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Steam. Fire. High RPM flywheel. Steel wire treads. This is not your kid brother’s vibrabot. For my Gift Singularity project, I decided to build a bristlebot like no other. I wanted to make one on a larger, more dangerous scale. And so, I present to you the Steam-Powered BoilerBot!

The basic principle here is the same as the bristlebots, vibrabots, and brushbots we’ve featured in MAKE and on the Make: television show. A motor with an offset weight connected to the shaft causes vibrations, and the bristles have a forward slant that causes them to move forward.


Instead of an electric motor, however, this project uses a steam engine, which is a much more fitting power source for the steampunk on your holiday gift list! I chose the Jensen #85 because it is small (for a steam boiler) and self-contained; meaning the fire box, boiler, piston-engine, and flywheel are all connected to a single unit.

To support and propel this stout little engine, I selected a pair of steel-wire brushes at the hardware store. I hacked off the excess handle wood with a hand saw. Using needlenose pliers to bend each clump gives them the tendency to move forward when they are tapped up and down.

Next, I drilled out four holes on the engine’s base for mounting onto the brush “treads.”

The final modification was to add an offset weight to the flywheel. This is what amps up the engine’s vibrations. You can experiment with different shapes and weights to adjust the BoilerBot’s speed.

Time for the maiden voyage of the BoilerBot. Follow the engine’s instructions to fill the tank, and fire up the dry fuel hexamine tabs. Set the bot down on a hard surface (preferably not your polished wood floors), give the flywheel a spin, and watch ‘er go! If yours has the tendency to go in circles like mine, you can adjust the bristles and add a counterweight to one side for fine tuning.

Once you’re done admiring your handiwork, clean the BoilerBot up, put a bow on it, and make that retro-tech friend on your holiday list a very happy steam pilot!

Here is the complete Steam-Powered BoilerBot Make: Project you may follow for step-by-step build instructions.

Steam-Powered BoilerBot

John Edgar Park

John Edgar Park likes to make things and tell people about it. He works in CG animation at DisneyToon Studios and writes for Make, Boing Boing, and other places online and in print. You can find him at jpixl.net and twitter @johnedgarpark — if you like that sort of thing.


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