Side Burner Can Stove





Introduction: Side Burner Can Stove

About: I got started making remote controlled airplanes from scratch as a kid. I really like building my own stuff!

This is a side burner aluminum can stove. It combines several different designs I've seen online, with a couple touches of my own. I own several commercial backpacking stoves; the one I'll show you in this tutorial weighs significantly less than all of them. Anyone who has gone on an overnight camping trip knows that saving weight is crucial to being able to hike or ride comfortably. This stove is very lightweight, usually weighing less than 15 grams, even with tape. The wide mouth makes filling this stove with fuel much easier than a conventional penny stove. The side burners make it so that this stove doesn't need a stand, after the unit has "heated up", the pot can be set directly on the stove's top. The larger version of the stove made with Fosters cans comes out to about 25 grams.

I actually carry two of these with me so I can cook two things at once, which is great for cooking actual meals. The set that I use consists of a larger higher output stove paired with a smaller lower output stove. I have found that this combination is good for making full meals. I can boil a pot of water, while heating something else up at the same time. The stove set is about 37 grams total, making it incredibly lightweight. I carry fuel in a separate container for both stoves and only pour the amount I need.

Be careful when making and using this tool, always be safe when dealing with fire.

If you like this instructable, vote for it for the outdoor contest!

Step 1: Tools & Materials

These are the tools and materials needed to complete this project.

T-Pin or Thumbtack
Xacto Knife
Hemostats (optional)
Utility Knife
Steel Wool
Loose Blade
Scrap Wood (1.5" thick)

Aluminum Cans! (2 or 3)
Aluminum or Copper Tape

Step 2: Cut Filling Hole

Using a utility knife, carefully cut around the inside edge of the bottom of the can. BE CAREFUL. This can be tricky, take care not to cut yourself. I always put in a fresh blade for this and I find it makes it much easier. After you have cut a nice deep grove around the inside edge (1-2 passes), push the blade in and cut a slit along the groove you've made. Using the slit as a starting point, the bottom of the can should be fairly easy to pop out. I sometimes use a flathead screwdriver to help enlarge the slit and push the bottom in.

Step 3: Poke Burner Holes

I made templates which make this step super easy. Download them in the "Tools and Materials" step. Just wrap them around the can, then poke holes on all the marks! I poke my holes about 1/8" from the top edge. When you tape the template to the can, space it about 1/8" from the top edge of the can. This will ensure that all the burner holes are straight and evenly spaced.

Step 4: Cut Bottom and Top

This is where the scrap wood, loose blade, and clamp come into play. Any board or boards that are 1.5" thick will work. I just clamp the blade down to the board against the table. This makes cutting the bottom and top out super easy, and they come out straight every time. Just rotate the can against the blade.

Step 5: Inside Wall

First, you need to cut off a flat piece from one of the cans you have already used. There should be a straight side from where you cut the top or bottom out. This can be used to make your initial measurements. First cut the strip down to 2 1/4" tall, I use one edge of the template to make these measurements. You are much likely to get better results if you cut this part with a straight edge. The closer your lines are to being perfectly parallel, the better the wall will seal into the top and bottom. Next, I lay the template over and cut it to the width, which is 7 5/8". I make two guide marks for cutting each slit, then use a pair of scissors to cut them. Finally, mark the holes for the fuel to pass through into the wall. I do this by laying the template over the part, then pressing a pen into the center of the circle. The holes can be pretty, or you can just cut little notches out at at the bottom.

When "linking" the wall together into a circle, put the tabs on the center of the circle. This will keep them from sticking out.

Step 6: Can Stretching

Pressing the cans together is the hardest part. There are a couple tricks for making it a little easier, but it can still be pretty tough. In my experience, "can stretching" has been quite successful. This is done by taking an extra can (a full one won't crush while your working) and placing it in the cut side of the TOP of your stove and making a swirling motion. After a minute or two of "swirling" press the (full) can directly into the TOP part of the stove. As you can see in the image for this step, if you look carefully, the can is stretched slightly. This makes fitting together all the parts MUCH easier.

Step 7: Can Crimping (Optional)

If you are having a lot of trouble fitting your TOP and BOTTOM together, a series of crimps can be made which makes it a little easier. Be careful though not to make them too large. The problem with these is they can create dents in the side part which can create leaks in the finished stove. Taping the stove in the final step can fix these dents, as long as they aren't too big.

Step 8: Pressing Together

Place the Inside Wall in the BOTTOM of the stove, with the holes at the bottom. Then align the top and carefully press the parts together. This is a lot easier said than done, but be patient. Don't worry about the inside all too much until you get the top and bottom to start sliding together. Once they start to slide together, make sure the inside wall is aligned with the top as it gets pressed completely together. It should fit in the groove.

Step 9: Remove Branding (Optional)

You can use steel wool to remove the paint if you want your stove to be raw aluminum.

Step 10: Tape (Optional, Sometimes Required)

If you did a really good job of pressing your cans together, you might not need to do this. I usually do it anyway; it adds maybe three extra grams to the stove's total weight.

Taping the top and bottom together ensures they are sealed together well. If you have any dents, they need to be taped over so they don't leak. Any leaks will also make a flame, just like the burner holes do.

Step 11: Using Your Stove

1. Fill the stove with fuel in the center
2. Light the stove (matches are easiest to use)
3. Allow your stove to heat up (roughly 60 seconds)
4. Place your pot or pan on the stove top
5. COOK!
6. Remove your pot or pan from stove
*Be sure the bottom of your pot of pan hasn't been lit!
8. Cover the stove to extinguish (It can be smothered, can't be blown out)

I use Denatured Alcohol. It can be bought at Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot. Pretty much any kind of hardware store. Its usually with the paint strippers and thinners.

When lighting your stove, it is necessary to let the stove heat up for about a minute. When it's first lit, only the center opening will burn. You will know its ready for cooking use when the flames spread through the burner holes. If you set the pot on the stove too early, it will actually extinguish the stove. This may take a little getting used to.

The only downside I have experienced with this stove is that fuel condensates on the bottom of the pot. This can be a problem because when you remove the pot the fuel which has condensed on the bottom lights and burns for several seconds. Basically, when you pick up your pot off the stove, a small flame lights on the bottom of the pot. KEEP THIS IN MIND when using the stove! Make sure you use the stove in a safe, well ventilated area, with nothing flammable within the vicinity. It is a good habit to make sure your fuel container is secured and clear from your cooking area before lighting your stove. I like to use a stone surface so I can just set the pot down anyway. Be careful when making and using this tool, always be safe when dealing with fire.

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75 Discussions

This is my third attempt at posting this question. It hasn't appeared over a matter of days, so please forgive me if it appears more than once.

Is it safe to use White Spirit sold as a paint brush cleaner in the UK as a fuel with these? I am asking because it is cheap and easily available, and I want to make these for other people and need to know what to tell them about that particular fuel. I know that Meths is recommended, and other fuels, but I am asking specifically and only about the safety of White Spirit. I would really appreciate it if anyone who answers could limit the reply to White Spirit and that description, as so many descriptions and names get mentioned, and there are various other variations and fuels, and it leaves me uncertain about whether we are talking about the same things. Just "White Spirit" in the answers to this particular post, to avoid any confusion, would really be helpful. Thanks a lot and keep it up.

1 reply

That depends where you draw a line on what's 'safe'.

White Spirit is typically made of a mixture of petroleum hydrocarbons with lengths such that it roughly approaches the same boiling point as real spirits (alcohols).

These hydrocarbons tend not to burn as cleanly and easily as alcohols, and wherever there is incomplete combustion, the exhaust products will be slightly carcinogenic if inhaled, rather than having the short-term toxicity of ethanol and methanol.

From a fire safety point of view, there is slightly more of an explosion hazard with white spirit due to the more volatile fraction of its mixture, and while you can potentially (still not advisable) put out a spilled alcohol fire with water, because water and alcohol mix, hydrocarbons are harder to deal with because they float on water.

Alcohol then gets bonus points because it can be produced renewably through fermentation of agricultural waste, instead of bringing ancient carbon back to the earth's surface. White spirit and other petroleum fuels may be cheap now, but only because its producers aren't paying the health & environmental costs of using it. They leave those hidden "externalised" costs to the rest of us.

I have been looking for something like this for a while. My questions are though. . . why the 2 or 3 cans when you end up with only needing one in the end? Also, is there anything you can burn (Lighter fluid, alcohol, ect) indoors that is safe and not toxic?

1 reply

Good point about the one can. I have made others with just one. I have used the alcohol they sell at the outdoor stores specifically made for stoves (19% ethanol / 79%methanol) in my kitchen with the stove on without any issue. Though, merely as a matter of testing it out and not on a regular bases.

I'm making my own and want to make some for family and friends, and I need to know if it is safe for us to use a particular fuel, because it is so cheap and readily available. Is it safe to use White Spirit as a fuel with these? Just to be clear, I'm in the UK and the White Spirit I'm asking about is the commonly sold fluid sold by hardware shops used for things like cleaning paint brushes.

It would be very helpful if people stuck to that description and name when answering this question, because there are all sorts of descriptions and names, and also chemical variants and other fuels, and it becomes uncertain that we are talking about the same substance when anything else is metioned.

Could we keep the answers strictly to the description, White Spirit, and to whether it is safe to use with these burners when writing answers to this question please. Thanks a lot. Much appreciated.

Specifically, is White Spirit safe to use with these burners?

By White Spirit, I mean the commonly sold paint thinner in the UK. I'm particularly interested to know if it is safe to use because it is cheaper than the other main fuel recommended and readily available. I'm making stoves for other people. I need to know what fuel to recommend, and as the people I am making them for are pretty skint, I am looking to see if it would be a cheap fuel. I'm not interested in any other fuels at this stage and would really appreciate it if the answers are limited strictly to whether White Spirit is safe to use, with no mention of other descriptions or names because so many get mentioned on this subject that I am not absolutely certain that we are talking about the same fuels in the end. I'm looking only for whether "White Spirit" used as a paint thinner in the United Kingdom and commonly sold in hardware shops is SAFE to use with these burners.

Charlie I have some problem pulling the top out after stretching

2 replies

Sorry for the late response. Yeah, that can be tricky. One thing I realized is that I was trying to pull mine straight off the can, instead of one side of the circle first. I found it easier to start at an edge. Also, I make sure to cut out the bottom before stretching, so that I can grab the inside lip of the can (its much easier to hold on to).

Hope this helps


Actually I've already found a way to pull it out and I've made a stove too, thanks anyway for the reply and your great instructable!

It needs to be covered to be extinguished. Cover the stove with a cup, or something that can remove the surrounding Oxygen.

Pouring water on it will NOT put it out.


You were right about putting the two together to be the most difficult part... mostly. I got it to light and it finally warmed up enough that most of the jets ignited but the second I put the pot on the whole thing went out. I tried waiting a bit longer but that didn't seem to help either. I'm actually using Isopropyl because that's what I can get here in Germany. Could that be the problem? I've tried a couple of other types of stoves and none of them have worked either using the same 'fuel'.

A question... on the inner 'sleeve', are the holes on the bottom (where I put them) or at the top? Would a vent hole or slot on the rim help or no?

4 replies

adding some vent holes between the burner holes and the top of the can definitely seemed to improve the stove's performance(saw that idea on a different beer can stove recipe) i put about eight vent holes to my sixteen burner holes, and i made the vent holes a little smaller than the burner holes(burner holes 7/64", vent holes 5/64") works great on several trial runs! also, the key to making one of these successfully is being as exact as possible with the cutting of the inner wall, has to fit very snugly..and the can stretching is key as well, you have to get the top and the bottom to fit together without any crumpling of the can halves. certainly have to have a little patience with this project! thanks charlie for the awesome one i found!

Isopropyl will work, but not very well. Ethanol fuels are best, and methanol is the next best choice. The best fuel you can get hold of is essentially pure ethanol, or lab grade alcohol (200 proof, has the highest calorie:volume ratio). Denatured Alcohol is pretty much ethanol which has been processed so it cannot be consumed. Not too sure about fuel sources in Deutschland, but look for ethanol based fuels. Local hardware stores most likely have some kind of "denatured alcohol"

The holes should be at the bottom, close to the ground as possible, so that fuel can flow into the wall when the stove is sitting upright.

Ethanol fuels will burn MUCH hotter, and MUCH cleaner than Isopropyl.

Hope that helps

Thanks Charlie for the quick answer. We're in the process of moving to Switzerland so I'm not sure what that does to my options but I know who to ask there. Oddly, even Isopropyl alcohol can only be bought at a pharmacy so I'm guessing Ethanol is even tougher to get and more regulated.... we'll see though and thanks again.

It try the notch thing and see if it helps on mine.


Also, I have found that adding notches around the top edge of the stove will increase the air intake and help it run better in colder weather. So yes, adding notches or slots at the top CAN improve the stoves performance, especially if you are having problems with it "choking out"


works great