Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Make a "putt-put" steam boat.

Putt putt steam boats have a long history. They are also known as "pop pop boats" and were very popular in the first half of the 20th Century, usually in a tin version with copper tubing. The Cub Scout Manuals from 1954-1977 included instructions for making them. It states that "They can be made quite simply - or you can build an elaborate version if you wish!"
However, Dorothy and her friends discovered the can be very tricky... you will need a cooperative grownup for this project for sure!

Notes for Mums and Dads
There is a lot of interesting information about them on the Science Toy Maker site here if your Mums and Dads are interested in reading more! More about their history and construction can be found on the "Pop Pop Pages" here.  They don't use a conventional engine but it's still a type of heat engine - or more accurately a "Pulsating Water Engine".  You can read all about heat engines here.

The Putt Putt Boat
These simple boats have fascinated toymakers, children and physicists for decades, and can be fun and fairly simple to make. There are actually two kinds of putt putt boat: the diaphragm kind and the looped copper tubing kind.  The advantage of the copper tubing engine is the relative ease of construction, and you cannot wreck it with too much heat. The disadvantage of the coil design is that it is often slower and makes little or no noise.

NB This Blog is aimed at children aged 6-10yrs, this is definitely a project for older readers!

Dorothy and I opted for a simple, achievable design using everyday items.

To make the boat shape you will need :-
  • A tall juice box or milk carton like this
  • Sharp Scissors
  • tape or strong stapler
OR use an aluminium (tinfoil) baking tray the size your Mum would bake a 2lb loaf in!

To make the boat "go" you will need

  • A brass or copper tube 3mm  outside diameter, 2mm inside diameter, 50 cm length. 
  • A binder clip with a base of about 2 cm
  • A small candle tea light or empty case and a solid fuel tablet
  • About 1 square cm of double sided adhesive tape  
  • A sturdy cylinder shape (e.g. piece of wooden dowel), about 2 cm diameter and 3 cm length
  • A piece of scrap wood minimum 4 cm x 15 cm x 1 cm
  • One screw with a length about equal to the thickness of your piece of wood and one screw 2 to 3 cm longer (for each you will need a matching screwdriver, not shown)
  • A piece of sturdy tube with a loose fit over the brass or copper tube and minimum about 20 cm long; 
  • For the optional rudder, you need about one third of an extra aluminium baking tray. 

How to make it :-

Cut the carton in half lengthways (you probably need a grown up to help you with this) and fit it together to make the boat shape below. You can use masking tape, or other tape which is water resistant/proof, or get a grown up to use a strong stapler.

Once finished and dry you can paint it with oil based paint to the colour of your choice :)

Then head over to this site for full instructions:- a video and tutorial. 

Then the fun bit - you get to test it out!

Sadly things don't always go to plan, ours took a little while to finish and perfect... 

but it's going now!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


  1. This is definitely a project my son would enjoy doing. Thanks for sharing I will have to get saving some cartons!

  2. Oh, i love it! And i love the little sylvanian family too :) x

  3. I think I may try it just as a boat as I can easily hold of those materials. We have some perfect passengers at home for such a boat!

  4. Great idea - I think my son would really enjoy doing this. And it's been quite the weather for boats...

  5. Very creative and it looks like lot's of fun x

  6. Oh wow how fun is that. Maybe make one in the next holidays.

  7. Sounds cool. I am not sure I fully understand these instructions though, possibly because I can't see the pics.

  8. I love this idea, ive just emailed it to my sister to show my nephew x

  9. What a great way to make use of empty cartons. I love to read about projects like this!

  10. Oh wow what a brilliant idea! Absolutely love it, it looks amazing too. Great set up for testing too, very impressive! We love making things but we're restricted to weekends so it depends what the weather is like. If it's not raining, we'll be outside!

  11. Oh this is such a great idea and the fact you can make this from stuff you already have at home is great! x

  12. A great idea and I love your simple box construction, I got a little lost following the full steam instructions to be honest but I may just challenge my boys to give it a go! I hope you got it to work in the end. Thank you for sharing with me on Country Kids


Thank you for commenting!
Dorothy xx