still flatten.

5. Keep coiling until you have gone two full rotations. The copper will be crossed at this point. Gently bend the long ends so they are as parallel as possible. The closer the two long ends are to each other the better. This will help your boat from going in circles when the steam engine is in working order. Remove the tape from both ends and dump out as much sugar as possible. Then run water through the tube to force out any extra sugar.

6. Using a tube cutter, cut the ends of the copper tube so they are even. (A tube cutter is a simple device that costs around $8.) This is done by placing the copper tube in the cutter and adjusting the cutting wheel to score the copper tube when twisted. Keep adjusting the wheel so it is tight against the copper tube and twist the tube again. Repeat this process until the copper is fully cut. If you know of an alternative to a tube cutter please let me know in the comments section.

7. Once the copper is coiled and shaped appropriately use it to make small indents at the back end of the boat.

8. Using an awl poke holes (at an angle) through the top of the boat and out the back edge of the boat. The balsa wood is soft enough that this isn't difficult.

9. Once the holes are in place they will need to be widened. You can use a screw driver or a 1/4 inch drill bit. (If the kids making this project are old enough you could do this entire process with a drill. I wanted to keep power tools out of the equation for the age group (7-10 year olds) I was working with.) Twist the drill bit back and forth through the awl holes to widen them. Again, the wood is soft enough this doesn't take much effort. If the drill bits are sharp enough this still poses a cutting hazard. Inform the students to use care with a drill bit as to not cut themselves.

10. Insert the copper tube into the holes. They should fit snugly.

CARVING AND LIGHTING

1. Once the copper tubes are in place set a tea light candle on the top of the boat lining up the edge of copper coil with the wick of the candle. Draw a line on the wood around the candle base. Remove the copper tube from the boat.

2. Using carving tools cut away a shallow layer of wood where the candle will sit. Again, caution should be used with carving tools. Let students know they should always cut AWAY from themselves (and their hands). Balsa is so soft this takes minimal effort.

3. Place the copper tube back into the boat. Turn upside down and fill the copper tube under running water. Place the boat in a pool, bathtub, sink, etc. and set the candle in place. Light the candle and watch your boat putt putt away! It takes a few minutes for the water to heat enough to create steam so be patient! If you find that the boat still isn't moving, check to make sure the candle flame is heating both coils evenly. If they are not heated evenly the boat might have problems going.

TIP: We tried these in a pond and couldn't keep the candle lit with even a slight breeze. I recommend testing these in a wind free environment!

Step 2: Paddle Boat

Simply designed STEM paddle boats are powered by winding a paddle with a rubber band. They work very well. This project is much less complicated (and time consuming) than the putt putt boat. This boat is especially fun for kids to compete to see whose boat can go the farthest. Tip: Sometimes it's not who winds their rubber band the most!

MATERIALS

You will need the following materials and tools to create a paddle boat:

  • 8.5x3x1 inch balsa wood block
  • Ruler
  • Utility Knife
  • Pencil
  • Craft Stick
  • 1 1/2 inch rubber band
  • Small flat head screwdriver (not pictured)

CUTTING THE BOAT SHAPE

1. Using a pencil and a ruler mark off a section that is 6 inches in length and cut the wood using a utility knife and a ruler. Make shallow passes through the wood. Don't try to cut through the entire thickness in the first pass. You won't end up with clean cuts. :(

2. Make a mark in the middle at one end of the block. Measure down 1 1/4 inches on each sides and draw lines to match up the middle and the side marks. We are making a pointed end for the front of the boat.

3. Using the utility knife and a ruler cut on the lines using the same method as described above.

4. On the back end of the boat draw a guide line that is 2 inches in length and 1 1/2 inches wide. This will leave 3/4 inches on each side of the boat. Cut this part out of the boat using a utility blade. For the two longer cuts you will be cutting with the grain of the balsa wood. Go slow as to now split the wood where you don't want it split! This is the point where this boat could become a STEAM project instead of a STEM project. Have students paint the boat or add a decorative sail.

MAKING & INSERTING THE SECURITY PEGS

1. Using a utility knife, cut two, one-inch pieces from a craft stick.

2. Mark two lines on the back to ends of the boat and make holes using a screwdriver. Press the craft sticks through the holes until 1/4 inch is sticking out the bottom and 1/2 inch is visible on the top of the boat.

MAKING THE PADDLE

1. Using the remaining balsa wood, mark and cut two, 1 1/4 inch by 3 inch pieces.

2. Next, you will need to make cuts in the wood so they will be able to fit together to make an 'x' shape. This will be the paddle. Find the middle point of the wood and mark 1/8 inch on each side of it (equaling a 1/4 inch mark). Measure in 1 1/8 inches from each point and cut that section of wood out using a utility blade.

3. Fit the pieces together. They should fit snugly. If all cuts were made correctly the paddle will fit perfectly (with a small gap all around the edges) inside the cut section of the boat.

ASSEMBLING THE BOAT & SAILING

1. Place the rubber band around the pegs. Stretch the rubber band open far enough to get half the the paddle inside it. You're finished!

3. Wind the paddle away from the boat to make it go forward and vice versa. Hold the paddle in place with wound rubber band until it's placed in the water. Let go and watch the boat sail away!

Step 3: Balloon Boat

This is by far the simplest and quickest of the three boats highlighted in this series. It also has a dramatic outcome when sailing. When the balloon is inflated and air is released through the small opening of the tube or straw it sets the boat in motion by forcing it along. Kids absolutely love this one!

I will make two boats using different materials. Choose which one is age appropriate for the students being taught, keeping in mind that the second version is appropriate for a younger student. It will also be the cheaper option. Something to think about if you have a strict budget!

MATERIALS

You will need the following materials to make a balloon powered boat:

For the balsa wood version:

  • 6x3x1 inch Balsa Wood Block
  • 7-inch Balloon
  • Utility Knife
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • 1/4-inch Drill Bit or Screw Driver
  • 4-inch Piece Copper Tube (1/4 inch diameter)
  • Small Rubber Band
  • Coiling Mechanism (please refer to Step 1 for a tutorial on how to make this tool)

For the foam version:

  • 1 Sheet Craft Foam - 1/4 inch thick
  • Scissors
  • 7-inch Balloon
  • Utility Knife
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • 1/4-inch Drill Bit or Screw Driver
  • 4-inch Piece Copper Tube (1/4 inch diameter)
  • Small Rubber Band

VERSION 1: BALLOON POWERED BALSA WOOD BOAT

1. If your balsa wood isn't already cut to the correct size, you will need to cut a 6 inch length. Using a pencil and a ruler mark off a section that is 6 inches in length and cut the wood using a utility knife and a ruler. Make shallow passes through the wood. Don't try to cut through the entire thickness in the first pass. Take your time and make several passes to get the cleanest cuts.

2. Make a mark in the middle at one end of the block. Measure down 1 1/4 inches on each sides and draw lines to match up the middle and the side marks. We are making a pointed end for the front of the boat.

3. Using the utility knife and a ruler cut on the lines using the same method as described above.

4. Mark a center point on the back end of the boat two-inches in. Using a 1/4 inch drill bit make a hole by twisting the drill bit back and forth repeatedly. If the students are of old enough age to use power tools feel free to let them drill this with a power drill! The balsa wood is soft enough that twisting a drill bit is fast work and doesn't take much effort. Drill bits are sharp so advise your students to use caution as to not cut their fingers! (Easily turn this boat into a STEAM project by painting, designing, or decorating the boat.

5. Cut a piece of 1/4 inch diameter copper tube to a 4-inch length using a tube cutter. Using the coiling tool, gently bend the copper tube. If you read through the putt putt boat tutorial you will remember we filled the tube with copper before bending. With a piece this small it's possible to slowly bend the copper tube without it collapsing. Just take your time.

6. Place a 7-inch balloon over one end of the copper tube and secure it with a rubber band. You will want to make sure the rubber band is tight enough that no air can escape between the balloon and the copper tube.

7. Insert the copper tube into the hole of the boat.

8. Blow air into the balloon from the open end of the copper tube. Once the balloon is inflated hold your finger over the end to trap the air. Place the boat in water and remove your finger. Watch the boat sail away!

VERSION 2: BALLOON POWERED FOAM BOAT

This is a much less expensive version using simple materials and tools. This is an appropriate STEM project for young students ages 5-7.

1. If your foam isn't already cut to the correct size, you will need to cut a 6 x 3 inch rectangle. Using a pencil and a ruler mark off a section that is 6 x 3 inches and cut the foam using scissors. A utility blade could also be used with older children.

2. Make a mark in the middle at one end of the block. Measure down 1 1/4 inches on each sides and draw lines to match up the middle and the side marks. We are making a pointed end for the front of the boat.

3. Using scissors cut on the lines.

4. Mark a center point on the back end of the boat two-inches in. Using a standard paper punch, punch a hole through the foam. (Easily turn this boat into a STEAM project by designing, or decorating the boat in an artistic manner. Colored foam pieces would be a great option.)

5. Using scissors, cut a length of bendy straw that is about 4 inches making sure the bendy part is in the center.

6. Place a 7-inch balloon over one end of the straw and secure it with a rubber band. You will want to make sure the rubber band is tight enough that no air can escape between the balloon and the straw.

7. Insert the straw into the hole of the boat and bend the underneath part parallel to the boat.

8. Blow air into the balloon from the open end of the straw. Once the balloon is inflated hold your finger over the end to trap the air. Place the boat in water and remove your finger. Watch the boat sail away!

Step 4: Thanks for Following Along!

Thank you for reading through how to make 3 Simple STEM Boats. I hope you enjoyed it and even tried making one!

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, I'd love to hear it. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. :)

I made the paddle boat, but instead of making it out of wood, i made it out of posterboard (KAPA) and it work just fine.
<p>Hi there I love your boats.... I'm planning to build one like your first one, using a tea candle.... can u kindly tell me the diameter in mm of the copper tube </p><p> thanks</p><p>regards</p><p>Oliver</p>
<p>The diameter isn't critical, but the tubing used is about 6.4 mm OD (1/4 inch). Whatever size you use, you probably want to make sure the drill bit for making the mounting holes is the same size or slightly larger.</p>
<p>Great ideas !!</p><p>For the balloon boat, what about shrinking a bit the &quot;output&quot; side of the pipe (with a vise for example) to limit the air flow and make the boat last longer ?</p>
That's a great idea and would definitely help it go longer and farther!
<p>That :13 video made my day. A little boat putt-putt-puttering across the screen. Thank you.</p>
:)
<p>love the Coper idera</p>
A few years ago, er invited our kids and grandkids to a secret location. It was an old watermill complete with pond and all. I had the remedies with us, for the grandchildren, to make either a paddleboat it just to make a sail of a plasticbag. It was a huge success.<br>Thank You for sharing more ideal to this really simple concept.
<p>Really good one. Thanks for sharing!!</p>
<p>simply impressive..I'll definitely try this for my kids..</p>
<p>Thanks for a great instructable. I know what the grandkids will be doing next time they visit.</p>
<p>That's a fantastic instructable. The videos were so cool. Really like the implementations of each of the boats. Thanks for writing this up. Really great.</p>
<p>Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.</p>
<p>Very good job on putting together a process for making these boats with kids. Good documentation. Concerning the Putt Putt boats, I am old enough to have purchased the commercial versions (then called Pop Pop boats) and to have made these as a kid. I found that a wind screen was a practical necessity for my home-made versions, but I usually opted for doing surgery on tin cans to create these, and that takes the whole difficulty/danger content of this project to a much higher level. There is a good article at the following link on the physics of the Pop Pop boat. </p><p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_pop_boat" rel="nofollow">https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_pop_boat </a> </p><p>This article answers the question of water flow path. Both pipes are both intakes and exhausts and both intake and exhaust simultaneously. This same mass flow physics is currently being used by some &quot;fan&quot; manufacturers to cool electronics. But, instead of alternately flash boiling water into steam, a diaphragm alternately pushes and pulls air into and out of a set of orifices, creating jets of air. </p><p>Your Instructable was somewhat of a time machine in that it brought back lots of very old very good memories. Kids who make these will never forget what they have learned. You are giving them a great gift. Thanks.</p>
<p>I've never seen a copper pipe putt putt boat before it is so simple and wonderful. using the sugar to keep the pipe in shape was very clever.</p><p>thanks heaps</p>
<p>You're welcome! I hope you get to try making them!</p>
<p>Ohhhh.... These are nice!</p><p>I particularly like the candle one.</p>
<p>That one was the most fun to make!</p>
<p>Ha, that looks like fun. Good work!</p>
<p>Thanks!</p>
<p>What a fun project! Voted! Be careful with icebergs ;)</p>
<p>Ha! Thank you. :)</p>
This is a very well written Instructable! This is why I've been following them from nearly the beginning. I love to find projects like these and work them with my kids. Nicely done, and I'm voting for you!
<p>Thanks!!</p>
<p>Cool projects! I'll definitely try at least the first and the last. But shouldn't the put-put-boat be more efficient (yeah, I know - it's not primarily efficiency that appeals, but still...) if it sucks water from the bow and expels it in the stern? Or would it be to difficult to get it balanced enough to go straight? I suppose adding a keel or another tube would be somewhat over the top...</p>
<p>I was about to say the same! How do we determine which one sucks &amp; which blows? Or do both suck &amp; blow?</p>
<p>I would assume the steam will rise, so the looping lower coil would be the cold intake water and the looping, up and over coil would be the heated outgoing water.</p>
<p>You could certainly try to jazz up the putt putt boat to try to make it go straight. </p><p>My son was very concerned about it curving when we were building it. He wanted to stack the tubes coming out the back instead of having them side-by-side. He thought this might correct the curve. Maybe something to try? (I think either the copper tube would need to be thinner or the boat/balsa would need to be thicker though). I think you might also be able to correct it with a simple fixed rudder. </p><p>This is where the STEM comes in! If the engineering is changed, could it be better or respond differently? So fun! Let us know what you come up with!</p>
This could easily be a STEAM project by adding colorful paint, glitter, decoupage or other artistic elements!
<p>Yes!</p>
<p>Echoing the thoughts of others, this is a well written instructable. It is nice to see these ideas back in circulation. as I first saw them in the 1960s era version of the BSA Wolf Cub Book.</p>
<p>Thank you! Someone else also mentioned this book to me. I need to look it up!</p>
<p>You could always use a hacksaw to quickly cut the copper pipe. It won't be as clean as with the pipe cutter, but it can be easily cleaned up with a file.</p>
<p>Yes, that would also work. Just make sure the ends are filed well enough that little fingers/hands don't get cut!! :)</p>
<p>These are great projects. Thanks! Can't wait to build them with my daughter and sail them down the river we frequently visit on the weekends. </p>
<p>Post some pics if you make them! Can't wait to hear how your daughter likes the project! My kids loved sailing these in the water.</p>
<p>When tubing is bent for trumpets, they freeze water in the tube to keep it from collapsing. This might be a good alternative to sugar.</p>
<p>That's a great idea!</p>
This instructable should be used as a standard for others, to exemplify how to do it. Very nice job.
<p>That's very nice, thank you!</p>
<p>this is great. Thanks</p>

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Bio: Hi, my name is Jen! I'm a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time I'm a crafter, food lover, cake decorator ... More »
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