The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Jerry Howell

Added to museum: 10/24/07

January 8, 1938—August 29, 2009.

He designs engines for others to build—and builds them himself too!

Jerry Howell. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)


Jerry Howell has been well known in the model engineering hobby for a number of years. He attends the NAMES show and a number of other shows almost every year with a beautiful display of engines he has designed. The engines he has designed no doubt grace many a desk or mantel of proud builders around the world. One look at the finishes on his personal projects will tell you he is not satisfied with any result less that perfection—they are truly beautiful. More important to us at the Foundation, however, is the fact that he takes the extra step beyond just making engines to that of designing and producing plans and kits so that others can make them as well. Even his plans go an extra step not usually found in engine kits, and that is to show complicated parts at several stages of completion, making it easier for a novice to take a raw block of metal to a finished engine block. We were impressed enough with Jerry’s newest project to make the Howell V-4 our next museum shop project. You can follow along as we build it by going to the build page.

A model builder from an early age

Jerry Howell was born and raised in West-central Ohio. From a very early age was interested in mechanical things and especially things in miniature. It wasn't until he was in his 50's that he found out where that trait probably came from. His Dad told him of his grandfather who had built a scale model of a house he was going to build. The model included all the studs, rafters, etc. He then used the refined and proven model as the plans to build his full size house.

Having had several electric train sets while growing up created a fascination with steam locomotives. From Jerry’s early teen years in the early 1950's he was always into making box kites, wooden ship models, electric boats, balsa wood gliders, rubber powered model airplanes, water pipe/firecracker guns and soda straw/black powder rockets. Some of the soda straw rockets had two or three stages and flew to several hundred feet high. In metal shop class he turned a brass naval canon barrel which developed into an interest in machining. He checked out every book about steam engines, rockets/jets, astronomy and telescope making from the library at least a half dozen times. His best school subjects were physics and chemistry. Looking back, he says that he is positive that all those things together had a large influence on what he did later on.

After high school Jerry went to work for his father driving one of his trucks picking up milk in 10 gallon cans from farms 7 days a week. As a young adult he was into flying control line model planes, and then later on, R/C planes and boats for a while. Acquiring a 3" Unimat lathe in 1960 rekindled an interest in machining and he used it to build fuel filters and several throttles for his two-stroke engines in order to improve idle reliability over the crude ones available at the time.

(Click image for larger view.)

Jerry built this radio-controlled model of PT-109 in 1968. It was built from a Fibo Craft kit. The hull is fiberglass and the major deck structures are wood. Deck details are white metal castings and the torpedo tubes are aluminum tubing with red painted ping pong ball noses. The boat is 39" long and weighs around 10 pounds. It is powered by one of the first O.S. Wankel engines of the time. The engine is .29 cubic inch (about 5 cc) displacement and is fitted with a stainless steel flywheel and a brass water jacket. A water pick-up is fitted behind the propeller and after circulating through the engine jacket, cooling water discharges into the exhaust pipe ahead of the muffler. The tailpipe exits through the transom. A little whiff of white castor oil smoke and steam vapor can be seen in each photo. There are two 8 ounce fuel tanks, one on each side of the prop shaft stuffing tube. A fuel pump is belt driven from the prop shaft.

A career change puts machine tools back into his life

Jerry never cared much for driving the truck, so when the opportunity came in 1962, he took a job in Jacksonville, Florida as an apprentice making plastic injection molds for a few years. Here he learned a lot about machining and operating full size lathes, mills, other machines.  During that time he made his first engine—a little 1/4" bore oscillating steam engine from bar stock at home on the kitchen table.

After a few years, he moved back to Ohio and eventually bought and operated a construction equipment business. Here his main hobby interest turned to HO model trains for a couple of decades. His scratch built 0-6-0 switch engine was an early Model Railroader magazine Model-of-the-Month winner.

Getting into the computer business adds computer drawing skills to his repertoire

Selling the construction equipment business and opening a computer store in the early 1980's, Jerry learned about CAD software and has been using Drafix CAD Ultra in designing his own projects ever since. He says he would not have wanted to do most of his projects without the use of CAD software.

In the mid 1980's he became interested in "hot-air" engines, both the atmospheric and the Stirling cycle.  He began building many types of these engines and as he went along found that he enjoyed designing engines as much, or more, than building and running them.

Requests from friends lead to a business selling kits and plans

Beginning with the early NAMES shows others were asking for plans to build Jerry’s engines. He came by a used 1904 book showing wood cuts of those beautiful late 1800's Victorian era large stationary steam engines that really caught his fancy. He started incorporating that Victorian style into his engines, concentrating on esthetics. He began designing his bar stock engines to look as much like they were made from castings as possible and still not be too difficult for the average builder to make. He notes that a pleasing model that is to the eye only takes a little longer to build than a bare bones one, and if it was worth doing at all, one should make it look as nice as possible. Really well done models will become valued heirlooms to be handed down long after the builder is gone. 

There were a few scale engines that Jerry wanted to make that just couldn't be manually machined from solid stock and still look like they were made from castings. Many of the parts were very small, so sand casting was out. The answer was making lost wax castings. A jeweler friend taught him the very involved process, and with the purchase of a lot of high priced equipment, he made several detailed limited edition castings kit engines in aluminum and also in zinc alloy. His favorite of these is the "1 of 50" serial numbered Rider Compression Hot-Air Pumping Engine which is now a collector’s item.

After designing so many of the "hot-air" engines his interest turned to internal combustion engines. Having acquired larger machine tools over the years, Jerry decided to buy and build some antique model hit-n-miss IC and steam engine castings kits. Over time, he has collected more than 25 of these kits and has built some of them, with the rest being saved for "some day". These kit engines inspired him to develop some of his own bar stock IC engines. He saw there was a relative lack of non-airplane type IC bar stock engines in the hobby, so he turned his attention to that area. The first ones were single cylinder and later came the air cooled 90-degree V-Twin and the liquid cooled V-Four which features twin cams, Hall effect distributor, pressure feed oil system, magnetic drive water pump and a water heated intake manifold.

Jerry has always wanted his IC engines to be doing something instead of running without a purpose. Others have geared or belted their engines to can crushers, peanut roasters, water pumps, etc., but having a fondness for stationary industrial engines, he decided that a generator was about as practical and clean a load that can be driven by a model engine. Also, a permanent magnet generator (actually a DC motor) doubles as a starter motor. All of the prototype internal combustion engines he has designed since 1995 have the starter/generators as standard equipment. They have sort of become his "trademark" engines at shows. Over the years Jerry has attended more than 50 model engineering shows and has met some of the finest folks on earth, and more than a few have became close friends.  Model engineering/machining is truly one of the world's great hobbies!

Jerry’s latest project, the "Howell V-Four" engine is currently the Foundation Craftsmanship Museum Group Build project which he considers a great honor.

Jerry visits with founder Joe Martin and shop craftsman Tom Boyer on a recent visit to the Craftsmanship Museum in Vista in October, 2007. You can see his red Howell V-4 engine sitting next to our recently completed Seal Engine. The V-4 is the shop's next project, so it was nice to be able to look at a finished example and talk the the designer himself.

The tools in Jerry’s workshop

Jerry still owns his original 1960 Unimat DB200, although it has only been used with a buffing wheel for polishing for the past 20 years. He also owns a Maximat 7 and Maximat Super 11 lathe. In the mill department he uses a Jet JVM-836 (manual with Mitutoyo DRO and 6" Kurt Vise), and a Jet JVM-836 mill that he converted to CNC with ball screws. The conversion was done in January, 2007. His first CNC project was to mill the skids and the exhaust rain caps for the Howell V-4 engine. He uses either one of the mills for drilling large holes, and his own Mini Drill Press for everything under 1/4". There is also a cantankerous old Jet 5" horizontal/vertical bandsaw that he keeps threatening to take a sledge hammer to!

1) An overall view of Jerry's compact 10 x 14' shop. 2) 1968 Emco Maier Maximat 7 small gearhead lathe. 3) 1990 Emco Maier Maximat Super 11 lathe. Jerry made the bench with removable chip tray and backsplash.

4) Jet JVM-836 mill with 6" Kurt vise and Mitutoyo DRO. 5) Jet JVM-836 on which Jerry has installed ball lead screws and converted to CNC in January, 2007. The control electronics are mounted on the wall in the upper left of the photo. He designed his own flood coolant system which is on the left side of the mill frame off the floor. Jerry is running Mach 3 control software on a laptop computer (right) that feeds g-codes to the controller.

More links and sites

To view more photos of Jerry's work or to order plans and kits he has designed and offers for sale, visit his personal web site at To view the Howell V-4 engine project being built by the Foundation, CLICK HERE.

Here are several examples of Jerry Howell's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

Associated "Hired Man" castings kit by Paul Briesch—Jerry added a cam operated plunger fuel pump which maintains fuel for consistent runs from full to empty tank.

Stewart Turner Sandhurst Petrol EngineThe bore is 2" and the stroke is 3". The radiator, fan, centrifugal water pump, and pumping throttle are all his own design. The engine was on the cover of the June 1999 issue of Gas Engine magazine along with an article.
Middletown Machine "Woodpecker"—Built from a Richard Shelly castings kit.
Nanzy Engine—This 1/2 HP engine was machined from 1/2 scale castings in a kit by Russell Snyder. The engine has 1-1/8" bore, 1-1/2" stroke and 6" flywheels. Jerry made babbit crankshaft bearings instead of bronze and a positive crankcase vent check valve is installed inside the crankcase.
Perkins "Windmill" Engine—This engine is machined from a set of castings offered by DeBolt Machine. The crankshaft was machined from solid tool steel. The valves, governor shaft and fuel pipe support bracket are stainless steel. It uses a low tension, make-n-break ignition.
Scratch Built Freelance HO 0-6-0 Switch Engine—The only commercial parts used were some Cal-Scale and Kemtron lost wax detail castings. It won the Model of the Month Award along with an article in the June 1971 issue of Model Railroader magazine.
24 Pounder Naval Canon—A 1/10 scale replica of a typical Man-O-War deck gun from 1779. The base ring is 2" in diameter and the barrel is 12" long.
Two of the precision tools Jerry has built for his personal use:

1. Precision Mini Drill Press—Made entirely from bar stock. Features quill depth stop, quill lock, 2" travel depth indicator, variable speed DC motor, 3 step pulleys and electro magnet base.

2. Micro Drill Press—Machined from bar stock. Zero quill feed backlash variable speed DC motor and electromagnet base.
Stuart Turner No. 10 Horizontal Steam Engine—Made from the Stewart Turner castings kit, Jerry added his own 8-pole DC generator, working fly-ball governor/steam throttle and the lubricator.

Engines designed by Jerry Howell and available as plans or kits

(See to order.)

"Vickie" Stirling Cycle Engine—Entire engine is of bar stock. The flywheel is 4.625" diameter. Stirling engines have no valves, carburetor, ignition system or boilers and they run almost ghostly silent. Properly made, they will run flawlessly every time a source of heat is applied!

Vickie is a stirling cycle engine of modified Heinrici type with elegant Victorian styling designed for pleasing looks as was applied to 18th and 19th century engines and machines. Three fluted columnar legs and two stylish crossheads of differing style blend perfectly with the curved and angular lines of the engine frames. A belt driven brass cooling fan competes with the rod and crosshead action for attention. Vickie is powered by an attractive horizontal brass alcohol burner which sports an integral fuel level sight glass.

"Beamer" Stirling Cycle Engine—"1 of 100" limited edition casting kit. The engine base, crankshaft supports and beam are Petrobond sand castings. All else is made from bar stock. The flywheel is 4.3" diameter. Beamer represents a large Victorian style beam engine that could have existed in the mid to late 1800's. It is a unique design and nothing like it has ever been done before. A belt driven cooling fan allows the engine to operate continuously at a temperature only slightly above ambient! All shafts are fitted with ball bearings for a smooth running and maintenance free engine. An operating flyball governor which is driven by the fan belt adds much interest to the engine, but it doesn't regulate the engine speed. The engine runs at a nice leisurely pace from a 1/4" dia. x 5/16" tall flame of an alcohol lamp, or a propane burner as shown.

Duplex Vacuum Engine—This engine is not a true "vacuum" engine, rather it is a "beta" type Stirling engine. Beta means that the power piston and the displacer are both working in the same cylinder. This arrangement gives greater power output than the typical two cylinder engine. The reason for this is that the compression ratio can be higher due to less "dead" space inside the engine.

The Duplex Vacuum Company of Chicago, Illinois made this type of engine about 100 years ago. They were widely used in popcorn wagons and to operate dental drills among other applications due to their silent operation and reliability. A unique feature of the Duplex engines is the oscillating shaft and linkage which produces an interesting motion in operating the displacer.

Rider Compression Pumping Engine—This scale model was a made as a limited edition lost wax castings kit and is "Number 1 of 50." Cylinders are stainless steel with .600" diameter graphite pistons. Much of the balance of the engine is from brass bar stock and tubing. The 3.3" diameter flywheel is a zinc alloy casting with a stainless steel rim. The two upper cross members are lost wax castings, as well as the 18 carat gold fire door. The engine base is a zinc alloy Pertobond sand casting containing the kit serial number.

The brass bar stock 3/16" bore double acting water pump has two Delrin "roller valves" behind each of the black covers. All the pumped water goes through the cold cylinder water jacket and part of the pumped water is diverted to the top of the hot cylinder water jacket for cooling there. A small propane burner is inside the furnace.

Stirling Super Fan—This fan was designed to be a real workhorse. Every effort was made to reduce friction to an absolute minimum while at the same time making the unit extremely reliable, maintenance free, quiet and very long lived. The fan has many hundreds of running hours on it while at shows and in Jerry's office during summer months with no maintenance, service or repairs of any kind done, or needed.

In addition to the crankshaft running in ball bearings, the power piston rod is fitted with precision ball bearings. All of the reciprocating parts use very low friction non-metallic components and never need oiled. The hot cap is specially designed to absorb heat from the flame. The carefully shaped and angled concave fan blades improve the overall air moving efficiency.

4-in1" Vacuum Engine (Atmospheric)—The engine is fan cooled and made from bar stock (no castings) and is commonly called a "Flame Eater." It features a torsion rod type valve mechanism, graphite valve seat, stainless steel cylinder liner and graphite piston. The flywheel is 4" in diameter. The correct terminology is actually "atmospheric engine". It can be built any of four ways: 1) Air Cooled Side Crank as shown, 2) Water Cooled Side Crank, 3) Air Cooled Center Crank or 4) Water Cooled Center Crank.

The air cooled engines have an optional belt driven cooling fan which provides cooling for long running sessions. The engine runs fine without it. With the fan, the engine will run all day long and never get hot. But long runs or not, the fan also adds much interest to the engine. All four versions use Jerry's oscillating (twisting) side shaft mechanism to operate the head valve. His unique valve seat is of self lubricating, non-metallic material which greatly reduces valve sliding friction and virtually eliminates wear. The engine speed range is from 60 to 600 RPM or so.

Plunket Jr.—1/2 scale 4-cycle engine. Jerry's first bar stock IC engine has a water pump, fan/radiator and powers a DC generator which is also the starter motor. The flywheel is 5" in diameter. The rectangular unit near the fuel tank is an hour meter operated only by the generator. This engine has run over 900 hours.

PowerHouse— This 4-Cycle engine is made entirely from bar stock and powers a DC generator which is also the starter motor. The generator powers an electric cooling fan in the air shroud, runs an hour meter, keeps the ignition battery charged and also powers external loads. This engine has ran more than 300 hours. The flywheel is 4.650" diameter.

Howell V-Twin—All bar stock, 4-cycle, fan-cooled  90-degree engine with a 1.00" bore, 1.25" stroke. An electric fuel pump in the base supplies fuel from the 20-ounce methanol tank. The valve timing gears are pressure lubricated. The DC generator, which is also the starter motor, can power a large external load.

Howell V-4—The engine is 1.95 Cu. In. (32cc) in displacement. Cylinders are 90 degrees apart in order to have the engine balanced for vibration free running. The cylinder bore is .875" and the piston stroke is .812". The cylinder banks are not staggered and robust knife and fork connecting rods are used. The multi segment built-up crankshaft and twin cam shafts are amazingly easy to make. A Hall Effect distributor is driven off the end of one of the cam shafts. The distributor body is linked to the throttle arm for spark advance/retard with the throttle setting. The throttle is Jerry's proven 2-jet design with an oiled foam air cleaner.

Pressure lubrication to the rod ends is by an external gear oil pump which feeds oil through the drilled crankshaft. There is an oil pressure adjuster and an oil pressure gauge port. The engine is water cooled using my unique magnetic drive water pump which has no seals to leak, and a proper looking and effective shop made radiator. The fan blade shroud insures that the 5 curved blade fan actually pulls air through the radiator fins and not just circulate the air around behind the radiator as would otherwise result without one.

There are ball bearings on the crankshaft, timing gears, camshaft, distributor, rocker arms, water pump, oil pump and
fan shaft. All external parts are sealed using "O" rings which prevent any oil seepage from the engine. A crankcase
vent/check valve maintains negative crankcase pressure. A dipstick is provided to monitor the oil level and also an
easy to get to oil drain plug.

This engine was chosen to be the Joe Martin Foundation's second shop build project. See the V-4 Engine Page for progress as we build this engine in our own shop from jerry's design. Jerry is seen here holding his finished prototype to give you a better idea of the size of the engine.

Farm Boy Hit-n-miss Engine—Jerry's latest engine has a 1" bore and 1-3/8" stroke. The engine frame, water hopper and head are aluminum alloy. The one-piece crankshaft is made from Starrett tool steel. The 6" diameter flywheels were machined from cast iron disks. The engine will coast from 20 to 28 revolutions between firing. Plans are now available.

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