steampunk vibrator

August 31, 2009

Photo at Maker Faire taken by the fabulous tnkgrl. Much larger version here

I’ve been meaning to write a project page for this for like ever and since I’m presenting this device at Arse Electronika this year I figure there’s no better time than now.

Without further ado….

The Why

The How

The WTF

Press

 

Why…

…create a device such as this? Its impractical! It’ll burn you! It weighs too much to be truly useful! Its not really steampunk!

*massive facepalm*

Here’s the thing about art. It is often not practical and not made for general consumption. When I asked my friend Alex about his target demographic for his Tactical Corsets he replied with “My target demographic is me.” Despite this conversation happening months after creating the SteamVibe it applied to my whole thought process behind it. My target demographic was indeed me, I created this device for myself first and then it resonated with the rest of the population.

That said, it wasn’t entirely unintentional that it received the attention that it did though the scope of it was completely unexpected, especially as I had not submitted it to any of the sites listed in Press (or any of them I didn’t list in that section). It was completely and totally viral.

One day I made a tweet and it got re-tweeted. And re-tweeted. It got picked up on Laughing Squid and then exploded. I woke up one day to have many new random followers and more hits on my Flickr than I’ve ever received before. As I mentioned, it wasn’t completely unintentional that it received some attention, one of the purposes behind this was a bit of publicity as I was unemployed and looking to get into an internship at least. Figured making something as radical as this on my first try in a machine shop would prove I have innate skills and creativity to be employable. I did fulfil that goal though not in the way I had anticipated.

Speaking of publicity, I totally own the search for steampunk vibrator now and my full name is forever tied to this device. I’ll never escape this infamy, not that I would ever want to.

This isn’t the first steam powered vibrator to ever exist, the earliest I’ve seen was called the Manipulator. Those who think that my device was impractical have never seen or heard of a vibrator that was so big it took an entire room to house it. I’ve never seen a steam powered handheld one before though.

In my machine shop class at CCSF, the official class project was to create a tiny twin cylinder steam engine, known as the RV-1. I had an epiphany one day that I had to make that run a vibrator somehow which naturally got me way more excited about the project. I mean, what else am I possibly going to use a tiny steam engine for?

And that’s where I ran into my first problem. How on earth am I going to make a vibrator run off of that thing? Its not powerful enough to run anything except itself, even then barely so. I really wanted to put the engine inside the vibe itself if only to see if it could be done. Making something that small and powerful enough would also seriously test my skills, especially as I’ve never actually worked in a machine shop before.

Salvation came when one of my classmates was working on an engine I’ve never heard of before, a Tesla Turbine which looked like the perfect engine for my project. High RPM, compact and not hugely difficult to build. Not to mention is has fucking Tesla in the title. BTW, some random dude from Australia messaged me on Facebook one day to tell me that he added the SteamVibe in the “Applications” subheader in the Wikipedia article and it remains there as of this writing. Score!)

I’ll go into more of the creation and the decisions I made during so in the How? section below. Once I decided what I really wanted to build, that’s when excitement begins.

In summary, the Why? can be described in one short paragraph. I wanted to create a handheld vibrator that I could potentially run off of steam. It is an art piece, a proof of concept, a test of my machining and design skills and a somewhat unintentional publicity stunt. It is not however a practical vibrator. I knew this would be the case if I were to design it the way I wanted to. Steam will burn you and an air compressor is not sexy. It works absolutely fantastically as a rather heavy metal dildo however.

 

How…

…did this device come into the physical world? Unlike most vibrators that spontaneously appear out of factories in China, this one was hand made in a machine shop at a community college in San Francisco. On big machines that are meant for big things, not small things like this.

When I got the basic concepts in place it was time to cut some metal. I had decided on metal since I wanted it to be “steampunk”. No plastics, no silicone, no fancy polymers for this vibe. Alternate universe interpretations of Victorian era Western culture had none of these but they were big on metal. Not all types are safe to use in the sex toy sense however, non-anodised aluminium doesn’t always react well to wet environments, regular steel will rust and some people are allergic to brass. I then thought of what metal toys already exist and they were all anodised aluminium or stainless steel. I didn’t have the equipment to anodise stuff there at CCSF but I could certainly machine stainless steel on these lathes.

steam vibe in progress

I started off with an approximately 14″ long 2″ thick piece of stainless steel, cut it in half and machined one of those halves down to what it ended up becoming. I ended up with lots of stainless steel wool.

steel wool

If you look closely at the base where the engine is housed, you see multiple layers of steel. This had three purposes, it gave tactile feedback, it enabled me to trim off layers at a time once I got closer to the size I wanted and I liked the way it looked. I wanted the external design to be without too much complexity but still look nice.

The “head” of the device was curved with a ball turner though in hindsight I would have positioned it to create more of a proper curve than a somewhat flat end that’s rounded off.

The engine side is hollowed out for the engine (obviously) with a threaded entrance for the engine cap. There’s also a threaded hole drilled into the side to make way for the hose adapter.

Speaking of the engine, here comes the really fun part.

engine housing

In true steampunk fashion, there had to be brass in this somewhere. Since it was not safe to put it in a place where it would come into contact with skin, I decided to make it internal.

This is actually version 1 of the engine housing, I discovered Tesla turbines do not work like impellers and prefer to create a spiralling effect to move fluid from the inlet to the exhaust. The current version has only one of these slots. The slots were the only part of this that was created on a mill instead of a lathe.

vibrating unit of engine

As with most practical vibrators, this uses an eccentric weight on the shaft to create vibration. This took a few versions to get quite right as I discovered just how low in torque the Tesla actually is. A little weight like this slows it down significantly and I had to make it small enough but heavy enough to be optimal for this purpose. This pictured here is actually quite a bit larger than the one it currently uses.

steampunk vibrator exploded view

An old version of the engine but what’s notable about this pic is it shows the actual rotors for the turbine from the side, tiny diamond coated cutoff wheels with pre-drilled ventilation holes around the centre designed for a Dremel. Yes this vibrator is indirectly Dremel powered. You can see a closer up rear view of the internals a couple photos above.

These were suggested by my shop instructor since they were designed for high RPM applications and they were already small. I did some searching and found some that had the exhaust holes I needed for the Tesla already drilled in. And cheap! Perfect!

You can’t see the smaller pieces of the engine with these pics unfortunately but I can certainly describe them. Tiny washers were used to separate the rotors from each other and according to a bit of internet research I did on this kind of turbine, it was recommended that they be 0.014″ thick. I was lucky enough to find some but given the uneven nature of the rotors, I had to use two or more sometimes to get any kind of separation. If I were to do this again I would probably make my own rotors instead of using the Dremel ones so I would have more control over how I wanted them to be formed. Since it is such a high RPM engine I needed bearings. Again, in hindsight small Teflon coated ones would have done nicely but I used ball bearings for this. Teflon will be used for the next project however. ; ) A couple of shaft collars are used to keep the rotors of the engine together so they don’t all become misaligned inside the housing.

close up of engine and inlet

The engine cap screws directly into the stainless steel housing and press fits against the engine enclosure. It has a little lip that a classmate of mine made when I was frantically trying to get this done before it’s unveiling at Femina Potens. Pic of that here.

Most of the pics were taken before it was properly bent, a-la G-Spot style. I had originally wanted to make that curve before the unveiling but I didn’t have time. I did however take it out of the gallery after, bent it using a hydraulic press and it was done.

Wanna see it go? Bent and all?

 

The above video is compressed air from the machine shop at CCSF. I had brought a pressure cooker to test out true steam but it didn’t get quite powerful enough to make it go very much at all. It did however get very very very hot, so hot that I had to use welding gloves to hold it and even those were starting to get toasty. The engine is quite quirky, the bare rotors seemed to run fine with steam on their own but not inside of the housing I made for them. Compressed air seemed to do the trick so I put no further development into getting it to run more optimally on steam when it became too dangerous to handle.

In any case, it can run off of steam if I optimised it too, as I mentioned above, the rotors do turn on steam (boy do they) as evidenced by this video.

 

WTF!? I mean seriously, WTF?

Exactly.

This entire project was one WTF after another. From concept to execution I ran into that question all the time. Some say it couldn’t be done but I persevered. It needed to get done. If you’ve ever had the pull, the desire to create something, you realise that you can’t rest until it is complete.

Is it a practical vibrator? Seriously? Something that if ran off of steam would require not only a boiler powerful enough to run it but it would burn you, even with gloves. Gizmodo was right, it may actually scorch your privates. When using compressed air it runs out of compression real fast if you have a small tank. Not to mention the thing weighs 2.5lbs so the sheer mass absorbs much of the useful vibration.

I never ever once thought this would be a practical device and made no claims as to it’s usability as such. See the Why? section above for more details. Among many things this is an art piece.

Has it fulfilled it’s purpose as a sex toy however? You betcha. ; )

And there you have it. The Steampunk Vibrator. The how, the why and the WTF. Any questions etc, feel free to make a comment or find me via the contact page. If you link to this please use the incredibly awesome domain name I registered specifically to redirect to this page. http://steamfuck.me

 

Press

Laughing Squid – Steampunk Vibrator by Ani Niow

Gizmodo – Fully Functional Steampunk Vibrator might Scald Your Privates

Hack a Day – Steampunk vibrator

Boing Boing – SteamVibe: “Stainless steel, brass and awesome.”

Tiny Nibbles – Wednesday Nibbles – OMFG A STEAM POWERED VIBRATOR

io9 – Steam Fetishists Rejoice! This Vibrator is for you.

Good Vibrations Magazine – Steampunk Vibrator & A Touch of Pleasure

SF Bay Guardian – Steampunk Vibrator, a Blast From the Past

Comments are closed.