Picture of Pop-pop or put-put steamboat made easy for children
Children, from about 6 years old on, can make this real steam propelled boat under adult supervision. This pop-pop or put-put steam boat requires neither soldering nor gluing. No drilling or puncturing is needed. It does involve an easy to make bending tool.

I wanted to make a construction manual for a simple pop-pop kit I am making for some friends and colleagues. So I thought: why not make my first instructable?

This instructable is aimed at adults wanting to help children make a pop-pop boat at school, at home or wherever you like. Do take your responsibility in dealing fire and steam and in assessing if and how the children can deal with it safely.

I will not explain how pop-pop steamboats work, as you can find an extensive explanation on The Science Toymaker. Original inspiration for the coil engine came from the Pop-Pop Pages. In the following steps I will explain how to build one real easy.

I have been giving creative workshops for children since several years now, mainly at the school my daughter is attending: Leefschool Klavertje Vier. My workshops almost always involve a scientific or rather technical topic, most often something that rides, sails, flies or at least moves: rockets, mousetrap cars, solar powered vehicles, hovercrafts... If you understand Dutch you can check out my website: http://users.telenet.be/masynmachien

These workshops are open to children from 6 to 12 years old, but as the average age tends to be around seven, I learned to simplify things. My aim is to allow young children to build working things by themselves, with as little help as possible. Very often that involves a good preparation making templates and such. The pop-pop boat I present here is a culmination of that.
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We made these today with our children. They loved it. Copper tubing was not available so we used aluminum, it worked well. After we had built the boats and were nearly done watching them them go around my son came up with the idea to put food coloring into the coil to start with so that at the first put-puts we would be able to see the input and output. It was a great idea, helping them to more clearly understand the process. Thanks for the great instructions. We had a great time while learning.

masynmachien (author)  arrowlanding1 year ago
Thanks for the feedback.

Fantastic idea to use coloring! Do you have any images of the result?


A very short video that shows the blue food coloring coming out of the pipes.
masynmachien (author)  arrowlanding1 year ago

Thank you very much.
Ugifer2 years ago
Just thought I would stop by and say that I made these today with a group of 7-year-olds from my daughter's class. There were 7 girls in total and they made and spray-painted their boats, and decorated them. We found that half a tablet of fuel lasted 10-15 minutes and was easily long enough.

masynmachien (author)  Ugifer2 years ago
Thanks for the message and sharing the video.
No problem - it's a great instructable and I always think it's nice to see what other people do with your work.

Incidentally, I couldn't get the .pdf file of the rudder shapes to print - it displays on-screen but comes out blank on paper so I did a screen-grab and re-exported it as a .pdf (attached).

Thanks for another great project!

This a very, very great instructable!
I like it and I am just going to grab the parts needed!

Thank you for sharing,

Horatius Steam
masynmachien (author)  Horatius.Steam3 years ago

Keep me posted on your success.
anres3213 years ago
Leuk om eens belgen tegen te komen op instructables ;)
masynmachien (author)  anres3213 years ago
insgelijks ;-)
onemoroni13 years ago
I remember these in the 50's. My dad would get them for us when we were kids. Your instructable makes me want to make one. I'll have to keep an eye out for "tins" of the proper shape. Peace
Mutantflame4 years ago
Great instructable, 5* any day.
ilpug4 years ago
ingenious. what makes it great is it's simplicity. 5*
mitch06654 years ago
I just made this with my cub scout group age 8-7 they loved it and all could handle the tube bending great instuctions. thanks.
masynmachien (author)  mitch06654 years ago
Glad to be of help with my Ible. Nice to see it is put to use.

I love it. 5 stars. Actually your boat is more of a boiler than a pop pop boat. As this one uses a coil to heat the water where as a pop pop boat used a flexible membrane which expands and contracts making the famous pop pop or put put sound.=)
lol..... :D
kid cudi5 years ago
could you use the engine to help power a mini catamaran
masynmachien (author)  kid cudi5 years ago
Sure, if it small and light enough. I'd say something of the same size as my boats (about 20cm) up to about 40 cm length.
mrbones1215 years ago
dunh dunh dunh the plot thickens
i made one, the instructions were forom http://www.sciencetoymaker.org/boat/makeBoat4_07.htm the engine actually makes the pop pop sound
Yah I made one too they're awesome.
masynmachien (author)  Balinese_kid6 years ago
Of course, as that one is a "membrane type", not a coil type as in this instructable. The boiler "membrane" makes the sound.
could i make this out of foam instead
Foam and open flames are a dangerous combination. I have seen examples out of wood completly covered with thin alumium. One could consider something similar with foam, but that might even be more dangerous than plain foam. If the heat accidently converts the foam to gasses under the foil, suddenly erupting and possibly igniting.
samando6 years ago
but where's the pop-pop?
masynmachien (author)  samando6 years ago
I used the popular name for this type of steam boats, but I admit the coiled engine does not make the sound the "membrane" type engine makes. pop-pop or put-put is commonly used as a name for both types.
right, then can I ask how it works?, because i have never really thought hard about that
masynmachien (author)  samando6 years ago
I was tempted to say: "no, not before you read the other comments and find the link to the explanation." ;-)
But I do want to guide you in the right direction: http://www.sciencetoymaker.org/boat/howBoatWorksl.html
I think this is one of the best the explanations among the many you can find on the net.
thanks, for showing me the link and not being , ehh, mean
i am 13, and i even want to do this!
me too
Gamer9176 years ago
im gonna make one with a little candle and a long aim n flame candle lighter that will go through the coil to light the candle and then be pulled out
ashbreeze966 years ago
i was unable to locate 1/8 tube so i used a 5 turn coil of 1/4 tube and used sterno in a stainless steel condiment cup to compensate for the larger diameters heating needs. it worked well with the exception of occaisional periods of idling. also the tube can be bent by hand without kinking it if done carefully
Bending thin wall, soft tubing sucks! The best trick I've found is to cap one end, fill it with sand, and cap the other end before bending. Hope this helps people.... It's also possible by hand (SLOWLY!) and you can always break out the torch and heat it up. Good luck people!!!
masynmachien (author)  Microtek6 years ago
Please do not discourage people by exaggerating. The difficult does depend on the type of tubes. With the 3mm outside -2 mm inside diameter brass tubes it is very feasible. With the tool described I would even call it easy. No need for sand filling. I had tens of children aged 6 to 7 successfully coil their engine with some supervision. Only a few needed a correction of some minor buckling, which could still be done with pliers (with exception of maybe one less careful little builder).
Like you said, the tube makes the difference! Everyone should try to build one at least for the experience. Just thought I'd throw in some of my years of trial and error for the younger experimenters out there. Learn from other people's mistakes, You won't live long enough to make them all yourself.
bylerfamily6 years ago
When I bend the pipe it just kinks.Why?
masynmachien (author)  bylerfamily6 years ago
Keep the end of the sturdy tube at least a couple of centimeter from the point where the pipe is coiling around the tool. This way you kind of "spread" out the bending over several centimeter. With some practice, you can do the coiling without the outer tube as long as you apply force to the pipe at a good distance from the coiling mandrel / bending tool. You doe really need some coiling mandrel / bending tool however. Also, some pipes are easier than others. If it really does not work, you will need to try other types. Smaller diameters work better.
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