Introduction: How to Build Jack’s Pop Pop Steamboat

Hi, my name is Jack. I’m a seventh grade student, and I am building a pop pop steamboat for school. The goal of my project is to move a ping pong ball across 30 inches of water by building a powered boat out of household materials. I am doing this with a piece of wood, a copper pipe and a tea light candle. A patent for the first pop pop boat was filed in 1891 by a Frenchman named Thomas Piot in the UK using a small boiler and 2 exhausts.


I plan on solving the problem of moving a ping pong ball across 30” of water. I will do this by making a steamboat. I will use balsa wood, copper tubing to make a boiler, and a tea light candle for power to run the boiler. First, I will cut a piece of balsa wood into a boat shape. I will make the boiler by coiling the copper tube in the middle with 2 ends extending from it. I will drill 2 holes at an angle in the back of the boat. The 2 extended pieces of copper will be slid through the holes in the boat. I will make an indentation in the wood under the coil for the tealight candle. I will syringe water into the pipes. I will ask my teacher to light the candle. Then, I will place the boat in the water. The boat should move forward once the candle heats the copper tube boiler (about 2 minutes). I may polyurethane the wood because the wood absorbs the water.


I chose to make the pop pop steamboat because I saw it last year on youtube and I liked it but it looked difficult. This year I saw it again with a different type of boiler made out of copper tubing and it looked easier to build. I made a boat out of wood before and I knew it would float. We had tea light candles in the house so I used one to power the boat.



( 1 ) 16” piece of ¼” copper tubing

( 1 ) tea light candle

( ) water

( 1) ping pong ball

( ) polyurethane

( 1) 6” X 15” piece of balsa wood



small dowel




paint brush

band saw

drill press

pipe bender

glue gun

x-acto knife

Step 1:

Cut out the paper pattern from the drawing of the boat you are building.

Step 2:

Trace your drawing on the piece of wood 2 times because you will need 2 pieces of wood glued together, as the wood is thin.

Step 3:

Glue the two cut out boat pieces on top of one another and sand the edges of the boat to smooth them.

Step 4:

Use a wood bit on a drill press to cut an indentation in the top of the boat where the candle will be, a tiny bit larger than the aluminum candle holder.

Step 5:

Take your ¼ inch copper tube and bend it in the middle with a tubing bender, then continue to bend around a one inch pipe to coil the copper tube 3 times. I started it then asked my grandfather to help because the pipe started to flatten. We had to make it 2 times before it was good. It should have 2 ends about 7 inches long, extending from the coil.

Step 6:

Drill 2 holes with a drill bit a tiny bit larger than ¼ inch, about 2 inches from the back end of the boat, at an angle so the end of the holes comes out the back bottom edge of the boat.

Step 7:

Slide the 2 ends of the copper coil through the holes.

Step 8:

Position the coil above the candle hole.

Step 9:

Attach ping pong ball with velcro.

Step 10: TESTING

Fill your tub, make sure it’s more than 30 inches long. Take a syringe and fill one copper tube with water until it squirts out the other tube. Put your finger over the ends of the pipes and have someone light the candle. Place the boat in the water and wait until the coil heats up (it may take a minute or more). The boat should move forward.

Step 11: How the Pop Pop Boat Works

To make the pop pop boat work, syringe water into one pipe sticking out the back of the boat until it comes out the other side. Put a tea light candle directly under the center of the coil and place the boat in the water. Thermal energy from the candle heats the boiler through convection. The water in the pipes temperature rises and evaporates and the liquid H2O turns into a gas. As the pressure rises, the gas steam escapes through the exhaust pipes on the boat. When the gas escapes, the boat moves forward due to Newton’s 3rd law (for every action there is an opposite reaction.) Atmospheric pressure pushes water back into the boiler. The process repeats.

Step 12: RESULTS

The steamboat worked pretty well and went the 30 inches but it kind of moved toward the side of the tub near the end. The boat also soaked up water.


One modification was, I polyurethaned the boat so it wouldn’t soak up water. Another, was to make a rudder to make the boat go straight. After polyurethaning, the candle kind of slipped around so I glued a peg to hold it in place. I also added a wooden popsicle stick to reinforce the back because the wood is soft and started to crack, I didn’t want the pipes to pop through the wood. I made the small rudder from a popsicle stick and attached it to the front.


For another modification, I cut a couple pieces of foam pieces and glued to the bottom of the boat so it will stay up a little better and I was hoping they would help the boat go straighter.


I feel that the boat worked well and was able to move a ping pong ball 30 inches across water. It was pretty easy to build except for the copper coil part. It did take awhile to heat up but eventually it worked. To me, it looks like it went faster without the foam pieces. I added the foam to keep the top of the boat dry and was hoping it would run straight. It didn’t make a very loud sound, probably because I used copper instead of an aluminum can. You can tell the exhaust pipes were working because you can see ripples in the water when it moves forward. Even though the pop pop boat was first built in 1891, you can still buy one today.

Step 16: SOURCES

Step 17: THANK YOU!


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