Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are these computer animations?

No. There are no computer-generated images on this website. Everything you see is a photograph of an acrylic model that you can buy and assemble yourself. Of course the photographs are very stylized, shot against a carefully designed background to bring out the transparent nature of the models. But there's no faking here, that's really what the models look like.

2. Why didn't you just make animations?

Animations are nice, but they do not give you the hands-on experience of a real model. The human brain is wired to understand how things work using the eyes and hands together to manipulate the world. There is no substitute for the real thing. I've spent many years making software, including highly interactive Apps, but I'm tired of that. Real is real.

3. Do the Models Actually Work?

That depends on what you mean by "work". All the parts move as you see them moving here. The whole point of these models is to let you use your hands to interact with and understand the mechanisms. The steam engines, for example, can be moved through their full range of motion, and if you push and pull on the piston with just the right timing, you can make them spin pretty fast. But they do not work on actual steam or compressed air: you have to move them with your hands.

4. If My Model Does Not Work Should I Blame You?

If you're having trouble getting your kit put together in working order, I am sorry. If you're missing a part, or your dog chewed on one, we will be happy to send a replacement: click here for instructions on getting replacement parts. If your kit came with the wrong part or no part where there was supposed to be a part, I'm really sorry about that. It's surprisingly difficult to design a process to assemble kits like this with zero errors ever, so I hope you will be understanding.

5. Are These Toys?

Acrylic is a strong, beautiful, crystal-clear material that makes these models look the way they do. However, it is quite possible to break the models if you are too rough with them, and they contain many small parts (nuts and bolts, small levers, etc), so they should not be given to unsupervised children.

6. How Are These Models Made?

All my models are manufactured at my studio in Urbana, Illinois using a GUEagle large-format industrial laser cutter. 

7. How do I Get One?

You can order any of the models you see here on our catalog page.

Infrequently Asked Questions

1. Are These Models Dumb?

That depends what you mean by "dumb". There are, for example, many other steam engine models you can get that are far more realistic. Some of them even work with a tiny boiler and fuel pellets. My models are not like that. Instead, they are designed to be as simple and stylized as possible, containing only the essence of the machine stripped of all detail. To understand the operation of the spool valve in a double-acting steam engine, or the pins in a pin-tumbler lock, you don't want a detailed three-dimensional model. Instead you want something so much simplified that it is...transparently obvious. 

2. Why So Many Steam Engines?

Part of the motivation for these models is a new book I am working on, tentatively called "Things". In this book there will be many diagrams that explain how things work, except none of them will be diagrams. Instead they will be photographs of real objects much like these models, laid out and shown in various positions to show how they work. It just happens that I'm farther along in making models for the engines chapter than some of the others. There will be dozens and dozens of these models covering a much wider range of subjects before the book is done. Those for which it makes sense will be offered here as models you can buy.

3. Should I Wait To Buy One Until You Have Something New?

No, get one now, because who knows, I might get too busy and stop making them. You can always get another one if there are ones you like even better that come along later.