Introduction: Ultra-simple, Improvised Camping Stove

Picture of Ultra-simple, Improvised Camping Stove

The simplest ideas are usually the best eh?

I have been experimenting with various designs of improvised camping stove for some time now. They have varied from a simple open cup of burning fuel to highly intricate vapour pressure devices that take hours to build.

This is my latest favourite, it is a combination of two established types of stove. A chimney stove and a low pressure side-burner. It takes about three minutes to make and so can be constructed as and when you want to use it.

This design also has the advantage that it will run on pretty much any flammable liquid you put in it. I have used methylated spirits, rubbing alcohol, xylene, white spirit and petrol.

This brings up an important safety issue though, anything other than an alcohol type fuel is inherantly a lot more dangerous. Pure hydrocarbon fuels like xylene and petrol are toxic, dirty (they make a real mess of your pan!), smelly, potentially explosive and can't be put out using water. An alcohol fire can be extinguished by upending your pot of water over it if things get out of control (don't believe me? Try it.)

For more info on improvised stoves have a look at the site that inspired me to try experimenting: zenstoves

Step 1: Build Your Stove

Picture of Build Your Stove

Ok. To do this you will need:
1) Empty 330ml soft drinks can (size not that important)
2) Can opener.
3) Pointy thing (bradawl, nail, tentpeg, sharpened stick)

So essentially an empty drinks can and a swiss army knife.

First remove the top of the can using your can opener, be careful not to damage the rim too much.

It would appear that the rim is an important part of this design. Without it, the aluminium of the can might start to melt and crumple from the heat. Some can openers slice the entire top off, these are not suitable (see picture below for what the completed stove should look like).

Now punch eight, equally spaced holes through the side of the can about 1" up from the base. The holes should be roughly the diameter as the awl tool on a swiss army knife or a round steel tent-peg. (again, size isn't all that critical, spacing is more important)

Punch another ring of eight holes round the angled part of the can just below the top rim.

Punch a third ring of eight holes through the side of the can just below the angled part, arrange them so they fall inbetween the upper row of holes.

Your stove is now complete!

Step 2: Setting Up and Lighting

Picture of Setting Up and Lighting

Right, this stove is also your pot-stand. So, you need it to be steady enough to support the weight of your full pot without falling over. A level surface might suffice or you might want to peg it upright by arranging three pegs round the outside of the can.

If you're outside, try to protect it from wind as much as possible for efficient functioning.

Now, fill with fuel to just below the bottom row of holes. I'd suggest alcohol or methylated spirits. Petrol and xylene will work but are much more dangerous both in terms of health and in terms of fire hazard.

Light the stove by holding a match or lighter to the bottom holes.

You'll notice the flame lights inside the can and 'chimneys' up the middle.

Allow the flame to build until it is a few inches above the top of the can then slowly place your cooking pot on top. The flames should transfer to the side holes and start burning like a gas ring. If they don't, remove your pot, allow the flame to get a bit higher and replace it.

You'll note that the flame is actually burning deep in the bottom of the can near the base holes then jetting up through the top holes. Looking down into the uncovered can (from a height, eyebrows!) you can appreciate the pattern of flame this arrangement of holes generates.

These stoves are remarkably efficient, almost no heat escapes through the sides, it all goes straight up. Mine will boil two mugs of water in my stainless cookpot on a single fill of methylated spirits. I was using it this weekend to great effect in temperatures below -6C

N.B. I have occasionally seen these stoves 'flashback' through the bottom holes so keep the area around it clear of flammable material!

Oh yeah, they're quite difficult to extinguish once they are going. I try to just fill it with what I'm going to use but an upended cooking pot placed over it for a while seems to do the trick too.


jellybean10122 (author)2010-04-03

do you think I could use a big can, you know, the ones that have grapefruit in them sometimes, but use wood fuel instead? Because I doubt my fussy mum would trust me with flammable substances :D

google wood gas stoves

instiger (author)2011-12-10

hey fellow instructables,
nice idea almost every stove builder is trying.
BUT:Don't want to disappoint those who like the simplicity of this design, but this one is REALLY DANGEROUS ! It can harm you and your surrounding because of the complexity of diameter of the holes and heat output which is uncontrolable. In field testing hobo and alcohol stoves for more than 30 years we found out that the cans may collapse without warning due to too high temps causing spilling, spitting and dragonfire like effect having burning splashes several feet around the fire place leading to severe burnings, injuries and even death if fire is not extinguishable (plastic, oil etc.)

Please do check out all the noticeable sites with proven designs and security advices. Keep on instructing, folks!

Tim Temple (author)2011-11-10

A little too ultrasimple...
The thin aluminum's survival depends upon the boiling alcohol. That means a critical moment occurs when all the alcohol has vaporized but is still burning. Crash!

mkslocomb (author)2011-10-30

If you're concerned about crushing the can when punching holes in it (and you've actually got your workshop), just fill it with water and freeze. Punch the holes while it is still hard frozen.... ta-dah... also, although it may be wobbly, 4 empty soda cans can support the weight of a car (if it is settled on them properly and there are no dents in the cans). Awesome ible... I will definitely be trying this one soon.

xfrancisx (author)2009-06-25

so I tried out a stove using this design tonight and it worked well. i realized that i needed to let the alcohol burn for 30 seconds to a minute to get a good flame. now that i've been successful at making a cup of tea on a humid massachusetts night any ideas for things i could cook on this stove? soup? rice? id love some feedback with what works and what doesn't.

rreily (author)xfrancisx2011-09-09

check out Backpack Gourmet. It has a whole bunch of recipes for traveling light. FYI, you need to dehydrate them but all you need is water on the trail! Happy camping.

Mammad (author)2011-08-21

thanks a lot!!

sreepradaramakrishna (author)2011-02-04

can i use nailpolish remover as fuel?

ohhhhh yes. its acetone which is as flammable as methanol. problem is, its more expensive. i can get 4L of methanol (1 gal) for $13-14 at my diy and it lasts me a month.

silver362 (author)2010-04-19

would energy drinks (red bull etc) work too because caffeine is flammable
or would it burn out too fast

Fashim (author)silver3622010-04-30

Is Energy Drinks Flammable?

silver362 (author)Fashim2010-05-01

dunno thats what im askin

Meuryn (author)silver3622011-06-12

Nope, energy drinks aren't flammable, caffeine isn't flammable either - not sure where you got that from?! You might be thinking of using high alcohol content drinks, which can be flammable. Think of a liquor over 40-50% alcohol and that should work; but it is far cheaper to just burn meths or petrol.

guillaumedem (author)silver3622010-06-02

 well, one can of red bull contains like 80mg of caffeine. So I guess it won't (:
And btw, is caffeine even flamable? :)
R22 Harmful if swalowed
S2 keap out of reach of children
So it isn't  flamable

paininthebutt (author)2011-05-04

this is a great stove if i make a few of theese i should be able to make a good

woody558 (author)2011-01-15

this almost burned down my house


rangerman2889 (author)2010-12-31

Would it be possible to move the holes on the bottom up another inch without compromising functionality? If so, it would greatly increase the fuel capacity enough to also house a media to help hold it as others have mentioned. Great build though!

TarzanJr (author)2009-10-15

The 12 ounce energy drink cans heat faster cause it focuses the heat toa more concentrated area plus the flames need more oxygen so the tallcan give more room for oxygen to enter the can and the smoke or whateveremition comes from the fuel out.

chibiwind (author)TarzanJr2010-05-02

the energy drink cans where im from are quite small, and still im pretty sure size wouldn't draw in more oxygen i think the size of the holes would affect that, a lrager can would hold more oxygen if that is what you meant

osmonde (author)2009-05-14

another idea would be to make one out of an aluminum can, it doesnt have the slanted top but it would be way stronger so you could have a heavier load and be more heat resistant so you dont have to worry as much about it getting soft or melting

VanWinn (author)2009-05-13

I made a stove similar to this and was having trouble getting the stove to produce a strong flame. The reason was because not enough heat was staying with the stove to keep the denatured alcohol vaporized. I solved this problem by adding 2 copper "heat Pipes" to the top of the stove. I got some 1/8 copper tubing measured it and bent it into a "U" shape. I then drilled 2 properly spaced holes and inserted the copper tubing (open side down) into the top of the stove. The pipes should be just short of the bottom of the stove. This made a HUGE difference! I could now here the alcohol boiling in the can.

stinkwheel (author)2009-04-22

I find making the holes a little bigger sometimes helps. Try this as a first step. I was cooking on one just this weekend using a heineken lager tin and 95% ethanol (in addition to a "Penny stove" which is more fuel efficient but more fiddly to make). I found that both stoves were struggling to stay lit when I used it on a cold metal surface (on top of an unlit wood burning stove in a mountain bothy). I insulated them underneath using a bit of cardboard and they stayed lit much more readily. I think it needs to heat the fuel in the bottom a little to keep enough vapour circulating, once the heat is sufficient, the process is self-sustaining. It would make sense that isopropyl alcohol would need more heat initially as it has a higher flash point. I sometimes find that blowing the stove out then relighting it about 10-20 seconds later does the trick too. Just be careful because the residual vapour can go up with quite a woosh. In cold conditions and on a cold surface, you could also try 'priming' it slightly by putting a few drops of fuel on a flameproof surface under the stove and lighting those first. Three or four drops is sufficient for most alcohol stoves I've used. In fact, all the alcohol stove designs I've tried benefit from priming in this way under very cold conditions, even the open burner type.

sirjamesalot77 (author)2008-12-26
This design works really well. I tried it and put it on youtube, it's the second one:

This stove looks good sitting on top of the can but can you put a can or something you are heating up on the stove? Why is is so dented?

stinkwheel (author)phoenixjen2009-04-03

If you watch the video to the end, you'll see a can of water being boiled on it. The dents are presumably from where the holes were punched through it. If you want to avoid this, use something good and sharp to punch the holes. A few dents here and there doesn't seem to upset the functionality but I suspect if there were to many it would make the can more prone to collapsing under a load.

and what was your fuel for both cans?

where or how did u make that pot stand and the stand for the stove?

bylerfamily (author)2009-03-17

Would 91% rubbing alcohol work in this stove?

davidp (author)2008-04-10

That's a great idea. I'm going to try it myself. Would an 8-ounce drink can work as well (don't know the metric equivalent)? Seems it would be more stable, not being as tall. Just a thought.

bylerfamily (author)davidp2009-03-11

Yes it would work.

david_ (author)2009-02-05

Do you fill the can with anything other than fuel (alcohol) ie an absorbant material? I know many commercial and home-build designs use something like this to both extend burn time and avoid that flash-back you talk about. I believe I have seen kitty litter being used. I guess it doesn't burn. I think i have also seen plaster of paris being used since it can be poured in wet and when dry absorbs the alcohol very well and will not burn.

voltagedude (author)david_2009-02-16

You should try fiber glass!! it works great. you can find some in your attic or basement.

stinkwheel (author)david_2009-02-10

I think it would probably work but I also suspect it would reduce the fuel capacity to below what I'd consider a useful quantity (ie, enought to boil about a mug of water). Any absorbent material would have to come to just below the lower ring of holes. I'll maybe give it a try next time.

The Real Dave (author)2009-02-05

This is a great project and looks reli cool, but can I ask, whats wrong with a good old fashioned campfire :D

stinkwheel (author)The Real Dave2009-02-10

Nothing at all wrong with a campfire. However, they take time to light, are often not allowed during brushfire season, on official campsites or are for some other reason inpractical. I used one this weekend when firewood was in short supply. I landed up walking in to a bothy (a building in a remote place maintained by a charity for use by anyone) when my motorbike got stuck in snow. There was very little by way of dry wood to be found so I carried a bottle of meths in with me. I then used the stove to make myself and my two companions hot drinks and a hot meal leaving the firewood to heat the building. That way the wood lasted all night. For reference this one used a 500ml steel beer can (John Smiths Bitter). Indoors on a concrete floor I fried sixteen rashers of bacon on 50ml of meths.

Hawk20 (author)2009-02-05

I have followed alcohol stove designs for years and never found one worth the time to try. Finally an elegantly simple design that works. Thanks!

woody558 (author)2009-01-18

one idea is to use a hole puncher to make the holes

woody558 (author)2009-01-15

This stove doesn't work very well. Te pot ALWAYS smuthers the fire.
My favorite stove is this one:!/

stinkwheel (author)woody5582009-01-16

I like those open pressure burners too. They are very efficient. They do however require more tools and a couple of hours to make. The idea with this one was to have something that could be made "on the spot" with tools you would normally carry with you (at a mnimum, a can opener and a pointy stick) and would be more eficient than a simple open can of fuel. You may need to alter the size of the holes depending on which fuel you are using.

hamtons (author)2008-11-27

I made something similar before. I fed mine with hexamine tablet fuel and the thing flared so strongly the paint on the side of the can melted into a stinking mess. Is that a consideration when burning liquid fuel? Thanks

stinkwheel (author)hamtons2008-11-27

The reason for using the can in this case is to give a controlled burn of the liquid fuel. Just use an open pot of burning fuel and it starts to vapourise too quickly in its own heat which is wasteful. The can restricts the air supply and allows the fuel to burn a little at a time as well as keeping the flame front a reasonable distance away from the liquid fuel. This isn't an issue with solid fuel. The rate of burning of the fuel is nice and steady in the open air. All you need for solid fuel is something to rest it on, a pot stand and a wind shield. Any cans I have used have the design printed directly onto the steel/aluminium. It scorches but isn't really thick enough to melt off. Maybe you had a can with a plastic coating?

hamtons (author)stinkwheel2008-11-27

I'm not sure but I dont think that my can's had any special coating, it turned brown and it stinks. Perhaps I made the ventilation holes too big. The flames spiraled out of the can 2 inches high. I was using a 1 inch x 1 inch square of hexamine. Or perhaps it was just the stench of the burning hexamine tablet. It kinds of stinks alot on its own. Thanks anyway (:

lancecozad (author)2008-11-01

one last thought: everybody seen the video of a Foster's beer can stove melting into a puddle? Makes a great 25 ounce cookpot to boil water in, but to use it AS THE STOVE is a surefire meltdown. Grolsch? Interesting. I'll try one. (hic)

lancecozad (author)2008-11-01

mine seemed to draw better when the top two rows of holes were just slightly smaller than the air feed holes on the bottom. Awesome, simple design. I am annoyed with myself for not thinking of it on my own. Thanks for putting it out here for those of us who tend to overcomplicate.

lancecozad (author)2008-11-01

I can't resist the urge to fiddle and experiment. I found that the "wired" energy drink can seemed to boil water a tad faster than a 12 ounce can did. dunno why. I am not an engineer. I do love to tinker with ideas, though. I also tried shorter cans, thinking it would help. it ruins the chimney effect and slows the boil time down. stick with taller cans.

cd41 (author)2008-11-01


MissPennyFarthing (author)2008-07-28

Fantastic instructable! Quick, cheap and simple - everything a good tin-can stove should be! Much kudos, kind sir! :) Just one question, is it Ok to use it more than once or does the metal begin to degrade from the extreme heat?

I think a lot depends on how thick the can is and if it is steel or aluminium. Some are better than others. I did have a couple of particularly flimsy aluminium cans collapse on me. Best one I've used to-date was a grolsh beer can

Right, thanks. I guess it's just a case of using your own judgment then. Are there any particular brands of can that seem totally unsuitable?

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