Know the Basics of Fire-Tube Steam Boilers

Fire-tube steam boilers are a cylindrical vessel in which the flames in a furnace produce hot gases that pass through tubes surrounded by water. Consequently, the heat contained in the tubes transfers to the water, heating it and producing steam.

Fire-tube can be either low or high pressure. Most low-pressure boilers produce hot water for heating purposes, while the high-pressure boilers produce steam for process use.

This article contains technical descriptions. Hence, go directly to the CONCLUSION section at the end of the post if you are interested in a summary.


They have two types of design, wet-back or dry-back. In the first, the boiler has a water-cooled turn around a chamber used to channel the gases from the furnace into the tube banks. Tube removal and cleaning can be more complicated than in the dry-back design.

The dry-back design has a larger and swingable refractory-lined rear door integrated with the vessel. Through this door, combustion gases transfer from the furnace into the tube banks. It requires more refractory maintenance than the wet-back design.


The fire-tube steam boiler holds a firebox where flames produce hot combustion gases. A cooling jacket that contains water surrounds the firebox and connects to the long cylindrical boiler shell. The water surrounds a series of fire-tubes or flues that heat the water, generating saturated (wet) steam. That steam rises to the boiler’s highest point, called steam dome, where it accumulates.

A regulator located in the steam dome controls the exit of the steam. A series of larger flues (tubes) situated at the top of the boiler, conduct the saturated (wet) steam back turning it into dry or superheated steam. The boiler produces superheated steam and exhaust gases. The superheated steam, most of the time, feeds a steam engine’s cylinders and rarely feeds a turbine. Those machines turn the energy of the steam into mechanical work. The exhaust gases are recycled to preheat the water that enters the boiler, thus increasing its efficiency.

The fire tubes run through the length of the boiler and make a turn. That run before making the turn is called a pass. Therefore, a three-pass boiler has three sets of tubes, while a four-pass boiler has four. A boiler with more passes has a higher heat extraction rate and is more efficient than one with fewer passes. The fire–tube steam boilers hold pressures to a maximum of 250 psi and 750 horsepower.

Thermal Efficiency

The addition of tubes to the drum containing the water increases the heating surface of the boiler. The higher the heating surface, the more significant the amount of heat that transfers from the hot gases to the water, thus, increasing the thermal efficiency of the boiler. The thermal efficiency is the ratio of the heat transferred from the fuel to the heat absorbed by the water. Steam boilers that have an improved design and high heat transfer rates reach a thermal efficiency of 80% – 85%.


Every boiler technician must know the basic principles of boiler operation and maintenance because the safe operation of a boiler can prevent accidents. Steam boilers hold large quantities of very hot water under high pressures. When the pressure in the boiler is close to 100 psi, the temperature of the water reaches more than 300 degrees F. If the pressure suddenly drops to zero, without a corresponding drop in temperature, the water instantly turns to steam, increasing its volume enormously. The result of this reaction may be an explosion. Modern fire-tube boilers have built-in safety controls that prevent this type of event from happening. For more information, contact us here.


Fire-tube steam boilers are cylindrical vessels that hold water that surrounds a set of tubes conducting hot gases produced by a furnace. Consequently, the heat in the tubes transfers to the water surrounding them, producing steam.

Modern fire-tube steam boilers are sold as packages that can be installed rather fast and can be relocated elsewhere. They are easy to maintain. Nevertheless, due to the massive amounts of water at high pressure that the boiler holds, they require safe operating procedures.

Industrial and commercial applications whose processes require lower steam pressures demand this type of boilers. If you require information or assistance for buying, renting, installing, and operating Fire-tube steam boilers, contact us here.

Sources: Superior Boilers