Cooling Fin Design

Cooling fin design of an air cooled engine is critical to getting the heat out of the engine cylinder and for ensuring that there are no hot spots. Therefore, I’ve been looking at some of the work that people have done in this field and then collating some of the fundamental principles:

  • Increasing the number of cooling fins increases the cylinder cooling.
    • However, the cooling may decrease with an increased number of fins and reduced spacing at stationary to low speeds. This is due to the fact that the air does not flow well between the fins at low flow speeds.
  • At low speeds the temperature on the leeward side increases and this results in cylinder bore distortion.

Air passes over cooling fins to remove the heat from the system.


  • no radiator or pump and so lighter system
  • no leakages
  • can operate in cold climates


  • less efficient
  • needs a good airflow

Heat Sinks

When considering cooling fins we can relate those cooling an engine cylinder to those in a heatsink designed to cool electronics.

Heat Sink – A structure that is mechanically attached to a device that generates heat, in order to lower the overall thermal impedance between the point source of the heat within the device and its cooler surroundings.

The fundamental aspects to consider in heatsink design are:

  • Surface area – you want to maximise the surface area as this is where the thermal transfer to the coolant medium takes place.
  • Aerodynamics – the coolant medium needs to be able to easily flow around the heatsink
  • Thermal transfer – heat flow within the heatsink needs to be good to get the heat out to the fins and so maximise the use of the large area.
  • Contact – you need to maximise the contact with the part needing to be cooled and maximise the efficiency of the contact. This also needs to be maintained over the lifetime.

Number of Fins

Making the fins thicker will increase the heat transfer through the heatsink and to the fins, but will reduce the number of fins that can be fitted within a given package space and hence thereby reducing the surface area available for heat transfer. In addition, the thickness of each fin has to be sufficient to withstand any vibration that the part may experience in service.


The orientation of the heatsink will have an effect on it’s efficiency, especially when relying on natural air convection.

cooling fin design and orientation
Efficiency versus orientation: note that maximum is with the fins oriented vertically.

Standard computer fans can achieve a maximum heat transfer coefficient ~150Wm-2K-1.

Surface Finish

A rough surface finish will increase the surface area. If a positive air flow is being used over the heat sink then a rough surface will lead to a thicker boundary layer and this will act as a barrier and reduce heat exchange.

Thermal Cycling

Thermal cycling must be taken into account when designing any heat sink as it can result in fatigue of the part itself or fatigue of the joint between the part that needs cooling and the heat sink.


exploded CAD of oscillating steam engine

Engine Design

A number of short articles discussing aspects of engine design and in particular model engine design.

flame interaction with the boiler


Thermodynamics is the branch of physics that looks at the relationships between heat and other forms of energy. The thermodynamic relationships are key to our understanding of so many areas of engineering, if not all areas.

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