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Pop-Pop Boats

Pop-pop boats, so named for the popping sound they make as they travel, are a great way to experiment with a steam powered contraption at home. These toy boats have been made by children around the world for over a hundred years — starting back when steam powered real oceangoing ships.

Many plans and how-to videos exist on the internet, but here are a few which move from simple to complex. These involve cutting sheet metal which can result in sharp edges, so consider wearing safety gloves if you try it at home.

Here an aluminum can is cut with scissors, bent, and waterproofed with blue tack (usually used to hang posters on the wall). The author suggests epoxy glue as an alternative. The engine will be exposed to a candle flame, so things like hot glue and tape probably won’t work.

This is the first of more than 30 videos giving step by step instructions.

Here you can see the international and historical reach of these simple boats.  You can even see some cool patents for pop-pop boats made and sold more than 120 years ago.

Makezine shows us a refined example, and uses solder to attach boiler components for a high-temperature and waterproof seal.

Try to combine these techniques and materials to make your own version! What shape boat is the fastest? Most stable? Is the steam engine faster than a sail?

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