Design Review 1: Stirling Engine


For my project I am creating an operational Stirling Motor that will run off of a small lit candle as the heat source. The Stirling Motor runs fundamentally off of a heat differential between the top of the cylinder and the bottom of the cylinder and the cyclical expansion and contraction of air inside of the cylinder. Inside of the cylinder there is a displacement piston that is joined to the crankshaft to keep it timed with the power piston.

Stirling engines are very interesting as they are extremely efficient and can run off of a relatively small thermal difference. For my project I wanted to build one as I was fascinated with its simplicity yet the challenge to make one that runs well. I wanted to use the output shaft work for something useful, a bit more than just a spinning rod. At this juncture I am still unaware what I will use the useful work for, however construction and design for the Stirling motor can continue.


Due to limited access to the machine shop, equipment, tools and other materials I am going to resort to making it out of cheaper materials that can be acquired more easily. I plan to make the main cylinder out of a tin today cans, or other cans from food items. I will get foam or steel wool for the displacement cylinder from local stores, and rigid wire and rubber from arts and craft stores or home depot. Linkages will be made from the wire, or scrape pieces of wood or Popsicle sticks.


I will paint all components and make sure that there is an aesthetic theme to the overall project, rather than having all of these different color schemes going on at once. I most likely will do silver/bronze/black for an “industrial” or “steampunk” aesthetic.


I plan to begin prototyping with basic materials and will shoot to get one cylinder operational before I try to make a more complicated crankshaft and time 3 piston – cylinder devices all together. Once I get the prototype working I can then begin to implement all 3 together and create the housing structure for all 3 motors.


My plan is to begin prototyping the first cylinder by Monday (3/16) and try to get a working motor by the end of that week. After spring break my plan is to make 2 more motors, a housing structure, and crankshaft to time all of them together. Once I have successfully implemented all of the motors I will then see if it is reasonable to try and hook to the motor up to do something useful which will be a challenge in itself!


Previous Post
Design Review: Two Lamps and A Clock
Next Post
Design Review 1

5 Comments. Leave new

  • Zach Aldrich
    March 16, 2020 6:40 pm

    Really excited to see how this project will turn out. I would like to have seen some drawings or sketches to give a more informed opinion, but from what you have provided it is clear you have a defined plan on how to build your engine. My question for you is, how will the campus closures and remote access impact your project, and how could you pivot to still achieve your goals?

  • Max Armstrong
    March 11, 2020 12:48 pm

    This is a super creative use for a sterling engine! An alternative use would be connecting it to a tiny motor and powering a light. You could maybe use an RC circuit as a low pass filter to knock out some of the noise, that or just use a fly wheel like you were thinking.

  • Really cool concept. Excited to see how it turns out! I’d definitely look into metallic spray paint to finish off the look if you go with the old cans to complete the project! Good luck going forward!

  • In this case I think your aesthetic is based more on what you add to the project than your initial materials. You can always paint, or add designs & objects to your base. You can cover or show the internal gears and moving pieces. My suggestion is choose two aesthetics you want to try and then change your designs to fit that aesthetic

  • Really cool idea, reminds me of my undergrad project where I built a same product. I would like to see what aesthetic you’ll be sticking to. Otherwise, great job, all the best.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.