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Boiler time has finally arrived  

I've taken some time out to do some chores around the house and put a new roof on my two sheds down in back. The weather here for November and December has been very warm and I took advantage of it. Now that the roofs are not leaking I also got to clean out the workshop and get ready for the boilers. I've spent two or three seasons looking around at boiler types and finally decided on the traditional firetube, woodburning design quite similar to Beckmann's VFT20 standard design. One of the main differences between the standard and the code boiler is the fact that the tubes are welded in with the standard and are rolled in the code boilers. The height for the VFT20 is listed at 20 inches high with a diameter of 18 inches. The square footage is listed at 27. After asking many owners and knowledgeable persons in boilers most all told me to make sure the boiler was a little oversized if anything. I have seen a steamboat with a Pearl engine using a 25 sq. ft. boiler. The owner was pleased and quite happy with the combination. In case I wanted a larger engine in the future I opted to build a boiler with a few more square feet and a slightly larger ash pit. The firebox will be 12 inches high with a 4 inch ash pit. There will be a waterleg around the firebox with an inside diameter of 15-1/4 inches. Total height will be 28 inches without the hood/stack installed. Using those sizes will give me about 30 square foot of heating area. The material for the waterleg and outside boiler tube was obtained from a couple of local plumbing shops that I used to work for. Price was right  FREE! I went to my local steel dealer and found a couple of pieces of 3/8" flat stock for scrap prices. Total for them was $32.00. I purchased 3 lengths of 3/4 black steel pipe schedule 80 a couple years back for $100.00. I found out that the schedule. 80 is not necessary and takes longer for the boiler to make steam. Since I had the pipe I will use it for the boiler tubes. I've had many different inputs on using pipe vs. boiler tube and also copper tubing. Each one has advantages as well as disadvantages. By welding the tubes in makes it harder to repair any tubes should they rot out. The copper tubing will not rot or rust out as fast as steel but the cost is higher. The advantage is they will conduct heat faster than steel. I might save 5 or 10 minutes getting up to steam pressure. With a sidewheeler what's another 10 minutes when you can only go 6 or 7 miles per hour? Also with the steel the pressure is not as hard to maintain so I'm told. Time will tell!


I obtained the materials over the last couple of years while working on my boat. Now its time to start on the templates that I will use to build the boiler. I laid out the boiler tubes first, a total of 61 tubes. I used poster board and started with the lower sheet first which is 16" OD pipe with a wall thickness of 3/8 of an inch. The pattern for the tubes is based on a hexagon. When I drew the 15-1/4 inch diameter circle for the inside of the waterleg you simply start at one point of the diameter and use your compass to mark around the circumference. You should come out with six equally spaced marks around the circle. From here just connect the marks to form a hex shaped mark inside the circle.


I then drew lines from the 6 points back to the center. In the picture shows me marking the inside of the water leg. I wanted the outside tube no closer than about a 1/2 inch from the water leg so I measured the 1/2" plus 1/2 of the diameter of the tubes which was 17/32" for a total of 1-1/32". Marks were put on each of the six lines leading to the center. From these marks just make another hex by connecting them together. This gives the centerline of the tubes around the outside. Since there are 5 tubes on each side simply divide the line to give you 5 equally spaced marks. From here you can connect the opposite sides and find the other hole locations. It is much easier to do than to try and explain. I went out to the shop and made a little tool to locate the center and draw around to give you the location of all 61 tubes and their centers. The tool is just a piece of aluminum with a1/8 hole drilled into the center. I then just took a piece of 1/8" brass and turned a point on one end. Simply put the brass point on center and slide the disk over the end. (was out of lead for my small compass)

All that was left was to draw in the outside tube inter surface as the template will be cut to this line to layout the top amd bottom tube bundle sheets. I tried to make the drawing within a 1/32" as these will be used to build the boiler. Each of the 61 tubes have a mark from my tool on the center so I can prick punch the 3/8" steel plates. I plan on tacking the two plats together when I drill the holes. I will keep them indexed in case I'm a little off with any of the holes. I will be working on cutting the tubes and end plates next. I could probably just build the boiler from my head now that I have the tube bundle layout complete.

In the picture on the left shows the tubes plus the outer boiler shell take will stand 28' tall and is 18" outside diameter. The water leg tube is the smaller one and will be 12" high. the outside diameter is 16" and inside is 15-1/4".  It is inside this tube where the firebox is. That will give me about 182 inches of grate area. In some States the grate area for a "HOBBY" boiler is 1 square foot or 144 square inches. After I weld in supports for the grates I will be right around that mark.


Now comes the time to do some real metalworking!

My hands aren't as steady as they used to be so I deceided to make a little jig to help cut a circle out of the 3/8" steel plate. I need two of themso it was worth spending an hour making it. Its fully adjustable from a 4" diameter circle up to a 36" diameter circle. I've often wished I had one and now I do. I just didn't want to spend 30 bucks or so when I reallt woundn't use it that much. I used to go to a good friends house where he had an excellenct welding shop including a power driven turntable to aid in cutting out circles. Unfortunally he is no longer with us. I was going to build my boiler at his shop but things didn't work out. Now tha I have a circle burner jig I can get on with cutting them out, but Christmas is just a couple of days away and I'd better take some time to do shopping. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!


Well, the new year is here and I haven't cut the ends of the tube sheet bundle. It figures that my import torch is giving me problems by popping back in the head. Just when I got a circle guide made for it I couldn't even finish the first sheet. I just got back from a used tool shop with an Airco medium size replacement for my "Victor Import crap". I got a pretty good deal in that it looked new and came with 3 brazing tips and 4 different cutting tips. Now to make a new circle cutting fixture.                                                                                       


Now I'm back in
business with a new cutting outfit. It seems to cut pretty good with just a little slag left behind. Not too bad for sixty-five dollars. I probably should have used the next smaller tip but I was in a hurry as I was running out of daylight. I talked my wife into taking a couple of pictures as I was cutting. The Sun is setting fast I will have to hurry to finish cutting the end plates.





I find it hard to believe but we've had about 2/10" of snow for the month of December. I bought a new snowblower last February and Its never been used.  I hope it stays that way. As you can  see by the pictures its getting dark and the pictures look better with the sparks showing up because of the dark background. The top plate is now being cut using the new torch. I generally don't cut steel with my sneakers on as I could wind up with a hot foot or let that scrap corner piece fall and do a number on my toes. Do as I say not as I do! Please try to work safely.


Its now pretty dark out and I will just have enough time to finish up the two tube bundle plates. I have to do my cutting outside as I don't want to start a fire in my garage with the cutting sparks flying all over. I will only do work inside early in the day and only when I plan to be around for 4 or 5 hours to check for fire. 





Before I drill the holes I thought it be best if I fit the two plates and grind a bevel on 1 of them for a better weld penetration. The lower plate was just ground square as this one will sit on the water leg tubing. The bevel for the top plate is at a 45 degree and I left between 3/32 and an 1/8 inch on the round plate as shown in the picture. If you grind the bevel all the way down there is a greater chance on the first pass of blowing thur and having to reweld the hole left behind. I will be using 5P rod and will make 3 passes before its done. Changed to MIG



I first drilled the center hole in both plates in order to index them together. The holes were already prick punched for the cutting operation. I put a drill bit in the center holes and turned the two plates while checking with my digital caliper for the best alignment. I then tack welded the two plates together and marked them for future alignment after I seperate them. Notice in the background how green the grass is. Its January 4 and no killer frost yet this year. Today the temperture was up to 54 degrees.                       


When I purchased my new torch I also got an 1-1/16" drill bit with a morse taper on the end. I had to turn the taper off as my drill press would not accept this size. I turned it down to just over 1/2" in order to fit it in my drill chuck. I then did a test hole in a piece of 3/8" plate. After about 10 minutes of drilling.I finally got a hole thru the plate. Looks like I need to sharpen the drill bit in order to drill all 122 holes. Thats another day


I cut my cardstock template out and punched a 1/4" hole in the center tube. I glued the template to the two plates using rubber cement and my 1/4" bit for alignment. When I first drew the template I pricked small holes on the center of each fire tube. These holes were used for the location of each tube. My automatic spring loaded center punch made fas work of this job. Because there were already holes the center punch was very easy to index to the right place.


With that now done I carfully rechecked my layout very carefully. I found 1 hole was out a little so I corrected the mark. Now for sharpening my drill bit. Because of the width of each cutting surface I would need to dress up my grinding wheel first. The relief angle looked pretty good and the center web looked good also. I don't have a drill guide for my grinder so I must trust my eye. It only took 4 or 5 passes on each side and the cutting edge seemed as good as new. After another test hole I was pleased with my new drill bit. Well I'm ready to start drilling but its Friday and another warm day. I think I'll take advantage of the 57 degree weather and take down the Christmas decorations. I'll also take a couple of hours and clean up the shop. It sure needs it!



After laying out the holes I starting drilling with a 1/8 " drill bit





          From the 1/8" bit I jumped up to a 1/4" size        drill bit






It's going to take a while to work my way up to the 1-1/16" hole for my 3/4 black pipe fire tubes. I then checked my layout and found I "missed a couple of holes by less than a 1/32". I fixed the small amount by using a mill in my drill press.




I then lowered the tables for the next set of holes. I have an inexpensive set of reduced shank bits from Harbor Freight and will give them a try and see how good they drill. I started with a 5/8" bit.





From the 5/8 bit I jumped to a 3/4" size bit. I have over 50 holes drilled and the bits are holding up just fine. Not bad considering I got them on sale for 20 bucks for a set of 8 of them.




From the 3/4" size I went to 15/16". After all but the center hole done (drill press won't reach in that far) I checked all the holes and found 4 had wandered off a little. I redrilled the 4 that were off using a 1" bit after tightly clamping the plate on the correct center. After rechecking I changed my setup to accomodate the 1-1/16" final size drill bit. Boy I'm glad this part is about done!




Now I have to drill only122 1-1/16" through the plates. Its really only 61 as the plates are still tack welded together. If you look close you can see the two layers 

 Hmmm! 61 bottles of beer as the old song goes.     I'm going to need one after this!




 At Cabin Fever I picked up an 1-1/2" 6 flute counterbore for 2 bucks or 3 for 5. Needless to say at that price I went home with 3 different ones. It was quite worn but sharpened up with my small diamond stone and did the job. I did most of them in my drill press but moved over to the mill as my drill press won't get the center holes.













One might ask what is a picture of a new Crossfire doing in "How to build a Boiler"? Well a little word of advice to the fellows that haven't been married that long. If she sees something that she wants you might as well give in and try and get it for her. After what my wife has put up with for the 3 years of me working on my steamboat she deserves a little something. The only bad feature of the car is it doesn't support towing. As if she'd let me use her car to tow my boat to the area steamboat meets. Now on with the boiler!

Thank God for power tools I used my power bandsaw to cut the 61 tubes. I was fortunate to get most of my tubes from a friend who had a bunch of short pieces laying around. I had to purchase one length of schedule 80 3/4" black pipe.



I took seven of the tubes to tack in place and hold the two headers. Figures its the coldest day of the year and I'm outside fitting up my boiler





After tacking everything in place I again checked to see if everything was straight and true. Now for a trip to my Plumbers and Steamfitters Local #7 and see if I can do the welding there using the very best of equipment in their apprentice school





This picture shows where the weld will be made. Shown is the very top of the boiler. The seven boiler tubes were placed an 1/8" above the header. .




Here we are at

Plumbers & Steamfitters

Local # 7

apprenticeship training school in Albany, N.Y.

Its one of the finest training schools in the entire state.




The picture on the left is one of four or five aisles loaded with welding booths. This area is mainly for teaching "stick" type of welding. There are other areas for Gas, Mig and Tig welding. I won't bore you with the details



I set up and did a test weld on some pieces that I made up. I talked with the instructors about using stick, mig or maybe even tig. The opinion of a couple of real good welders was to go with 5P for a root pass and a cap of 7018. Mig would have been just as good but I am better at stick welding than using Mig. Well here we go with the instructor making the first few welds. I then made a few and a couple of forth year apprentices wanted in on the action. It wound up by making about 46 welds on 23 of the 61 tubes. Time to pick up and get ready for the next session. Everything is looking pretty good and is coming out well. The bad feature is after the 5P to weld the 7018 cap you have to change amps a little. Not a big deal as we did 5 or 6 root passes and then the caps. I skipped around all over the place both top and bottom to insure the plates would not warp.


It was decided to tack in more tubes before the first weld. I only had 23 tubes with me and they were randomly spaced to keep the plates from warping. I'm starting to see why they want $6000.00 for a boiler.











In the above left is a picture of the first weld made on my boiler. Many more to come. On the right is the 23 tubes installed and welded. I have my boiler back home and will install another 20 or so tubes and wait till I can get back to the Union Hall to do some more welding. Since I can go there twice a week its going to take a month or more to finish it up 100 percent. I should have a working boiler by April. Just in time to start putting the engine, boat and boiler together for some summer fun!


While working on the boiler at Local 7's welding school I did some work at home on all the parts that would be needed. On the left is the fresh air intake or the "lungs" for the boiler. It is fabricated from 11 Ga. steel plate. The plate was bought at scrap price of .50 per lb. at a local steel supplier. I picked up a lot of pieces I knew that I would need along the way.  Now for a little less typing and more pictures!




The plate was cut to fit around the outside of the boiler. What would I give for a plasma cutter now!




I cashed in a favor at a local sheetmetal shop and had them bend up the fresh air intake. Hopefully sparks from the ash pit would not fly out and set fire to the bottom of the boat.




A piece of 16" was obtained from another friend of mine and was prepped up for the water leg of the  boiler. Its getting harder to find the std. wall thickness of 3/8" as a lot of engineers will now allow thinner pipe sizes than 20 years ago. There was a lot of sch.10 and 20 around but I finally located a small piece just a couple of blocks from my house. The  16" water leg was welded on to the tube bundle.




The tube bundle was cleaned up and a piece of 1/2' square was bent around the bottom to make the bottom of the water leg. Sorry, forgot a picture of it but is shown later on.




The water leg was welded from both sides. Most all the welds are now being done with either MIG or Tig welder by a 4th year apprentice who just passed his certification. There's a couple of apprentice's thats helping out and really enjoying the project rather than being stuck in a booth with an old chunk of pipe in front of them!


Next was to cut down the outside of the boiler to the right size. I was pushed out of the way by two eager youngsters wanting to get in on the fun!





Two x-heavy half coupling were welded to the top of the tube sheet. I probably won't use them as they will be under the smoke hood. I'd rather have too many than not enough. These were TIG'ed in place





A 2" thread-o-let was added to both sides of the outside jacket of the tube bundle for visual checking of the tubes as the boiler ages. It is also useful for cleaning out and mud that may lay on top of the tube bundle.





Here's a nice close up of Nate doing his "thing" with a TIG torch and filler rod.




Back home after another night at the welding school. I'm getting ready to tack together the fresh air intake for the boiler from the parts made a couple of days ago. The use of welding magnets help in aligning everything





Everything is now tacked together and going along nicely. In fact too well if you know what I mean!





Since I only have a stick welder I will bring this to Local 7 and let Nate TIG it up for me




In the meantime I'll dig out all the hardware that I've picked up for the boiler. Most of it was obtained over the last 2 years on E-bay with the exception of the whistle. I spent almost a day cleaning and polishing everything. The gauge was taken apart, cleaned, repainted to match my engine. I was lucky to pick-up 12 red-line sight glasses 9-1/2" long for Ten bucks on E-bay and they worked out just fine giving me just the right distance for the boiler.


 I had the 2 clean-outs in place and needed to install 15 more thread-o-lets for various reasons. I think that I will have only three that won't have something coming out or going into the boiler. It"s going to look like a Christmas Tree one of the apprentices blurted out!





Well, they didn't take as long as we first thought. I don't think it took much more than an hour for all of them. These were the first two and are for the sight glass. I placed them so if the water was down out of sight I still had an inch of water over the bottom tube sheet.





Here's the last of them being welded up right now. I took me as long to lay them all out as it did to cut and weld them. Either I'm slow or Eric's fast,FAST, FAST



I scrounged up a piece of 6" X-heavy pipe to make the firebox. I wound up with 3 foot of it and only needed 5 or 6 inches. Maybe the rest of it will make a great boat anchor. It sure weighs enough!




Since I wanted an oval shaped firebox in order to get the grates in and out of I had to cut the pipe and add a piece in the middle. My Asian bandsaw lacked enough throat to cut it all so I had to turn it 180 degrees and then turn it over for the other side. The blade is pretty dull so I changed it out for the other side. I buy good quality blades and my saw cuts quite nicely and the cuts are straight and true. Put on a cheap blade and see what happens. I generally use a Lenox blade and have good luck with them.



I cut a piece of scrap I bought the last time I was at the local steel supplier. I had just enough as I have to fish-mouth the inside of the firebox. Boy, my Birthday's coming and I've been hinting about a new welder Hmmm




I'm getting the pieces square in a small jig and will tack them up. I will make sure to vee both the inside and outside for the welds





Well its Birthday time again and all the hinting paid off. I have a new Hobart 185 amp Mig welder. it claims to weld 5/16" on gas in a single pass. Pretty good as its cost was a couple of hundred less than Lincoln's 180 amp machine. The Lincoln however had variable voltage compared to a 7 position voltage switch of Hobart's. Let's give it a try!


So far so good! After a few test welds with it the firebox was welded together. I welded from both sides and tried to keep the welds as flat as possible as they would wind up being ground flush.




While I was at the local sheetmetal shop last week I had them cut out the pieces for my smoke hood on their plasma cutter. At the same time they did the rolling for me. They just called and I picked up the pieces. To my surprise it was tacked together so I changed over to some .023 wire and welded the hood up. Boy, I should have bought a MIG years ago! In no time the hood was done.

Here we are back to welding school cutting out for the firebox access opening thru the outer shell. The school only meets Monday and Tuesday for about 3 each nite. Thats for 4th and fifth year apprentices. The instructor I think wanted these fellows to help me out as they are both certified. No, problems and its going together fast.




The tube bundle was slid inside and the hole for the firebox cut on the inter-water leg. Here we are grinding and doing the weld prep for my oval piece thats already made up.





Just checking the fit before sliding the tube bundle home and welding it in.


The tubing bundle was pushed home and the fish-mouth was cut on the oval firebox access. You can now see the 1/2 square that was welded onto the lower end of the tube bundle. The spacing is really 5/8" but the pipe is a little out of round so the 1/2" square worked out just fine. As you look close there was only a 1/16" -1/8" gap to fill all around the bottom of the water leg.




These would prove to be the hardest to get at welds of all. I personally think the grinding between the 2 passes was just as hard as the welding. I think it even took a little longer.





With the interpart of the firebox now welded up the outside of the waterleg was welded to the outer shell.





I made up 6 supports for the grating and two lugs to hold the boiler from tipping over. A third one will be in the fresh air opening.





Working at home I ground down the tig weld until it was flush and drilled holes for the damper hinge. I also welded a stop for the damper on the inside using my new welder. Back to welding school




The outside of the firebox opening would be next. Two passes were made with some grinding in between. Since this weld would show we wanted it to look pretty so we really took some time with this one.




 You be the Judge!






All six grate supports went on next as well as the two boiler hold-downs




It took three of us to lift the boiler from the bench to the floor. I'm guessing it goes a little over four hundred pounds and will still gain another hundred an a half went outfitted and wood lagged.




The last couple of inches of weld be done to the first piece of steel I cut 8 weeks ago! 

Now all that's left is to test it but that's next weeks project at Local 7's Welding School

Any bets on leaks?

I'll be the only small sidewheeler with a





We put an air test of 125 lbs. to check for leaks before I took it home for completion. There was two leaks on the boiler tubes which were ground out and rewelded. A third leak was found on the 1/2" square spacer between the outside jacket and the waterleg. It seemed that we forgot to weld the square stock at the ends where they joined.




It took 4 of us to load it in my van at Local 7's school. I had to tip it over so the arm of my engine crane would reach in to lift it out of my van. I would guess that it weighs about 450 pounds with more to add. I'll weigh it when its complete with hardware and wood lagging.



From the van to the side of my garage was an easy job using the crane. I was sure to be careful passing by my Wife's new Crossfire. I can't even imagine trying to explain the dent in her new car! Its a real nice day out and I'm going to start work on the damper and a rail around the bottom to hold the wood lagging.



I wisely decided to move her car over before starting work on the damper. I tried the smoke hood that I made last week and it "Fit like a glove". Whenever I make items ahead of time or without the mating item near by they generally "Fit like socks on a Chicken".  Now to figure out how to make the damper so I can remove it in order to clean the ashes from the ashpit.


I started by making two round hinges for the damper. These would fit on the damper and drop in two slots cut down on an angle. The dampers weight keeps it in place allowing it to open and close with little effort.




The damper was made to just fit into the opening. The damper would need to be slotted to allow the hinge pin to be almost flush with the edge of the damper. I then cut two slots in the damper and screwed the hinges in place. The photo to the right is just before I cut the slots.



After making the damper and hinges I took it apart for polishing and painting. A high temp (2000 degree) green paint was used.

I bent the grates and welded the first bar in place to hold them. After talking to several "experts" on steam boilers I was told only to use cast iron or stainless steel grates because the steel would not hold up. When I questioned them what would happen to steel grates all I got was they would warp. I wanted to know if they would warp beyond use in the first few firings or what! Not getting an answer I am deciding to make them from mild steel and find out the answer for myself. The material used was bought as "shorts from a local steel supplier for less than five dollars. Not bad as they want 150 bucks for cast iron grates to fit my boiler. The steel used was 3/4"x1/4" thick.



Each piece was then cut and tack welded into place using my new mig welder. If these grates don't function well I'm only out five bucks and about 4 or 5 hours of work making them.




I now have the two grates made and tried them in the boiler. They just fit through the opening in the firebox where I will feed the wood into the firebox.




The damper fits into the two slots just fine. The damper can be removed by just sliding it out of the slots. Its a little hard to see the slots but they are cut down at about 45 degrees and when the damper is open it is flush with the opening. Its simple and works great. The long pin on the hinge will hold an arm to adjust just how open the damper is. It sort of regulates the amount of steam pressure by allowing more or less air to the fire. With it closed the boiler should not make much steam at all. The damper fit is about 1/32" on three sides while the fourth side hits a stop making it airtight. The damper box cuts up on an angle to try and stop any hot sparks from getting to the bottom of the boat. Depending how fast I make steam from a cold start I could always add a electric blower to help start the fire and aid with the draft until the fire is burning on its own and creating draft. Time will tell!


An easy way to solder


I had to make 3 spacers for the damper control and decided to solder them in place so they wouldn't get lost. After cleaning the parts well using a degreaser I "painted" on a very light layer of a self cleaning soldering paste. I used a small diameter piece of 50-50 and made 3 small rings. The spacers themself are given a light coat of soldering paste only where the solder will touch. Try to use as little paste as possible as it will be easy to clean after your done.

I then placed the spacer where I wanted it to be soldered and applied heat to the joint. You will be able to see the piece settle a little and see the solder at the edges. Note in the picture to the right how little paste is used. The biggest mistakes I see people do when soldering is:

  1. Not clean
  2. Too much paste and solder
  3. Not enough heat




To finish the damper I drilled and tapped three mounting holes 8-32 to hold the brass adjusting plate onto the boiler.






It seems to work just fine and I will be able to control the fire in the boiler. The only thing is it might be a little hard to reach as I will be sitting on the side where the firebox opening is. I don't like the paddlewheel shaft just over the damper opening but I don't have much of a choice at this point. The shaft will be quite a bit higher giving me room but things can happen FAST around moving parts.





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