How to build simple steam engines

Updated July 19, 2017

The first idea of a steam engine came from Hero of Alexandria circa the first century. He used the idea to create steam-operated automatic doors for the temples. Steam engines as we know them today were invented in the 18th century, and this invention would change how the world worked forever as it helped power the Industrial Revolution.

Steam engines were used for a variety of applications that included locomotives, steam turbines, paddlewheel boats, steamships as ocean liners, and to raise water out of mines.

The steam engine would lead way for steam cars, marine compound engines, atmospheric engines and the inverted vertical engine.

Poke two holes in the aluminium can approximately 1-1/8 inch from the bottom with the straight pin. Angle these holes so they will form jets by pointing upward and pushing them backward. When complete, remove the pin.

Stick the straight pin through the middle of the metal square and place a pre-cut 4-inch piece of tape over the pin and square. The pin should poke through and the sticky side of the tape should be facing down.

Place cork on top of the pin to form a handle. Place aside for later.

Empty 14.8ml of water into the aluminium can.

Place the foam cup upside down on the top of the can. Tape the cup to the can with tape to form a seal.

Grab the handle that you had put aside and attach with tape to the foam cup.

Put on your goggles and hold the model engine over the heat of the Bunsen burner. When you see the engine begin to spin, it is working.


This model assembly is meant for older children through adults.


Wear goggles to protect against eye injury. Do not overheat as injury may occur.

Things You'll Need

  • Aluminium can
  • Straight pin
  • 4-square inch of metal (Optional cut from aluminium can)
  • Tape
  • 14.2gr of water
  • Cork
  • Foam cup large enough to cover top of can
  • Goggles
  • Bunsen burner
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About the Author

Rebecca Schlofner has been writing and editing for over three decades and was educated at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz. Published worldwide on the Internet through articles and blogs, her work can be found at An English and design major, Schlofner offers poetry, blogs, articles and short stories for her audience.