I have at least 6 camping stoves, collected over the years (or hand-me-downs). Two of them see frequent use while the others sit in storage, forgotten. And yet I want even more. I visit every camping section I can and check out the stoves, seeing what the next “must have” is. I finally found a way to satisfy this itch without breaking my already cracked piggy bank.
Alcohol fumes are flammable. Vaporized alcohol (in gas form) is more flammable. These two simple facts are the guiding principles behind alcohol stoves. Pour the alcohol (fuel) into an alcohol stove. The fumes are lit, which causes the liquid to heat up and then begin to boil. Boiling vaporizes the liquid and causes the flames to burn at a hotter temperature.
Make Your Own!
There are many designs for alcohol stoves, designed to work better in different circumstances or be easier to build. This one is my current favorite, as it is easy to build, does not require a pot-stand and best of all, the materials are free! I have made this one using only my Swiss Army Knife and P-38. This means that if something happens to it during a camping trip, I can make a new one on the spot.
- 1 aluminum soda can
- cutting tool (sharp knife, scissors, razor blade)
- pointy tool (push-pin, nail, ice pick)
- marking tool (permanent parker)
- measuring tool (ruler, tape measure)
- smoothing tool (file, sand paper)
- opening tool (can opener)
- safety tools (gloves & safety goggles)
You will be using sharp objects to make something that contains flammable liquids & burns… Be careful! I am in no way responsible for any injuries you inflict upon yourself.
- Prepare an aluminum soda can by emptying it’s contents and then rinsing it out thoroughly. (Here comes the free part!) Not a big soda drinker, I picked up enough cans walking down the road to make more stoves than I could ever possibly use. (I am sure to wash them out very well, and the flames take care of the rest!)
If you would like a “prettier” stove, simply sand the paint off of the can. The easiest way that I have found to do this is to sand it off before the can is opened, so the pressure inside gives you something to push against. Since I am using pre-emptied cans, I have thought about filling it with water and then freezing it, but have not yet tried this method.
- Using your pointy tool (I prefer a push pin, though I’ve used the can opener on my Swiss Army Knife), poke 4 SMALL holes in the upper lip of your can, spaced every 90 degrees. These will allow the fuel to flow evenly while burning.
They didn’t show up really well in the photos I took, but you want the holes evenly spaced around the rim of the can. I used the pushpin in the photo to make my holes, after marking their spots with the marker.
- Using your opening tool (can opener from kitchen or P-38), remove the inside top of the can. This stage can be a bit tricky and involve wiggling the opening tool to get a good bite. Be careful about burrs and sharp edges!
- Use the handle of your cutting tool to flatten/remove any burrs made by the pointy and opening tools.
- Draw a circle around the can 1″ from the bottom. Draw another circle around the can 2″ from the top. (This involves both the marking and measuring tools!) Generally, I lay the marker on a book to achieve the proper height, then spin the can to get an even ring drawn on it. Make sure your can stays flat the whole time, or your circle will look funny!
Don’t forget to flip the can over when you are measuring the 2″ from the top, otherwise you will end up with a funny drawing on your can when you just measure 1″ and then 2″ from the bottom.
- Cut in-between these two lines. It can be messy, as you are in-between the lines.
- Cut the bottom line. It doesn’t have to be level, but it does need to be nice and smooth. (Some find this to be easiest with scissors, though I generally use my pocket knife.) Make sure there are no nicks or slivers to injure yourself on!
- Cut the top line. Again, it needs to be nice and smooth, and this time it needs to be level as well since this is what your pot will be sitting on.
- Use your smoothing tool, smooth away any slivers and burrs that might exist.
- Make a “wrinkle” or “dent” in the top portion, from the bottom edge up to the beginning of the upper lip. Be careful not to crease the can! You can use needle-nosed pliers, a pen or a dowel. I use my fingers, since I always have them handy! You don’t want these wrinkles to be too big or two wide. Be careful not to crease the can.
- Make 5-7 more of these wrinkles.
- Carefully insert the top portion INTO the bottom portion.
You just made an alcohol stove! Now let’s put it to use…
- Only use OUTSIDE, on a level surface, in safe conditions. Do not leave unattended!
- Pour fuel (70% Isopropyl Alcohol) so that it just covers the dome in the bottom of the can.
- Be sure no fuel is on your hands.
- Light using a long match or a long BBQ lighter.
- Wait for the outside edges to start flaming (you’ll know it when you see it!) Normally between 15-30 seconds.
- The first time you use the stove, just let it burn itself out, without a pot on it. The plastic in the paint needs to be burned off.
- Let the stove cool completely before refilling it.
- When re-lit, place pot carefully on the stove, making sure that it is centered.
- DO NOT STIR your pot when it is on top of the stove, as it is very easy to overturn this stove. That would pour flaming liquid everywhere… never a good idea.
- To put out the stove, either place an upside-down can over it to cut off oxygen, or simply wait for it to burn itself out. If you have a pot on top of the stove, you can sometimes blow the flame out.
Just where does one get this magical liquid that makes this whole project possible? Any number of places, actually… You can use HEET from a gas station, denatured alcohol from the paint section of a hardware store (I bought mine at Wal-Mart), or any number of other fuels. Drinking alcohol works well, but costs a bit more. Check out www.zenstoves.net for even more information about fuel and other types of stoves that you can make.