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Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: Jeff Theobald (Moderator)
Date: May 7, 2007 06:18PM

Hi All,

Gerry has asked me to post this link so you can all see the state a boiler can be in, if not checked and tested.

Pictures of old boiler.

Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: (
Date: May 7, 2007 09:12PM

Upper and lower tube sheets all become warped after they have been well used. There isn't any threat at all about them breaking loose because evey copper fire tube is a stay bolt holding them together. Every verticle fire tube is it's own safety valve and would vent if the tube sheet were to break loose. The big threat on a verticle fire tube boiler is the outside shell bursting, or blowing the welded seam at the tube sheet and the side wall. Common sense should prevail when a owner buys a new Stanley. He should have the boiler hydro statically tested and a visual inspection done at the same time. The boiler in the photo is a terrible looking boiler, and I would replace it because of it's qustionable sidewall, depending how thick of steel they used in it's construction. Really, boiler inspections of steam cars are important, but they are over done in the UK. Then why do we have boiler inspections? Because of the chance a boiler explosion might damage that someone or their property. How many have ever been killed or injured from a steam car boiler explosion? Nobody in the last two hundred years has ever been hurt by a steam car boiler explosion. How many of you have had a friend killed or injured in an antique automobile accident? I am sure that at our ages, everyone has had contact with this sad dilemma. What was the cause of it? It surely wasn’t because of a steam car boiler explosion. Then why isn’t there more emphasis put onto the real problems that have been killing and maiming people in antique cars? You know what they are, but you have glossed right over them and pick on the boilers instead. There are the things that should be checked every season on your antique car, and there are things that should be checked every time the car goes out of the garage. The Vintage Car Club of Canada does a safety inspection on every car that enters their “May Tour” in B.C.. Some of the things that they look for are:
Are the steering parts worn out, or out of adjustment?
Is the suspension in good repair? (Cracked springs, loose shackles and U bolts)
Does the car still have the plate glass windows? (Safety glass required)
Brakes: will they stop the car, and are they properly adjusted?
Are there any fuel or oil leaks?
Are the tires weathered or worn out, and properly inflated?
Are the wheels and lugs tight, rusted out, rotten or cracked?
Are the lights working properly?
Are the belts and hoses in good repair?
Are the pressure gauges and safety valves properly calibrated and linier?
Is the operator proficient to operate the motor vehicle? (Impaired or medical condition?)

As you can see from this partial list, on our witch-hunt for highway killers, we often look beyond the obvious causes. Usually, something that isn’t fully understood gets the blame, and then it is over regulated.

Edited 1 times. Last edit at 05/07/07 11:24PM by SSsssteamer.

Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: (
Date: May 8, 2007 04:23AM

The text below picture no 1 is un true this scrap HAS NEVER BEEN STEAMED OR USED BY ANYONE IN THE UK & WILL NOT BE


Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: (
Date: May 9, 2007 03:21AM


Since the introduction of the European directives in 1999 and 2000, in the UK and most of Europe we now have 'Pressure System' tests, not just 'Boiler Inspections'.

Insurance claims experience shows that fittings and pipework are a much more serious threat of injury than the boilers are.


Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: (
Date: May 9, 2007 06:00PM

Hello all,

I agree with SSs about the firetubes being a kind of inbuilt safety device, but only for low water (scortching) situations. Copper tubes can't be considered as stays for the tube plates. Not only do they get longer than the distance between tubeplates when hot (so become pushers,not stretchers), but they are only an interference fit in the plate sufficient to prevent leakage, not an integral part of the plate as are welded steel tubes.
Cold hydraulic pressure test is not appropriate to test the whole system, that is why, as Peter says, a steam working pressure 'Pressure System Test' is required and I for one am glad that it is. The standard UK MOT test takes care of the rest of the vehicle.


Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: (
Date: May 13, 2007 12:45PM

Dear Jack,
I was hoping that someone else would step up and set this straight. With your understanding of the Stanley boiler, you must be living in constant fear of Stanley boiler explosions. A 23 inch diameter Stanley boiler has only a ¼” thick upper tube sheet. With a total of 414 square inches of area per tube sheet, 145.5 square inches is devoted to fire tube holes, and the other 268.5 square inches carries the steam pressure often in the range of 600 pounds per square inch. That means that at 600 psi, the thin ¼” thick tube sheet is carrying a total of 161,100 pounds of steam against it. Scary isn’t it? We all know that a 23 inch diameter ¼” thick tube sheet cannot carry that much weight all by it’s self with out bursting. Right? In the 23” diameter Stanley boiler that has about 750 fire tubes plus or minus, every tube has gone through a thorough process of preparation to act as a stay bolt. According to the Earl S. Eckel boiler blue print: Every half inch hole in the tube sheet has been reamed with a number 1695 size 5 Brown and Sharp taper “Spiral Reamer”. Next the copper tube is set with a B & S taper punch, and then the steel ferrule is set with the same punch. After all the parts that were set with the punch have been annealed, a tapered tool is used to expand the steel ferrules. Finally, another special tool is used to complete the flaring of the steel ferrules’ tops. It rolls over the tops of the ferrules over for a tight rivet like head on every ferruled end. The flared ends of the copper fire tubes are captured under the flared steel ferrules. There you have it. With a ½ “ diameter copper fire tubes separated with only 5/16” of ligament, the tube sheets are well retained by the fire tubes which are swaged into their tapered holes. As the fire copper tubes expand lengthwise, the steam pressure will always keep the thin flexible tube sheets tight against the flared ends of the fire tubes. On a new-fired tube Stanley boiler, I have seen the copper fire tube collapse at about 1,100 psi of steam pressure. On an old boiler with a lot of fire tube oxidation, I have seen the copper fire tubes collapse at a 500 pound working pressure. Even after collapsing, they still hold their tight seal in the tube sheet. Sincerely, Pat Farrell

Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: (
Date: May 13, 2007 06:01PM

Thank you Pat.
I have raised this issue once before but not had such a comprehensive reply.
I accept that the fixing of the tube in the tube plate by the method you suggest is sound. As you point out the small area between tubes is small (even though the total is large) and is easily constrained by such a fixing. However I am not sure that letting the tubeplate act as a kind of diaphragm would be considered acceptable by modern pressure vessel codes of practice. Some of the previous replies suggest that steel stays are used in modern versions of the Stanley boiler that use copper fire tubes, is this just 'belts and braces' or a neccessity of modern pressure vessel design?


Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: (
Date: May 13, 2007 10:04PM

Dear Jack, I have been into Stanleys for 30 years now and I have never yet seen "steel stays in modern versions of Stanley fire tube boilers". In the last 10 years, I have bought new boilers from Carl Amsley, Don Bourdon, and also Alan Kelso. None of them are much different than what the Stanleys built a hundred years ago. All boilers swell some when under full steam presure as compared to when they are not under pressure. Maybe as little as only 0.015 of an inch swelling depending on heat and pressure. On a boiler that has a 14" long copper fire tubes, keeping in mind that both tube sheets share the tube expansion, I am sure that while fired up, the extra length that the fire tube is going to gain over the steel boiler shell, will not be noticable. Being that small of tube sheet movement, one could hardly call the tube sheet a diaphram. The fire tubes located close to the boiler shell will not see any movement of the tube sheets at all. In all of the swaging of Stanley fire tubes that I have done, I can not think of any that I have ever had problems with that were located with in three tube rows of the boiler wall.

Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: Jeff Theobald (Moderator)
Date: May 14, 2007 03:06AM

Hi Jack,
I must agree with everything SSsssteamer has said, in my experience over the years the boiler that has given trouble from leaking tubes had been fitted with steel stays 1" in diameter.

My Brooks boiler was built 22 years ago, and fitted with 12 stays, these were fitted at the insistence of the insurance company inspector who had admitted that this was his first experience with a steam car boiler, we found ourselves in the position of No stays, No insurance. Although tight at 1000psi on the hydraulic test, when in use, under certain conditions it would suddenly leak badly from the fire plate tube ends, This problem stayed with the boiler until we had the stays removed, and tubes fitted in there place, the boiler has been tested and in constant use without trouble since that time.

I think the problem was caused by the stays forcing the tubes to work in the fire plate, as the stays held everything rigid, when this occurred the fire was immediately extinguished, and when you had found somewhere to stop, water would be pouring from the ventures, if you could get the fire relit before the water level got to low, the leaks would stop immediately, and you could continue on your way.

The amazing thing was, back at the workshop the following day with the boiler cooled down, more than once we dropped the firebox, and carried out a full hydraulic test, and again the boiler would be tight. The only staining marks would be around the tube ends near each stay.

Hope this helps, Jeff.

Re: Why we need a boiler test.
Posted by: (
Date: May 14, 2007 06:17AM

Ok, I bow to your experiences. In fact I am rather pleased that you have shot my thoughts down in flames because I would like to change the steel tubes in my Stanley type boiler for copper but have had these nagging doubts. In my case the tube plates are 1/2" thick and I intend to use a roller expander plus ferrules.
Thank you both for your information.


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