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Starting out a young enthusiast

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Vivienne Moss14/02/2021 19:48:03
4 forum posts

Hi everyone!

I'm a mum here seeking some guidance for how to help my son into building his own steam locos.

He's just turned 11. Has been steam mad since he 1st saw Thomas, and this interest has turned passion (he's a keen playing of train sim World and train sim)

I have enquired about him helping at our local heritage steam line but as expected insurance prevents this until he's older so I'm wondering if model engineeringay be a path to follow?

Can anyone suggest a good starting kit with good instructions? (That won't instantly bankrupt me)

He's reasonably bright (has thrown together the kego technic kand rover defender with no issues and no help) but both myself and his father ate creative and mechanically minded so happy to help and guide him where and when needed.

Thank you all!


Emgee14/02/2021 20:12:41
2444 forum posts
291 photos

Hi Vivienne

OS Engines used to do a range of model steam locomotives but they were very expensive items, many thousand £'s so not the sort of kit you are seeking.
I do not know of any current model kit suppliers but someone may come along with a supplier.

It may be a good idea to start your son off with some general hand tools for metal working, he could then at minimum expense be taught how to use the tools as a starting point to making a model from plans or possibly a kit of materials.

If you have a model engineering club locally he may be able to join and participate in club projects, these days the club may/will require someone with suitable paperwork to offer instruction to a minor.


Thomas Cooksley14/02/2021 20:23:59
55 forum posts

Hi Vivienne, we need to encourage everyone especially youngsters and I hope your boy goes on to make some lovely engines. Have you enquired locally if there are any model engineering clubs he could join? Or what about school could he take metalwork as a subject? I first learnt to use a lathe at school and I built a static steam engine for my exams. I would not spend a lot of money to start with, wait until he knows what he wants and how to use it safely. Few engineering machines come with instructions on how to use them. You might try a monthly engineering magazine or some books, Neil Wyatt's lathe book looks to be very good but I haven't read it myself yet. I can recommend the Workshop Practice Series of books, I have several of them myself. Good luck to your son; full steam ahead. Tom.

Nick Clarke 314/02/2021 20:26:14
1475 forum posts
64 photos

At any other time my advice would be to see what any model engineering club could offer but that would not be possible at present. In addition my own club would expect youngsters to be accompanied by a suitable adult and this may also be the case with others.

There are kits of parts that will be able to be assembled into a passenger hauling loco using only hand tools - Polly Engineering is one manufacturer, but even hand tools cost money and the kits are priced in thousands. This is not expensive when compared with the number of hours work that goes into making a single steam locomotive - economies of scale help here - but still not cheap.

In a smaller size I would have recommended Ellie the tram engine but most parts for this are not available at present.

The main requirement is to find suitable guides/teachers/helpers that might be able to assist your son, but that isn't possible yet.

If you post details of your general location (but not your eMail, postal address or phone number!) someone may be able to point you at a club or clubs near to you.


Edited By Nick Clarke 3 on 14/02/2021 20:31:12

Hollowpoint14/02/2021 20:36:28
476 forum posts
59 photos

Difficult one really, I don't want to put you off but even the most basic of steam engines needs a whole raft of tools and machinery to make. If you are starting from nothing you would be lucky to setup for under £500

If that isn't a problem then perhaps a set of plans some materials and a micro lathe is your starting point.

Bazyle14/02/2021 20:41:24
6379 forum posts
222 photos

I suggest a non-themed set of Meccano. Not too big as there are lots of Christmases and birthdays to add more.
Also once you think it safe a hand drill and a 4mm drill bit. This will enable him to start making add-on plates etc out of margerine tub plastic. This should develop creativity and craft making. Challenge him to make a model of a loco but when he finds he doesn't have enough wheels to make them out of milk bottle tops and so on.

Vivienne Moss14/02/2021 21:19:37
4 forum posts

Thank you all for the fast replies!

I'm trying to keep him interested (he currently wants to be a train driver when older and this has been his aim since age 4, albeit then to drive thomas at Drayton Manor lol

I ha enough access to some tools, not a lathe ( although I want one myslef) but hand tools souldering dremel all at easy access.

I've seen a couple electric plans using a small motor card amd pop cans... this may well be our starting point. I'm a maker myself (mainly clay but have done basic metal and wood work before) so more than happy to help him.

I'll contact our local club once lockdown is starting to lift (we are in Lincoln)

Thanks again

Martin Dowing14/02/2021 21:34:21
355 forum posts
8 photos

If you can set aside about £ 3000-4000 and have a spare area for a workshop then buy him some second hand lathe like Mayford ML7 or Super7, together wih accessories like vertical slide.

You will find plenty on offer on ebay and elsewhere.

Consult someone experienced (ask him to inspect this lathe before you purchase) and ask him to set it on.

Plenty of knowledge can be found on internet (and your son will find it easy) but before he has made his first steam engine it will likely be few years of skill learning.

He must be *patient*.

Amateur engineering / precision mechanics requires lots of *patience*.

We are often spending many days to fabricate a single part.

This hobby is not cheap either and your son will unlikely make any money out of it unless he has acquired some very special skills or found a niche or unless current edition of civilization together with high volume manufacturing have collapsed.

West is essentially done - even multimillion engineering ventures are struggling and increasingly failing while competing wih Chinese.

Edited By Martin Dowing on 14/02/2021 21:36:53

Chris Gunn14/02/2021 21:46:25
430 forum posts
27 photos

Viv, you could start him off with a simple o gauge locomotive kit, very basic assembly of pre-made components for about £250, Google O gauge live steam kits for some examples. this would not be too onerous or too difficult, but it should work which is important, and then go on from there.

Chris Gunn

Grindstone Cowboy14/02/2021 21:55:07
893 forum posts
64 photos

Dare I suggest looking for a Mamod or similar steam engine on Ebay? Got my first one about the age of nine, and it teaches you a lot - like which bits get uncomfortably hot, not to stick your fingers in the flywheel, etc. without anything being too life-threatening. - and shouldn't be too expensive in case he doesn't like it at all. There's some good polishing tasks to be done to keep them looking nice, always a handy skill...


Derek Lane14/02/2021 21:57:39
788 forum posts
175 photos

May I be very bold and say what about making a loco out of wood it can be a lot cheaper to start with and as his experience and knowledge improves work up to metal working lathe to make a live steam loco.

This is an example of a wooden one I made last year as a request for someone

20200710_183251 (768x1024).jpg

20200710_183153 (1024x768).jpg

not done it yet14/02/2021 22:21:07
6880 forum posts
20 photos

then buy him some second hand lathe like Mayford ML7 or Super7, together wih accessories like vertical slide.

I would suggest a much cheaper chinese mini lathe - or even one of the micro-lathes - as a starting point, certainly not a myford at his stage. A far cheaper route and probably a lot safer!

Not that I would be suggesting letting even a 11 year old loose on power machinery, without supervision, particularly not knowing his ability - but not doubting his enthusiasm, of course.

Edited to add: does he use a 3-D printer yet?  That might be a good introduction to computerised modelling.

Edited By not done it yet on 14/02/2021 22:22:59

noel shelley14/02/2021 22:30:41
1436 forum posts
23 photos

This country needs all the engineers we can find, so good luck. There is the steam apprentices club. I think it still is in operation ? When the weather warms up abit and I can spend time in the shed I could machine some simple bits to help make a small mamod type engine and boiler. In the meantime has your son seen the peters railway series of books by Chris Vine, or is he already beyond this stage ?  Noel.

Edited By noel shelley on 14/02/2021 22:33:32

Pete.14/02/2021 22:36:47
815 forum posts
245 photos

Budget would be helpful, what would bankrupt one person, might be pocket money to another.

Martin Kyte14/02/2021 22:52:35
2784 forum posts
53 photos

I would say get him a small lathe and a Stuart Turner Kit and let him practice. 10V stationary engine is a good start point. He needs to spend some time building up some basic workshop kit. Get him to build a bench for the little lathe with a vice and can work from there. 3 years pottering about building skills and a workshop with a few models along the way as a sort of apprenticeship.

regards Martin

Martin Dowing14/02/2021 22:59:33
355 forum posts
8 photos
Posted by not done it yet on 14/02/2021 22:21:07:

I would suggest a much cheaper chinese mini lathe - or even one of the micro-lathes - as a starting point, certainly not a myford at his stage. A far cheaper route and probably a lot safer!

Not that I would be suggesting letting even a 11 year old loose on power machinery, without supervision, particularly not knowing his ability - but not doubting his enthusiasm, of course.

Suggested something what is of more use than just making a bar more narrow. Accessories are critical and Myfords series have plenty commercially made.

Re Safety - quest for perfect safety is a disease digesting our society which is ensuring that nohing can be done and Asia takes over everything.

When I was 12, I didn't have a lathe but have learned in my uncle's garage to operate oxyacetylene burner quite profficienly (he was handing me down some works...).

What is safer, lathe or such a burner, I don't know. Even acetylene needed to be generated from carbide and I was operating generator as well...

Of course in initial stages kid would need to be supervised but after 2-3 months less so.


Edited By Martin Dowing on 14/02/2021 23:00:44

Nimble14/02/2021 23:01:07
59 forum posts
4 photos

Hi Viv,

Perhaps a first simple task would be to make a "camphor boat" then move on toa "put-put" ("putt-putt", " pop- pop" boat. many plans are available on the net, and not much in the way of tools required. If wanted could make a simple version, then make more complicated versions


Nimble Neil

Edited By Nimble on 14/02/2021 23:06:48

IanT14/02/2021 23:20:48
2002 forum posts
212 photos

Hello Vivienne,

Without some guidance, I think it would be very hard for your son to start making a live steam engine just by himself - quite apart from the cost of any equipment. Whilst not impossible, frankly he'd be unlikely to succeed - and that might kill the spark of interest, which would be a great pity.

So I would suggest something very simple to begin with - and perhaps it doesn't need to be a 'live' steam locomotive right away. There are some relatively inexpensive 16mm locomotive kits that your son could build together with some wagons perhaps and of course all locomotives need some track to run on too - perhaps out in the garden? That would get him going and if the railway 'bug' really bites (and you get yourself a small lathe) then he could move onto something more like the 'Ellie' steam tram as already suggested by Nick.

IP Engineering - Locos

Ellie - Steam Tram Book

There are a few companies other than IP Engineering making simple 16mm kits of course - but I've suggested them just as an example of what is available. My advice would be to take things slowly - let him make something that can he can complete in a reasonable timeframe (and actually run and enjoy) before moving onto something a bit more ambitious.



Edited By IanT on 14/02/2021 23:23:11

IanT14/02/2021 23:30:45
2002 forum posts
212 photos

P.S. Robs suggestion of a Mamod loco could be a potential in-between step/project. Mamods have started lot's of people off in Garden Railways and although very basic, there are kits around that let you improve them - more small steps towards something more challenging for him eventually but still fun.



Owen Hughes15/02/2021 00:08:57
2 forum posts

I agree Mamod kit would be a good starting point to learn principles at a reasonable price at age 11. I would recommend contacting your local model engineering club / society. As a new enthusiast I have been very impressed by model engineering clubs where we have found members very willing to share their experience and expertise, and encourage youngsters and those with less experience to learn new skills and get involved with a variety of projects. Best of luck.

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