Review of Machine Works V8 Engine Kit

By Dr Jennifer Martay PE, Course Leader for Medical Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University

Box Engine Comes In

I am a Biomedical Engineer, working alongside many Mechanical Engineers. I felt like an engineering imposter for not understanding how things like car engines work. I previously put together Machine Works' 4-Cylinder Internal Combustion Engine Kit - so got this V8 Engine Kit to extend my knowledge.

What did I think about this kit?

The kit was easy to build and taught me a bit more about car engines. There was not much new to learn that I hadn't already learned from the 4 Cylinder Kit. Therefore, I don't suggest buying both kits. Buy whichever kit is cheaper at the time (generally the 4 Cylinder Kit). I was also disappointed that the AR App did not work for my newer version of Android.

For more details, watch the below video and/or keep reading!

First Impressions

The kit comes with an instruction manual and multiple sheets of parts (don't take the parts off of their sheets yet!). I don't understand why the sheets arrive within plastic bags - in most cases, these bags are unnecessary and environmentally unfriendly (note pile in top left corner!). The kit also has an augmented reality app which shows and explains the moving engine parts in more detail.
Contents of Box

The instruction manual begins with a Table of Parts. Each part in the kit is named and given a number. The manual then both explains in text and shows in pictures how the various parts need to be combined. The manual is generally easy to follow. Text explanations usually use both part name and number. Pictures almost always show part numbers.
Table of Parts

An improvement over the 4 Cylinder Kit, all of the physical parts are labelled with their number (circled in red below) and are easy to locate. Curiously, some parts are unnecessarily over-labelled. For example, the piston halves are labelled as part 3 as well as numbered 1-16 to indicate to which piston each piston half belongs. Each of the 16 piston halves are identical, however. Therefore, there is no need to number 1-16, and in fact, the additional numbers can be confused as different part numbers.
Example of User Manual

Unnecessary Labelling on Piston Halves

Step 1: Constructing the Cylinder Blocks, with Pistons and Crankshaft

The build starts with making the pistons, which are then attached to the crankshaft. There are 8 pistons, all attached to a single crankshaft. The manual highlights common problems during the build, for example, checking that the pistons rotate freely around the crankshaft.

Crankshaft with Pistons

The pistons are then inserted into the cylinders. Unlike in the 4 Cylinder Kit, the pistons in the V8 Kit move smoothly and easily within the cylinders - even though there are gaps between connected piston halves! Note that when the pistons on Side A are at their extreme up/down positions, the pistons on Side B are all in their middle positions.
8 Pistons in Cylinders Gap in Piston

Pistons in Cylinders on Side A

Pistons in Cylinders on Side B

Next, the base of the engine is built, and the cylinder blocks are added to the base.
Base of Cylinder Block

Step 2: Constructing the Cylinder Heads, with Valves, Camshafts, and Rockershafts

Onto the cylinder heads and valves! In my kit, Part 10 is erroneously labelled Part 11 on Side A of the engine (yet correctly labelled on Side B). This mistake causes some confusion, yet is easy to fix since the parts only fit one way.
Parts 10 and 11 mislabelled on Side A

One of the most satisfying parts of the build is putting in the valves! The springs (come on the metal rods) are a bit fiddly and occasionally ping across the room, but it is very satisfying to assemble the valves and push them up and down. Originally, I had one spring/valve which would compress but not extend again. Once I pushed Parts 10 and 11 *completely* into their notches, the valve would extend as expected.

Valves Added to Assembly

The assembled camshafts are added between the valves, and the rockershafts are positioned above the camshafts. The manual makes assembling the camshafts and rockershafts easy. At this point, the rockers can be pushed down to compress the springs - then released to ping the valves back up. So satisfying!
Rocker Shaft above Camshaft

Finally, covers top the cylinder heads to prevent rockers from accidentally moving off their corresponding valves.

Step 3: Assembling External Parts, with Belts, Fan, Motor, Distributors, and Spark Plugs

Two belts connect the top and bottom halves of the engine. The timing belt is added first. The timing belt connects the crankshaft and camshafts, and is fitted with the help of the provided timing alignment tool and idlers. The timing belt cover prevents the timing belt coming off.
Timing Belt Connecting Crankshaft and Camshafts

The fan belt is added second. This belt connects the crankshaft to the fan, which is between the two halves of the engine. The instructions don't explain the purpose of the fan. In a real car engine, the fan keeps the engine cool.
Fan Belt Connecting Crankshaft and Fan

All of the parts are now connected. Next, we need something to make the parts move!

A motor (powered by 3 AA batteries, not provided in kit) is added to the crankshaft. It is incredibly satisfying to watch the rotational motion of the motor transform into linear motion of the pistons and rotational motion of the camshafts and fan through the belts. At this point, we have a functional engine model!

Two distributors and 8 "spark plugs" (represented by LEDs) are added next. The spark plugs/LEDs insert above the cylinders and light up to show the order of combustion within the 8 cylinders. I had to push the spark plugs very hard to get them to go into their slots.

Spark Plugs represented by LEDs

Finally, the throttle and inlet and exhaust manifolds are added. The assembly is now complete and is shown below!
Final assembly

Step 4: Using the App with Augmented Reality

The App was a highlight of the 4 Cylinder Kit so I was really looking forward to using it with this kit. Unfortunately, I can not download the app. Google Play tells me, "This app isn't available for your device because it was made for an older version of Android". Big sad face!

All comments and pictures below are based solely on previous experience with App for 4 Cylinder Engine, since V8 App will not download for me!

The App has 2 parts. The first part explains the major parts of the engine and combustion cycle in an electronic textbook style. This part is useful but not interactive. The second part has the AR (Augmented Reality) and is what (probably!!) makes this App really shine.

To use the AR, you have to align the engine in a specific orientation on a provided cardboard printout. It takes a few attempts for the App to know where the engine is and the App frequently "loses" the engine if the camera angle changes much (process of aligning engine and App shown below).
Aligning for AR

The alignment process is worth it though as the AR is (probably!!) really cool. The App begins by superimposing a real engine over your engine. The sound of the engine rev'ing is a nice touch.
Spark Plugs represented by LEDs

You can then view the inner workings of the engine by either using x-ray (external parts are transparent) or an exploded view (external parts move to edges). An example of x-ray is shown first, with an example of an exploded view following. You can even watch the tiny explosions in the different cylinders! The App can also take screenshots, which is useful if you want to show people after (like in this review) or if the build is part of a class project.

A Final Overview!

Things I really liked:
-The instruction manual uses actual part names rather than just part numbers. Now I can talk about how a "Crankshaft" functions rather than how "Part 4" functions - much more useful in the real world!
-Parts are clearly labelled and very easy to locate.
-Engine is easy to build and all parts move smoothly.
-Watching the engine work is very satisfying.
-The engine is a great talking piece for my office.

Things I suggest improving:
-Update the App to work on newer versions of Android! Otherwise buyers are missing out on a big chunk of the kit's experience.
-Use fewer plastic bags. Some parts are needlessly individually bagged.

This is a great kit for someone wanting to learn about engines - or who already enjoys engines and wants a fun talking-piece to put on their desk. This is not a great kit for someone who has already done the 4 Cylinder Internal Combustion Engine kit - you will just be repeating steps you have already learned!

Other Articles:

Three Crystal Structures

A ThreeJS model of three crystal structures


My latest (early 2018) thing is just a "normal" game: no real physics. It's just a game.

Experimental Flying Game

Fly around in a plane. Some physics, but mainly just playing with websockets. If you can get a friend to play at the same time, you should be able to shoot each other down.

© Hugo2015. Session @sessionNumber