DIY Alcohol Stoves -- Basic Design Considerations

1:30 a.m. on December 15, 2011 (EST)
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A buddy and I have been tinkering with DIY (Do It Yourself) alcohol stoves on and off for the last couple of years.

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I thought I'd put together a blog post on what's come out of all the tinkering and testing. What follows isn't a "follow the steps and you'll get stove 'X'" template but rather some basic design considerations for making decent DIY alcohol stoves.

At the end is a list of "standards" that you can benchmark your DIY stoves against.

So, without further ado, I give you: DIY Alcohol Stoves -- Basic Design Considerations

HJ
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10:13 p.m. on February 25, 2012 (EST)
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Jim i wish i had found this sooner it could have given me a better source for info. i did manage to hit on a design that works for me after building six or seven stoves and was able to duplicate it. i boiled 2 cups of 60*f water in about 3 minutes and 3 cups in about 5, it burns for twelve minutes on one ounce of fuel BUT.. this under near ideal conditions i would think about 68*f ambient temp and no wind. i am sure it will not perform that way now that we are getting some winds here. i made two of these so far, one for my bag and one for my wiifes. it is kinda like trouthunters except instead of the wick i prime the top or use a pan. the biggest thing i dislike about it is how hard it is to tell if it is burning or not in daylight which means whoever lights it needs to stay with to make sure a curious child or fellow camper dont try to pick it up or light it. we are fotunate here and have fires almost anywhere except during general gun season and ive never seen the restrictions enforced even then and thanks to the frequent controlled (so called ) burns fat lighter is easy to find so our back up is wood and since we will have fires anyway its not that big an issue even in light rain.

great job Hiker Jim.

 

smithcreek

12:36 a.m. on February 26, 2012 (EST)
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If you're boiling 2 cups in 3 minutes, you're running a little fast.  You'll probably do better in terms of efficiency if you can slow your stove down a little.

HJ
Backpacking stove reviews and information:  Adventures In Stoving

9:29 a.m. on February 26, 2012 (EST)
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I see you have a Trangia burner in the photo. For $30, I just carry their basic kit, and get the stove, windscreen, bowl and frying pan all in one lightweight package.

With that kind of design out there, I don't bother with fixing something that 'ain't broke'.

1:19 p.m. on February 26, 2012 (EST)
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Drink a beer make a stove.

What could be better ?!?!?!?

1:19 p.m. on February 26, 2012 (EST)
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I might go into production.

1:15 a.m. on February 27, 2012 (EST)
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peter1955 said:

I see you have a Trangia burner in the photo. For $30, I just carry their basic kit, and get the stove, windscreen, bowl and frying pan all in one lightweight package.

With that kind of design out there, I don't bother with fixing something that 'ain't broke'.

 Hi, Peter,

What do you mean by "their basic kit?"  The Trangia 28?  Just the burner?

HJ

 Adventures In Stoving

8:23 p.m. on March 16, 2012 (EDT)
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Interesting report!

My problem is making consistent stoves. It’s easy to make up a pile and see how they all work differently, but when you go into “volume” production getting them to all behave the same is a real chore!

Last weekend I made six new identical stoves. here they are with a pile of my older ones in the background –


SAM_0880.jpg


 

 

All the same dimensions and what-not. I intend to sell these and more like them at a flea market soon. Anyway I naturally had to test ‘em all.

That night it was right about 30 degrees out and with a stiff breeze. I didn’t use wind screens so I guess this is a torture test of these little burners.

All filled with one ounce of fuel and lit at the same time –


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Almost two minutes later only one has sprouted side jets –

 


P1010027.jpg


 

Full roar!

 


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The first to grow side gets burned out at 8 minutes. The last to grow side jets was the one in the back left corner, and it burned twelve minutes in a stiff breeze on one ounce of alcohol!

This picture was taken at about nine minutes. Only three left burning. Oh yeah, naturally I’m making tea at the same time with a turbo cat stove over on the right.

 


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I must say I was quite surprised at the varying burn rates, especially the one in the corner that took so long to prime and stayed lit for so long. I thought I had used identical materials and dimensions throughout, however close inspection revealed that the inner wall of the slow burner was made from the remains of a sidewall of a 24 ounce keystone light can.

I like the 24 ounce keystone cans because they are made of unusually heavy stock, and make great oversized burners. I cold weather I find I need an alcohol stove with unusual capacity and heat, or I can’t even make tea with it. I guess these really are fair weather stoves though, and I do stick with my gasoline stove for general winter use.

Anyway, the thicker inner wall seems to have made the difference here.

You never know what is going to affect the performance of these stoves!

10:50 p.m. on March 16, 2012 (EDT)
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I drink it even before it gets to the stove

6:15 p.m. on June 7, 2012 (EDT)
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hikin_jim said:

peter1955 said:

I see you have a Trangia burner in the photo. For $30, I just carry their basic kit, and get the stove, windscreen, bowl and frying pan all in one lightweight package.

With that kind of design out there, I don't bother with fixing something that 'ain't broke'.

 Hi, Peter,

What do you mean by "their basic kit?"  The Trangia 28?  Just the burner?

HJ

That would be the Trangia Mini, which comes with the burner, and has a lid and simmer ring, a bowl and frying pan lid with handle, and a small windscreen/stand.

The stove itself is only $13.50 CDN so it's  pretty cheap.

11:25 a.m. on June 8, 2012 (EDT)
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Jim, since i posted in feb i have made probably close to a hundred stoves of different styles and my favorites are made from the little 7 oz ocean spray cans or the little single serve v-8 cans. they aren't speed demons, boiling two cups takes around 5 or six minutes. i don't remember what kind of burn time i got on 1/2 oz but i used one of them in a bad storm last friday huddled under my tarp and it boiled my water and burned for a few more minutes beyond that. i test all my stoves but after doing it over a hundred times they begin to blend together. we raked coals out of the fire and set the stanco grease pot on it to cook but used the little stove for tea and coffee water. i am finding the same thing as Bob, it is amazing how much one stove can very from another when they appear to be exactly the same. i have built a few that will boil 2 cups of 60 f water in 4 or 5 minutes and burn for 20 minutes or better on an oz and then the very next one will take 9 or 10 minutes to boil, same pattern, jetting tool, height but it burns totally different, oh well thats what makes it fun. another thing i discovered in my frustration of having to use two cans to make one stove is that the lid from a can of copenhagen snuff fits the opening of the cut can perfectly so i have built quite a few stoves that have a copenhagen lid for the top and they work just as well as the traditional stoves. i also use the copenhagen cans to protect the smaller stoves. i cut the bottom out of one and tape it to the top of another to get the height i need then i roll a foil windscreen and place it inside then add the stove and put on the lid. it has been pretty durable for me and the lid acts as my primer pan as well. the little stove is so convienient i carry 2.

earl

2:12 p.m. on June 9, 2012 (EDT)
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I have made many stoves myself . I have found the size makes a big difference and how many jets you have . I also clean the burrs around the jets. The only time i used a soda burner on a trip it worked great.  I just  like my vargo . Pot stand is built in. I still make tons of stoves . Most i just give away. Well guys just keep trying . It's great to learn more. thanks for the info.  

7:20 p.m. on June 9, 2012 (EDT)
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i made another stove last night with twice the jets as usual, it burned much softer than usual. i didnt time it yet but it boiled 2 cups in what seemed to be average time. i dont even know how many jets my can stoves have, i just wrap a strip of ruled note book paper around them and put a jet at each line. i have only made one bottle stove so far, it worked ok but other than the durability i dont see the extra work paying for its self. i plan on making some more just for fun though.

@Mudfoot, ive given alot of stoves as well. most people look at me like thsy dont beleive me when i tell them i want their empty coke can to make a stove with.

 

earl

12:14 a.m. on June 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Can i have your can when you're done . That is when you get the look . How about checking a can for dents at the gas station before you buy it . Those thicker can are sometimes hard to get . I don't drink energy drinks (maybe when diving far). just gear geeks .cool

1:44 p.m. on June 10, 2012 (EDT)
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@mudfoot

you too? most of the cans i started with came from vending machines because we dont drink much soda and the little dings i never noticed before agrivated me to death. i dont do the energy drinks either and aint much of a beer drinker but i bought a six pack of bud in the aluminum bottles just for the bottles a month or more ago and four of them are still in the fridge. i also bought a fosters just for the can to make a pot and i'll probably end up pouring it out. a young guy who works where i work told me he is going to build a stove with two fosters cans, anyone here tried that yet? if so how did it work out?

 

earl.

4:54 p.m. on June 10, 2012 (EDT)
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I have a stove made from two fosters can bottoms.

I did not make the stove myself, it is an older Minibulldesigns stove called the Sketi.

The Sketi I have is a pressurized stove with a thumbscrew in the fill hole & it has priming wick which I prefer.


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That's it on the right.

This stove design can hold a lot of fuel so longer cook / boil times are no problem. When your done just blow it out and save the rest of the fuel.


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This not a good photo, but the jets are on the inside of the can rim.

Mike G.

11:00 p.m. on June 10, 2012 (EDT)
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Must be the beer I just drank but the title can be misread if you know what I mean.

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8:53 a.m. on June 11, 2012 (EDT)
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interesting Mike. i guess if the jets were on the outside you would have to use a 16 inch pan to keep the heat under the pan. i may buy a couple more cans of fosters and build one with jets inside the rim and one with the jets outside.

i have considered using a wick of some kind but figured more parts ='s more things to go wrong. the last stove i made i used a peice of foil as a prime pan and i have a small peice of foil in each of my bags so even if i forget the prime pan with the standard stoves i still have a way to get primed.

earl.

10:46 a.m. on June 11, 2012 (EDT)
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It's great to notice the experimentation. I've enjoyed doing the same over the years. You might consider experimenting with insulating both the bottoms and sides below your burner exits to increase efficiency. Thermal conduction from below the stove and ambient air temperature affect the performance of the stove. Getting a more efficient fuel is another means of improving stove performance. I've used acetone alone and in combination with mineral spirits as both are readily available. 96% alcohol is 30,000 BTUs while acetone is 29,000 BTUs. Butane is over 47,000 BTUs and represents an interesting problem owing to its' properties as to how we could develop a far more efficient alcohol type stove. 

3:51 p.m. on June 12, 2012 (EDT)
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Acetone? i would have thought it to volitile. i may try to talk someone else into trying it first.

made a fosters side burner last night and wasn't impressed. put a half oz in it and it was just forming some tiny bubbles when it ran out. i may try it again with some more fuel to fry an egg or something and see how that goes. the flame patern was good though and worked well with my imusa cup.

on a side note i cooked my dinner on one of my little mini v-8 can stoves last night, colemans san juan stoganoff. i would recomend it. the pasta completely cooked in the time dictated on the package and those who like firmer pasta could probably cut that almost in half. all i added was salt and it was more than enough for one person. 4.88 at china mart.

 

earl.

11:50 p.m. on June 13, 2012 (EDT)
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I used acetone a few weeks ago, just experimenting, if I could have got close enough to put on 2 cups of water, it would have boiled in probably 20 seconds. I would not recommend useing acetone.

 Anybody every around one of those old stoves that start huffing and vibrating then they start to glow? Imagine that only in a small uncontrolable aluminum ball of fire. If you try this, I suggest doing it outside.

One good thing about it was, it didnt take but a second to get a good flame pattern, but the next second it was an uncontrolable fire breathing aluminum hockeypuck.

One more bit of advise, if you try this, have a video camera on the experiment.

4:39 p.m. on June 16, 2012 (EDT)
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Acetone as fuel??!!  Well I guess that would be OK if your trying to blow something up!  :D

I am very new to alcohol stoves and used on on my week long trip on the WCT.  I loved it, it worked great for breakfast and dinners. 

The stove I made is like the Cat stove, but the can ended up being steel not aluminum.  Made it a lot harder to make the holes.  Bent my hole bunch all to heck. :) 

I ended up putting about a 1/2 inch of fiberglass insulation in the bottom of the stove.  It made the burn times a lot longer.  With out the insulation I was getting abut 6 min and just starting to boil the water.  With the insulation it would run between 10 and 12 minutes and I could continue to use it to cook stuff after I boiled the water.

As anyone else experimented with insulation?

Also, does anyone know who is still making the aluminum bottles like Bud was?  My understanding is that they are not making them any longer.  Coors makes a aluminum can/bottle but it is just normal thickness not the heave stuff. 

Wolfman

6:22 p.m. on June 16, 2012 (EDT)
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Wolfman said:

"As anyone else experimented with insulation?"

A couple of the stoves I have came with carbon felt, same concept.

This slows the burn I think, and if you are putting out more heat than your pot can absorb at one time (sorry for the oversimplification) adding insulation or carbon felt makes for a more efficient stove.

Just my own observation.

Mike G.

9:20 p.m. on June 17, 2012 (EDT)
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WolfMan Bud is still producing the aluminum bottles, i just ought a six pack a few weeks ago just for the bottles. i bought them at china mart and they only had bud light in the bottles.

have you tried soda cans yet? if you enjoy tinkering it wont take long and you will be able to turn out a stove in 15 or 20 minutes. i see a stove in everything i see lately and have made them out of all kinds of cans, i started one last night from a brake cleaner can. like you i started with a cat stove but the longer burn times i was able to get with soda and other cans sold me, plus i just enjoy making and testing them. i got a little coleman folding stove for fathers day along with a tiny egg poaching pan and just had to try it so i had a couple of egg on toast sandwiches for lunch today.....Pretty sweet.

earl.

9:29 a.m. on June 18, 2012 (EDT)
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Smithcreek, Yes I started with soda cans.  It's been sorta hit and miss with them.  That thin aluminum is hard for me to work with.  it seems to split a lot and then they leak.   I have seen several vids on making stoves with the heaver bottles and wanted to try that out.  I will keep my eyes open and check some other stores for the bottles.

Wolf

2:29 p.m. on June 18, 2012 (EDT)
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i know what you mean Wolf, i have trown quite a few out recently because they split. i just started having this problem so i think i am just rushing to get it done. another problem i just started having is the crimp trying to run up to the top as i put them together and crimping less than a 1/4" seems to help that.

i have a sheet metal 3 blade crimper i used for a few stoves but i have gone back to using a small pair of mustache triming scissors and i like that better, i had little luck using shims alone so i quit trying that pretty quick.

 

earl.

9:10 a.m. on June 19, 2012 (EDT)
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To get the outer can over the inner can, I take a pair of wire dike pliers (wire cutters) and just crimp the outer can every 1/8 - 1/4 inch. Works by stretching the can ever so slightly.

 

My pliers are very well used, so they dont cut easily, if yours are sharper you may have cutthrough problems.

2:09 p.m. on June 19, 2012 (EDT)
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To get the outer can over the inner can, I use the bottom of a whole can and gently expand the mouth of the outer can.

Don’t get it stuck on the base of the whole can, but you can work and twist it, expanding the mouth of the outer can that is to be the lower part of your stove.

I also cut short slits into the bottom of the inner can, which helps me fit the two together, and I use a little piece of aluminum from the sidewall of a can as a “shoe horn” when fitting them together.

Inside a Pepsi-can type stove,  I also use a bead of Napa high temp gasket maker inside the top of the inner can to seal the inner wall at the top. It works quite well.

I put just the smallest amount of this same gasket sealer on the edges of the outer can when I press the cans together. It acts as a lubricant. I certainly have crushed my fair share of soda cans, but now I’ve got my technique down and I can knock six stoves out in an evening.

One of my more interesting stoves I’ve made was one of John Bednars   “Turbo Cat” stoves, a laminar air flow design using fiberglass inside to slow the combustion

      http://mysite.verizon.net/k3ct/Stoves/TurboCatII.htm

I find the basic soda can type the most generally useful stove, but the simple Super Cat with holes all around where you simply set the pot on top to elegant and lightweight to ignore, at least for solo use and simple cooking.   

3:24 p.m. on June 19, 2012 (EDT)
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well Bob i know what my next stove project is now.

 

earl.

9:53 a.m. on June 20, 2012 (EDT)
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Nice Stove Bob, and thanks for the link.  I will need to try this out out. 

Question;  Do you have to use the aluminum cat food cans?  I don't have a cat and usually use the same size can for something in human food but they are steel. I have a hard time finding aluminum food cans.

Wolf

12:37 p.m. on June 20, 2012 (EDT)
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I did build a version of the Turbo Cat with steel cans and it worked well enough.

I find steel Super Cat stoves don’t work as well as the aluminum ones do though. The little “Fancy Feast” cans do seem to work the best here.

I’ve built soda can stoves out of various thicknesses of aluminum, and generally I prefer the thinner ordinary soda and beer cans to the stouter stuff.

Some of the heavier stoves take several minutes to fully warm up and ignite the jets, especially in cold weather, so I get much faster boil times with ordinary soda can stoves.

That doesn’t seem to be an issue with the laminar air flow stoves like the classic Cat Can and Turbo Cat stoves, they seem to work well when made out of steel or aluminum.

I wish I had a brass Trangia burner to compare my home made stoves to! How long does a Trangia take to heat up and get the side jest going?   

11:30 a.m. on June 23, 2012 (EDT)
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Wolfman said:

Smithcreek, Yes I started with soda cans.  It's been sorta hit and miss with them.  That thin aluminum is hard for me to work with.  it seems to split a lot and then they leak.   I have seen several vids on making stoves with the heaver bottles and wanted to try that out.  I will keep my eyes open and check some other stores for the bottles.

Wolf

 Wolfman, the trick to working with the thinner aluminum is to use an annealing process to soften the metal so it can be shaped / stretched easier.

The process involves heating the aluminum cans with a propane torch to around 800* F and then just letting them air cool slowly on a workbench or table.

You can buy a temp pen like Tempilstik that you mark the metal with, apply heat, and at the precise temp the mark will melt.

This may sound complicated but it's not and makes the cans much easier to work with as well as turning out a higher quality product.

Some people also mark with a sharpie and heat until the sharpie burns off, but I haven't tried that.

Mike G.

12:17 p.m. on June 24, 2012 (EDT)
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Mike G.  Wow thanks for the tip!  I know about annealing, but never though of using it on a soda can.  I have all the stuff I would need to do that as I do a fair amount of soddering(?) at work.

I have been checking a fair amount of stores but have yet to find any of the heavy bottles.  It's not a huge deal.  I have been told that they are not making them any more and what is out there is the older stock.  Given the price of raw aluminum these days it would not surprise me that they stopped making them. 

I did find some Coors cans that have a cone shaped top.  They are very similar to the cans that tetkoba uses for his outrageous stoves.  If you have not seen this guys stuff it very cool.  Some of his designs are a "little" over the top, but might be fun to build none the less.  The link is his YouTube page. 

Here it hopping next weekend is raining and I have time to play with stoves!!

Wolfman

5:45 p.m. on July 6, 2012 (EDT)
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Trail Designs' alky stove is the result of extensive testing and discarded designs.  But the result was a stove that is good at all altitudes. So you may want to climb to, say, 12,000 ft. to see if your favorite stove still works well.

Me? I'm an ESBIT fanboy.

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