Welcome to the world of the Stirling Engine Kit.
The pleasure and satisfaction derived from building your own Stirling engine kit is immense. For those of us who enjoy the natural magnificence of a beautiful piece of engineering, then nothing could be more satisfying than to sit back and see a fully working Stirling engine whirring quietly away, know that it is all due to your patience, dexterity and skill.
With a bit of passion and perseverance you can lovingly construct one of these gems, which will give you great pleasure for many years. Admired almost as much for their aesthetic beauty, as well as their engineering function, they make a wonderful decorative piece when you’ve finished your kit construction – and, of course, they’re always a great talking point!
Stirling engines pre-date the Victorian explosion of interest in terms of all things mechanical and engineering. The design was originally conceived during 1816, following earlier attempts at a ‘hot air engine’, and was intended to act as a rival to the mighty steam engine. A type of regenerative heat engine, they work by using cyclic compression and the expansion of the air (or other gases) within the engine to create a difference in temperature across the engine’s workings, causing a direct conversion from heat energy to mechanical output.
On a practical level Stirling engines were largely used in low powered domestic appliances in the 19th century and well into the 20th century, other than a brief phase in a Dundee foundry, where the materials of the day proved the engine’s limitation. By the 1930s they had largely fallen out of favour, reserved for toys and occasional small electrical items.
Stirling engines are capable of reaching 50% efficiency, which far outperforms the steam engine. They are also known for their quiet, efficient operation, and benefit from being able to use almost any heat source, which is applied externally, rather than internally. They have long been admired as collectors’ items and models for enthusiasm, but in recent years there has been something of a renaissance.
Stirling engines are currently experiencing an upsurge in usage in commercial settings; as the cost of fuels rise, its efficiency works in its favour. Using an external heat source means a Stirling engine is comfortably compatible with renewable and alternative energy sources – particularly solar power. As well as the cost implications, this also makes it a more environmentally friendly alternative, with global warming and climate change considerations to be taken into account. The size they would need to be to operate efficiently in industrial settings is something of a problem, however, as they have a relatively low power to weight ratio, making them really more suitable for use in static installations, where space is not a big issue.
The romance of an almost-forgotten piece of genius adds to the attraction of this lovely invention for many of us, and coupled with the fact that the Stirling engine is readily available to buy in kit format, it has become quite the thing for a hobbyist or enthusiast to build and collect.
They are available in a variety of formats, with tweaks and variations from the original design. If you’re a beginner, looking to dip your toe into the world of the Stirling engine, then the good news is that they’re relatively straightforward to build, which will give you a feeling of satisfaction and real achievement.
It’s also hard to deny their beauty, and the fact that they will work in a domestic setting – being placed on a woodburner or over a fireplace – adds to their charm, particularly if you have small enthusiasts who like to come and visit.
There are lots of online groups and discussion forums for those of us who have a passion for the beautiful Stirling engine kit, so if you find you’d like some advice or guidance, chat to some like-minded people today!