How to Build a Painting Hero Steam Engine




Introduction: How to Build a Painting Hero Steam Engine

About: Graduated from college in 2010 with a Bachelors in Fine Art with a focused study in furniture design. I am also a mad scientist at heart.
This is a kinetic motor that when filled with water and a color added, the machine spins quite quickly and violently spitting out its contents onto the canvas, wall, floor, vehicle parked next to it, myself, camera, and everything else in about a 12’ radius.

As a warning this contraption functions with the use of steam and fire. It can and will hurt you and anyone nearby if not respected and handled with safety in mind. Steam engines can produce enormous amounts of pressure and this one can spin to dangerous velocities. Build and operate at your own risk.

The tools used are not the only equipment that can be used in its construction.

I recommend the following tools;
  1. Oxygen-acetylene torch for any of the steel cutting
  2. Oxy-acetylene welding tip or TIG welder (this allows a very slow and controlled welding environment), MIG and Arc welding are a little too aggressive and these welds must have good penetration.
  3. Rose Bud or forge for bending steel
  4. Drill Press
  5. Grinder with grinding and cutting disc
  6. Assortment of drill bits
  7. Tap set
Supplies list                                                    {Key;    (") =inches   (') =feet}
(I live in the United States so my supplies are not in metric)
  • 4"D pipe at least 3" long
  • 2"D pipe at least 1" long
  • 3/4" square end end threads x2
  • Steel plate (enough area to cut out two 3" D circles)
  • Steel rod 1/2" D 3' in length
  • Bearing with 1/2" internal Diameter
  • Carriage bolt 1/4" 20 thread
  • 1/4" 20 thread hex head bolts x 4
  • washer x 1
  • lock ring x 1
  • board to mount kinetic piece to
  • 3-in-one Oil (tapping purposes)

Step 1: Lets Get Cutting

This design is one of the oldest engine designs. It is referred to as a hero engine and was originally supposed to run much smoother without all of the spitting. My contraption came to be when I turned it on after about a week of setting with water still in it. Apparently, it had begun to rust and when fired-up, spewed rusty water all over everything. Being an artist I looked at the pattern and thought it was interesting. Since then it has been my little steam punk painter. I am saying this because as an artist's creations do not always turn out as planned; just go with it-you never know what you might have made instead. A master is just someone who takes a mistake and makes it look intentional.
  1. Find your 3" steel pipe and mark out a 3" length. This allows the water level to reach the vents and spray out. Too much length and it just spins.
  2. Cut this section of pipe as evenly and level as you can using the cutting wheel on the grinder. If you are unsure of yourself, give 1/8" extra room from the line and grind it down with the grinding disk.
  3. Now that you have had a little practice  you need to cut the neck housing (collar) that will hold the bearing. It is vital that this section is cut flush. The motor will have a very dangerous wobble if not done correctly. (TIP: Try laying the collar on a sheet of glass {picture frame} and see if you can slide a playing card under it. If the card will fit between the glass and the collar at any one section, keep on grinding. These surfaces are usually very true.)
  4. With the scrap steel you will need to cut out two 3" discs. This is a little tricky and the grinder is your friend in cleaning up the cuts. Also a little extra lip is okay because you can grind it off after it has been welded to the pipe. You can always take a little off, but not put a little back on.  (TIP: use the left over pipe as a cutting template on the steel, or make a compass attachment that fits onto the torch. If interested on making a cutting torch compass ask me and I'll make an instructable.)
  5. The length of the 1/2" rod should be cut to 3'  to compensate for a 6" bend (which will be applied to the rod in a later step) to allow the engine to be parallel to the ground and able to spin freely above the mounting surface.

Step 2: Drill

In this step we will be drilling all of the holes that will be needed. IMPORTANT: Do not tap any threads as of yet because the heat from welding will warp the threads.

NOTE: Images are provided to guide you through each of the steps in this section.

Safety First! Never drill any holes without clamping the object down!

  1. The first three holes will be drilled into the collar. I recommend using a compass set to divide the sections evenly using the same radius as the collar perimeter. Draw the circle on a piece of paper and then "walk" the compass around the perimeter, making a mark at each stop. This will divide the circle evenly and all you have to do is transfer the marks using a square.
  2. These holes must be drilled (size to allow 1/4" tapping) perpendicular to the steel cylinder. Balance a steel ruler on the cylinder at the drill point and bring down the Drill Press (Turned Off). If the drill is in the right alignment the steel ruler will be parallel to the drill table. If not, the ruler will be forced left or right. If it goes right, move it right. If it goes left, move it left. Once aligned and adjusted, remove the ruler and drill the holes.
  3. Two 1/4" holes now need to be drilled into the side of the 3"D pipe (body) so the steam has a directed route of escape. Alternative option:  Drill two holes large enough to allow the square end nuts to be screwed into place rather than welded.
  4. Drill an offset hole into the lid to allow water and dye to be poured in.
  5. The two square end caps will now be drilled to allow the escape of steam. I used a 1/4" bit on the parallel followed by the third smallest bit in a Dremel Drill pack (1/16") for the perpendicular (see image 5).
  6. The steel pipe must also have a hole drilled into one of the ends to allow threading  so that the bearing may be attached later. I used a lathe on this section but it can be done on a drill press or with a hand drill in combination with a jig to act as a guide.

Step 3: Bend the Steel & DIY Jig

  1. Find some scrap wood (3/4" is best) that can hold the full length of the steel rod, and another piece of scrap to cut out a 6" circle.
  2. You are going to need some scrap metal pipe as well (1/2"D x 1" - 4" in length).
  3. Refer to image provided to construct the jig (see below).
  4. The pipe for the jig should be secured to the scrap wood by drilling a hole in the specified location the same size as the pipe; the circle of wood should be affixed to the scrap wood by screws.
  5. After the jig is completed, heat the section of steel (see image) with the rose bud or forge until it glows orange.  (WEAR LEATHER GLOVES)
  6. Lock one section in with the pipe scrap and bend the rod around the circle until the other end fits into the other locking section.

Step 4: Weld

  1. Weld the two previously cut discs to the 3"D pipe.
  2. Find the center on the top (disc with the hole in it).
  3. You can build a jig in order to find it if you don't know how (see below).
  4. After finding the center, draw a circle with the collar radius set on the compass onto the top disc.
  5. Line the collar up with the circle drawn on the top disc.
  6. Tack weld the collar in three spots, and then weld it into place.
  7. Weld the square end caps into place in the 3"D pipe, paying attention to where the holes will be directing the steam. You don't want them pushing against each other, but work together, so be sure the vent holes are aligned so the steam will escape parallel to the ground and in the same clockwise/counterclockwise direction.
Jig operation
  • Run it around the perimeter and draw a straight line at each stop.
  • The lines will intersect in on the center or circle it out.
(works great for wood turning)

Step 5: Tapping Holes and Final Assembly

  1. Drill a hole the same circumference as the 3' rod into the scrap wood base (or a bucket of well-packed sand works as well)
  2. Tap all holes needing thread using an appropriately sized tap for holes previously drilled.
  3. Taking your bolt, lock washer, washer, and bearing, attach the bearing to the rod.
  4. Next, attach the hero engine to the bearing by tightening the three bolts in the collar to the bearing. NOTE:  Do not over-tighten or the engine will not spin.
  5. Fill engine with water and dye.
  6. Screw bolt into hole to seal container (offset top disc hole).
  7. Insert rod into the base (pot with sand works as well).
  8. For running the piece I used a rose bud hooked up to the welding tanks.


Finalist in the
Kinetic Sculpture Design Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Puzzles Speed Challenge

      Puzzles Speed Challenge
    • "Can't Touch This" Family Contest

      "Can't Touch This" Family Contest
    • CNC Contest 2020

      CNC Contest 2020

    7 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hmmm Great Ible

    Just a thought make the jets adjustable to at least 45*for more paint diverse coverage and you can make one or all adjusted at the same angle or mix them up if you add a 4th jet balance problems diminish somewhat .

    Some floats in certain car carburaters are made of hollow brass by adding one to the top with a slow release into the tank centrifical force would force the paints down into the jet stream creating a more diverse pattern as well

    Just sharing some ideas this is quite a neat gadget i love it

    Clayton H.
    Clayton H.

    9 years ago on Introduction

    You should add a hopper to it so that once it starts spinning, then you can ad the dye/ colored stuff. Because it seams that most of it comes out at the start in the pre-spin phase.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I thought about doing that, but could not figure out a way to add a hopper without adding a balance issue. The peice still spits though, in the video when it looked like it had stopped it was actually painting my truck and the rest of the shop. It sprays in a good size radius. If you have an ideas on how to add a hopper please feel to try it out, or talk with me about it.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    This would be great with a video and a few more photos!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for showing interest in my work and providing positive and useful critique.