The heat input area of a stirling engine
is generally called the "hot cap" or "hot end"
of the engine. As the engine operates due to the temperature
difference between the hot end or hot cap and the cool end or
displacer cylinder of the engine, we want to do what we can to
prevent heat from conducting directly to the cool end without doing
any work for us. In electrical terms that would be called a
The material used to make the hot cap must conduct heat through the
wall to the air inside the engine while at the same time conducting
a minimum of heat to the cooler (displacer cylinder) area of the
engine. Historically, mild steel has been the most widely used
material in model engines. It is a fair conductor of heat as metals
go - that is, it is a poorer conductor than brass or aluminum and
most other common metals. Right about here you might be thinking
that if we use a metal that is a poor heat conductor then we won't
get much heat to the inside of the hot cap. The heat will only
slightly be hindered going through the thin wall, but will be
greatly hindered traveling the length of the tube.
To further minimize conduction of
heat toward the displacer cylinder the wall is made as thin as
practical. This really does help. An example would be that fewer
cars can cross a single lane bridge at a given speed than can cross
a bridge having say 4 lanes at the same given speed. The number of
lanes equals the thickness of the hot cap wall.
Thin wall tubing is usually selected to make the hot cap. A top
flange is welded or brazed to the tube for mounting to the displacer
cylinder and a thin plug is similarly attached to close the bottom
end. I machine my hot caps from solid rod. This eliminates the
welding or brazing and I can make the ID any size I want. I leave
the bottom and part of the side wall from .025" to .050"
thick. To minimize the conduction to the displacer I greatly reduce
the thickness of the upper portion of the wall. This creates a
narrow waist just below the flange. The length of the waist is from
1/3 to 1/2 of the length of the hot cap.
I use stainless steel because it is not as good a conductor as other
common metals. Before beginning to machine a hot cap, I make a plug
.001" smaller than the inside diameter of the hot cap is to be
and as long as the hot cap is deep inside. One end is drilled for a
center and the other end is chamfered. After the hot cap is bored
and turned on the outside, but before the waist is machined, I
insert the plug and bring up the tail stock center as a support. Now
it is possible to reduce the waist to a very thin wall without
danger of distorting or otherwise ruining the work. The plug also
prevents the wall from collapsing from the force of the cutting
tool. Use a truly sharp tool bit with a small radius at the tip
(around .010"). Take lighter cuts as the wall gets thinner and
use fine feeds. I routinely produce hot caps with walls at the waist
as thin as .006". I don't try to get thinner than this as I
want to leave some metal for strength to survive bumps etc.!
Titanium is even a poorer heat conductor than stainless steel. Since
it is not much different to machine than stainless steel and the
fact that it is beginning to become readily available, I have been
experimenting with it for hot caps and I like it. It is a better hot
cap material. If you can get titanium at a reasonable price, use it
because you will like it too. My "Beamer" and
"Vintage" engines have titanium hot caps and they are the
coolest running flame powered engines I have - the hot cap flange
and displacer cylinders run at LESS than luke warm.