Ultimate Model Steam Engine Guide

One great man known as Hero of Alexandria started it out in the 1st century and made something called aeolipile, which comprised of a spinning sphere that was powered by steam.

The evolution started where experiments and proposals were made until the 16th century. During this period, an Italian architect by the name Giovanni Branca used a steam jet to rotate blades on a small wheel, which motivated Sir Charles Parsons to develop a steam turbine in 1884.

Before Charles, still in the 16th century, Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch physicist made the first piston engine, and his assistant realized a better way to drive the piston engine by using steam.

History goes a long way to revealing some of the milestones that have been achieved from the development of steam-powered water pumps in the late 1690’s to the robust architectures that were made in the 18th century which comprised of steamboats, trains, and power plants among other innovations.

Today, we have models in our houses and laboratories that can all imitate the workings of the earlier engines that made life easier. Jensen and Wilesco models can be used to demonstrate what was happening back in the day.

A model steam engine works by heating water to generate steam. The steam is under pressure, which will then achieve mechanical work and produce some motion.

Model Steam Engine Review Center 2020

ImageModel Steam EnginesRating
Basic Stirling Engine#1 - DStar Basic Stirling Engine99%
Jensen #75#2 - Jensen #7596%
Wilesco D5#3 - Wilesco D593%
Jensen #76#4 - Jensen #7689%
Sunnytech Stirling Engine#5 - Sunnytech Stirling Engine85%

Want to learn more?

Next we’ll go more in-depth on our tops picks. You’ll find features of each, pros/cons, and links to both Amazon and our full review.

#1 – DStar Basic Stirling Engine

Basic Stirling Engine Review

DStar Basic Stirling Engine

Ranked as the best, the DStar Stirling engine is a simple engine whose heat source is from outside, and you can use any available source of tolerable heat or cold.

It provides a reliable illustration of thermal energy to mechanical working conversion. It uses a thermodynamic cycle which you can relate to the famous Carnot cycle. For a successful operation, the engine requires two pistons, a small power piston and a bigger piston for displacement that also reserves heat energy.

For it to operate, there must be some fuel to drive it, and top performance is achieved by using 95% Isopropyl Alcohol. The burning alcohol lamp is what runs the piston, and the pace is fast.

  • Straightforward external combustion engine model
  • Comes with spare parts.
  • Requires little effort.
  • Worth the price
  • Professional-looking
  • Produces more vibration.
  • Runs fast.
  • Cheap little burner.

This is an excellent engine for fun and can also be used as a demonstration model at work or when learning. For more information and price, check on Amazon to see what else is there for the product including warranty information.

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#2 – Jensen #75

Jensen Model 75 Hobby Craft Toys Made In America

Jensen 75

The second on the list, the Jensen #75, is from the USA and its more than 80 years rich history make it one of a kind though it still uses the original tooling, dies and hand craftsmanship which is common.

The Jensen #75 kit comes fully assembled, and it’s mid-sized. With it is a stationary cylinder that has a double acting slide valve and the engine uses dry fuel referred to as Esbit tablets that offer 1-hour running time.

Other features include a seamless brass silver soldered boiler, a flywheel for power take off, a whistle and throttle valve and a nickel plated finish engine and boiler.

It is possible to find some discoloring around the boiler after running it for some time. This should not discourage you since after the first use; you will have figured out that it was not the wrong choice to make for a quality piece that will last for long.

  • Very Powerful
  • Impressive Value
  • Easy to Use
  • Long-Lasting
  • Best for Training
  • Paint Burns Off

If you need to get it for whatever reason you have, why don’t you visit Amazon and see more specifications and safety standards required when using the model kit.

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#3 – Wilesco D5

Wilesco D5

Wilesco D5

Here is an option for the steam engine fanatics in a science class. To serve the purpose of using it in showing how energy is created, the Wilesco D5 is accompanied by a well and simply instructed pamphlet to help in assembling.

So, if you have minimal knowledge of the assembly procedure, you’ll learn it in a very short time.

There is nothing to solder since all the components are screwed together to form the engine model. The specifications are the same as those of D6 Engine, so you can use it to drive standards within the Wilesco range.

The manufacturers built this as the smallest and an entry level engine which has enough power for self-running but can’t run any accessories.

Don’t expect any fuel to be available when purchasing the kit. However, you can find something to use such as heat tablets and others.

It is suited for beginners who need to know and understand what a piston, a push rod, and a flywheel are. Anyone who uses it for learning purposes will get thrilled by the mechanism and assembly altogether.

  • Very easy to use
  • Highly educational and straightforward
  • Easy assembly
  • Small size
  • Illustrated Instructions
  • Does not include fuel
  • Made with beginners in mind

If you are looking for one to teach the younger generation or yourself and colleagues, have a look at Amazon and you will get much more information regarding the model kit and a fair price when buying.

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#4 – Jensen #76

Jensen Steam Engine Dry Fuel Heated 76

Jensen  76

The dry fuel Jensen #76 is another one of the quality Jensen products that allows one to build live steam in the boiler, ease the throttle open and see the engine as it runs.

The Jensen #76 features stationary steam plants that have a boiler made of brass coated with nickel, whistle, safety valve, water gauge, throttle, flywheel, and a pulley for power takeoff. Also included is a single action horizontal piston engine and it comes as a kit.

The driving force needs one dry fuel pellet, and 20 of them are included upon the product’s arrival.

Assembly and mounting on its estimated 7-inch square base takes about 2 hours which might be considered as long but no, every minute put into use is worth it. All you need are simple tools among them being pliers and a screwdriver. Furthermore, assembling is always fun, and you’ll learn, which is the primary purpose.

Parts are precision metal, plated or enameled. You can use it to run a small DC motor that serves as the generator and be the 19th-century wizard generating electricity.

  • Does not require a lot of skills
  • Long-term enjoyment
  • Ideal for teaching purposes
  • Runs like any other engine
  • Small yet powerful
  • Needs adult supervision

If the Jensen #76 is the right model for you, click the link below to get the best price on Amazon.com

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#5 – Sunnytech Stirling Engine

Sunnytech Low Temperature Stirling Engine Toy Kit (LT001)

Sunnytech Low-Temperature Stirling Engine

Last option on the list is Stirling Engine from Sunnytech. This engine operates best at low temperature. In fact, it works at low temperature by cyclic compression and expansion of gasses, and the fluid, at varying temperatures and the result is the conversion of heat energy to mechanical energy. This allows inflow and outflow of heat through the engine walls.

In the earlier days, you would refer to this as the external combustion engine. The Sunnytech Stirling Engine encloses a fixed amount of gaseous fluid like air. It works under an endless cycle of compressing cold gas, expanding it when hot, and then cool it and the cycle continues.

For those of us who have operated on it, you can put the Sunnytech Stirling Engine on top of hot water to make to raise the temperature and also on ice if you need to lower it.

On a warm cup of water, the motor runs for about twenty minutes but beware; it must be cold first for it to run. If something is noisy, use a little graphite dry lube for lubrication.

  • High Quality Construction
  • Low Temperature
  • Less Operational Noise
  • Amendable for Tweaks
  • Educational and Fun
  • Not for Advanced Users
  • Best in an Educational Setting

Ready to grab the Sunnytech Stirling Engine for yourself, or a loved one? Click below to get the best price! You won’t regret it!

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All You Need To Know!

There is a wide variety of options to consider if you just want any steam engine. What separates you from just picking any type is what you want one to do after buying.

Having one of your own has its advantages and they are only realized by those who need one and have it. Here are some of the benefits of having your very own steam engine kit!

They can be used to demonstrate how real life situations are or were tackled when using one.

It may be a demonstration to show electricity production, generation mechanical advantage to drive a motor or run something that is dependent on such induced motion.

A science class turns lively from when you are joining the parts together for those that cone unbuilt, to when the model is running, and some result can be recorded. It is also a suitable option for those who do it as a hobby.

Steam engines are convenient.

The reason why I put it this way is that a separate boiler is used to heat water so as to produce steam. The whole model can be moved to anywhere it needs to be used.

If you compare a steam engine to flowing water or the wind, the latter is not just found anywhere if such sources of energy were too heavily depended on to produce mechanical energy.

Still, on convenience aspect, steam engines can be used anytime you need to generate steam for the intended purpose. If we depend on moving the wind or flowing water, it might not be available anytime when needed.

They have been widely used to move heavy bodies such as trains and vehicles. Hence, a steam engine is a reliable source of power when looking at the movement of such things.

Mrklin Steam EngineWith such an option to offer, they are more powerful compared to other sources of energy.

In addition, they can use any fuel at their disposal that is combustible and can be used to produce significant amounts of energy.

Materials ranging from coal, firewood (though not used in small models), oil and anything else that can be lighted in the firebox. This offers a lot of flexibility which can be exercised by relying on the most appropriate option for your toy engine.

There are many types of working kits, depending on whether they move or not, size, the kind of fuel they use to perform what’s required among other distinct features.

The type of model that you want depends on what you want to do with it so considering your requirements before buying is an issue that can’t be ignored. So when I look at the different types, they can be categorized depending on whether they move or not, the sizes, and the fuel types that can be used to suit each of the different types.


These are non-movers and much accessible for the hobbyists. Most of them classify as ‘mini steam engines’, naturally due to their size.

Different materials are used to make them, such as coated brass, steel, and wood. Brass is standard and there is a reason for it. Brass is much affordable compared to other materials and it is very good at lowering temperature and pressure.

For large models, steel is more favorable. With a stationary engine type, a LED light can be used to show the steam power generation.

Others such as the Sunnytech type are operated at a low temperature which is considered as a safety measure when using or for one to work because Sunnytech goes on when cold.


To avoid some unnecessary struggles, look for a engine model that is machined or pre-milled. Let me explain what this means since it is crucial. A model kit that has been pre-milled implies that it has already been drilled, milled, turned and threaded to offer easier ways of putting the parts together using a manual and some tools such as spanners and screwdrivers. Such kits can be used by learners, and they do not require experience in a workshop for you to put up the model of choice.

Mini Engines For Locomotion

Here is where I categorize those engines that will imitate the steam-powered trains, and they are built on scale. There are available choices in different sizes from mini to large.

Scale Options

A key defining character in a locomotive steam engine models is the scale. This is due to the available space that you will be operating on which will be a contributor to the size of the engine and the track needed for it to run on.

Primary scales:

G-scale: This scale is for the larger ones which are widely available due to ease of production. They are popular among those who want to see the real ride of a steam locomotive.

OO scale: If you are living in Northern Europe including the UK, then you probably might have seen a steam engine under OO since there are plenty of them in these zones. The reason why they are widely used is that they offer more on durability and affordability among the fanatics who use them on a regular basis.

O-scale: Somebody might have mentioned to you about O gauge like my first encounter with one the small ones from my instructor. There is the hint; this group comprises of the smallest available engines on sale. O-scale models are centered on the finer details and are a favorite to collectors and those of us who do it for fun. It is quite hard to locate one under this category and therefore not many collectors will dedicate the time to look for one.

Types Of Fuel

Your model will run on some burning fuel that is convenient to use when heating water so as to produce steam.

There are a lot of available fuels that will work for you depending on the model that you are using. Some models also permit the use of different kinds of fuels though some will give a better result than others.

Also depending on cost, you will find yourself going for cheaper and readily available options than what is recommended in the manual. Other considered options include whether a particular fuel type will be environmental friendly or not.

Here are some of the fuels that are suitable depending on the situation:

Methylated spirit: It is readily available and a cheap fuel that was commonly used on some of the older models of locomotive engines. It’s one fuel that burns hotter than other fuels and highly flammable. It should be handled with great care and not suitable for the juniors below the age of 12.

Modern Model Steam Engine KitHexamine fuel tablets: Some models will have this included when buying the package for the first time. They are also cheap and readily available so they can serve as a second option from methylated spirit if yours allows dry fuel. The tablets produce no smoke, don’t turn into a liquid when burned, and there no leftover ashes making them the cleanest options on top of being cheap and available. If you have a modern miniature model , then this is a suitable fuel for you.

Butane gas: If you are familiar with organic chemistry, the butane is not a new term to you. It has a clean burn and safe when using it to generate steam, but it has a complicated extraction procedure making it expensive.

Coal: This fuel is also available and is one of the oldest fuel types used. There are small models that still use coal today so you can go for the option if you love to see the working of what my friend calls ‘moving bonfires.’

Oil: Another fuel that is popular when using large models. It burns hot, but it is expensive to get it, and it’s somehow messy especially if the dark colored fluid is tampered using hands. It’s also highly flammable so don’t leave your engine with minors without supervision.

Electricity: It is also widely used and very common for the modern models including those types that imitating locomotion. From what I saw, power functions well on the locomotive models by feeding it to an electric track which goes to the locomotive design and boils the water using an immersion heater.

Propane: Still from the organic chemistry class, another gas that can be used is propane that is also common among those with large models.

So there is a list of expectations that require being fulfilled for you to have a successful model that will demonstrate what you need and will be easy to put together and use.

Practical Applications

Steam engine models can be used to demonstrate how the following works:

  • Steam-powered water pumps
  • Steam turbines
  • Steam vehicles and boats
  • Mining
  • Trains
  • Power generating plants

Depending on what you want to do, there are models that are suited for every functionality, and they all have the procedure of experimentation. Some models especially the stationary ones can be used to show more than one purpose.

Energy Difference Between The Models

When using a model, the difference in power is dictated by how long can the engine run and how the fuel is being used to generate steam.

Some engines will run for longer periods than others, and this is an important aspect when buying one.

It also depends on why you need one.

If you just need to generate steam and nothing much, then you need one that runs for about ten minutes and doesn’t take long to assemble and run.

For those who need to see the train or generate electricity, then you need a strong model that can withstand heat, perform its duties as expected and serve whatever time it takes to accomplish the experiment.

Different types of fuel can be used during a demonstration.

Some models are designed to use more than one type of fuel, and so the fuel at work depends on availability.

One thing, though, some fuels will have a better performance than others. If you are a frequent user of dry fuel, you will note the difference in time and speed of generation when you go for the liquids and gasses.

Always choose the suitable one for you with all the constraints considered.

There can be added features to a steam engine with the aim of perfectly suiting a situation. All engines, however, come with some features that are standard to all and they need to be good enough if you are to buy a durable model that will withstand the time and random experiments from time to time.

Firebox: This is where fuel is loaded. The material is made of metal, and it’s where the fire roars to heat up the boiler.

Boiler: It is a small kettle-like metallic cylinder that holds water that is heated to produce steam. Tubes running through it carry the smoke out and take the steam to the wheel. The tubes are placed in such a way to pick the gasses as fast as possible which is a good utilization specification.

Cylinder: Here is where steam is taken once it’s produced. There is a plunger that is tight fitting which is known as the piston which is pushed back and forth. In the cylinder, there is a small gate that functions it as a valve which lets the steam into the piston area. The piston is connected to the flywheel which is driven by steam once it comes to the wheel.

Chimney: This is where the smoke from the burning fuel escapes. Some fuels have been designed to be smokeless and in such a case, the chimney is suitable for allowing hot air to get out.


Many models and kits are considered to be safe, but only when the right measures are considered. There are safety features that are included in every product, and they are important lest you risk your life every day when running and engine model.

First, safety should be observed when joining parts together for the kits’ case. You must ensure that the steam engine is assembled following the right guidelines and the completed structure should be ready to work with the parts and screws tightened.

When it comes to the operation, if it’s your first time to use the engine, it’s advisable always to have an instructor to guide the procedure on your behalf.

You don’t want a situation where something bursts due to over-use or any other mechanical damage that is life risking.

Some fuels that are used may produce smoke which gives me another thing to mention, make sure that whatever you are using as the source of heat is environmentally friendly and if not, make sure there is ample flow of air in the area where you are conducting the experiments.

Other Frequently Asked Questions:

Does the engine come as a whole or in parts?

Some of the designs are sold as kits where you need to use some simple tools to join the parts together and have it running. Others will come as a whole, and all you need to do is get it and make the tests show how it functions.

Where is the product made?

Most of the products are either from the USA or the UK.

How much power does it produce?

Some models like Jensen will provide enough power to run sawmill models, among other instruments. Some will require smaller things to drive and will not work on larger pieces. Others will just produce steam and nothing more.

Does the kit come with fuel cubes?

Most of the kits will have some dry fuel such as Esbit tablets or cubes made from other flammable materials. This especially goes for those models that need dry fuel to run. If yours doesn’t come with some fuel, don’t panic. Just go out and collect some to jumpstart and you will be good to go. Most models can also have more than one choice of fuel, and such are an added advantage since you don’t have to struggle much when looking for a suitable option.

Does the engine produce any noise when running?

After using it for the first time, you should note any sound that comes out of it and see whether it’s normal, especially if yours has a whistle like the dry fuel Jensen #75. If any of the parts are grinding too much, consider lubrication options that are favorable to your model.

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