Introduction: Ancient Aeolipile -steam Engine, and Magnets for Good Measure...

Picture of Ancient Aeolipile -steam Engine, and Magnets for Good Measure...

The first steam engine was invented by Herron of Alexandria around 150BC (actual date is unknown -- that whole Alexandrian library arson thing :/ and books disagree on dates). The history channel (or was it discovery) called this person Mechanos - I'm not sure where that name came from, but it fits :P

So basically, it is a sealed pressure vessel with steam outlets. Hot steam is pumped in (or generated within) and the steam outlets provide a torque based on their perpendicular component to the radius of rotation. You also need some sort of bearing to allow for rotation ;)

Well, pressure vessel could be a fancy name for soda can....

You'll need:
1 Un-opened soda (or other) can
A few feet of fishing line or other thing string
Awl or other hole punching device
4 tea lights
Two magnets and two ball bearings :P

Videos on steps 1 and 3 ;)

Step 1: Prepping the Can

Picture of Prepping the Can

Using an awl or other suitable tool -- puncture a small hole about an inch from the top of the can. Be sure to do this in your bathtub/show/sink as it will spray out soda. Then have fun and shake it up to get as much out as possible (or suck the soda out).

Next twist the top tab around and bend it upwards. Remember the goal is to make a sealed pressure vessel with one outlet for steam. If you break the seal, you'll need a new can and you'll need to start over.

Now (as I discovered in my second attempt), only puncture one hole -- and then slightly dent the can so that the hole points to one side.

Step 2: Suspend Your Can; Making a Bearing.

Picture of Suspend Your Can; Making a Bearing.

Well, to make this work well, you need some sort of bearing (to allow continuous motion). To do this, I epoxied a length of fishing line to one of my little magnets. I then attached this magnet to a steel ball and tied the other end to the upwards-bent soda can tab.

Using my magnetic toy choking hazards, I constructed a little string hanging from the vent above my stove. At the bottom of this string, I placed a ball.

I then attached the two balls together -- this creates a bearing of sorts

Step 3: Filling and Starting

Picture of Filling and Starting

Somehow, put about an ounce or so of water into your can. I used the syringe I have for measuring nutrients for my hydroponic garden... The exact amount is not as important - you just don't want to overfill.

Now hang your can filled with water and place 4 tea lights underneath. You want very little space between the flame and can. Light up and let it sit. It took about 5 minutes to start steaming and a little longer to build enough pressure.

With the help of my lighter (or two), I got it started much faster. The next time I do this (for fun :P), I'll have to count how many RPMs I was reaching...


AnirudhSreeram (author)2017-01-14

Instead of having to punch holes on the side of the can, we could try to drill two holes perpendicular to each other on the curved surface and then stick flexible straws in them, with both straws pointing clockwise (or anticlockwise) and then make the joints air tight with hot glue. This way you wouldn't have to worry about 'denting' the side.

budsiskos (author)2008-11-20

i just did this but instead of the can i used a light bulb. it looks much better

1259700020 (author)budsiskos2016-09-24

how did you use a light bulb

JohnT140 (author)2015-11-25

Get your free Steam Gift Card at Works for all countries!

theegghead (author)2015-04-27

That is insane! Any ideas on how to make it spin faster?

fredware3 (author)2013-04-01

i have built this and have found that if you take some fine copper piping and stick it int the hole it gives more concentration in the direction of thrust if that make sense :)

Spedy (author)2007-07-26

To make filling easy for ppl who don't have a syringe (my family is weird. every time we get one of those things it disappears into my little brothers room....), I would pop the top and fill it through there, then seal it in some temporary way. duck tape maybe? I think that would be easier. Good instructable, gotta try it out some time.

lasermaster3531 (author)Spedy2008-08-19

use an open can and use a can bottom to make a cap.

musicalbee2003 (author)Spedy2007-12-06

Or...Just submerge it!

technodude92 (author)2008-07-20

Butt Rub -- excellent stuff for rubbing on your butt (why do butchers call the shoulder the butt?)

because nobody would eat something called butt if it was actually butt. hence rump roast not butt roast...

deth2all (author)2008-05-27

heh heh, you said butt rub

n8man (author)deth2all2008-06-16

ha, butt rub

darus67 (author)2008-03-06

I want to try making one of these using this kind of can. It has a screw top so emptying and re-filling it are easy.

thefonz101 (author)2008-02-25

he he he... put some blades on that and youve got an evil death machine... MWUA HA HA!

Wyle_E (author)2008-01-09

I've seen a lot of these over the years. I made mine, about half a century ago, from a brake fluid can and a rubber stopper. the string was attached to a pin through the stopper, and the bearing was a fishing-tackle swivel. I never would have thought of your magnetic bearing, even if we'd had neodymium ball magnets in those days. Note that the original had the rotor separate from the boiler. I wonder how Heron did the steam-tight rotating joints. I suspect that he just let them leak more steam than went through the nozzles; the thing looks more like a proof-of-concept model than a practical machine.

pamandjim (author)2007-12-15

The magnet bearing is almost friction-free! I don't have those parts so I'm going to try using fishing swivels or a beaded chain for my first attempt.

WallaceTheSane (author)2007-11-23

I like your style. Great instructable. I think I saw that history channel thing, too. The guy who invented this made all KINDS of cool stuff. He had a lot of gravity-powered entertainment devices, like automated puppet shows. Amazing. I think I may build one of these things.

mrbob1000 (author)2007-11-19

this may work better with a re-sealable (screw top) metal container and instead of dents with holes... bent tubes that are glued in.

berrygunks (author)2007-04-15

i loooooooove steam engines. i have a wilesco d21

BLACKROD (author)berrygunks2007-09-29

i just saw this i think its awesome too lol, i think i'm gonna try this!!!

Bongmaster (author)berrygunks2007-05-31

i just got a kit to make ure own (quite a bit of machining to do). want to get a D3 tho :) nice and cheap (ish)

splatman (author)2007-09-16

When you poke the can with the awl, tilt the awl in the direction you want the hole to face, before you remove it, to possibly eliminate the need for dents.

stephen20x6 (author)2007-04-27

I like it! Any thoughts on how one could feasibly harness all that raw power? I imagine on a larger scale, one could fit some gears or some such onto the "can." Back to that rice cooker..

possible, but not plausable.

Ben.land101 (author)2007-04-01

a can of sterno under it works a lot better!

trebuchet03 (author)Ben.land1012007-04-01

Good to know :)

Weissensteinburg (author)2007-03-11

We did this in 8th grade, though instead of your fancy shmancy ways, we just used water, a few holes of various sizes and heights (we were testing differences of placement and hole size, not just making the pressure) and then let it spin.

hehe, I needed that magnetic ball bearing for the contest :P And I just used plain old tap water :) So what did you find? I didn't experiment with hole placement and such :P

Only stuff that anyone could have guess...the lower down the hole is, the longer and more powerfully it spins, the smaller the hole, the longer and more powerfully it spins.

shadowman2 (author)2007-01-25

U can mount a DC motor to it so it generates electricity. Two of them will probably be enough lo light up a white Led.

trebuchet03 (author)shadowman22007-01-26

It's not worth trying -- but I doubt this has enough torque to drive a DC motor with the slightest amount of load. You can stop this thing by blowing on the can :P

dataphool (author)2007-01-22

I would have thought that soda pop heated to boiling would be incredibly messy? Doesn't your wife object? I live with my daughter and I have to wait 'til she goes away for a while (like this week) to play in the kitchen.

trebuchet03 (author)dataphool2007-01-22

The soda is drained out and then replaced with about an ounce of water ;) I guess there will be some residual sugars and such -- but that should caramelize and remain in the can ;)

I'm not married - but my girlfriend (she is my significant other :P) has gotten used to my tinkering, experimenting and overall "meness" :P

i make shooting things (author)2007-01-16

check out my new instructable i just made it.
my instructable

really -- was that at all necessary?

irritant#9 (author)2006-12-13

Your Story Has Become Tiresome
Please give credit for this ripoff to
Rob Cockerham.

Kiteman (author)irritant#92006-12-21

The Hero Engine is a fairly standard science demo and "make-it". Cockerham only published his version this year, but I made one the same over 20 years ago. Google for hero engine soda to see just how many people present this as their own idea.

Trebuchet's magnetic bearing is a distinct improvement over basic fishing line or string, which twists up and slows the engine, or a fishing swivel (fairly high friction) - I'll pinch it next time I do it for a class.

trebuchet03 (author)Kiteman2006-12-22

Thanks :) To be honest, I found this in one of my thermodynamics books, which recommended a fishing swivel thingamabob, four tea lights, fine string and two punctures :P After seeing said television program, I remembered reading about that little excerpt in my book :P

Tool Using Animal (author)2006-09-17

Umm I can't figure out why one hole? wouldn't one on either side work better?

My first one used two holes on either side... This failed because it was unable to generate enough pressure with the amount of heat I was putting into it. Sometimes I would get steam from one hole, and not the other. A hotter flame would fix that though. With the single hole version, I noticed an interesting phenomena today. It seems to be pulsing. An instant of higher pressure followed by low pressure. Almost like a pulse jet :P At first I thought it was just when it passed by and I was getting some goofy acoustics - but I recorded it on video and that's not the case. Times like this I really wish I knew more about fluid dynamics and thermo (together :P)...

ll0ll (author)trebuchet032006-10-16

surely the high pressure followed by low pressure is displacement type affair? Um .. what I mean is, the steam is being forced out of the can, and therefore something (air) has to replace it. So you get "puffs".. Similar to your box of orange juice. Cut a small hole to pour the orange out .. It glugs out, now on the opposite side put a hole in the top and pour. It will flow out because the air can equalise at the same time (through your second hole) rather than having to "take it in turns." This is my non-scientific explantion. Feel free to correct me.

trebuchet03 (author)ll0ll2006-12-03

I know this is late and all.... If you cut one hole and pour out a fluid such as juice or soda -- yes, it will "glug" out of the container. These fluids are not compressible - so when you pour a bit out, the pressure within the container falls below atmosphere and air rushes in to equalize (a "glug"). Now steam is a cool fellow - steam is compressible (which can make it very dangerous) and compressed fluids want to escape through ANY opening available (in general, without a check valve, you can't tell a fluid to go through a particular opening). But for the pulses -- here is my guess.... Water under a higher pressure has a higher boiling point (this is how a pressure cooker works). So, steam jets out under a higher pressure, water stops boiling (or boils slower due to low heat source) and then the pressure drops and the water boils again. Repeat. Just a guess because I noticed that the relief valve on a pressure cooker does the same thing...

zachninme (author)ll0ll2006-10-20

No, but the steam is escaping because there is not enough room, so it doesn't need anything to take it's space.

Legend (author)trebuchet032006-11-28

ll0ll has a very feasable explanation, but my explanation is that the pressure builds up so quickly that it jets out, then it is equal to the air outside, but very quickly (miliseconds) the pressure builds up again and another jet bursts out and it is equalised again. With ll0lls 'orange carton' idea, orange juice is liquid and air is gas obviously, but with steam and air they are both gases, so I don't think that would apply. Hey, I'm a teenager. Teenager's know everything. Everyone knows that.

jongscx (author)2006-12-02

i saw a set of magnetix at the dollar store for $5.... just fyi

frickelkram (author)2006-11-09

I think this is a really useful tool ... but you should not empty the soda and refill it with water. Just use the soda! This way i think it could be possible to piant the kitchen ... it's worth a thought ... ;-)

andresm (author)2006-10-11

not very use ful but still fun to make:P

zachninme (author)andresm2006-10-20

Well, if I said I powered a car off of 100 of these you would think it was usefull. (And you would think I was a liar...)

kennytatheguy (author)2006-09-26

i dont get why it needs to spin, can u explain please?

that is its purpose... not very useful, but amusing and shows a few things... 1) Power of steam 2) Newton's Law - Action/Reaction 3)etc.

About This Instructable




Bio: Engineer making renewable energy products for African entrepreneurs.
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