Getting Started in Live Steam


The best way to find out what is readily available in Live Steam is to talk to the suppliers. Finding the suppliers is probably the hardest, as it depends where you are. Fortunately most have catalogues and active mail order systems. More and more have catalogues available on line. In Australia most advertise in "Australian Model Engineering" magazine. This magazine is run by live steamers for live steamers.

Find out more at Australian Model Engineering.

For the United Kingdom look on the bookstalls for "Model Engineer" or "Engineering in Miniature", while in the USA, magazines such as "Live Steam" or "Modeltec" can be consulted. Visiting Live Steam Societies can give an idea of what is around (and the details of the local supplier), but remember that the size has increased over the years and stationary engines or small gauge models can still provide much needed experience at minimal cost. Suppliers can offer drawings and construction books on many types of engines. Many of these were serialised at one time in the"Model Engineer" and other magazines.

Some suppliers, with Australian telephone numbers, are:

New South Wales

Supplier Phone Fax Website Email
Warrick Sandberg (Sefton) N/A N/A
Australian RailCraft 5 inch gauge plastic parts and detail components N/A N/A N/A
E & J Winter (Bolton Scale Models) Bathurst 0401 257 758 N/A
Mini Train Systems (Luddenham) (02) 4739 0199 N/A
N P Woolley (North Rothbury) 0421 344 325 N/A
DNC System Technologies(Wakeley) (02) 9729 2218 N/A


Supplier Phone Fax Website Email
Model Engineering Supplies (Tullamarine) (03) 9338 7368 or 0407 055 015 (03) 9330 0840
Live Steam Supplies of Victoria (Kilsyth) (03) 9723 9722 N/A N/A N/A
LPR Toolmakers (Broadford) (03) 5784 1351 N/A N/A


Supplier Phone Fax Website Email
Hobby Mechanics (Sunnybank South) 0409 495 450 N/A
For international dialers replace 02 with 61 2, replace 03 with 61 3, replace 07 with 61 7.

Workshop Equipment

It is virtually essential to have a lathe. A bench drill and grinder for sharpening tools are also very necessary items. A variety of files, taps and dies, drills and marking out equipment is needed. In many cases these could be collected as you need them. The precise sizes needed will depend on the type of model you are building, but a set of fractional drills from 1/16 inch to 1/2 inch and number drills from 1 to 60 are useful. Taps and dies are usually BA types or Model Engineer threads (40 or 32 Threads per inch). Brass thread (26 TPI) are also well used in all but the smaller models. Some heating equipment is needed for soldering and silver soldering. A propane cylinder can be used for smaller silver soldering and in conjunction with an oxygen cylinder for most heavy heating although oxy-acetelyne can be of assistance in very large models. Machines such as mills, bandsaws and the like can make life easier as you progress.


Many people worry about boiler making, but in many respects it is the quickest part of the engine to materialise. In Australia, we have the Australian Miniature Boiler Safety Committee which has produced codes for miniature copper and steel boilers (both Briggs and locomotive types). All hobby societies in Australia follow these codes, which are self regulated by the Societies but accepted by all the State authorities. Boilers need to have the design checked for conformance with the code, and then at various stages of construction, the components and assemblies are inspected. On completion a hydraulic test is performed and when the loco is finally ready, a steam test ensures that the various gauges and particularly the safety valves are working satisfactorily. A boiler certificate is then issued which is for 4 years.

The codes specifiy a maximum size for which they are applicable to. Beyond this, approvals need to be obtained from the State authoritites. The maximum pressure allowed for under the code is 100 pounds per square inch (700Kpa).

If you would like a copy of the code please contact one of the suppliers above.


Some kits provide castings for many components. In the usual engine castings are usually needed for the wheels, cylinders, cylinder covers and valve chests and the eccentric straps. These are usually of cast iron or gunmetal (a cast form of bronze). Some other components such as chimneys, domes, axleboxes and hornways are usefully done with castings. Some of these may be of aluminium, while fabrication from steel or brass is often a good option and can reduce the cost. If you want to try your hand at pattern making, you can have castings done to your own patterns. Some engines have been built with a minimum or no castings at all, so they are not absolutely essential although they do make some parts easier!


The best place to get help is by joining a club. Most model engineers are a helpful lot who can talk a lot too. You need to be a member to be officially issued a boiler certificate but don't let that prevent you from getting the inspectors involved. They can often give good advice that saves you a lot of work. And then when you join a club, the records will be available for a boiler ticket to be able to be issued. Most clubs expect new members to participate in the activities of the club from running miniature trains to mowing the grass, and the reward for this is lots of conversation and useful help not to mention access to the club's track, libraries and the like. You can find lists of societies on the web. Look up the links on the SLSLS links page. In Australia the Australian Model Engineering page has a good list of links as well.

What Does it Cost?

How long is a piece of string? It depends on what you want to do. Tooling up is not cheap, but machine tools are now the cheapest they have ever been, especially for the home hobbyist. You will need a workshop to put the equipment. Its probably best to buy as you go. In that way, the cost is spread out over the time it takes to build your project.

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