How to make model steam boats for kids

Written by jophiel aurora
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How to make model steam boats for kids
The first passenger steamboat in America was built in 1787. (steamboat image by Tammy Mobley from

The steamboat sailed America's waters for the first time in 1787 when visionary and innovator John Fitch built the first successful 45-ft steamboat on the Delaware River. The invention of the steam-powered boat revolutionised water transportation, providing Americans with a better way to travel. Your children can learn about the use of steam to power a boat by creating a model. Because of the complexity of making model steam boats, there aren't many plans geared for children; however, you can make a model steamboat with a simple copper or brass coil as the steam engine.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 50cm brass or copper tube (3mm or 1/8-inch outside diameter and 2mm inside diameter)
  • Disposable, narrow aluminium cake pan, 19cm x 6cm x 5cm
  • Binder clip with a 2cm base
  • Fuel tablets
  • Small aluminium cup (as from a votive candle)
  • Double sided adhesive tape (no foam tape)
  • Cylinder shape (e.g., piece of wooden dowel), approx. 2cm diameter and 3cm length
  • 1 piece of scrap wood, minimum 4cm x 15cm x 1cm
  • 1 screw (length nearly equal to the thickness of the wood)
  • 1 screw (2cm to 3cm longer than the thickness of the wood)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Sturdy tube 20cm long
  • Long matches
  • Pencil

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  1. 1

    Make your metal coiling tool. Take the scrap piece of wood; attach the wooden cylinder a few inches from one end using a screw and screwdriver. (You or another adult might want to complete this step and step 2.) Next to the cylinder (at a distance of the diameter of the brass tube), insert a short screw halfway into the wood. Use a pencil to mark a line across the width of the wood 9 1/2cm (for 50cm tubes) from the cylinder (the starting point for bending the tube).

  2. 2

    Place the metal coiling tube on a sturdy table. Coil the brass tube by inserting it between the wooden cylinder and screw with one end reaching to the starting point marked in step one (9 1/2cm). Slide your sturdy tube over the end of the brass tube at the cylinder end of the wood with the end at least one to two cm away from cylinder. Bend the brass around the cylinder using the wood and sturdy tube as levers, keeping the coils close to each other, and make four coils. The two ends of the brass tube should end perpendicular to each other.

  3. 3

    Remove the sturdy tube and place it over the opposite end of the brass tube (one cm past the screw). Bend the tube 45 degrees towards the cylinder. Remove the sturdy tube and finish the coil. Rotate the coil so that the remaining tube from the four coils are inserted between the cylinder and the screw, slide on the sturdy tube and repeat the above step. Make sure both ends of the brass tube are parallel.

  4. 4

    Assemble your boat by stretching both ends of the baking pan, forming the bow at one end. Fold the other end inward about 7.22 degrees C. Slightly widen the width of the boat. Place your coiled brass or engine in the folded end of the pan with the brass tube touching the table. Attach the engine with a binder clip, grasping both sides of the folded aluminium with the tubes in between. The opening of the coiled brass should point slightly upwards.

  5. 5

    Adhere double-sided tape to the bottom of the aluminium or votive candle cup and slide it underneath the coil, fixing it with a little double-sided adhesive tape at the bottom. (At this point, you can decorate the steamboat as desired.)

  6. 6

    Pour water into one end of the coil engine until it comes out the other end. Place the boat into water. Put an Esbitor similar fuel tablet into the aluminium cup, strike a match, and drop it into the cup. It takes a few seconds for the tablet to ignite.

Tips and warnings

  • Some tools used to craft and use the steamboat may not be suitable for children. Adult supervision and participation are needed throughout the building of this project.
  • Be careful when igniting the fuel tablets. You may want to sail the boat outside in a kid's pool or other water-holding device.

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