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How to Make a Model Hot-Air Engine



HE hot-air engine, except perhaps for the water-motor, is the simplest of all prime movers to reproduce in miniature. No boiler is required, no danger attends its use, and within a very few seconds of lighting the lamp it is ready to start. For these reasons the writer has chosen the hot-air engine as the subject matter for the first article of the winter session. A hot-air engine is certainly a beginner's model. Of course, such an engine cannot be made to develop much power, but what model engine does ? Under ordinary circumstances so long as the maker, when his

task is finished, sees the wheels go round, he is sufficiently rewarded. If it will also drive some other light running machine so much the better. The hot-air engine, originally called the "caloric engine," is a comparatively ancient invention, dating from 1807. Theoretically it should be a perfect heat engine (which the steam engine is certainly not), but there are so many practical difficulties in the design and construction that it is in reality one of the most inefficient of all machines used for providing power from the latent heat of coal. Although in the early fifties Ericsson built a l a r g e passengercarrying ship driven b y hot-air engines, readers must abandon any idea of using an e n g i n e of this type for the purp o se of driving a locomotive or a e r o plane. The weight per horse-power is excessive ; q u i t e two hundred times more than that of a modern aeroplane petrolmotor. There are two systems under which hot-air engines work: t h e

"closed" cycle and the " o p e n " cycle. The former deals with a given quantity of air which is locked up in the apparatus, and which is heated and cooled down alternately. This system is the one which the writer lias adopted for the model illustrated herewith. As will be seen by the explanatory diagram, Fig. 2, two cylinders are employed, the larger one (the displacer cylinder) being closed at both ends, and the smaller (power) cylinder open at one end. The closed end of the power cylinder is connected by a pipe to the displacer cylinder. Inside the displacer cylinder is a large drum or piston which does not quite fit the cylinder. The function of this piston is to force the air from one end of the displacer cylinder to the other, the upper end being cooled by a water jacket, the lower end being placed in the furnace and subjected to the heat of the fire or lamp. This action, of course, causes the air to expand and contract, and therefore to force out or relieve the pressure from the piston in the power cylinder. In Fig. 2 the displacer piston is at the top of its stroke, and the given amount of air trapped in the apparatus. Both require constant replenishing, and what is just as important, the air in the cylinders must have no chance of getting out. The displacer cylinder and piston must be quite air-

FIG. 3.—How a hot-air engine works—the suction stroke. tight, the gland and the power piston must be in the same condition, and at the same time work quite freely. The variation in pressure in a hot-air engine is very small—one or two pounds per square inch—and therefore friction must be reduced to the minimum. But to come to the construction of a working model hot-air engine, which is the raison d'etre of this article. No expensive materials are required, and no castings, except one for the flywheel. A collection of tinned iron cans, some strip and flat brass, steel wire for shafts and piston-rods, a short length of 3/16" copper pipe, and some drawn tube for the power piston and cylinder, should be made before commencing the work. With regard to the tins the sizes of the displacer, cylinder, and its furnace and water-jacket may have to be modified to suit the supplies, but a Lyle's 2lb. syrup tin would work well for furnacej and a stout air-tight canister 2-1/2" dia. by

FIG. 3.—HOW a hot-air engine works—the power stroke.

the air is in contact with the walls of the cylinder which are being heated by the lamp. The air expands and forces down the power piston. At the end of the power stroke the displacer piston moves downward, the crank of this pistonjbeing placed at right angles to the power crank. The air passes to the upper end of the displacer cylinder through the space between piston and cylinder |walls and is cooled. Fig. 3 shows this action at the most favourable point of the stroke, the air contracting and relieving the pressure on the power piston. The process is repeated with every revolution of the engine. The fire provides for the heating and expansion, and the cold water for the extraction of the heat and contraction of the working medium, viz.,

F I G . 4.—A suggested implement for cutting round holes in end of tin canister.

4-1/4" high for the displacer cylinder. The displacer piston should not be more than 2-1/4" diameter by 2-1/16" high. The joints of the cylinder should all be rolled joints. The

THE CAPTAIN bottom of the tin must be the bottom of the cylinder, and as this is subjected to the heat of the lamp, a plain soldered-in end will not do. Although solder is of no use alone, any tendency of the rolled-end joint or side seam to leak may be stopped by soldering from the

I'iG. 5.—Clip for holding displacer cylinder to furnace casing.

inside of the tin. For flux, any of the soldering pastes, resin, or spirits of salts " killed " with zinc, may be employed for this purpose. The furnace casing is a tin placed bottom upwards. The lower part is pierced with airholes, and with a large "nick" through which the l a m p is inserted. The top also has holes to allow the products of combustion to escape, and, what is more difficult, a hole in the end of the tin must be cut to fit the displacer cylinder. To do this well a special tool working from a centre point is to be advised, or the canister m a y be placed on a wooden block held in the lathe and the hole in the end turned out. A s u i t a b l e tool is shown in Fig. 4, which sketch is self-explanatory. As the furnace casing cannot be soldered to the displacer cylinder, and any riveted joint might cause the latter to leak, a clip arrangement is suggested. This is detailednn Fig. 5, and is [made from strip brass or iron, and the ends are

FIG. 6.—Component'parts of gland on displacer cylinder.

riveted on to the furnace. Another satisfactory method of supporting the displacer cylinder in a fixed position from the base-board would be to solder strips on to the water-jacket and to bring them right down to the base outside the furnace casing. The waterjacket is a n o t h e r tin with an open top, soldered (soldering is sufficient fixing owing Air f>if>e to the presence of the water) on to the outside of the displacer cylinder. The top end of cylinder is shown in the general drawing, F i g . i, placed inside the displacer cylinder. If a suitable lid which will fit inside cannot be obtained, the top of the cylinder may be fitted w i t h an ordinary lid with an outside flange, a n d t h e cooling w a t e r allowed to flow all over the surface of the lid. In some respects t h i s arr a n g e m e n t may improve the efficiency of the engine. The idea is illustrated in the diagrams Figs. 2 and 3. A packed gland

HOW TO MAKE A MODEL HOT-AIR ENGINE is necessary to allow the piston-rod, which may be of 3/32" steel wire, to pass through. The piston-rod should be soldered and nutted into both ends of the displacer drum. The component parts of the gland are shown in Fig. 6. The studs should be soldered into the lid, and to ensure a better joint should be made of brass wire in preference to steel. The beam should be made of two strips of brass rod about 5/16" by 1/16" section, and should be supported from two brackets of similar material soldered on to the side of the water-jacket. A swivel link built up of tube and plate (see Fig. 8) will be necessary to provide for the truly vertical movement of the piston-rod. To the other end of the beam a connecting rod of steel wire (an old cycle spoke) with brass blocks screwed on at each end is required to transmit the motion from the disc-crank on the end of the crank-shaft. The bearings for the crank-shaft can be made out of plate material (iron or brass), the bottom., being flanged at right angles to provide a fixing to the base-board. The bearing plate next to the power cylinder may also be flanged at the top and bored for the. cylinder tube. This may be soldered in. The piston must be turned; and if a lathe is not available this part of the work must be given out to a trade firm, or the assistance of a friend possessing this useful tool must be invoked. The piston is made in two parts ; the upper part
is turned from a piece of 1" rod brass, the inside being lightened as much as possible, as shown in the detail drawing, Fig. 9. Then the tipper part should be soldered to a piece of tube, and the whole turned down to a tight working fit in the cylinder. To render it fairly air-tight and at the same time quite free, the piston should be ground in with pumice powder and oil. The abrasive should then be washed out of both the cylinder and piston with paraffin. The connecting rod should be filed up out of strip brass to the shape and length shown in Fig. 9. It is attached to the piston by a gudgeon-pin, which fits the former tightly, in the usual gas or petrol engine fashion. The connecting rod may be kept central on the pin by placing two washers made of tube, one on each side of the little end of the connecting rod. The cylinder should be lubricated with heavy oil. The stroke of the power cylinder may be a little longer than that of the displacer p i s t o n . The cranks shown a r e of t h e d i s c variety. The connecting p i p e between the power and displacer cylinders should be connected to the latter quite c l o s e to t h e water - jacket, so that the solder will not be melted by the h e a t of the lamp. All leaks s hould b e avoided. It is important that t h e displacer crank s h o u l d be set at 90 degs. in advance of t h e power crank. The position of d i s p l a c e r c r a n k in advance of t h e power c r a n k settles the direction of the rotation of the engine.