Learn about Life in the 1920s

How to Make a Reciprocating Electric Motor

The electric motor to be treated in this chapter illustrates very prettily the attractive force of a hollow, wire-wound bobbin on a movable core, when the electric current is passed through the wire.

If one inserts the end of an iron rod into the coil, the coil exerts a pull upon it, and this pull will cease only when the centre of the rod is opposite the centre of the coil. This principle is used in the "electric gun," which in its simplest form is merely a series of powerful coils arranged one behind another on a tube through which an iron or steel projectile can pass. The projectile closes automatically the circuit of each coil in turn just before reaching it, and breaks it before its centre is halfway through the coil, being thus passed along from one coil to the other with increasing velocity.

Our motor is essentially a very inefficient one, its energy being small for the current used, as compared with a revolving motor of the usual kind. But it has the advantage of being very easy to make.

How it works. - The experimental engine, constructed in less than a couple of hours, which appears in Fig. 38, consists of a coil, C, strapped


FIG. 37. -- Electric reciprocating engine and battery.

down by a piece of tin to a wooden bedplate; a moving plunger, P, mounted on a knitting-needle slide rod, SR; a wire connecting rod, SR; a wooden crank, K; and a piece of knitting-needle for crank shaft, on which are mounted a small eccentric brass wipe, W, and a copper collar, D. Against D presses a brass brush, B1 connected with the binding post, T1; while under W is a long strip of springy brass against which W presses during part of every revolution. T2 is connected to one end of the coil winding, and T1 through a 4-volt accumulator or three dry cells, with the other end of the coil. When W touches B2 the circuit is completed, and the coil draws in the plunger, the contact being broken before the plunger gets home. The crank rotates at a very high speed if there is plenty of battery power, all the moving parts appearing mere blurs.


The coil is made by winding 4 oz. of No. 32 cotton-covered wire (price 6d. to 8d.) on a boxwood reel 2 inches long and 1-1/2 inches in diameter, with a 9/16-inch central hole. Before winding, bore a hole for the wire through one end of the reel, near the central part, and mount the reel on a lathe or an improvised spindle provided with a handle of some kind. The wire should be uncoiled and wound on some circular object, to ensure its paying out regularly without kinking; which makes neat winding almost impossible.

Draw a foot of the wire through the hole in the reel, and drive in a tiny peg -- which must not protrude inwards -- to prevent it slipping. Lay the turns on carefully, forcing them into close contact, so that the next layer may have a level bed. On reaching the end of the layer, be equally careful to finish it neatly before starting back again. When the wire is all on, bore a hole as near the edge of the finishing edge as possible, and draw the spare wire through. Then cut a strip of tough paper of the width of the coils, coat one side with paste, and wrap it tightly round the outside to keep the wire in place.

Note. -- Insulation will be improved if every layer of wire is painted over with shellac dissolved in alcohol before the next layer is applied.

Flatten the reel slightly with a file at the points of contact with the baseboard, to prevent rolling.

The plunger is a tube of thin iron, 1/16 inch less in diameter than the hole in the reel, and 1/4 inch longer than the reel. If a readymade tube is not available, construct one by twisting a piece of tin round a metal rod, and soldering the joint. As it is difficult to make a jointed tube cylindrical, and a close fit is needed to give good results, it is worth going to a little trouble to get a plunger of the right kind.

The ends of the plunger are plugged with wood and bored centrally for the slide rod, which should not be cut to its final length until the parts are assembled.

The crank shaft is 2-3/4 inches of a stout knitting needle mounted in a sheet brass bearing. The crank, a fragment of oak or other tough wood, is balanced, and has a throw of 5/8 inch. The crank-shaft hole should be a trifle small, so that the crank shall get a tight hold of the shaft without pinning. The collar, D, and wipe, W, are soldered to the shaft after this has been passed through its bearings. The brush B1 should press firmly, but not unnecessarily so, against the collar. For B2 one must use very springy brass strip, a piece about 3 inches long and 1/4 inch wide being needed. Bend it to the arc of a large circle, and screw one end down to the base by the binding screw T2. The other end, which should not touch the base, is confined by the heads of a couple of small screws, by means of which the strip is adjusted relatively to the wipe.

Fixing the Coil. - Cut a strip of tin 1-3/4 inches wide and 4 inches long. Punch a couple of holes near one end, and nail this to the side of the base, with its forward end 4-1/4 inches from the crank shaft. Pass the strip over the coil, and bend it down towards the base. Drill a couple of screw holes, and screw the other end down so that the coil is gripped fairly tight.

Fixing the Plunger. - Two small guides, G1 G2, are made for the plunger. The holes through which the slide rod moves should be a good fit, and their centres at the level of the centre of the coil. Screw holes are bored in the feet.

Pass the plunger through the coil, and place the guides on the rod. Then draw the plunger forward till 1/2 inch projects. Bring G1 close up to it, mark its position, and screw it to the base. The other guide, G2, should be 1-1/2 inches away from the rear of the coil.


Fig. 38. -- Plan of electric reciprocating engine.

The coil and guides must be adjusted so that the plunger does not touch the coil anywhere during a stroke, packings being placed, if necessary, under coil or guides. When the adjustment is satisfactory, screw the coil down tightly, and cut off any superfluous parts of the rod.

The Connecting Rod. - Bore a hole near the end of the plunger for a screw to hold the rear end of the connecting rod. Pull the plunger out till 1-3/4 inches project, turn the crank full forward, and measure off the distance between the centres of the plunger hole and the crank pin. Drive a couple of wire nails into a board, and twist the ends of a piece of 1/20-inch wire round them twice. This wire constitutes a connecting rod amply strong enough to stand the pulls to which it will be subjected. Fix the rod in position.

Adjusting the Wipe. - Turn the wipe, W, round until it makes contact with B2, and, holding the crank shaft with a pair of pliers, twist the crank on it till it just begins the return stroke. Then turn the crank to find out how long the wipe remains in contact, and adjust the crank relatively to the wipe so that the crank is vertical when the period of contact is half finished. The length of this period is controlled by the set screws at the free end of B2.


The fly wheel may be a disc of wood.

Oil all the rubbing parts slightly. Connect T1 to one terminal of the battery, T2 to the coil, and the other terminal of the battery to the coil. Set the engine going. If it refuses to run, make sure that B1 is pressing against D. The speed of the engine may possibly be improved by careful adjustment of B2 and an alteration in the setting of the crank, and will certainly be accelerated by increasing the number of battery cells.

The cost of the engine described was about 1s, 3d., exclusive of the battery.

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List of Chapters in this book: Sawing Trestle | Joiner's Bench | Bookstand | House Ladder | Developing Sink | Poultry House | Bicycle Shed | Rifle Target | Cabinet Making | Telegraphic Apparatus | Electric Motor | Alarm Clock | Model Railway | Reciprocating Engine | Slide Valve Engine | Model Steam Turbine | Steam Tops | Model Boilers | Quick Boiling Kettle | Hot Air Engine | Water Motor | Model Pumps | Kites | Paper Gliders | Model Aeroplane | Scientific Apparatus | Rain Gauge | Wind Vanes | Strength Tester | Harmonographs | Automatic Matchbox | Wooden Workbox | Wrestling Puppets | Double Bellows | Pantograph | Silhouette Drawing Machine | Signalling Lamp | Miniature Gasworks