How to make your own "PUT-PUT BOAT" or "POP-POP BOAT"



I've put a LOT of effort into this page; I'd like it to be as close to "perfect" as possible. IF YOU see any errors or room for improvement, please let me know; thanks!

This is a FUN project; not only does the little boat have POWER, but it SOUNDS like it has a tiny DIESEL motor!

This is not something you are likely to start one afternoon and finish by dinner-time. Expect to take a day or two, working on it a bit at a time.

It is a good educational project for young folks too; teaches about steam power. NOT ONLY THAT, but it is a GREAT way to recycle milk cartons! Remember "Reduce, Re-use, Recycle?" Well, this is part of the RE-USE. These paper milk cartons can be a significant problem for the environment and the "Alberta Dairy Council Milk Container Recycling Program" tries to solve this problem; see them at

You might have seen all kinds of websites about Put-Put Boats. I saw it on the Discovery Channel so I Googled it and, being retired, I thought it might be a neat little project. So I made one. Now I'm so enthused about it that I want to share with you how I make mine. They called by many names: "pop pop boats" or "pop-pop boats" or "put put boats" or "put-put boats" or "tuk tuk boats" or "candle boats" or "putt putt boats" or "putt-putt boats" or "puttputt boats" or "puff paff boats" or "toc toc boats."

I'm really enjoying making many of these boats and this page will evolve as better ideas come to mind.

Note that the measurements are in centimeters, not inches. One cm = .394 inch; one inch = 2.54 cm.

video of a boat:

You can view a video of one of my boats on YouTube here:

WARNING: This neat project requires parental guidance.

THIS IS VERY NECESSARY and that's a GOOD thing because parents and grandparents will enjoy this as much as the younger folks!

- WATER: danger of drowning
- RAZOR BLADE: danger of injury
- CANDLE: danger of fire
- POWERFUL GLUE: danger of sticking things better left un-stuck

A few definitions first:

"gunwale" is the top edge of the sides of the boat
"bow" is the front of the boat
"stern" is the back/rear of the boat
"transom" is "The stern cross-section of a square-sterned boat."
But you KNEW all that.

my first put-put boat:


It worked perfectly first try. It did take me quite awhile to get it all put together.

I used the VERY DETAILED instructions provided by Slater Harrison in Pennsylvania at his site which lives at .

I thank Slater for sharing this with the world.

materials needed:


- two 2-litre (1/2 gallon) milk cartons with ends cut off
- two flexible drinking straws
- one (used) birthday candle, only 1 1/2 cm long
- large paper clip
- soft drink can, the thin, aluminum, 355 ml type
- aluminum foil (only about 20 cm off the roll)
- metal tape, 5 cm wide; a piece only about 10 cm long, cut lengthways into 3 equal strips

tools needed:


- sharp scissors
- "J-B WELD"*
- glue stick
- tape, e.g. masking tape or hockey tape AND Scotch Tape
- a few clips to hold parts while glue dries (our $$ store has very good ones, very cheap)
- sandpaper, OR an "Emory board"
- sharp one-sided razor blade or similar
- ruler or similar with metric measurements
- a pair of pliers to bend the straightened large paper clip
- caulking gun with waterproof caulking
- a fine-point felt pen would be handy

* I like J-B Weld because it is incredibly strong and can take exceptionally high temperatures without problem; There is a quick-setting version of it. Get some of this and you'll find dozens of other uses for it. If you want to complete your boat much faster, get some QUICK-setting epoxy glue. On March 10, 2008, JB-Weld, at Canadian Tire, cost me $8.49 +tax (two 1-ounce tubes that need to be mixed). Same date, same place, LePage Speed Set Epoxy, the "double-syring" style, cost $6.49 + tax; this was only 14 ml. So, the LePage is FAR more costly, has a terrible stink and the dispenser is so badly designed that I had to throw the whole thing into the garbage. NOW I'm using only the J-B Weld "KWIK" version.

NOTE: if you are pressed for time, or don't have ready access to the parts or tools, maybe I can help. I plan to make quite a few of these, and so will have most or all of the parts for "a bunch of them" ready all the time. Maybe I can mail you a package of all the parts partly made, sort of like a KIT. Details near the bottom of this page.

the patterns:

boat plans

These 3 printouts are needed and they appear below.

Right-click on each to save.


Here is all the detail about these nine parts:
A - support for the "tail-pipes" and it measures 5.5 cm x 1.5 cm

B - the cabin; overall length is 12.5 cm; the middle part is 2.5 cm wide. NOTE that it does not matter which side you call the top or the bottom; you choose.

C - the transom support; it folds in the middle and is glued over the actual transom to give it more strength; 6.5 cm x 8.2 cm.

D - pattern for cutting the soft-drink can which becomes the "steam chamber"; 10 cm long; the middle part is 2.5 cm wide and the two edges are .8 cm wide (Part D is NOT cut out of the milk-carton paper)

E - brace to keep the sides of the boat a proper distance apart; 7 cm long; each part is .7 cm wide

F - This part is cut from the DOUBLE edge of the milk carton so it is 2x as thick as all the other pieces; it is for the rudder, it measures about .5 cm x .5 cm and has a pin-hole in the middle

G - roof of the cabin; two cuts are for holding the chimney; overall it is 10 cm x 8.6 cm

H - the chimney; the one tab on the end slides into the cut in the other end

I - rudder; folds in the middle


These are the final patterns; "K" is the deck of the boat.

Part L is is a tool to help place the cabin (part "B") precisely on the deck.

NOTE: when cutting out the deck, stay well outside the lines; I have found this pattern to be a bit on the small side; a bit extra would help.

Let's get on with the construction!

1. Print out the 3 sheets of patterns. I suggest printing out part K twice.

I opened the images in Irfanview, clicked "File" and "Print," with a check-mark beside "aspect ratio."

- the boat hull or body: ....."best fit to page"
- the various parts: ....."best fit to page"
- the deck of the boat: ....."Customize", and Width: 17.30, Height: 25.58 and "aspect ratio" checked

Irfanview, as everyone knows, is the greatest FREEWARE tool on the web:

boat plans

2. Cut very roughly to separate all the pieces, being careful not to lose the tiny one, "F." Glue them to the two opened milk cartons as I did here. Use the BACK, the PRINTED side of the cartons.

NOTE that tiny little part F is on the SEAM of the carton, that is, where it is DOUBLE THICKNESS.

AND, pattern D IS NOT CUT FROM the carton; it is for the aluminum CAN!

Also note that there is plenty of carton left to make a SECOND copy of the boat deck, part K to make it twice as thick. Then cut out each piece very accurately.

Next, use a ballpoint pen and ruler to crease all the lines which are going to be folded; this applies, of course, to patterns A, B, C, E, I and J. On B, (the cabin) the 3 tabs on only ONE side need to be folded. The 3 on the "bottom" side will be inserted INTO the deck.

With regards to the hull (body) of the boat cut out the small rectangular hole AFTER you make these creases and after making the folds.


3. Take the boat hull or body and fold where needed. Use sandpaper to roughen the inside of the gunwale so that the glue stick will work better. I like to use two pieces of wood and clamps to hold these two sides in place while the glue dries. Then fold in the stern and glue it similarly. For this I use two pieces of wood shaped like the transom and held with a clamp. The two tabs on the back can stay on the outside. You will note that when you make the creases, the pattern tends to tear. One way to avoid that would be to use a pin to prick holes through the pattern, into the milk-carton paper, with cardboard underneath. Then you would remove the pattern, undamaged, and rule the lines on the carton with a pen and ruler, joining pin-hole to pin-hole.

Note that I have not yet cut the little hole in the bottom of the boat; do that anytime as long as the creases in the boat have been made.


4. While that is drying, glue the stern. NOTE: I plan to make quite a few of these boats so I made a little tool to help with this step. I cut two pieces of VERY THIN plywood the size/shape of the transom and taped them so they are hinged. When the glue is on, I slip this wood pad over the transom and clamp it. This little tool can be used to clamp the rudder as well. We'll get to that later. Take part E, the "cross-brace. Crease the 3 lines well and FOLD it so that you have a "triangular tube" and glue and tape it to keep that shape. Then slide it into the boat, to keep the sides apart, 10 cm from the back of the boat. If you push it down to sit directly below the folded gunwale of the boat, it should stay there; do NOT glue it in place just yet. Make a pen-mark on the gunwale to show where E is supposed to sit.


5. When the glue from steps 3 and 4 has completely set/dried, carry on with the bow (front). First, put one of the 3 pieces of metal tape on the bow. Then put a good "bead" of caulking into the bow and press it into place with a wet finger-tip.

You might think that this would never hold, with the cross-brace trying to push the sides apart. I have not found this to be a problem; that metal tape is VERY strong.


6. Now fold part C, the transom support, on the line and fit it into the boat, over the transom, to make SURE that it will fit perfectly. Trim if necessary. Then glue it to strengthen the transom. Use plenty of the J-B Weld and clamp it as well as you can until it has fully dried; best left overnight.

Here is a better view of that little tiny plywood tool.

7. Part H, the chimney: pull this part over the edge of your kitchen counter a time or two, printed side UNDER, to make it nice and round. Use a pen to similarly make the two tabs nice and round to fit into the curved cuts in the roof, part G. Then push the little end-tab into the slot and glue it so that the chimney stays round.


8. Now take part G, the cabin roof, (the printed side is the UNDERside) make sure the two curved slots are cut, and then slide the two tabs of the chimney into those slots, on the TOP side. Put a dab of J-B Weld on the tabs on the underside of the roof.

boat cabin

9. Now take part L; and glue it onto the deck where you want the cabin to sit

Then take part B, the cabin. You might like to draw or cut windows on this before going any further. I didn't. Like the chimney, roll this part over the edge of the counter to make it nice and round, printed side IN. Decide which way you want to put it, depending on how you want the sloping back end to look. With a pen, make 3 marks on the deck, along part L, to show where the 3 tabs of the cabin will be. Cut 3 little slots in the deck for the tabs, slide in the cabin and glue underneath. Fold the 3 tabs on the upperside of the cabin and glue that to the underside of the roof.

Be sure that the back, straight edge of the roof is parallel with the back of the boat; you don't want it crooked!

OK, the hull is built, the cabin and deck are done; let's go on and make:

The Heater:

candle for put put

10. Take the roll of aluminum foil (approximately 30.5 cm wide) and cut off a piece 10 to 15 cm wide. Roll this foil, from one end to the other, around a drinking straw or a pen. Scotch-Tape the ends of the foil so it does not unroll. Flatten all this well and then put a small gob of J-B near one end. Stick your little 1 cm long candle on that and let that dry well. Here it is. (note that I bent the end a little)

I suggest you make a LOT of these in advance!

Prepare the steam chamber:

cutting the can

11. First, take the CLEAN soft-drink can and cut off the ends. A brand-new (one-sided) razor blade should be sharp enough to cut it. Then cut it down one side to salvage as large a piece of thin aluminum as possible. Avoid dents and creases. This should result in a piece of aluminum measuring 20.5 cm long and pretty close to 9 cm wide. Using a straight-edge, (ruler) cut one of the long sides perfectly straight. That done, fold this sheet of aluminum in the middle so you have it measuring 9 cm x 10.25 cm. Fold it with the printed side OUT. Lay this on a hard surface and press on the fold with your ruler to make that fold very tight, like this.
At the open end, put tape to keep it "together" for now.

Cut the can very carefully so as to get as large a piece of aluminum as possible.


cutting the can

If you are going to use a high-speed rotary tool with a "cut-off wheel" and the proper "mandrel" to hold that wheel, be SURE TO USE EYE PROTECTION!!!! If you do not, you will probably wind up BLIND forever. And if that happens, you will not likely ever SEE your boat in action. Using a wheel like this, as I did here, can provide a nice clean cut but you will have to use sandpaper on the sharp (!!) edges when done. This does allow a nice clean cut. I cut off the bottom first and before cutting off the top of the can, I rolled up some newspaper into a very tight roll to fit into the can snugly. This prevents it from crushing or denting when I cut the other end off.

boat engine

12. Tape pattern D, the pattern for the steam chamber, onto the aluminum and cut out one piece. This should leave you enough aluminum to make a second one for your next boat. Save the aluminum scrap for now.

boat engine

Then mark on the aluminum, the edges to be folded; use a ballpoint pen to scratch the 2 lines onto each piece. That done, fold the edges over along a sharp edge such as the kitchen counter.

boat engine

Next, carefully bend the edges further and when they are bent far enough, lay the piece on a hard surface, remove the bit of tape which is still on the open end, lay a ruler on top and pound it once or twice with your fist to press the edges down. On this picture, the one on the left is done and the other has yet to be pounded down.

boat engine

13. Now make 4 tiny "Scotch Tape donuts" and stick them on the underside of the steam chamber, that is, the side which does NOT have the folded edges. Have your donuts big enough to stick to the aluminum, all the way across, from one side to the other. Take a piece of leftover milk-carton paper and stick the steam chamber on that for now. Press it down good and tight to the paper. Here, the one on the left has the donuts on it; the other shows the OTHER SIDE of a steam chamber.

I often use one long "donut" from Duct Tape.

boat engine

14. Now take the two flexible drinking straws. Each has a "short end," an "accordion-like" piece that allows it to bend, and then the "long end." Cut a short piece off each SHORT end so that there is only 2.5 cm of "smooth" straw left from the "accordion" to the end. Use sandpaper to "roughen" these 2.5 cm so that the J-B Weld will hold better. KEEP the short pieces you cut off. The end of the straw furthest away from the "accordion" will be the "Tail Pipe." Push both of the LONG ends into the steam chamber as far as they will go.

This is only TEMPORARY!

This will be awkward; you may want to push a sharp object such as a pencil into the steam chamber just a little bit, to open the end enough for the straws to go in. In this picture, I have cut the straws to make it easier to see that the bottom of the steam chamber should stay FLAT while the top is ROUNDED.

boat engine

Now mix up a BIG gob of J-B and apply it to the steam chamber to seal the sides well. Use that strip of scrap aluminum to get it between the layers of aluminum in the folded edges. Use lots; do NOT yet seal the end nor get any J-B on the straws. This step should do two things: 1. SEAL the steam chamber (sides only) 100% and 2. help it KEEP its rounded (on one side) SHAPE. This is an awkward yet important step (as they ALL are!) and one way you might use to get the glue in BETWEEN the layers of aluminum, is to pry them apart a tiny bit with your razor blade and then push in toothpicks to hold it open while you push in the glue.

boat engine

15. When that has fully dried, pull out the two straws and carefully remove the steam chamber from the Scotch Tape donuts. You have, earlier, used sandpaper to "roughen" the short ends of the straws, right? Now, mix up a large gob of J-B and apply it around the SHORT end of each straw, BUT, leave about 4 mm right next to the "accordion" with NO glue on it. Slide the straws into the steam chamber just so all the glued part goes in. Apply a generous serving of J-B all around where the straws go in, filling the end of the steam chamber so that it is completely sealed. Don't forget to put some glue in between the straws as well. Lay this down on something so that any drips of glue won't be a problem. Let this dry completely. Note the 4 (prox) mm of straw left between the glue and the accordion.

Install the steam chamber:


16. Before we actually install it, let's be sure it is water-tight. I used a syringe for cleaning ear-wax from ears to squirt water into one straw. The water should come out of the other straw, of course, and NOWHERE else.


Assuming that there are no leaks, we install the steam chamber like this. Put the steam chamber into the boat so that the FLAT side is toward the BACK of the boat and the curved side with the two folded edges is toward the front of the boat. The straws go through the hole in the bottom of the boat. In order to insert the straws, remove the cross-brace, "E" for a moment. Lean the top of the motor toward the back of the boat. When it is in place, re-insert the cross-brace and put a drop of glue at each end of that brace. Temporarily, run a piece of tape from the top of the steam chamber to the back of the boat to keep it nicely centered, but ALLOW the top of the steam chamber to touch the underside of brace "E." On the underside of the boat, bend the straws toward the transom and temporarily tape them (centered on the boat) there. That done, squirt a LOT of waterproof caulking all around the area where the straws go through that hole. Also caulk the stern the boat; up the sides (corners) and across the bottom of the stern. Let it dry overnight.

Final Exam for your new Put-Put Boat:

AFTER ALL, that's what you came here for, isn't it!?!?!

17. Float the thing in your kitchen sink for awhile to see if there are any leaks and if it floats more-or-less upright. I hate boats that list.

If all looks "Shipshape" then it is time for the FINAL EXAM. Pour water into one of the straws so that it comes out the other straw. Now SHAKE the boat while holding your fingers over the ends of the tailpipes. Then hold the boat nose UP so that (most of) the water runs out again. Once again, put water into one straw until it comes out the other straw. Set the boat in the water and light the candle on the "heater." Carefully slide the heater into the boat so that the flame is under the steam chamber, not so that it sets the brace, "E" on fire. Then let 'er rip. In 5 seconds or so it should take off. IT MIGHT be wise to set the rudder so that your lovely creation does not get away on you.

The Rudder:

boat rudder

18. Take the large paper clip and make it as straight as you can. This should give you a wire about 15 cm long. With your pliers, bend it. The short little "handle" at the top end is 1/2 cm long and the next part, the "horizontal" section is 2 cm long. The longest part is 6.5 cm long to where it is bent into a loop. Slide part F, the tiny double-thickness square with the pin-hole, onto the wire, from the bottom of the wire, with the UNprinted side toward the top of the rudder. Then take one of the very short (prox. 2.5 cm) pieces of drinking straws, sand it with the Emory board so that the glue will hold it better, and slide it on so it is below part F. Now, with your pliers, grab the wire at a point 6.5 cm down from the bend and bend it there so you have a loop which can be hidden inside the folded rudder part I.

Cut off any extra wire and discard that. Now fold the rudder part I over that loop, glue and clamp until the J-B is dry.

When it is dry, take the other short bit of straw and cut it down one side, and push it INTO the other one, WITH the wire. Also slide a couple of toothpicks into the first short straw so that the rudder will turn smoothly but not loosely INSIDE that straw. The tiny square is there to keep the rudder up instead of hanging on the edge of the transom. You can add a tiny drop of J-B to hold it in place if you like.

boat rudder

19. Glue the rudder onto the back of the boat, centered as well as possible. I like to set the boat into a mug, nose down, rudder up, until the J-B is dry.

Trim the tailpipe to whatever looks about right.

Glue the tailpipe support ("A") to the underside of the back, 3 cm or so from the back of the boat. Just make sure that the tailpipes clear the rudder. To keep it pressed down onto the boat underside, I tape the tailpipes together, hang a slight weight on the end of the tailpipes and let the tailpipes press down on the tailpipe support until the glue is dry. Here I use a roll of Scotch Tape to apply enough weight to hold the tailpipes down.

Put the tailpipes on that support and glue them in place.

Earlier when testing the boat, we found that the tailpipes were not down deep enough in the water and, temporarily, we had to put some weight in the back of the boat. Now, with the tailpipes attached properly, and pointing downward a bit more, no weight should be necessary. If it is, just glue a big nail or two in the back.

boat rudder

This is an alternate way of finishing the rear end of the boat.

This way, the tailpipes are not as deep into the water, so you'll need some weight in the back, for sure.

The tailpipes are glued to the boat underside here. Yes, I used a metal rudder simply because I happened to have one handy.

Lastly, attach the deck and rear trim:

20. The boat works, so we can now attach the deck. Apply a THICK "bead" of caulking all around the INSIDE gunwale of the entire hull, including the top of the transom and keep it at the very top edge. Then, put the deck in place and hold it down with Scotch Tape until the caulking is completely set, holding the deck down. Set the boat UPSIDE DOWN so that the caulking will move down to stick to the underside of the deck from front to back.

Once the deck is on, take the two remaining (of the 3) pieces of metal tape and stick them on the back "corners" of the boat; see my picture below.

Dry Dock:

Now that you have a really cool boat, you might want to make a rack of some kind to set it on. Mine might give you an idea of how you can make a really NICE one!

Here is my second boat: (note the metal foil tape on the corners)


And here is my fleet (minus boat number 1) on March 14, 2008. One is under construction, at back are the prototype for the larger, metal one, and the early stage of construction of the metal one. It still has a ways to go.


Some Ideas:

1. Have a contest to see who can add the nicest paint-job to his/her boat.

2. At some little pond, put a target at one side and have the boats launched at the other side and see whose boat comes closest to that target.

3. Before you take your boat out to play with it, make several more "fuel supply" strips with candles glued on.

4. Have a contest to see whose boat goes fastest.

5. See who can come up with the "coolest" name for his/her boat.

6. Design your own; maybe these free boat plans will help:

7. When you have completed building a boat, put a note on the underside of the roof, with your name, boat number and date of manufacture.

8. Have a contest to see whose boat will run for the longest period of time.

9. Have a contest to see whose makes the loudest PUT-PUT sound.

10. If you are going to some outdoor pond with your boat, take a fishing rod with very fine line, and a small piece of wood tied at the end. That way, if the boat stalls in the middle of the lake, maybe you can cast the wood over the boat to drag it back.

11. Keep in mind that water may continue to drip out of the boat for quite some time after use, so be cautious as to where and how you handle it.

12. You should not have the candle flame too close to the straws; even inside the "steam chamber" they can easily melt.

shopping bags

13. To take a number of boats safely to the lake, without damage, put each boat into a shopping bag and hang all the bags on a coat hanger. Then just hang the coat hanger in your vehicle, like this.


14. Maybe a more efficient way to ensure a good supply of "heaters" (see step 10, above) would be to glue on the ends of some foil strips, VERY short pieces of drinking straw, big enough to hold the candle. Then you could, out at the lake, just stick in a new candle and you would not have the problem of having to glue the candle on. See mine:

One more Idea:

I've been trying to come up with ways to improve this boat and one of my efforts paid off; I made one which has the steam chamber narrow at the bottom, to JUST FIT into the bottom of the boat, with the top end much wider. The result was that it worked particularly well and made a nicer noise. Here are pictures:


Note the weight in the bottom; this is needed because on this boat, the tailpipes are NOT hanging far below the bottom of the boat; see the third picture. The measurements are, of course, in centimeters.

What's next?

I've now developed a METAL BOAT. The notes for building that one live at

I need a wireless remote control system to move the rudder. Never having played with such type of remotes before, I'm stuck at the moment. YOUR suggestions, please?

Submarine anyone?

I do have plans for a little submarine. The plans consist of pages 185, 186 and 187 of the August 1940 issue of "Popular Science" magazine. Stuart G asked me to post them here so here you go:




Resources on the web:

And there is a forum at

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