Introduction: Hobo Stove From Tin Can - Traditional High Tech Camp Stove

Picture of Hobo Stove From Tin Can - Traditional High Tech Camp Stove

This is the tin can twig stove hoboes have used for cooking since time immemorial.
It's quick to make, easy to light, and does a lot of cooking with mere handfuls of twigs for fuel.
It doesn't make much smoke or shine much light, in case you don't want to be found.
It also doesn't leave fire scars or start forest fires very well.
That's good for both fugitives and environmentalists.

Another tin can would be the cooking pot for a living-history hobo re-enactment enthusiast. Preferably with a piece of wire through two holes through the lip to hang it like a little bucket.

Here's my favorite can for a hobo stove, a 3 liter olive oil can. I'm cooking salmon heads and giblets into soup on a driftwood pile in the rain in British Columbia. I consumed the olive oil during the weeks it took me to learn to catch salmon. This is a new stove, the paint hasn't all burned off yet, and it needs more air intakes. With just one door there will be charcoal left in the ashes. With three doors everything gets burned, and it's easier to feed fuel.

Step 1: Don't Do This

Picture of Don't Do This

The hobo stove and some common sense will leave your campsite looking like wilderness.

Here's what bad camping leaves behind.
Please notice the pile of crap and toilet paper just behind the fire scar. Rain has washed the sand off the top of it. The bacteria washes down into the oyster beds and the tribe won't be able to sell their oysters. In this area you're supposed to crap or dispose of crap in deep water in the current, or a couple stone's throws from the water in a > 8" deep pit.

Strange to say, but kayakers are the bad guys in this case, much worse than power boaters even.

In case you're tuning in late and want the current eco-dogma,
shellfish farming is usually good for the environment, whereas salmon farming is usually bad.

Step 2: Pressure Cooker on Hobo Stove

Picture of Pressure Cooker on Hobo Stove

Here I am west of Lake Okeefenokee, Florida, in the swamp along Fisheating Creek.
I'm cooking a Plecostemus South American Armored Catfish I caught with my cast net.
I finished eating the olive oil in this can during the days it took to learn to throw the net. These are aquarium sucker fish that were dumped out and are breeding wild and growing large.
The meat is very yellow and very tasty. The thick scales fit together in a very interesting way but I couldn't think of any use for them.

The pressure cooker is heavy but that doesn't matter so much in a canoe.
It's a joy to use. I can cook all my food for a day at once.
I would boil a dozen eggs with a stainless bowl of bread dough resting on top of that.
All inside the cooker.
I formed the dough into a bagel shape so the steam would cook it better, and it got steamed into a really good bagel. Especially when I used sea-water in the dough. That was the perfect amount of salt.

I just get a roaring fire going until the cooker is steamed up, then I forget about it, fire dies down and goes out. Everything gets cooked perfectly and I don't have to pay attention to it.

This cooker has two more bottom doors on the sides that you can't see, and burns the fuel completely. There's no charcoal in the ash.

If you don't want soot on your pot wipe soap all over it before putting it over the fire. Afterward the soot will wash off easily.

Step 3: Be Your Own Hobo

Picture of Be Your Own Hobo

We're going to make the hobo stove seen here.
The license plate is optional, but something like that, even a folded piece of tinfoil, will be nice so you won't harm the surface under your stove.
This stove is tall and narrow, so you'll need to pound three sticks around it to support your pot, or put it between three rocks, or hang your pot over it.

Get the tallest can you can find.
You need height for convection to give you good airflow.
This coconut juice can is good. It's tall and the steel is pretty heavy for a drink can so it'll last a while.

Food cans had lead solder in the joints until 1993, so don't use old cans.
Pineapple cans have zinc plating inside in case you think you need to breathe more zinc.

Step 4: Make the Initial Incision

Picture of Make the Initial Incision

Cut an X or asterisk in the top of the can.

Warning from my Granddad: "Don't cut toward yourself and you won't get cut."

These flaps are going to be the pot supports. The bottom on this can is heavier than the top, so I'm turning the can upside down to make them. Also the other end has the pry-tab open, and that makes it hard to make the pot supports turn out right.
Often you'll get a better result by opening the can by cutting the X instead of whatever the vendor intended.

Step 5: Pry Up and Crease the Flaps

Picture of Pry Up and Crease the Flaps

Pry up the flaps. Don't cut yourself on the sharp corners.
Crease each flap down the middle as seen in the second photo.
That makes them a lot stronger.

Step 6: Cut Doors

Picture of Cut Doors

Cut some drawbridge style doors in the sides near the bottom.
Those are the air intakes and stoking doors.

Step 7: First Use

Picture of First Use

The first time you use it, wait for a while for the paint to burn off it. Stay back and don't breathe the fumes. Leave that for the youngsters who still enjoy the smell of burning plastic.

It's really easy to start a fire in one of these stoves. Start with whispy stuff or paper if you're still that close to civilization. Then work up to pencil sized stuff. Thumb thickness is probably the most you'll want for cooking. Thicker than that tends to smoke cuz you'll put in wet ones by accident.
You can toss it in the top before you put the pot on, and then poke them in under the pot.
You can feed longer sticks in gradually through the doors in Seminole star fire fashion.

It's so quick to start one of these, sometimes I'll pull over and do my cooking at a rest stop or by the side of the road. I'll put an aluminum license plate under the stove so I won't put a mark on the pavement. A folded piece of aluminum foil or a flat rock would be just as good.

I don't worry about hassles from authorities, because it's so easy to move the fire or put it out. But I've never been hassled. The rules about fires are usually about "open fires" and this isn't that.

Step 8: Three Stick Pot Stand and Palmetto Leaf Windscreen

Picture of Three Stick Pot Stand and Palmetto Leaf Windscreen

I'll sometimes pound three sticks into the ground to support my pot.
That's good if the pot is too wobbly or heavy on top the stove or if I want to get it a bit higher off the stove.

If it's windy you'll want to put a windscreen around your stove. Otherwise the heat will all get blown away and cooking will take too long.

Here I've made a windscreen from palmetto leaves stuck in the ground and I'm cooking on a three stick pot stand with a can of Mexican "Fuego" brand sterno. I'm in the jungle back from the beach on a biosphere reserve in the Yucatan Peninsula. This is oatmeal with olive oil, cocoa and honey in it.


timoftheshire (author)2014-06-27

made one of these from a coconut water can but can't keep the fire going in it. Any suggestions?

Skwurlito (author)timoftheshire2015-02-22

make sure you have enough little holes to allow the fire to breathe. if you didn't make the top a crown make a stand or holes up top as well.

Skwurlito made it! (author)2015-02-22

I made one today out of a tin can... the hard way, with a screw driver and a prybar. I wallowed breathing holes with the screw driver. I started the "door" the screw driver then used the pry bar to wallow the hole big enough to feed fuel through. took like an hour. I skipped the crown because I plan to reuse it and don't want any new holes in my pack. I instead made a few more hole right at the top. its shorter than this one so the effectiveness suffers a bit but works great for my little aluminum mess kit.

Skwurlito (author)2015-02-20

I'm disappointed. I thought of a mini fire pit in a can. Built it feeling proud, turns out there are thousands of variations of it. Some sold in stores. Sad day. My design has only one little door and holes around the bottom, similar to my trash drum.

moneyfuskie935 (author)2012-01-31

I just threw away that exact can! Literally- 2 Seconds ago! Arghh! someone just dumped some rotten meat on top! NOOOOOOOOO!

darman12 (author)moneyfuskie9352013-08-22


darman12 (author)2013-08-22

I love this idea! I bet cooking on the side of the road makes you look like a hobo, haha.

BangZingPow (author)2012-07-29

Nicely done.

As long as the stove doesn't tip, it should work great.

Good job.

Everett De Morier

heathbar64 (author)2012-06-09

this reminds me a lot of the rocket stove.

KittyF (author)2012-04-12

there's at least one south amearican fish that has scales so large, thick and rough that they are used as fingernail files. I bought one once. I bet the piranha's can't get THOSE. LOL

Soulsbane (author)2012-04-03

I love coconut juice! I think you could make another stove with that license plate!

lennyb (author)2007-12-24

actually im waiting for someone to make a spam stove out of a spam can. :)

hahahahahaha. its really hard to find spam now days. I haven't seen it in 4+ years.

Really? It is super easy to get in California.

Go to Wally World.

It's in my supermarket in Australia

I own some, my dad bought some in hawaii, it's everywhere.

I find it in shoprite all the time

I had some just the other day.

well this site has a lot of i t>:D

lol. try they have LOADS more. and I meant Spam, the mystery meat in a can.

I know:) i was just jk

chardster (author)Derin2008-07-14

I had some spam about 7 months ago i think. found it at a Sam's Club. Not that bad.

corey_caffeine (author)chardster2008-07-27

wally world carries it but watch out for wal-martians

lennyb (author)corey_caffeine2009-03-20

hey i work at wal mart does that make me a walmartian? cool take me too your loss leader heh heh

Here in the south it's everywhere, if you really want spam and can't find it where you are, go to, the also have different varieties of spam like hickory smoked, bacon, hot & spicy, garlic, cheese etc... You get the idea, but yeah, you can get it there.

KittyF (author)2011-11-05

Why are you showing a stove made from an Olive Oil can on the first page and your description talks about a juice can? which one is better? or easier to make or use? What if I have two olive oil cans and no juice cans? I also have a Service sized Bean can, HUGE. as big as the old coffee cans were before they began gypping us and pretending we were getting the same amount of coffee.

chuckr44 (author)KittyF2011-12-29

Any size can will do as long as it holds your pot, and does not melt. Thus, soda cans are too thin and will melt in a normal fire. Regular cans for food are often thick enough.

The can can be round or square or rectangular. Just be sure to have openings in the bottom and top for air flow.

Blaaken (author)chuckr442011-12-31

Actually, most food cans, like the one that hold born or bean are made from tin or steel, whereas soda cans are made from aluminum. aluminum melts at a much lower temp than tin or steel.

KittyF (author)chuckr442011-12-29

Ok, How did the olive oil can do with stability? any issues with that? it looks precarious.

zays (author)2011-09-11

A wood gas stove is when the wood is heated and it releases a natural gas thats very flammable. Then the gas is ignited and the flame heats the wood and repeats the process. this uses all of the wood chip instead of just burning the wood chip

ensnaturae (author)2011-07-17

I want to understand WOOD GAS but no one explains in an idiotproof way.
. Why does it help to make more woodgas, if you have one can inside another. Would it help to use rockwool insulation between the two cans?
Very good!I wish I was there, it sounds wonderful.

Gileohi (author)ensnaturae2011-09-05

That is heated, not burned - although the wood can turn to coal depending on the way the wood gasifier works.

Gileohi (author)ensnaturae2011-09-05

Wood gas is a flammable gas, much like propane, given off of wood (Any kind) when heated in an oxygen deprived area. The first vehicles used it as fuel.

Aero9 (author)2011-07-13

What exactly can be cooked with this can, for future reference. Also, this is awesome!

abbakus (author)2010-09-30

Well done. Notice that piling up another smaller can inside the first and doing some holes, you can obtain a better result because of the "wood gas" you burn, raising the efficiency and lowering the smoke. Search on youtube for "wood gas stove". I've made one and it's easy and works very well!

freecell64 (author)2010-08-07

If i ever do that backpacking trip i wanted then ill deff bring either that or one of those explosive can stoves

jasongbc (author)2010-07-12

@Pyro: Looks like a knife or any other thin, sharp object less than or equal to the diameter of the can that's being cut. Maybe even another can, a hard shell, a sharp rock bashed with another rock...

peacenique (author)2010-03-09

Oatmeal with olive oil, cocoa, and honey?!

Steam Powered (author)peacenique2010-07-09

very tastah

Armchair Pyro (author)2010-07-03

What do you cut it with? *Please use proper spelling. I can read shorthand, but severe misspelling of normal words drives me insane (granted it's not a very far drive...). thanks.

rickets (author)2010-06-09

i used a 1 gallon cofee can to make a charcoal starter (worked wonderful) , i laid a couple of metal tent stakes across the top of it to make coffee on the cold mornings while camping. here's how i made it the top of the can was gone ,i attached a metal handle with a couple of nuts and bolts so it would stick out about a foot so i could handle it without getting burned too bad (needed leather gloves) , i cut some (5) pie shaped slots (about an inch wide) in the bottom of the can , around the outside bottom of the can i used a can opener to open holes about every 1 inch , stuff a couple of pieces of crumpled newspaper in the bottom , fill with charcoal , light paper with match , this worked very well and i used it for years for starting my barbecue and camping

arjo (author)2010-05-09

Huck yuck yuck yck,

perfect Instrucktable, simple obvious detail, good dollop of humour, and whilst not somthing i need to know right now today, Im 100% sure, now ive read it, I'll use it some time in the future.

Cheers ;-)

... gotta get me a Make subscription, keep you'se teknoblogging hobo's fed

 NEVER USE A SODA CAN i did and it melted!!

teslafan100 (author)2010-01-21

Hey that was from Les Stroud survivorman.

Pentacle (author)2009-10-04

Very cool!

QuestionConvenience (author)2009-09-27

i modified the design of the first stove a little to work better. cut the top out using the can opener, cut two little doors on the narrow sides at the bottom, and then pushed lengths from a wire coat-hanger through small holes to form a grid for the fuel. The grid vertically bisects the doors, so that fuel (sticks) can still go in the doors (top half) but unrestricted air-flow moves through the bottom half of the doors, up through the fuel and out the top of the 3L olive oil can. This was much more efficient. Thanks for the overall idea!

pleabargain (author)2009-08-06

Thanks for posting and if you have any other tips/tricks to make traveling less expensive and more adventurous pass on your ideas, please.

dasgemuse (author)2009-07-07

the amount of zinc in a tin can will not be near enough to hurt you. and by the second use of the stove, it should be mostly burned off. this is a tried and true method of cooking more efficiently

kill-a-watt (author)2007-10-23

The insides of pineapple cans sure look galvanized, but how, what, why with the zinc? You would think that the zinc would get dissolved with the acid and poison someone.

About This Instructable




Bio: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output ... More »
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