Introduction: Can Stove

Picture of Can Stove

Build a backpacking stove out of two aluminum cans: design is strong, reliable, and extrordinarily lightweight, burns alcohol fuels, and can be made for next to no investment of money. Boil water rapidly, deploy a 'campfire' in the middle of your house, and amuse yourself, with a stove that weighs ten grams and costs nothing.

Step 1: Assemble Your Parts

Picture of Assemble Your Parts

You're going to need:

Two empty aluminum cans and one full one. The type matters very little, although there are some bottom-brand beer cans that are simply too thin to make a good stove; this assumes a 12 oz can although obviously the 14 oz tall cans work since I'm using one.

A single edged razor blade

Some number of thumbtacks and a nail

A piece of flue tape (ideal) or heavy gauge aluminum foil

A ruler, book, and sharpie marker

Your life will be made easier by a hammer and a pair of scissors

Step 2: Mark Burner Holes

Picture of Mark Burner Holes

Using the Sharpie, mark the bottom of one can with 32 holes. Start with two across, then four square, eight, sixteen and finally 32; eyeballing can give good results if done carefully.

Step 3: Puncture With Thumbtacks

Picture of Puncture With Thumbtacks

Go around the burner puncturing every other hole with a thumbtack, then go around again to get the rest of them. Be careful in this and other steps not to dent the can any more than necessary, handle towards the top and bottom and put pressure as evenly around as possible. The thumbtacks will bend, some of them, so you'll be going through a few.

Step 4: Add Center Drain Holes

Picture of Add Center Drain Holes

Take the nail and pound in seven holes in the middle of the bottom in a 'daisy' pattern. These are where the fuel drains into the chamber. The full can works fine to pound in the nail but a hammer works better.

Step 5: Score a Groove

Picture of Score a Groove

Taking the book and the razor blade, score a groove several times around the base of the can, 7/8" up.

Step 6: Cut Can and Peel Along Score

Picture of Cut Can and Peel Along Score

using the razor blade and scissors if desired, cut through the can near the score, and cut down towards the score at an angle. Peel the aluminium towards the score, and then along the score: it should part easily, leaving a reasonably smooth rim.

Step 7: Cut Out Bottom Section

Picture of Cut Out Bottom Section

Using your book and razor, score the second can 1 3/8" from the base, and cut and peel along the score to make the bottom of the stove.

Step 8: Cut the Middle Wall

Picture of Cut the Middle Wall

Out of the wall of one of the cans, cut a 1 1/2" by 7" strip; this can be done by scoring and peeling but scissors work better. At least one long wall should be smoothly cut.

Step 9: Fit the Wall

Picture of Fit the Wall

Taking the middle strip, fit it to the inside of the top piece. Check the fit, making sure that the edge that contacts the top piece is entirely smooth. Tape down the bottom side of the middle strip with a piece of flue tape or crimp it down with heavy guage aluminum foil; flue tape is just heavy gauge aluminum foil with adhesive anyway, and the adhesive dissolves in alcohol so it won't be there long.

Step 10: Cut Notches in Middle Wall

Picture of Cut Notches in Middle Wall

Three V shaped notches in the bottom part of the middle wall, evenly placed.

Step 11: Build a Jig

Picture of Build a Jig

Taking the cut off top of one of the cans, slide it over the bottom of the full can, getting it as tight as you can by pounding it against the table a few times. This lets you drink the full can later, and is used in the next step.

Step 12: Jig the Bottom and Join

Picture of Jig the Bottom and Join

Taking the bottom section, press it over the jig and remove. This part is tricky; lubricant would help but I confess I haven't bothered as the aluminum is just that smooth. You can get a bind but if you screw in and down then out and up without stopping you can jig it smoothly. Do NOT dent the rim at this stage; if you do, carefully smooth it on both sides with a thumbnail.

Now, put the middle piece into the top piece as before, and fit the top piece so it slides inside the bottom piece. I use a shim, made by smoothing a cut piece of can with sandpaper, to fit these pieces together. It takes practice, and is the hardest part of the project; you will really benefit from undented pieces at this stage of the game, but I've assembled some pretty sad looking pieces with a little patience. Once together, push the top down into the bottom until the middle wall engages; this often includes a 'click' noise that makes it clear that you've done the thing to the nines.

Step 13: Ignite!

Picture of Ignite!

You're done! Due to the double-walled construction and the integral can bottoms, the stove is much stronger than an empty aluminum can and can be expected to last years if you want it to. The best fuel is methanol, which burns blue and ignites quickly. Absolute ethanol is expensive, but denatured alcohol isn't and works well. The photos are taken with Iso-HEET isopropanol, probably 91%, which is what I had on hand; it works but burns yellow and is less efficient as the combustion continues up the sides of the pot, uselessly for heating food or water.

The stove is filled through the holes in the center, and primed by burning either a pool in the center or a little sloshed over the sides, which I find efficient. When the fuel in the chamber starts to boil, vapor rises up the side and comes out the holes, giving us our gas stove. It will burn merrily until it burns out, and with accesories you can simmer it, too; perhaps a later instructable there.

Special thanks are owed to Scott Henderson of PCTHiker and Zen Seeker of for the substantial technology behind this critter, as well as the anonymous distillers of cognac who developed it in the first place, or who are at least as far upstream as the story takes us.

The main known disadvantages of the stove are difficulty lighting in cold and windy conditions, as it doesn't carry a lot of thermal mass. A good windscreen and insulating pad would solve these problems; I have a fantasy of Jb welding a piece of aerogel to the bottom so you could fire it on ice without melting it. These stoves are favored by thruhikers, and there's just something liberating about building a 10 gram stove from dumpstered parts.


NoelM3 (author)2017-12-05

putting a filler inside helps contain spills should you drop it or knock it over. safety is always first.


mrwonton made it! (author)2017-08-14

Made it! Check out my instructable-mrwonton

mrwonton (author)2017-07-11

the book- razorblade thing to score the can was ingenious

Oles KATA made it! (author)2016-05-02

This my first can stove (energy drink "burn").

christines105 (author)2016-05-01

Can you refill yours while its burning ?.

JohnDaSurivor (author)2012-01-04

Doctors in the U.S Don't recomend that you use aluminum cans or anything aluminum to boil water but yet... we do lol.

The Oxidation of Aluminum may be linked to demontia

windoz (author)JohnDaSurivor2016-04-30

... or misspelling!

MatthewK41 (author)JohnDaSurivor2016-04-29

I know i heard that somewhere, i just can't remember, but I've been using aluminum for as long as I can remember. ?

They recommend not cooking your food directly in the Aluminum can or pot, but this aluminum is not touching your food, so it is ok. As long as you’re cooking the food in a Stainless steel or cast iron can or pot, your ok.

ColinC36 (author)2016-04-29

Made this a few years ago and I drilled a hole and screwed a slotted bolt for a screwdriver or coin to undo it. works a treat.

HarryM10 (author)2016-04-23

I know this is an old thread, but search it out. I learned to make a stove from one can with just a pocket knife. Much easier and in a SHTF situation you won't be packing pins and stuff.

JouniM1 (author)HarryM102016-04-28

A very simple solution is enough as long as you control the air flow and fuel consumption, which is the point of having such burners and not just an open pot filled with ethanol. I have made two alternatives, one very similar to the one in this article and another from a bit sturdies can. The model is from the Swedish Trangia, where the burner is open in the middle to allow filling up fuel without touching the burner and to allow lighting the burner more easily.

I made some tests with my junkyard burners against the original Mini Trangia. The text is in Finnish, but the images and charts tell the story.

ValeryS3 (author)2016-04-28

oh.. Forgot to mention, it is self heating ))) need only energy to start, then works just by adding some chopped wood ;o)

ValeryS3 (author)2016-04-28

oh.. Forgot to mention, it is self heating ))) need only energy to start, then works just by adding some chopped wood ;o)

ValeryS3 (author)2016-04-28

I've made a mini wood gasolator from 3 empty conservation cans, and it works perfectly!

ValeryS3 (author)2016-04-28

I've made a mini wood gasolator from 3 empty conservation cans, and it works perfectly!

eng_Andy made it! (author)2015-11-29

I made an extra-lightweight one for a purpose that I hope to write up on here soon.

only used 16 holes, and with methylated spirit (the only given
ingredient was Ethanol, but clearly with a dye and bitter additive),
testing in a kitchen it was able to heat a small saucepan as shown, but
may apply more heat with a small stand.

The cost was near zero as I only
used a tiny bit of some aluminium tape that I already happened to have,
along with a couple of empty cider cans pulled from a recycling bin.

After deciding that using a coin would add too much much weight for my purpose, I tried covering the holes by forming the bottom of a small individual apple pie dish
into the top and then cutting around it to make a very light and
snugly-fitting cap. With this method you really should put the cap on
before lighting the stove so that you can get it in place without burning your fingers, and it might also be possible to produce an extinguishing lid this way by forming an aluminium pie dish to the whole top surface, or cutting out another can bottom.

I agree with lime3D that this process would probably have been a lot easier if the first can had been packed with sand when punching holes into it, as trying to hold both the can steady and a tiny nail steady while tapping it with a hammer really called for three or four hands, so this is something to do on a day out at a beach and/or with a friend to help.

eng_Andy (author)eng_Andy2015-11-29

Damn copy-pasting messed up line returns that looked fine in this box. I wish we could still edit comments.

ValeryS3 (author)eng_Andy2016-04-28

heh ... me too like a feature like editing ;o)

Rani_Z (author)eng_Andy2016-04-28

Filling the can with water and freezing it works really well for keeping it dent free, also. The ice will allow you to use the hammer quickly and easily for punching the holes, and the blade to cut the can walls, even better than sand because it won't shift even if you have to hold it tightly.

vicsar (author)Rani_Z2016-04-28

Thanks! That is clever. I have done this before an never tought of it.

ValeryS3 (author)2016-04-28

What if .. using a gasoline ??? smell doesn't matter.. temperature matters ;o) have you tried?

ValeryS3 (author)2016-04-28

Well, I have seen dozens of such projects and made quite a few.. but never thought about a double wall... may be interesting to try. I will.

dosserj (author)2016-04-28

The middle wall- I get a bit confused about the "top" and "bottom." Is that the top of the finished piece? The notches- are they just to allow the alcohol to flow to the outside? Thanks!

Billster36 (author)2016-02-19

how long will this burn without refueling?

lime3D (author)2015-09-10

You lost me with the jig. What is this step for? Is it just to expand the bottom/outer piece?

eng_Andy (author)lime3D2015-11-29

Yes, this is to stretch the rim of the outer piece and make it easier to fit the inner piece into it. Putting that top section over a full can seems like a wasted step to me, and I just did this by pushing my outer can-bottom with one hand onto the bottom of a full can held with my other hand, with a slight swirling motion to help work it in against the air pressure.

WilliamC78 (author)2015-10-10

I am very practical but a little lost with this. I saw a guy do it on TV but he was so quick I lost it there also. I think a cross section diagram would assist

Xilseraf (author)2011-08-04

Fill the can whit water and freezze it, is more easy to cut it

lime3D (author)Xilseraf2015-09-10

Yes, but too much water will cause the can to split, when the ice expands. You can try filling it with sand.

GypsyRvr (author)Xilseraf2013-11-17

Smart Idea!! No bending !!
Thank you,,,,I'm late but better late than no at all!!!
Thank You again!!
PS worked like a damn!!!

JulianAzz (author)2015-08-18

i love these things, great idea!

EvilNerdLord (author)2014-08-04

cold, rainy winter nights I sat around making a few instead of staring at the TV...brought one to work and gave it to my supervisor (he's a backpacker) to take home and try out...he liked it.

I still have the others.

locowoman5777 (author)2014-01-10

this all sound dangerous lol!

Saddlebredcrazy (author)2012-02-22

made 2 of these yesterday but cannot get them to light correctly. I tried rubbing alcohol (only 50%) and i wasn't surprised when it didn't work b/c it has such a low alcohol content. I also tried camp stove fuel but when I held a match up to it, the center holes lit instead of the edge holes. I tried to keep my match well away from the center, but the center holes just caught a lot easier than the rim holes so i couldn't avoid it. am i using the wrong lighting method? do i need a different type of fuel?

Tv one5 (author)Saddlebredcrazy2013-12-15

For the buring the center holes thing: Use a 20c piece.
Or as you 'mericans know em a penny

Use methyl hydrate. It is used to thin shellac and it is found in the paint section of a store and is usually labelled stove alcohol. It's cheaper to buy it this way. You can get a 4L jug.

kodemage (author)Saddlebredcrazy2012-06-25

Iso won't burn properly, too much water.

It also helps if you heat the stove a little before lighting it. I use one of those long fireplace lighters and cook the stove a little before lighting it.

rvrfinn (author)Saddlebredcrazy2012-03-10

the stove wont light unless it's heated first. The way that I have found works best is to have the stove set in a shallow dish or "priming pan." After filling your stove with the desired amount of alcohol, pour a little into the priming pan so that it collects around the base of your stove. Light the alcohol in the priming pan. it heats the stove so that the alcohol inside becomes a gas and will ignite the jets. As for the center holes lighting, the best remedy is to simply place an old penny on top of the can, covering the filling holes. Use an old penny, one from before the 80s when they were still solid copper. The modern day pennies have a zinc core which can melt and potentially mess up your stove. Would also recommend higher quality fuel than rubbing alcohol. i use HEET (gas line cleaner, 91% methyl alcohol) in mine, it burns clean, no soot and little if any smell. It's available at any gas station. Hope this helps!

GypsyRvr (author)2013-11-17

This should be published in all papers, It might stop the death of many people who live is cold and ugly conditions !!

weaponscollector94 (author)2010-09-28

would everclear work as fuel?

151-190 proof? Might, but more likely the 190 proof would. the higher the alcohol content, the better. But the non-alcohol liquid would need to be able to boil, but not extinguish the alcohol in the process.

funcky (author)2012-10-04

...I found using a sewing needle makes the perfect size holes for the burner. Too big of a hole and the flame turns yellow and not blue... The blue flame indicates a much hotter and more efficient flame and more efficient use of your fuel. But you may not be able to see the flame in the sunlight so be careful.

And use denatured alcohol, it burns very well in these stoves. You can pick up a gallon of it at stores like Lowes and Home Depot.

trevermonk007 (author)2012-08-13

i can never make one of these with out splitting the outer can how can i stop this p.s i can only get pop cans

Gelfling6 (author)2011-12-28

I've made a similar stove burner. Can't remember the exact website I found it, but the entire top part was wide open. (easier lighting I imagine.) Been able to get 16-Oz (Pint) of water boiling from just 2-oz. of alcohol.

Gelfling6 (author)Gelfling62011-12-28

I also cut the can bases to roughly 1-1/4" high, and inserted a 1-1/2" strip from one of the cans inside, with notches into the top & bottom edges, then fitted between the ridges (the actual can base if right-side up) to transfer heat down to the base, and create some kind of barrier to allow the jet holes to get some pressure. I've been since trying to improve the design, to create a solid top,but with a brass bolt through the center-top, and directing some more jets towards it.
The objective, the bolt would be a filler cap, as well as a catalyst to boil the alcohol inside..

gerrits13 (author)2011-08-13

this is a super good project i just made it in about 10 minutes and used rubbing alcohol for the fuel and it burns great and for a super long time

stringstretcher (author)2011-08-12

I used an old can of Kiwi boot polish. The top and bottom fit snugly with no leakage, and it has a device that allows me to open the can if I need to. Although the can is smaller than this instructable, it is almost "ready-made!" I simply removed the paint-coating from the outside with a Dremel and a brush, then punched holes in the perimeter... warmed it up and poof! I have a blue flame heater using ethylene (Technical spirits). Great work!

Spokehedz (author)2011-08-01

Just wanted to say that I finished the instructable just fine. Sadly, 4 cans of a fine local Microbrew had to be sacrificed in order to complete it... They will be remembered in flame!

Couple of things I noted:

+ Punching a single hole in the middle of the 'top' can, and then fitting the two halves together worked a lot better for me as I was unable to poke the holes without denting the cans by just holding it. Made fitting the two together impossible and ruined two 'bottom' cans before I realized what was happening. The single hole is there so that you don't make a pressure vessel that pops the two halves apart once you get them together. After that, punching the holes for the jets was a snap.

+ Using a full can to 'streach' out the other cans didn't really help me much... Just an observation. Might have been doing it wrong, but who knows.

+ Scoring the can required a full 3-4 passes around the can for me, and I ended up making a jig to hold the blades rather than using a book. The upshot is that I can make a bunch of these now, pretty quickly. (I have a resident soda-nut who drinks plenty of them--so I may be selling these soon!)

+ Rather than using Flue tape, I just cut some tabs that went through where the aluminum can was doubled up on itself for the internal structural support. It held it together just fine, and with the added benefit of no glue or whatever to carbonize on the inside of the stove. Also, I didn't have any flue tape...

I also made mine taller, because I goofed up and read the measurements wrong--but I don't expect that to change the overall effectiveness of the stove. The first fire is tonight after work. I'm sure it will be a fine addition to the camp pack roll.

Eddie101 (author)2011-07-10

I used cotton balls to soak up the fuel, it works really nice, you wana pull them apart though, I also used a wierd pin to poke these holes, its a pin but it has a handle.

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