Introduction: 10-Minute Pop-Can Penny Stove

Half of my last instructable draft just deleted itself while working on it. Instead of crying over spilled megabytes, I've decided to instructify another quick project from last week.

Full disclosure: I don't actually know if it took me 10 minutes or 5 or 15 to make the stove. I just know it's quick. Far quicker than it actually takes to write this!

So, to begin:

A pop-can penny stove is a small, ultralight alcohol-fueled stove for camping. It's useful as a back-up heat source for cooking, and despite its simplicity its one of the most efficient alcohol-burning set-ups available. There are more complicated versions of this stove, that likely do work better. But few are as simple or easy to make!

In a role as a back-up or emergency stove, it works quite well in conjunction with 190-proof Everclear. While there are better and far cheaper fuels available, the advantages of Everclear are that it has multiple other uses:

  • Disinfectant/sterilizer for medical treatment
  • Painkiller
  • Intoxicant
  • Solvent for tinctures
  • Cleaning solution

In addition, it is less likely to contain toxins that can be absorbed through the skin while handling, and less likely to put out dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, making it relatively safer to use in confined spaces.

With this in mind, having this in an emergency medical bag, bug-out bag, or winter vehicle kit along with a small water bottle filled with everclear will cost you only a couple ounces and very little space. It could potentially save your life, or at least save your night if your other cooking solutions aren't working out.

Step 1: Step 1: Gather Materials

Drink 2 cans of pop or beer, or find a volunteer to do it for you.

Grab a pocket knife & scissors, or a multi-tool if you have one. I used a keychain-sized leatherman tool to build the entire thing.

Grab a penny from a junk drawer or from under a couch cushion.

(Optional) find some sandpaper to smooth some of the edges. It makes it slightly safer to operate.

That's it! There's nothing here that can't be found inside your home.

Step 2: Step 2: Cut the Cans

Cut off the tops of both cans (the end with the opening to drink from). It's easiest to cut it with some scissors near the top, then peel it down to size in a spiral pattern. This ensures that the cut is nearly always smooth.

Peel or trim the cans down to a height of 2 inches or so.

Step 3: Step 3: Fit the Cans Together

Designate one tin cup as the inside piece, and the other as the outside piece. Lightly crimp the top edges of the inside can.

Face the two "cups" together, and gently press and wiggle one inside the other. Be careful to avoid cutting yourself, since sheet metal can be incredibly sharp! Continue working them together until there is a tight pressure fit, and no further movement is possible.

(Optional) On the spot where a bare edge connects with the top, take some sandpaper and soften the edges. This will make it slightly safer to use and give it a better fit.

Step 4: Step 4: Puncture Holes for Burning

There are many different patterns and models used for this type of stove, but the most common seem to be 6 or 8 holes. More will work, but are usually not necessary.

Note: the stove seems to work best if the out metal edge (the part sanded in the last step) is facing up when you puncture the burner holes. While it will work in either direction, it seems like it might leak fuel in certain circumstances if this advice isn't followed.

Using a knife tip, awl, nail, or even a sewing needle, puncture some evenly-spaced holes around the outer perimeter directly below the rim. Try to make the holes a uniform size, since any larger holes will jet more flames than the rest.

Puncture one hole in the very middle of the can, and widen it to be roughly large enough to push a pencil into. This hole will be where you pour the alcohol into, but will be covered by a penny during operation.

Step 5: Step 5: Fuel It and Light It!

Start pouring alcohol in until it's fairly full. Filling to the brim isn't necessary, but since there's no easy or safe way to refuel while it's running, you will need enough fuel to cook whatever you plan on cooking. Since all stoves burn a little differently, the best way to know fuel needs is to run tests.

Some stoves can simply have a match touched into the fuel hole, and they will begin working. If this is the case, congrats! You have a stove that's very easy to light.

If not, take a small bowl or lid (ceramic or metal only!) and fill with fuel, then place your stove directly on top. Place the penny in the middle, and light it up! Over the next 20 to 60 seconds, the heat will vaporize the alcohol, and jets will shoot the puncture holes. The flames from the starter fire will ignite those jets, and you will have a working stove.

If the jets are low enough, you can place a cooking container directly on top. If not, you will need a small pot stand of some type. Be careful not to tip over the stove while it's running, or flaming fuel will leak everywhere!

Unlike some other fuels, alcohol fires can be put out nearly instantly by a little water. Keep a small bottle near your side, and when you're done, douse the flames and let it cool.

Congratulations! In only a few minutes, using common tools and garbage from around the house, you've created one of the best ultralight backpacking stoves on the market. I'll drink to that!

Comments

author
GaryDKlein made it! (author)2015-09-11

This stove is excellent for just camping out but for backpacking, I have a much better solution. I make a candle type burner with a used tuna can, corrugated cardboard, and meat drippings. Simply cut strips of cardboard just a bit narrower than the height of the tuna can and roll them into a coil that will just fit down into the can. When cutting the strips, cut across the corrugation instead of with it.

When you get the coil of cardboard in the tuna can, set it in a throw-away pie tin and pour in hot hamburger grease until the cardboard is saturated and the corrugations filled just shy of the top edges of the cardboard.

To use, set the can on something not flammable and place three rocks evenly spaced around it to hold your skillet or pan above the burner. Light the cardboard wick in 3 or 4 places and let the flame spread over most of the surface before starting to cook.

The advantage for backpacking is much more cooking for each ounce of weight you are having to carry and there is no danger of spilling your fuel.

author
JRPeyesatsne made it! (author)JRPeyesatsne2015-09-13

I saw this option on wikipedia!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddy_Burner#/media/...
I have yet to try this, but I think it is an excellent idea! It has the downside of being more of a one-time use item, but I suppose it could be put out by being flipped over after it was half-burned. It also makes an excellent starter for a larger campfire, if you're so inclined.

There are 2 other stoves that I have yet to try, the "Super Cat Alcohol Stove", and the homemade version of the Solo Stove. Alcohol has the advantages described in the 'ible above, but the downside of a less-dense energy source. Twigs gathered on site for an efficient wood burner (like the Solo Stove) is essentially infinite, but can require more time to find dry wood. A "Buddy Burner" can kind of split the difference between the two.

author
therickster made it! (author)2015-09-08

Are we talking just common drugstore rubbing alcohol?

author
gestun made it! (author)gestun2015-09-18

That is not what he is referring to, but 91% isopropyl alcohol will work. Drugstores usually carry 91% and 70%. Get 91%.

author
GaryDKlein made it! (author)GaryDKlein2015-09-11

No, drugstore alcohol or common rubbing alcohol is diluted too much. What you want is 190 proof grain alcohol from your liquor store. Everclear is one of the brand names but there are others. Buy the cheapest they have since all you are getting is 95% raw alcohol. There is no "better" or "best". You can burn cheaper denatured alcohol from your paint store but it is poisonous and you run the risk of mixing it up with your "medicinal" alcohol.

author
RadicalDruid made it! (author)2015-09-14

I tried it, but I guess Vodka with 80% isn't enough?

author
sypher made it! (author)sypher2015-09-15

80 proof is not 80%, 80 proof is 40%. Just making sure you are not making that mistake, proof alcohol vs alcohol percentage is a bit awkward. An alcohol mix of 75% and above should have no problem burning. The ideal "penny stove" fuel is denatured alcohol... Liquid Heat, for gasoline engines, is pretty good way to find it.

author
leadoffdouble_ made it! (author)2015-09-14

Very cool! What about using a stubby soda (unopen) and popping the holes in the bottom?

author
qajaqer99. made it! (author)2015-08-29

Hey,

Great idea my 20 yo Trangia alcohol burner gave it up on my last camping trip to watch the Perseid meteors, so this will be a replacement.

author
JRPeyesatsne made it! (author)JRPeyesatsne2015-09-01

Good to hear! I've heard it works well if you stuff fiberglass insulation in it too. There are many versions out there, and they're mostly really easy to make!

author
PeterR17 made it! (author)PeterR172015-09-14

Fibreglass absorbs and holds the fuel by capillary action. That way it won't spill out if you tip or invert the burner. Also means you can put plenty fuel in it and just put it out and re-light it when next needed - but keep it in a sealed plastic bag or it will evaporate and dry out.

I have a commercial alcohol burner working like the one described and simply use a ball of toilet paper inside it for the same purpose, but I might now replace it with fibreglass wool.

author
babychildmommaloveya made it! (author)2015-09-13

I had about 5 minutes spare time before packing the kids into the car for Mass today. I've never made a penny stove but my curiosity got the best of me and I had to try! I did it, and only one "minor" nick on a finger (merely a flesh wound!). Tried it out when we got home...groovy times had by all. Thanks for the instructable!

author
JRPeyesatsne made it! (author)JRPeyesatsne2015-09-13

I'm glad to hear it worked out!

author
M. A.G made it! (author)2015-09-09

"(Optional) On the spot where a bare edge connects with the top, take some sandpaper and soften the edges. This will make it slightly safer to use and give it a better fit."

I'm sorry but the above statement makes absolutely no sense. For the life of me...

author
GaryDKlein made it! (author)GaryDKlein2015-09-11

Okay, I'll try to make sense of it for you. According to the instructions, you will cut two cans in half and discard the pop-top end. Then you trim both can bottoms so that they are about 2 inches tall when sitting on your bench or table. Designate one of the bottoms as the cup and the other as the burner.

Since the "burner" will be inserted upside down into the cup, you don't need to worry about the sharp edges where you cut that part to size with scissors. The "cup" will have the cut edges exposed even after assembly and they will slice a finger open before you can blink.

To reduce that risk, fold a piece of sandpaper over the scissor cut top rim of the cup and sand away the burrs and sharp edges. Be very careful when doing this or you will get that cut trying to prevent it. A pair of supple leather gloves would be advised while cutting the cans, doing the sanding and fitting the two parts together.

Hope this helps.

author
JamesR21 made it! (author)2015-09-11

Made one yesterday and tested it boiling a canteen cup half full of water. I used four more empty cans around the stove as supports for the cup and as a wind break. A little more experimentation to find the combination of hole sizes and fuel that works best for me and I think I have a new hiking/kayaking pack necessity. Thanks.

author
maintann made it! (author)2015-09-08

Actually better to make 3 small holes in the centre rather than one large one. Under some circumstances wit a large centre hole it is possible to get a burn back into the can & an explosion. Better 3 small, close together holes in the middle that will be covered nicely by the coin.

Easiest way to prime it is after filling place the coin & add more fuel into the hollow & light this.

In cold conditions these little beasts work best if the top edge of the bottom can extends 1/4" up past the burner holes so more heat is conducted down into the body t ohelp vaporization.

author
M. A.G made it! (author)M. A.G2015-09-09

Explosion? Alcohol? What are you drinking man? Quit sippin'on the stove fuel!

author
maintann made it! (author)maintann2015-09-10

yes it has happened. Funny thing alcohol is inflammable & if the stove becomes too hot WOOF! One of the reasons for the hole in the top with the penny sitting on it is to work as a pressure regulator. The small holes prevent flashback into the body of the stove (like the screen in a Davis lamp). Sittong the pot directly on top blocks this pressure regulator - not a good idea.

author
HaveFunWithIt made it! (author)2015-09-09

I found that a sowing machine needle works great to make the holes. There thick, strong, sharp and the base of the needle that goes into the machine is large enough to hold onto. Set the point on the can and tap it with something then press it in.

author
fulltimerart made it! (author)2015-08-29

Great emergency item to have. Just be SURE to label the alcohol bottle with its contents so someone does not take a drink of it.art

author
rpotts2 made it! (author)rpotts22015-08-29

If he sticks with Everclear, he just needs to keep it away from kids.

author
HaveFunWithIt made it! (author)HaveFunWithIt2015-09-09

I'm more worried about the automotive " Heat" brand people use. A sip of that can kill you. If using it never repackage it. This is why i switched to Everclear.

author
quas1mod made it! (author)quas1mod2015-08-30

I think he means that you should label the Everclear as rubbing alcohol, so there will be some left if you get desperate enough to drink it...

author
rustaholic made it! (author)2015-09-08

That one taller flame, Is it taller because that hole is bigger?

author
LiamOSM made it! (author)LiamOSM2015-09-08

Yes, that's what the author said in one of the image tags.

author
DonL10 made it! (author)2015-09-08

The drug store stuff has too much water in it. You need a purer mix. Look for denatured alcohol in the paint section or Heet(yellow bottle) in the automobile section.

author
Arx made it! (author)2015-09-08

If you make the edge of the outer can stick up slightly so it is in front of the flames, the heat will boil the alcohol, giving you much better jets that will boil water more quickly. It also allows you to pour a bit of alcohol on top after putting the penny on, and that will start it without requiring an extra container.
If you Google the original penny stove it has a good explanation of how it works.

author
thejaq made it! (author)2015-09-08

Nice job. Looks good. I have one that is about 6 years old. Has taken about 40 trips, maybe used 200 times. The penny and area for the penny have collected soot, but the rest shows little signs of use. I use 1 tbs of 91% isopropyl to bring 2 cup to a boil. I find it to be comparable or superior to the commercial stoves I have encountered.

author
Windex made it! (author)2015-09-01

Wow, I learn something new everyday.

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