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Balancing an old steam engine

Posted by Arch-Tone 
Balancing an old steam engine
August 14, 2019 03:53PM
As some of you may know, I have a 100+ year old, single cylinder / double acting steam engine installed on my steam powered go kart project. While it has been working great overall, it has been shaking hardware loose, work hardening / breaking cooper lines and other mischief. It seems like every time I take it for a spin, something comes loose or breaks...apparently from the imbalance. Does anyone have advice on the best way to balance this thing? I thought about adding small, incremental weights to the counterbalance on the crank to gradually get it off the Richter scale. I don’t want to drill holes or permanently modify if possible. The imbalance seems to get worse or is amplified when the original flywheel is attached.


Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 14, 2019 04:38PM
Hi Jamison,

I balance all the prototype and preproduction engines for General Motors as well as most of the dyno hardware. Some of the unbalance can't be removed without balance shafts, because it's a single cylinder engine. The BEST way to do this would be to take the engine apart, weigh the components, make up a balance bobweight from that data, and then balance on a set of level ways. This would give you the best possible solution and no need to run the engine.

Just adding mass to the counterweight may, or may not help ... it all depends on not only how far out of balance the engine is, but at what angle the unbalance is located. If you didn't want to alter the engine, the best solution would be a new flywheel and then remove weight from that to achieve balance. I think the fact that the vibration gets worse when adding the flywheel tells us the engine and the wheel are both out of balance and their angles of unbalance are probably within 90 degrees of one another.

Not sure how big a rush you are in, we can go over it slowly at the meet. Otherwise, feel free to contact me directly for more discussion.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/14/2019 04:40PM by frustrated.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 15, 2019 08:06AM
Thanks, Ken, I was hoping to get your input.
I like the idea of replacing the flywheel and tweaking the balance on it. I happen to have some cast iron pulleys laying around the shop that have the same diameter bore. I will try that approach and go from there.

Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 15, 2019 11:48AM
Hey Jamison,

There's a trick old machinist's used, long ago, when they had no balancing equipment and operating speeds were low.

Mount the engine in such a way that it has a little give and then spin the engine up with a nice, round flywheel affixed.
Carefully advance a piece of chalk towards the rim of the wheel ... feel free to use a holder and a rest.
Only move the chalk in enough so that it touches the wheel intermittently ... you know, when the vibration pushes it towards the chalk.

The center of the chalk mark tells you where the engine/wheel assembly is heavy. Of course, if the outer diameter of the flywheel isn't running perfectly round and true, the answer won't be right.

You can remove weight at the heavy spot or add weight at 180 degrees.

If adding weight, be very, very careful as it can be quite dangerous if pieces fly loose. I do this at times when there is no other choice but it's not my favorite method and I go the extra distance to entrap the weight so that it will stay put for the long haul....consider welding.

One method to consider is tapping a hole at 180 degrees to the unbalance and screwing washers of different weights into the hole(s). You can then check for balance. I'd remeasure angle each time I made a correction since the odds of making the correction dead on the unbalance angle are pretty small and there's a fair chance that you shifted the unbalance angle. Correct the weights attached to this hole by trial and error ... if the unbalance angle starts to drift significantly, add a new hole and weights as needed.

Once you get the best balance, you can weigh the screw and weights then drill out th same weight of material on the opposite side at the same radius. The simplest method is to assume steel or iron weigh about 4.57 ounces per cubic inch and figure out the number of cubic inches needed. Drilling a blind hole of the proper volume is hard because you need to add the volume of the drill point and the shank. A through hole is simpler. You should be able to get the correct drill diameter with the formula 2 x square root (needed volume / (pi x flywheel thickness)). If the hole is bigger than you want, divide the volume by 2, 3, 4 or whatever number of holes you want and then recalculate.

Note that this should be "good enough" for a single-cylinder engine because it is essentially unbalanced in one plane - meaning it's statically unbalanced. Two or more cylinders inline comprise a dynamic balance condition and this can only be measured and corrected using a dynamic balance machine.

If the opportunity to add a flywheel to each end of the engine presents itself, take advantage of it. Then modify the balance of both flywheels in equal increments. This will work to cancel any rocking couple, making the engine smoother and relieving stress from the crank main bearings.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/15/2019 11:50AM by frustrated.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 16, 2019 08:06PM
I added additional counterweights to our 30 HP Stanley engines' crankshafts. Before the added weights, the Stanley engines started bouncing at about 47 M.P.H. Just minutes ago, I just blew down our 1911 Stanley model 85 7 passenger 30 HP touring after a 25 mile demonstration ride. I was giving some of my classmates (class of 1963) a thrilling ride at 70 MPH and there wasn't a bit of bounce anywhere coming from the engine. Smooth as silk! The Stanley still had more throttle left to use. The 30 HP Stanley car is unbelievable! The added counter weights made it just that much better.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/16/2019 08:07PM by SSsssteamer.

Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 17, 2019 06:22AM
Hi Pat,

Do you have numbers for reciprocating-weight-to-rotary-counterweight ratio, giving good results in a Stanley-style engine? If so, I trust your expertise and will follow it. Currently I am following the ratio used in the Stanley Model 740 engine, given in the Herb Schick engine blueprints, for which I have not yet found complaints. You and other justly honored steam car vets, I strongly suspect, well know it, but I repeat for newbies, basically the Stanley 740 engine was the "last and best genuine" Stanley steam car engine. It was designed by a degreed professional-engineer steam car genius who took the old traditional Stanley steam car design formula and "fine-tuned" it, in accordance with the best practice of the time, for the best possible results.


Conventional view: Stanley cars were always worthless and never-changing ridiculous outdated junk from Day One [~1897] to the end [~1926].

My view: Stanley Model 740 steam car engine tech, re-sized for different apps, beats the energy efficiency of all conventional IC cars, even today [2019]. In some apps, EV/IC hybrid and EV/battery vehicles "beat" the steam car's energy efficiency and low emissions, but those alternatives are too costly overall. IE, you spend $100 of your hard-earned income on EV's/hybrids to save $50 worth of gasoline. The Corps say, ooh, you saved $50 with our EV/hybrid cars. I say, yeah, but that "savings", over the life of the car, cost you $100.

And in fact the EV/hybrid-car greenwash/enviro-sucker corporate ripoff is WAY bigger than the "example numbers" which I have given.

Somebody could even prove that I am wrong, and could prove that hybrid cars do not cost 2-3 times a standard IC or modernized Stanley-740 car, It could be demonstrated that in fact, EV and IC/hybrid cars cost 4-5x as much, overall, per mile. OK, I was wrong. Which proves my point even stronger.

Or, "you are wrong Peter, BEV's and IC/EV hybrids only cost 5-10% more per mile overall".

OK, I was wrong. And BEVs & IC-EV hybrids still lose.

And the traditional steam car still wins.


Apologies to anyone who is somehow shocked or offended to read these controversial comments on a website named "steamautomobile.com"

Really, WTF were you expecting?

What part of "steamautomobile" did you not understand?

What were you expecting?

A bunch of wusses jibber-jabbering about how they like steam automobiles, but oh of course we know we are doomed. Really?

Well, screw that noise, baby. Those stinking IC, IC/EV hybrid, EV, and other cars are the dumb-ass POS cars that are doomed. Not us! Buh-bye, baby.

Steam cars RULE, man!

Way greener, cheaper, and more real than any of the fakey-wakey "save the Earth" big-bucks horse-hockey the corporate/Viro establishment is selling you.

Deal with it!


Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 08/17/2019 07:32AM by Peter Brow.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 17, 2019 10:20AM
Peter, The counterweights that I added to our 30 HP Stanley engine were almost the same size as the counterweights that the engine throws already had on it. I do not know their exact weight. The were crafted by REMPCO in Cadillac, Michigan by Gilbert "Red" Hall. Phone number 1-800-736-0108 If one has a 30 HP Stanley and he is not using these counterweights as of yet, then they have not experienced the true smoother higher speed potential of their Stanley. Our model 85 is geared 50 to 60. Almost one to one. The tires are 36" in over all diameter. At 70 MPH, the Stanley engine is smoothly just loafing along.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 18, 2019 06:12AM
You know Pat...that's a beautiful thing smiling smiley I love hearing those stories!
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 18, 2019 11:23PM
Rick, Our 1911 Stanley model 85 7 passenger, 30 HP is old technology that they already had by 1911 and about 50 years of research in it to make it the most advanced form of transportation of its time. By updating in the proper areas, like engine balancing, modern metals, better brake lining, safety glass, better tires, so on and so on, we presently have one of the most advance forms of steam transportation in this modern era. Our model 85 has never disappointed me in its performance or reliability. I drive with modern traffic. Its handling is on par with many modern vehicles. My only short comings are that about every 50 miles I have to look for water, and I have to be cautious with its two wheel brakes.
My pride is that this Stanley is that it is all scratch built with scrounged up parts by me. I tried to make it historically accurate too.

People who scratch build their modern steam cars are unfortunate in that they often are trying to re invent the wheel again by using previous failed inventions. If the modern steam car builders would comb the back issues of our Steam Car Bulletins, they could learn a lot from the failed past ideas used with steam cars. Oh yes. I have had a lot or reworked parts through the years too. Perfection eventually arrives.

Attached photo is of our model 85 blowing down its boiler yesterday.

Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 19, 2019 02:41AM
Thanks, Pat.

I have tried to keep my steam car design as close as possible to the "proven successful" designs of the [roughly] 1910-1920 era. I have gotten a LOT of criticism, even condemnation, for this "outdated approach", over the years. Usually from people who never actually designed/built a successful roadworthy steam automobile themselves. In the 1920s and later, steam car design, IMO, became like a line from a 1980s pop song, "the lunatics have taken over the asylum".

Anyway, your "updated/improved antique" approach to steam car tech has racked up lots of road miles and fun. That inspires me, and I think many others. Thanks for that, and for the references/contact info, which I will follow up on in due course, and keep up the good work.

I am tempted to apologize for my sometimes excessively enthusiastic pro-steam-car comments, but realistically, why. Believers in the supremacy/inevitable-triumph of IC, IC/EV hybrid, and "BEV" cars are generally not apologetic in the slightest. They tend to take a Nikita Kruschev style "we will bury you" view of steam cars. Well, subsequent history was far from kind to Comrade K's prognostications, and I strongly suspect that the same will apply to the equally supremely confident/strident/condescending critics/opponents of the traditional steam car -- who often absurdly pose as fans and proponents of steam power. But who are in fact merely "frenemies" of it.

Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 20, 2019 08:20PM

I did an analysis of the efficiency, carbon wise, of electric and electric hybrids, based on what data I could gather in a day on the internet.

Carbon wise for grid charged cars, of course, depends upon the percentage of renewable electricity to fuel derived electricity and this varies from country to country.

For all electric vehicles the energy conversion from grid to wheels is 59% -62%.

For conventional gasoline cars 1 gal of gasoline = 33.7 kwh and is 17% -21% gasoline energy to wheels, with under 20% for the balance of combustion vehicles.

For urban driving the IC engine-d car breaks down to:

Fuel 100% to engine
Engine for standby 17%
For accessories 2%
For engine losses 62%
To drive train 19%
Drive train losses 6%
So only 13% goes to the driven wheels, of this:
Aerodynamic drag 3%
Rolling resistance 4%
Braking 6%

The efficiency of that gasoline engine then would be 38% (Note that a steam engine would have much lower standby losses.)

For highway driving:
Fuel to engine 100%
Engine for standby 4%
Accessories 2%
Engine losses 69%
To drive train 25%
Drive train losses 5%
So that leaves 20% to the wheels
Aerodynamic drag 11%
Rolling resistance 7%
Braking 2%

The efficiency of that engine is then 31%

Now these figures are from the department of energy as to the "now-a-days" efficiencies of modern engines. I would like Kens input on that as I used to think it was much lower.

The efficiency of an electric vehicle is about 50% when heating and air conditioning is taken into account. Losses due to the electric network being included.

The conversion factor for France is 2.58 accounting for renewable sources of energy. (fuel wise) Then the electric car efficiency is 0.5/2.58 = 19% About the same as the gas cars.

The conversion factor for Germany is 1.8 because they have developed more renewable resources. Then their electric cars fuel efficiency is 0.5/1.8 =28%

As far as the cars are concerned, from tank to road or generator to road the efficiency of 50% for the electric car and 20% for the gasoline car says that the electric is 2 1/2 times as efficient as the gas car.

The problem of the comparison is that it generally compares medium and even large combustion vehicles with small electric ones.

The 2018 Honda Accord Hybrid fuel economy estimate is 47 mpg while the conventional Accord is 33 mpg. So: 47/33 = 1.42

Remember that the gas car at urban driving has 38% fuel efficiency
engine and delivers 13% to the drive train or 13/38= 34% of the engines output. While for highway we have (if I haven't lost everybody) 25/31 = 80%

Now, it seems to me that a steam engine that is just over 30% efficiency should, due to lower standby losses, (idling at stop lights and such) be able to compete with any gasoline engine. Further a steam engine should do even better with the heavier trucks and cars than the electrics do.


Bill G.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 30, 2019 08:01AM
Thanks Bill,

Interesting stuff, but then again I'm still seeing daily mpg figures on the computerized digital display of my"all-latest-technology" 2016 gas engine pickup truck that equal every mpg number I ever heard for comparable full-sized model year 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960 pickup trucks, and -- disturbingly -- 1920s Stanleys of same vehicle weight and frontal area. i have read here, over the past 20 years or so, that "IC engine efficiency has vastly improved, and keeps on improving, and no alternative vehicle powerplant can ever catch up and compete with their continuous huge improvements". Sorry, not seeing it. Judging by what I do see, I conclude that it is one of those "faith-based" things.. Things many people believe because it "feels good" to believe it, rather than because facts & logic lead to that conclusion. Personally I go with observable reality, not "feelings". If something "sucks", then I deal with it, rather than denying/obfuscating it. If my po widdle pwecious snowflake feelings get hurt by the reality, then, well, T.S., Elliott, welcome to the Universe, make the best of "it is what it is".
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 30, 2019 08:12AM
Proof of improvement.

Re: Balancing an old steam engine
August 30, 2019 08:52AM
You win Ken,

I took a smartphone pic of my truck's dash display, showing 9.8 mpg. I was going to post it with the comment "proof of no improvement". Alas it is 4meg file size, too big for the forum,, and I had endless other problems transferring and re-sizing it. No "proof" for me, so you win. Wave hands in air and shout "I win, in yer face Peter". etc. I don't have enough free hours to screw around with electronic/software crap to "win" this one. You win. Enjoy it.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/30/2019 09:06AM by Peter Brow.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
September 03, 2019 04:25AM
The other thing is that my 2016 RAM 1500 truck, with the same [4000lb] weight and frontal area [and less air drag] as a 1920s Stanley, and the same fuel mileage, is only presented here as an explanation of -- why I think -- that late-Stanley-like steam cars were/are as efficient as typical popular modern gas-engined road vehicles [EG, 2016 RAM 1500].

I am not stating these facts here in an effort to convince anyone else to agree with me..

If you disagree with me, that is OK with me,

I am only trying to explain why _I_ believe the "crazy" things which I believe.

Maybe if my 2016 RAM 1500 dash display starts showing fuel mileage figures which are substantially higher than what they currently show in ordinary driving, IE, considerably more than Stanley 740s of the same considerable weight and frontal area achieved, then maybe I will change my mind about this. This truck has all the very latest Variable Valve Timing, Cylinder Deactivation, microprocessor-controlled ignition timing and fuel mix, and 8-speed microprocessor-controlled automatic transmission. But I have been driving this all-modern, low-miles, new-condition. IC vehicle for 3 years now, under a very wide range of conditions, and so far the MPG has stayed very solidly within the range reported by both the Stanley Motor Carriage Company and a large number of latter-day Stanley drivers for the same weight/frontal-area Model 740 Stanley steam cars [with 700 degree F superheated steam and up to 28% of stroke cutoff}.

It is often stated that all later-model Stanleys were fundamentally identical to early-model Stanleys. There were close similarities, but later Stanleys, like the Model 740, had substantially higher steam superheat temperatures and substantially earlier steam-inlet cutoffs [down to 28% of stroke], and expansion ratios, than earlier models.

So why not just keep going with higher superheats, earlier cutoffs, and higher expansion ratios, beyond the Stanley 740? Sounds good in theory, but well-funded professional-engineer steam car engine projects of the early 1970s, like the SES project, only got about the same vehicle mpg as 740 Stanleys in chassis-dyno tests. SES also "hit an efficiency wall" at around the same max expansion ratios [~3:1] as 740 Stanleys. And the SES engine was capable of far higher expansion and residual-exhaust-recompression ratios than any Stanley engine. They did extensive dynamometer tests at those higher-than-740-Stanley steam expansion and recompression ratios, and the actual net efficiency was lower.

All this data, for anyone interested, is available from the SACA Storeroom as [please, somebody correct me if I get the numbers wrong] ERDA 17-54, "An Assessment Of Rankine Cycle Engines For Automobile Use".



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 09/04/2019 12:40AM by Peter Brow.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
September 03, 2019 04:36AM
I think it is listed as # 4100 on the SACA Storeroom: "An Assessment" being the beginning of the title.

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/03/2019 05:27AM by Peter Brow.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
September 03, 2019 05:12AM
I have considered changing my truck dash display setting to eliminate the mpg readout which constantly gives me "unacceptable/unspeakable" daily evidence in favor of my unpopular hypothesis of "Stanley 740/comparable-modern-IC MPG identicality". This would spare people from my disturbingly "politically incorrect" comments on the subject. Not offending people would be nice for a change. Doing so at the price of ignoring/denying scientific/engineering reality would be less nice. Does anyone have a solution to this conundrum?

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/04/2019 12:44AM by Peter Brow.
Re: Balancing an old steam engine
September 03, 2019 07:48AM
Since this is way off topic (hint).


Does anyone have a solution to this conundrum?

Take the data plate from the truck, and apply it to a Toyota Corolla LE with a 4 on the floor.
28-30 mpg around town, 40+ mpg hwy. The money saved on fuel for the truck makes the payments on the sedan.

I had a 98 Ram 2500 4x4, the best I ever got was 17 mpg with a 30 mile an hour tailwind.
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All files from this thread

File Name File Size   Posted by Date  
1911 Stanley and the Farrells.JPG 332.6 KB open | download SSsssteamer 08/16/2019 Read message
1911 Stanley model 85.jpg 378.3 KB open | download SSsssteamer 08/16/2019 Read message
1911 Stanley 85 blow down.jpg 27.2 KB open | download SSsssteamer 08/18/2019 Read message
MPG at 55 MPH.jpg 11.5 KB open | download frustrated 08/30/2019 Read message