More Christmas Steamers

    Last time we discussed some of our more elaborate Christmas steamers, our model steam engines. They’re great fun, but lets face it, they’re a little too complex for most young kids. This time we’ll talk about something that, while it still requires adult supervision, is a little better suited to most little ones. Best of all they are still powered by steam, pop-pop boats.

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   You say you never heard of pop-pop boats? Well let me tell you about them. Pop-pop boats are small toy boats made out of old tin cans that are powered by a candle that produces a jet of steam. How they do it is pretty neat, so let me explain. The boat hull and deck are constructed from old tin cans (old school recycling) and form the basic structure of the boat. Then a rudimentary “boiler” is soldered up from a cup shaped piece of tin and a flat top. Coming out of the bottom of this chamber are two small metal tubes that both mount the boiler and lead to the stern of the boat and stick out a little bit. The only other part is a removable small metal spoon that holds the candle in its end.

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   To make the boat work first you have to run a little water into one of the small tubes in the back of the boat (it’s sort of like refilling a squirt gun when you were a kid). Then you place the boat in the water and light the candle. Then you have to place the spoon carefully into the boat so that it is under the tin boiler. Pretty soon you’ll hear a “pop!” as the water in the boiler turns to steam and shoots out of the tubes. This provides the jet propulsion that powers the boat. Then the empty boiler which is now in a vacuum draws more water back into the tubes and when it gets to the hot boiler – pop! The process automatically repeats itself over and over until the candle burns out, pop, pop, pop, pop…

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   When your candle finally does burn out, it’s easy to refill it if you save old candle stubs like I do. First you need a small bit of wick. I save used birthday cake candles (Wait, don’t throw those out!) and cut a piece just a little longer than the spoon’s cup is wide. Set it in there and let the pre-burned wick part hang over the front of the spoon. Then light a candle stub and carefully drip wax into the spoon around the birthday candle until the spoon is full. Wait a few minutes for the wax to solidify, and presto! You’re ready for another adventure.

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   Pop-pop boats are fun to watch and can be run in any small body of water. I usually run mine in the bathtub (not while I’m in it!), but they can also voyage on large puddles, slow streams and farm ponds. So pick up one today, they make great stocking stuffers and they’re currently in stock, at The Old Hardware Store…

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