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Building a ceramic burner

6491 Views 129 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  RioGrandeFan
I have been having issues with the ceramic burner supplied with my C-18 locomotive. I haven't reached out to the manufacturer yet. I could be simply experiencing a defective burner that doesn't perform like the rest that were produced. I don't want to make any negative remarks towards the manufacturer for something that could be an anomaly.
Besides steam production, there are many great comments I, and other steamers, make about this engine. Very smooth, self starting, perfectly timed out of the box. Excellent boiler insulation in the design. Just a wonderful engine if I get a good fire. The manual even specifically says a strong fire is needed (from the supplied burner.)

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Since my primary running season is outdoors in Wisconsin winters, I find it obvious that I will require a more capable than stock burner. And because I simply want to build something, I haven't tried before, I am starting this.

The existing burner has a surface area of 2.1 square inches, without modifications to the the rest of the engine I can increase the burner to 3 square inches. A 43% increase in burner surface area. This will also help seal off the bottom of the firebox as I'm told is necessary for a ceramic burner.

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I will be switching to the "hard" ceramic material in this burner.

I am hoping that Bill will weigh in with his insights on ceramic burners.

My design calls for 1 inch wide by 3 inches long and 0.93 inches tall. I will be increasing the length of the jet tube to resemble Bill's design in this post.
This post of Bill's build thread. Is the best I found with details of the burner design. His Blue Comet article in Steam in the Garden also has some details on burner design.

If there are other informative posts for ceramic burner design I would greatly appreciate them.
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You answered my question while I was writing it.
Here is how I removed the arch. somewhat crude. Maybe you have a better way

Arch removal
The removal of the arch is a simple but tedious job. The arch is a very hard stainless alloy which is about an inch wide and 1/32” thick. It is too hard to drill through and not accessible enough for a Dremel cutoff tool. It can be cut with a bi-metal fine tooth hack saw. I used a medium blade here as that is what I had at the time. The blade is too thick to fit in the space so I split it in half. I used a cutoff blade on my Shop smith but a Dremel will work too
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Here is the blade after trimming. I trimmed both sides so I could try it with the cut on the push and the pull. I found that the push worked best for me. You will only have short strokes at the tip of the blade. The cut off on the left was to remove a portion with worn teeth and expose fresh ones.

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I wrapped a couple of paper towels around the blade as a make-shift handle
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Here the arch is being cut. The dark grey arch is on the right and the cutting is seen on the left of it. At this point the cut is about ¾ down and the saw blade is just above the bottom of the cut. The white on the left is the paper towel handle.

This is very hard material and with the limited stroke clearance it will take about a half hour to cut through so don’t get discouraged.
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And here is the firebox with the arch gone
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I have a Small screw driver set, one of the bit adapters is a flexible extension that allowed me to remove the screws by sneaking in over the drivers. Alternatively, a really long screw driver of the proper size can come from the front. No further disassembly of the engine was needed besides dropping the burner. It is still intact so I may use it if it proves necessary for Alcohol experiments. The fireman's side was easier because there wasn't the Reverser arm in the way.
This is the set that I have

The black shaft next to the handle is a cable coated in vinyl. It has better torque in the tightening direction. but had just enough rigidity for removing these screws.

I am also able to do all of my burner work without removing the drawbar, However, I may try that method. It is a little frustrating fishing the jet tube in and out my way.
The draw bar only takes a minute and lowers the frustration level
I just ordered the set $17 what a bargain
Can you demonstrate how it was done. did you remove anything beside the insulation? Did you put the screws back in from the inside to seal the holes?
The draw bar only takes a minute and lowers the frustration level
I just ordered the set $17 what a bargain
Can you demonstrate how it was done. did you remove anything beside the insulation? Did you put the screws back in from the inside to seal the holes?
Actually, a longer, straight screwdriver will reach. That set has a handle that telescopes and locks in multiple locations. Attached are two pictures.
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I admit I did not put anything in to plug the holes. Since the arch is the threaded part, there is nothing to hold the screws.

I finished installing my burner tonight. A slightly more involved process since I need to back out some screws on the frame spacer that pinch the burner sides, and I need to drop the rear axle in order to have the space to wiggle it in.

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I have started modifications to my original burner in the manner you described.
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My procedure for removing the stud was different. I drilled down with my drill press, then switch to a 1/4 end router bit to use my drill press like a poor man's mill.

In your instructions, what is your method of attaching the bent deflector to the bottom of the burner? Solder or RTV?

Another question? What do you think of someone just drilling in through the jet tube and through the stud? There could be a mess of shavings, but could eliminate the need to remove the ceramic. The extension tube could be fabricated with a little flag off the end as the deflector.
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perhaps Accucraft should employ you to fix these locos…nice work—being an aircraft mechanic makes this probably seem like easy stuff!

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I'm sure there is always pressure for engineers to get their designs out but the Aster QC team needs to take the time to make sure the customer is not the QC team....I understand we are a tinkering lot but this time it went well beyond that. Poor Terry, and I know Tyler too, spent some serious hours trying to come up with fixes. Now they will likely have some "hardware updates" to implement to get their engines to perform adequately.

Perhaps a 1/2hr to 1 hr won't be too bad for the arch removal but it's a bit much to ask for customers to do for something they shelled out some serious dollars to purchase assuming they would receive nice running engines. But, as my wife likes to remind me, it is what it is...I'm sure they both will do what they need to.

If I jump into this, the arch will stay and we'll see if we can run on alcohol Again, and I should bite my tongue for saying this, the P8 could also run fine on alcohol, so.........

Thanks again,
Referring to your comment about the P8 running on Alcohol. That is a factory option. In fact the pictures on the website you can see the fuel tube disconnected between the engine and tender in the side on photo.

I did pose the question to Cliff about getting the wick assembly from the P8 for my engine if the Ceramic proves to still under perform.

I tried drilling through the jet holder first but when the drill bit started to break through the other side of the stud it caught and pulled the stud out. This is why I figured it was soft soldered and could be de-soldered easily. Your method is best if someone has a mill.
I use RTV for the deflector as the shape and size is trial and error. The deflector is to get an even burn from front to back so sometimes I need to try two or more variations and placement. The RTV is sticky enough to hold it in place while testing and becomes a good bond after several hours.
On the screw holes, as it is a drafted firebox, It probably isn't a big deal but a screw with some RTV would probably work to seal it.
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I know your instructions are meant for the every man. But if you don't have one of these hack blade handles you should get one.

One of the guys at work just borrowed it and reminded me to pass it along.

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The BIX burners I ordered had a screen at the entrance to the burner body and a spring along the inside to disperse the fuel, and did so very evenly. No cool spots, nice even flame the entire length. This pic is just as it was going radiant. I used the replacement ceramic made for the Buddy Heater.
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Same ceramic just flipped over so the textured side was up, wanted to see the difference.
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So, when I mean results, I’m referring to how long your engine stayed under steam and what was the running characteristics…

For example, with the old burner, it ran for 5 mins and maintained 40psi for ‘x’ time. With the new burner it ran for 10 mins at 50psi…At some point, a decision on whether it’s “fixed” is going to based on some extended run time
at a sustainable pressure.

On mine, unfortunately, I ran out of distilled water after about 30 minutes but it was still running strong at that time.
Stayed at about 40 psi running fast and went up when I slowed the speed to more prototypical speed.
Out of curiosity,
Bill, have you tried using other items to distribute the fuel mixture?
My attempts with the bent piece of brass are not as uniform as yours.
Another steamer I have talked to mentioned building their jet tube to be capped on the end with slits on the bottom. Like a poker inside a ceramic box.

This book has what you were talking about.
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That sounds like what one would expect to see under normal conditions. Tyler-it doesn’t sound like you were able to replicate Bill’s performance…is that right?

This is the result of my attempts to follow Bill's modification instructions.
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I messed around with some sheets to choke the air inlets and I started getting the orange flames in Bill's pictures. I may build a collar to be able to adjust the air.

Under the conditions of; hot water in tender, stock replacement burner and jet, brick Arch removed. My engine will pull the load, run the axel pump full closed, and continue to build steam pressure untill pop off. And keep periodically popping off while running a fast walking speed. More steam than I need.
However, if I remove the hot water in the tender, performance decreases to barely keep pressure above 27 psi while the axel pump is adding water to the boiler. If I reach 25 psi I need to stop and manually pump, and put the fan on.
My hope is to use Bill's design to make the engine reliable without hot water in the tender.

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tdreabe, first time I see that book is just now. I was describing what I saw in the BIX burners when I rebuilt them for my purpose, but sure looks like it. And my pics show the results. I had to drill additional air holes in the delivery tube, didn't need to make a collar as I lucked out on my first attempt.
I made a collar by cutting a small piece of 3/8 od k&s tube and splitting it. It has spring tension and stays where I place it.
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The 3/8 is sized just right so that one hole will never be covered. Once I find the right amount of hole restriction, I will make one to fit next to the clamp on the bottom of the Loco.

Here it is adjusted for best flame before the ceramic starts to show a cooler color.
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You can see the top three holes are nearly covered.

And here is the flame with no collar.
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On my other burner, I may make the sleeve internal since the jet tube is already full length and I have no space outside to slide the collar off the holes.
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Here is a video of the engine running with the stock burner modified per Bill's instructions and the Brick Arch sheet removed. Stock Jet.
Straight Butane from Ronson Lighter refill
Air temp 33F Tender initially has just a slosh of water in the bottom at about 45F coming from my garage.
When I add the water from the Kettle, the water was 86F when removed from the heater, I do not have a way to measure it, But it had been outside, off the heat source for 20 minutes. To my fingers it felt like it was between 68-75F

With no water in the tender, any butane engine will eventually run out of steam as the gas escaping from the tank will bring the tank temperature down so low that there is no gas pressure even on a mild summer day. At 33 degrees that would be exaggerated. Even room temperature water will cool down during a run and it will get worse as the level in the tender gets lower. The ideal tender water temperature seems to be about 70 - 90 F. It looks like Tyler's engine was doing fine at that temp.

As far as the diverter goes it is basically trial and error. Sometimes I burner will only glow at one end without something to divert the flow of the gas and sometime it is fine. the diverter shape I showed seems to work best but it cant be too high.
I usually make it about half as high as the tube and then move it around to get the best burn. I hold it in place with RTV while testing and then set it in RTV for a permeant bond. Once in the firebox, the glow evens out so it doesn't need to be perfect on the bench.

Early on I tried the springs, steel wool, screens etc. and they really didn't do much. Of coarse the Bruce Engineering ceramic made everything much better but for now it is no longer available. I emailed the new owners and they said they are considering stocking it again.
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I replaced the ceramic that came with the BIX with the Buddy replacement from Amazon, very satisfied.
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