The Best Model Steam Engines for Fun and Learning

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Model steam engines are among the very best STEM products on the market.  They’re made up of lots of small parts each doing its thing to make something bigger happen. The educational opportunities are huge: physics, engineering, mechanics! But as well as that, they’re just plain cool. Who doesn’t want to get that steam whistle sounding? Adults and children alike will get a lot from working with a model steam engine kit.

Our pick for best overall model steam engine on the market is the Sunnytech Hot Air Stirling Engine. Okay, so it’s a Stirling engine, not a steam engine, but it deserves its top spot for its quality construction, impressive looks, and unique multi-color LED lights!

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Our Top Picks for Model Steam Engines

Our Top Picks
Best Overall
Sunnytech Hot Air Stirling Engine Motor Model Educational Toy Electricity Generator Colorful LED (SC001)
Best for Hobbyists
Wilesco D18 Steam Engine with Generator
Budget Option
DjuiinoStar Mini Hot Air Stirling Engine: A High Performance Pocket-Sized Working Model
Name
Sunnytech Hot Air Stirling Engine
Wilesco D18 Steam Engine with Generator
DjuiinoStar Mini Hot Air Stirling Engine
Features
A quality product with metal construction and an impressive finish, this engine will delight with its multi-colour LEDs.
A classy model with solid construction, real-world sounds but a big price tag.
A pocket-sized model that packs a punch and holds its own for quality and performance.
Best Overall
Our Top Picks
Sunnytech Hot Air Stirling Engine Motor Model Educational Toy Electricity Generator Colorful LED (SC001)
Name
Sunnytech Hot Air Stirling Engine
Features
A quality product with metal construction and an impressive finish, this engine will delight with its multi-colour LEDs.
More Info
Best for Hobbyists
Our Top Picks
Wilesco D18 Steam Engine with Generator
Name
Wilesco D18 Steam Engine with Generator
Features
A classy model with solid construction, real-world sounds but a big price tag.
More Info
Budget Option
Our Top Picks
DjuiinoStar Mini Hot Air Stirling Engine: A High Performance Pocket-Sized Working Model
Name
DjuiinoStar Mini Hot Air Stirling Engine
Features
A pocket-sized model that packs a punch and holds its own for quality and performance.
More Info

Best Overall – Sunnytech Hot Air Stirling Engine

Best Overall
Sunnytech Hot Air Stirling Engine
A quality product with metal construction and an impressive finish, this engine will delight with its multi-colour LEDs.

This mid-range engine is quite simply impressive. The Sunnytech Hot Air Stirling Engine has a very nice finish and the construction is excellent. It feels quite heavy and it’s built with quality materials. It’s made mainly of metal and also features custom-made thick glass. Unlike most model engines on the market, this one features a multi-color LED on the motor. This offers something a little different and the lights are a cool result when you get the engine working. 

The stylish look of this engine means it could be a nifty desk toy. It would look right at home in the office of an engineer or any mechanical geek! 

This product doesn’t require much assembly though, so if you enjoy the challenge of construction you might want to choose a different product. This Sunnytech product is quieter than most other model engines and would be a favorite for children learning about STEM concepts or adults wanting to play! It’s definitely a great all-rounder that will get the job done and appeal to a range of audiences.

Best for Hobbyists – Wilesco D18 Steam Engine with Generator

Best for Hobbyists
Wilesco D18 Steam Engine with Generator
A classy model with solid construction and real-world sounds.

If you’re already a model steam engine geek, this is definitely the one for you. The Wilesco D18 Steam Engine with Generator is one of the pricier products on the market, but it’s very well made. The craftsmanship is beautiful and it feels very solid – it oozes class and quality. It’s versatile too because you can connect other accessories with the flywheel. The little street light is a nice touch as well! Overall, this model is just very well done in all areas.

Along with the quality of the product, my favorite thing about this model is the sounds it makes. If you’re a steam engine nut, you’ll appreciate the noises it generates – it just sounds like a real steam engine would sound! It’s hard to get the steam whistle to sound right in model products, but this one is almost spot on. Given the hefty price tag for this model, it’s probably better suited to adult enthusiasts rather than children learning about STEM, but either way, it will definitely impress its users.

Best Budget Option – DjuiinoStar Mini Hot Air Stirling Engine

Sale
Best Budget Option
DjuiinoStar Mini Hot Air Stirling Engine
A pocket-sized model that packs a punch and holds its own for quality and performance.

This model engine is not only small in price – it’s also small in size! The DjuiinoStar Mini Hot Air Stirling Engine is slightly smaller than a soda can but does everything the larger models can do. Despite its less expensive price tag, it’s made from quality materials such as the mirrored stainless steel base. It not only feels solid, but it also looks good.

If you’re after a desktop toy, the compact design means it won’t take up much room on your workspace. It’s also a great option for teachers because it’s small in size and lightweight, which means it’s easy to move between classrooms.

The mini design is a full working model. There’s no assembly required though, so if you prefer to construct your model you’d be disappointed. Otherwise, you can start converting energy straight away! The Stirling engine might be small in stature, but there’s no lack of attention to detail. For example, the glass jar has a magnet under it to hold it in place. I also appreciated the instructions – clear and concise without unnecessary details.

Best for Younger Kids – Playz Model Steam Engine Kit

Best for Younger Kids
Playz Model Steam Engine Kit
A good quality all-round model kit perfect for young train enthusiasts.

If you have a younger child that can’t get enough trains in their life, this is the product for them. The Playz Model Steam Engine Kit is a great buy for a younger audience. The locomotive design means it’s a bit more child-friendly than the other models and they will love seeing the steam come out of the train’s chimney. They can also get the lights to flash and the whistle to blow. It’s every train-lovers dream!

This kit is full of good quality pieces that fit together nicely and it feels like a nice, solid product once it’s all assembled. The instructions are really worth a mention too. They’re perfect for children: clear and easy to understand with plenty of colorful diagrams, rather than a lot of text. This is helpful for younger minds and means they won’t need a lot of adult help putting it together. This steam engine kit is marketed at children aged 10 and up though, so younger children may still need a bit of adult assistance.

If you’re buying your model steam engine kit with kids in mind, this one is the ideal choice.

Best for Educators –  Sunnytech Mini Hot Live Steam Engine Kit

Best for Educators
Sunnytech Mini Hot Live Steam Engine Kit
A great option for discovering all about how steam engines work.

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This steam engine kit is simple, but it works well and it’s one of the best at showing exactly how steam engines work. The Sunnytech Mini Hot Live Steam Engine Kit uses a V-twin cylinder/piston set up and this makes it very easy to see the energy transfer process in action. This would be the perfect model for teachers or anyone who wants to explain the process to others (or learn it for themselves!). Keeping it simple is often the best way to see the process clearly, and that’s what this model does well.

Assembly is required for this steam engine kit, but it’s not complicated. The manual is easy to follow and all the pieces go together well. Once assembled, the model feels quite solid and it’s really simple to get things moving. It ran a little rough, to begin with, but started running smoothly after a few goes. It’s an impressive option for educators or anyone who wants to take a closer look at the energy transfer process.

What to Consider when Buying a Model Steam Engine Kit

Safety

Safety should be your number one consideration, especially if you’re buying a kit to use with children. Model steam engine kits can get very hot and usually remain hot for a while after use. Many of them use breakable materials like glass and they often flick or spray hot liquid about. Of course, adult supervision should always be used but even so, make sure you consider whether the kit you’re buying is safe and suitable for the intended age range. There are plenty of safe, child-friendly models on the market so make these your number one picks.

Quality

When you’re looking at model steam engine kits, you’ll notice the quality of construction varies greatly. You get what you pay for but whichever kit you choose, make sure it’s made of solid materials that are appropriate to the task at hand. There’s nothing more disappointing than getting your kit home to find a switch is broken. Or you’ve spent a long time assembling the product only to find the pieces don’t fit together well. It might be worth spending a little bit extra to make sure you get a kit that won’t let you down or present a safety hazard.

Budget

It’s easy to get carried away when you’re shopping for a model steam engine kit. They’re all so cool that you could easily blow your budget if you’ll go with the top of the range model. But think about what you need the kit for. Do you want to use it frequently or will it be something you only use a few times to show someone how the steam engine process works? Do you want a model you can display on your desk or on a shelf, or are you happy to put in back the cupboard after use? There’s no point in spending a lot of money unless you want this to be a real investment. The less expensive models are usually still of good quality and will do exactly what you need them to do.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do model steam engines work?

Steam engines work by using heat to generate steam. The force of the steam is used to move a piston in a cylinder and this moves a flywheel that moves whatever you want it to move. Using a model steam engine kit is the best way to see this process in action. It’s a great way to learn about the energy transfer process and see how steam engines moved mighty machines like locomotives.

Is a model steam engine kit a good STEM toy?

Yes! A model steam engine kit is one of the best STEM products you can buy. Depending on what kit you choose, you’ll learn all about the basic principles of combustion engines. There’s so much to figure out about how things work and energy exchange. Steam engine kits are a great way to see in action how heat energy converts to mechanical energy. It’s hands-on learning at its best!

What STEM skills can you learn from using a model steam engine kit?

The list is almost endless! If your kit requires assembly there’s lots of building and construction to learn from. You’ll be looking at how machines work and how to make an engine run. It also involves physics, engineering, and mechanical learning. Model steam engine kits really are a treasure trove for STEM education!

Who should buy a model steam engine kit?

Model steam engine kits are a great way for children to learn how steam engines work and to see the energy transfer process in action. But they’re definitely not just for kids. Adults are often big fans of model steam engine kits, whether they’ve always been a fan of trains, maybe they love all things engineering or perhaps they used to work with steam engines during their career. Teachers also love model steam engine kits. They’re a great way to demonstrate a range of learning topics or just promote STEM education.

Can I build my own model steam engine?

Absolutely! There are a lot of online sites that will give you step-by-step instructions on how to make your own model steam engine. But if DIY is not your thing, it’s probably easier to order a kit. They usually have all the materials you need and a detailed set of instructions.  Putting together a kit is half the fun, but you can also buy model steam engines that are already assembled if you want to get straight to work.

Jodie Magrath

Last update on 2020-09-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API