Wick Oiling System for Crosshead

On Mike Brown steam engines produced from January 1999 and after, a new oiling system is employed. A tank machined into a solid block of iron replaces the brass rails and oil cups employed on earlier engines shown in the photos. This is called a wick oiler.

There are three ports (holes). Into each hole a small wick is placed. The remaining extension of each wick is simply laid inside of the main cavity of the tank.

Actually this utilization of a primitive, yet reliable oiling system, the wick oiling system, is a perfect adaptation to the Mike Brown Steam Engine. The wick oiling system increases the amount of oil held by a factor of fifty (as opposed to the amount of oil that the oil cups can hold). What the wick oiling system does is to require the addition of oil to the tank only once every few days (as opposed to the oil cups needing to be refilled every two hours). The wick oiling system greatly reduces the time needed to maintain the lubrication of the crosshead. Also, the oil is naturally filtered and metered by the wick itself. In addition, the tank adds mass which improves cooling and prevents curious fingers from entering a place they should not be.

To operate the wick oil system on your Mike Brown steam engine, simply ensure that there is oil in the tank. Refilling should be needed after approximately 50 hours of operating the steam engine.

The wicks should be placed into the holes whenever the engine is operating.

To prevent unwanted oil flow during storage periods, remove the wicks from the holes.

The wicks are nothing more that small cotton wicks used in candle making (birthday candle size). Make sure that you use only unwaxed cotton wick. A single strand of copper wire must be twisted with the wick to stiffen it and allow it to be formed into a shape that will fit in the hole and also lay in the tank. (1 1/2" long).

The oil may be about any type, but chain saw bar oil is recommended. High tech oils such as synthetics and those with Teflon additives may be used also with excellent results.

This is how the wick oiling system works: As the wick lays in the tank and becomes saturated with oil, a small amount of oil soaks its way up into the wick and down into the hole. The oil then dribbles onto the crosshead and pin which lubricates, cools, and cleans them. In doing so, the oil is perfectly metered.

If the wick becomes very dirty or crumbly, simply cut another piece to fit and replace the old worn wick.

Summary of Wick Oiling System:


Unwaxed cotton wick (the kind used in candle making, birthday candle size), cut to 1.5"

Single stand of copper wire (to support wick from oil holding tank to port (hole))

Chain saw bar oil (to fill oil-holding tank)


Keep wicks in place during the operation of the steam engine. When not in use, remove the wicks. Store in a clean place. Replace dirty and old wicks when necessary.

Refill oil-holding tank every 50 hours of steam engine operation or as necessary.

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Index to Mike Brown's Alternative Energy


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This page was updated on 5 November 2011