Fuel types-Liquid / Gel / Solid / Gas / Electricitry
Methylated Spirits - Known in some countries as denatured alcohol and frquently abbreviated to "meths." This is a favourite fuel amongst many toy steam collectors as it burns very hot and is relatively inexpensive. It is easily available at most DIY strores.
Meths was popular up until the late 1970's in the UK before being replaced by solid fuel as the regular type of heat source. Probably the main deciding factor being that meths can be quite dangerous if great care is not taken in its handling and use.
Precautions - A meths flame can be difficult to see in bright light conditions so always ensure a burner has completely extinguishedand cooled before refilling. It is a good idea to light the burner in a different area from where you have filled it so that any spilled meths is not ignited as well. Be careful not to overfill a burner and avoid spilling meths on clothing etc. Light the burner beside the steam engine so that you do not have to carry it any distance when lit - If you drop an ignited meths burner you may have many small seats of instantaneous fires.
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES LEAVE
CHILDREN ALONE WITH METHYLATED
SPIRITS OR STORE IT IN ANY TYPE OF
Sterno - Caterers chafing fuel is a gel type fuel used by caterers to keep food hot when away from ovens etc. Very safe and easy to use - Just add as much as you need to your burner with a small spoon. This fuel is widely available on ebay and is a good alternative for anyone who feels uncomfortable using meths.
Note if you only have a meths burner beacause of the age of your engine - either buy or make a small tray type of burner as Sterno is not suitable for use in a liquid burner.
Solid fuel - Generally comes in the form of small tablets. The best known of these is probably "Esbit." As with Sterno, these are very safe to use and widely available via ebay. One cautionary note - Keep the tablets dry and in an air tight box when not in use. If they absorb any moisture they tend to pop and splutter when burning. This can sometimes result in small ignited pieces of tablet being ejected from the firebox and landing on your furnishings / carpets etc if steaming indoors. Branded fuel tablets are also sold under the Mamod label and tend to be less prone to the spluttering effect as they are wax coated. Personally I prefer to use hexamine camping stove tablets if solid fuel firing as they are just as good and a lot cheaper - Look for the "Gelert" brand on ebay.
Precaution - All fuel tablets tend to produce strong odours if used in doors. It is usually best to take batteries out of your smoke detector (Remembering to replace them after steaming) and ensure adequate ventilation in small rooms in particular.
Gas - Supplies made for specific models and for general use are available from several suppliers. They offer the advantage of fast heat up, long running times and greater control of temperature. However like meths a great level of care is required to ensure connections are secure with no leakages etc. Most gas burner tanks can be refilled using gas available from DIY stores,
Electricity - Is not strictly speaking "firing" an engine, but many of the Wilesco and Jensen engines use electricity as a heat source. If you know how to switch on a kettle then this should present no problems. Probably safest to use a residual current device (RCD) along with obvious visual checks of the cable / connection integrity.