Picture of Steam Powered Potato Pistol Zippo(tm) Mod
I would like to start by giving credit to robbtoberfest and his Steam Powered Potato Pistol 1.0 design which can be found here:


I also want to start by re-iterating his safety warnings as this device has risks related to fire, steam, pressure, metal-work, and projectiles. I recommend wearing eye protection during all steps and using common sense. I accept no liability for any risk in the manufacture or use of this device. Do not attempt to use power tools if you are not familiar with them and I don't recommend anyone under the age of 18 attempt to manufacture this device without competent adult supervision. Don't touch the barrel for a few minutes after it has been fired as it becomes extremely hot. Also, the soot will stain clothes/skin. Be careful with this thing guys.

I will leave the construction of the barrel/chamber assembly to robbtoberfest's design and will primarily focus on the design modifications which allow the fuel/heat source to be a "Zippo (tm)" brand lighter.  The only modification I made to the barrel/chamber assembly is that I used "J.B. Weld (tm)" brand two part epoxy paste instead of solder. I find that it is less messy and I have limited experience with solder.  The joints and air-tight seals of the "J.B. Weld" have held through all of my test firings. The farthest I have gotten it to shoot a plug his about 23 feet.

It works, but it has limitations. I feel that it would work well indoors with very minor drafts, but outside it is challenging to keep the flame on the chamber if there is any wind at all. Seems to take me at least a couple minutes of fairly steady flame on the chamber to get it to fire. I am not sure if this modification is faster/slower to fire. I think indoors it is probably about the same to a little faster to fire.

willnate1 year ago
get a big windproof lighter
onrust3 years ago
A Zippo gives it a certain element of class. Well done and very clean.
rbradner4 years ago
It might be faster and work better outside if you used a butane jet lighter instead of a normal lighter. You can probably find one at wal-mart for about $2.00 that's approximately the same size.
It might be slightly hotter, but you would need to hold down the gas button, and butane lighters are dangerous if lit for more than 1 minute.
tom.bola4 years ago
great timing! potato in.. french fries out..
its a ZIPPO gun so he is using a zippo!!!
so why arguing about other lighters?
wiggins8472 (author)  tom.bola4 years ago
Haha I would agree. Everyone. I know that torch lighters are hotter and readily available. I own two. I wanted to use the Zippo. If anyone can figure out how to get a torch lighter to go continuously without mashing your thumb for 3 minutes on the button please make an instructable to illustrate.
Don't know if it has been said, but what about a jet lighter? that works outdoors? and is a HUGE amount hotter than a Zippo...???
junits154 years ago
why JB weld? why not just sweat the pipes with a torch?
wiggins8472 (author)  junits154 years ago
I felt J.B. weld would hold be easier to get an air-tight seal. Also, I don't have a formal shop and do most of my work in my small apartment without many tools.
oh, well it certainly works well :)
jlancaster24 years ago
Try a triple torch cigar lighter (like the one in the link) it is much hotter and much more wind resistant.

Beergnome4 years ago
Honestly? get rid of the JB for this and sweat it into place.. yo can do this with no sho and living in an apartment. and you wont get any exdperience doing it untill you do it..

just plumbers soldier, plumbers rosin.. the rosin is great for all soldering needs might I add. need to tin some leads? dunk them into the rosin, then bump the soldering iron and solder to the lead.. BAM! tinned lead!

anyways... get a can of MAP gas, and torch head for MAP GAS. You can go propane if you want, the end result is the same.. but MAP I find works better.

fit and assemble all the parts.. once happy, rough all mating surfaces with some fine grit open sanding cloth. paint it all with rosin and press the parts together. heat the joint with the torch and then run the solder around the lip of the hot joint.

I have made far stranger things on a coffee table in a tiny apartment.

if you already know this, then Im sorry if I come as talking down to you.. if not? you should know this stuff!
wiggins8472 (author)  Beergnome4 years ago
Well, I will admit that my metalworking experience is mostly based in traditional blacksmithing techniques learned while working at a living history museum. As such, I didn't do much plumbing. However, it has worked well with an air tight seal and quick construction with low cost. It has also held up to heat well. Thanks for your comments though.
aliono4 years ago
If you wanted to be more time period than a zippo...why not use a kerosene lamp to heat it, albeit it would be marginally difficult to get it to work properly but it could give it a more appealing look. Although I believe the propane or other gas torch would be the more efficient method about going on with this sort of a project. This reminds me of the same design in a way as this old toy boat that was steam powered that my uncle had.
use a propane torch to heat it. cheaper than the zippo!
wiggins8472 (author)  awsomehighvoltage4 years ago
The tricky thing about torch lighters is that I wanted it to be a self contained unit and not have any obvious "modern" or electronic elements. I am considering making a unit that works on a torch system, but there are challenges in lighting the torch and keeping it lit while not having to use both hands. Plus I was going for a certain "look".
ekardell4 years ago
I wish you had been around when I was a kid! This combines all the right elements: weaponry, fire (aka, dad's lighter), potatoes, and plumbing parts!
wiggins8472 (author)  ekardell4 years ago
Thanks. I showed it to my friend's 5 year old son and he wanted to improve on the design by making it double barreled and having a "koo koo" clock noise to warn you when it was about to fire. :-)
EshKuno4 years ago
where there's soot there's carbon monoxide. using a cleaner burning fuel source and only having the tip of the flame(the hottest part of the flame) touching metal would eliminate all that messy soot and no CO.
wiggins8472 (author)  EshKuno4 years ago
Probably right. I am considering making an "oil lamp" or it's equivalent with a little more juice. Of course, a zippo is effectively an oil lamp.
lukeyj154 years ago
Zippo blu is hotter.
Most propane torches burn at 1300°C (2372°F)
While you obviously love Zippos, the biggest help would be a hotter flame source. Propane lighter, or even better, a small MAPP gas burner would bring water to steam even faster.
Clearly, but I liked how elegant it was to have a zippo. Also, it is closer to technology available in the era of steam.
capnbob4 years ago
A bit slow on the firing cycle but I love that it's powered by a Zippo!
codongolev4 years ago
on a kind of unrelated note, I made a fog machine that uses steam power to produce the fog. (much less impressive than it sounds; it's just coils that rise above the water level that get heated and produce steam. same principle as a coffee maker.) the soldering iron I had running it suddenly stopped, and this just gave me the idea to run it off of a candle or a lighter.
notimeoff4 years ago
To one and all out there about the last thing you can walk in a store and buy with a good old green back that is REAL steam punk is a Zippo !
For more then 40 years I have never left the place i can call home without the following things on my person:

Zippo....Got my first one from my father, it still works, and yes if you can break it thy will fix it.

Pocket knife... For the last twenty or so years it a leatherman.wave,I can tell you for a fact I owe Tim leatherman and the people who work for him my LIFE this tool saved me a few other guy's in some bad spot's.... My father gave me my first boy scout knife and I still have it.......I was seven.

Watch/ time peace......A good one...the best you can afford.... NO digey stuff. hands and a black face...no glow in the dark.... this has changed a few times over the years...thank you grandpa for my first one. It was A Timex and I wish I still had it :-(

Space pen....yes IT WORKS..and I got the last one that I carry now from a good friend ( this is the third one ). Each has spent time in space (I have low friends. in high places)....the one I have now is black, but I am having it plated in copper.

To me Steam punk is "IT MUST WORK, THEN LOOK GOOD"
ANYTHING you just slap copper parts / foil on is just hipster Bull S$%T.

To each and all that read this have a good night / good day....and more steam to one and all.

To: wiggins8472 Sorry I posted this on your inscrutable, but I fell it need to happen..
Your gonna put somebodies eye out with that thing! :-)
ilpug4 years ago
this could be improved by adding a let-flame lighter, available from Ronson. they dont waver in high wind and produce more heat. the only issue is they do use a bit more fuel than normal, although they are easily refillable. i might modify this to use a ball-valve for on-demand pressure relief, and a longer barrel. normally i would consider an air-actuated sprinkler valve for an application like this but the steam might melt the PVC and cause it to fail. I might do a mod version of this project....
wiggins8472 (author)  ilpug4 years ago
Please do! I am also working along the same lines. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!
rimar20004 years ago
Very interesting, and a nice toy.

A suggestion: maybe you can do that the "boiler chamber" heats dry, in advance while you prepare the cannon. At the moment of shoot, you rotate the gun so the water reaches the very hot chamber. That would make a faster shooting.
wiggins8472 (author)  rimar20004 years ago
Very cool idea. Thank you, I will try it.