Learn about Life in the 1920s

How to Make Toy Steam Tops

A very interesting and novel application of the steam turbine principle is to substitute for a wheel running in fixed bearings a "free" wheel pivoted on a vertical spindle, the point of which takes the weight, so that the turbine becomes a top which can be kept spinning as long as the steam supply lasts.

These toys, for such they must be considered, are very easy to make, and are "warranted to give satisfaction" if the following instructions are carried out.

A Small Top. -- Fig. 74 shows a small specimen, which is of the self-contained order, the boiler serving as support for the top.

For the boiler use a piece of brass tubing 4 inches or so in diameter and 3 inches long. (The case of an old brass "drum" clock, which may be bought for a few pence at a watchmaker's, serves very well if the small screw holes are soldered over.) The ends


FIG. 74.-Simplest form of steam top. [1]

[Footnote 1: Spirit lamp shown for heating boiler.]

should be of brass or zinc, the one which will be uppermost being at least 1/16 inch thick. If you do not possess a lathe, lay the tube on the sheet metal, and with a very sharp steel point scratch round the angle between tube and plate on the inside. Cut out with cold chisel or shears to within 1/16 inch of the mark, and finish off carefully - testing by the tube now and then -- to the mark. Make a dent with a centre punch in the centre of the top plate for the top to spin in.

WHEEL OF STEAM TOP FIG. 75. -- Wheel of steam top, ready for blades to be bent. A hole is drilled at the inner end of every slit to make bending easier.

Solder the plates into the tube, allowing an overlap of a quarter of an inch beyond the lower one, to help retain the heat.

The top wheel is cut out of a flat piece of sheet iron, zinc, or brass. Its diameter should be about 2-1/2 inches, the vanes 1/2 inch long and 1/4 inch wide at the circumference. Turn them over to make an angle of about 45 degrees with the spindle. They will be more easily bent and give better results if holes are drilled, as shown in Fig. 75.

The spindle is made out of a bit of steel or wire - a knitting-needle or wire-nail - not more than 1 inch in diameter and 1-1/2 inches long. The hole for this must be drilled quite centrally in the wheel; otherwise the top will be badly balanced, and vibrate at high speeds. For the same reason, the spindle requires to be accurately pointed.

The steam ports are next drilled in the top of the boiler. Three of them should be equally spaced (120 degrees apart) on a circle of 1-inch radius drawn about the spindle poppet as centre. The holes must be as small as possible -- 1/40 to 1/50 inch - and inclined at an angle of not more than 45 degrees to the top plate. The best drills for the purpose are tiny Morse twists, sold at from 2d. to 3d. each, held in a pin vice rotated by the fingers. The points for drilling should be marked with a punch, to give the drills a hold. Commence drilling almost vertically, and as the drill enters tilt it gradually over till the correct angle is attained.

If a little extra trouble is not objected to, a better job will be made of this operation if three little bits of brass, filed to a triangular section (Fig. 76 a), are soldered to the top plate at the proper places, so that the drilling can be done squarely to one face and a perfectly clear hole obtained. The one drawback to these additions is that the vanes of the turbine may strike them. As an alternative, patches may be soldered to the under side of the plate (Fig. 76, b) before it is joined to the barrel; this will give longer holes and a truer direction to the steam ports.

FIGURE 76 FIG. 76.

Note that it is important that the ports should be all of the same diameter and tangential to the circle on which they are placed, and all equally inclined to the plate. Differences in size or direction affect the running of the top.

Solder the spindle to the wheel in such a position that the vanes clear the boiler by an eighth of an inch or so. If tests show that the top runs quite vertically, the distance might be reduced to half, as the smaller it is the more effect will the steam jets have.

A small brass filler should be affixed to the boiler halfway up. A filler with ground joints costs about 6d.

A wick spirit lamp will serve to raise steam. Solder to the boiler three legs of such a length as to give an inch clearance between the lamp wick and the boiler. If the wick is arranged to turn up and down, the speed of the top can be regulated.

A Large Top. - The top just described must be light, as the steam driving it is low-pressure, having free egress from the boiler, and small, as the steam has comparatively low velocity. The possessor of a high-pressure boiler may be inclined to make something rather more ambitious -- larger, heavier, and useful for displaying spectrum discs, etc.

The top shown in Fig. 77 is 3 inches in diameter, weighs 1 oz., and was cut out of sheet-zinc. It stands on a brass disc, round the circumference of which is soldered a ring of 5/32- inch copper tubing, furnished with a union for connection with a boiler.

The copper tubing must be well annealed, so as to bend quite easily. Bevel off one end, and solder this to the plate. Bend a couple of inches to the curve of the plate, clamp it in position, and solder; and so on until the circle is completed, bringing the tube


FIG. 77. - Large steam top and base.

snugly against the bevelled end. A hole should now be drilled through the tube into this end - so that steam may enter the ring in both directions-and plugged externally.

By preference, the ring should be below the plate, as this gives a greater thickness of metal for drilling, and also makes it easy to jacket the tube by sinking the plate into a wooden disc of somewhat greater diameter.

Under 50 lbs. of steam, a top of this kind attains a tremendous velocity. Also, it flings the condensed steam about so indiscriminately that a ring of zinc 3 inches high and 18 inches in diameter should be made wherewith to surround it while it is running.

If a little bowl with edges turned over be accurately centred on the wheel, a demonstration of the effects of centrifugal force may be made with water, quicksilver, or shot, which fly up into the rim and disappear as the top attains high speed, and come into sight again when its velocity decreases to a certain figure. A perforated metal globe threaded on the spindle gives the familiar humming sound.

A spectrum disc of the seven primary colours -- violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red -- revolved by the top, will appear more or less white, the purity of which depends on the accuracy of the tints used.

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