Introduction: Fire Starting Air Turbine (BBQ Blower Fan Upcycling Upgrade)

Especially when sleeping in the woods, I realized that it's very hard to make a fire burn and keep it burning in the beginning. When burning or cooking it in a hobo stove it's even more hard because you have to lay down on the ground to blow air deep into the fire. When starting a charcoal fire for barbecue, it's the same exhausting thing if you don't have a hair dryer, air compressor or something comparable for getting enough oxygen into the fire for getting it really hot within a short time.

In some discounters and supermarkets you can buy a "barbecue fan / barbecue lighter" for cheap. These blower tools are lightweight and can be easily stowed away in your rucksack. Therefore they're all made of plastic; only the nozzle is made of aluminum and so it's insensitive to the fire heat. The crank is detachable. And that's where my problems begun...

To use the tool, you have to put the crank into it's hole. Remember, everything is made of plastic. Maybe you can imagine what happened to me when first using the tool for barbecue... right, the crank broke and so the stuff wasn't usable any more. But not for me...

Step 1: Better Make It Better Somehow...

A friend of mine had the same experiences with that cheap plastic stuff and designed "the turbo". The work I've done here is something like a twin of his invention.

When thinking about making stuff better I found that a crank should be made of metal. I had a pepper mill laying around that had a fantastic brass crank and wasn't used any more for milling. I only needed a square bar on it to put it into the blower tool's square hole. But... the hole was also made of plastic, holy sh**!

One side of the rod (crank shaft) needed a thread for mounting the crank arm on it. So I used a thread cutter and put a screw nut on it later on. Now I was able again to carry the crank separately - good for loosing it somewhere (this happened often 'til now!) but also for storing it in the rucksack and not breaking it by roughly handling the luggage, e. g. when throwing it into a plane's luggage compartment.

Step 2: Alchemy: Turning Plastic Into Metal

Having a look inside the tool showed me all the gear wheels - there was hardly lubricating grease on it and, of course, they were made of... right, plastic. No good omen for a tool that should be long lasting.

My personal scrapyard had an old fireplace clock that wasn't used any more but had a lot of gear wheels in it - all made of metal. It had much more than I would need. On one hand I wanted to build the moving parts of the tool from long lasting metal, on the other hand the gear ratio in the gearbox between the rates at which the last and first gears rotate should increase to move more air to the fire than the blower did before. One other nice thing is the spring for buffering the energy when turning its crank to make clocks run for many days. I decided to use this spring to buffer the energy from turning the blower's crank to keep it rotating longer and more constant after turning the crank.

Step 3: (Un)Boxing

Finally the original plastic box wasn't huge enough to keep all the new gear stuff so I needed a new one. Elliptical tuna cans seemed to be perfect for this. I don't like tuna a lot but the tin had the optimal shape and size for this project. So I had to hide my disgust and ate a fantastic tuna pizza...
After the tuna blower prototype version the second blower gear box was made of "Scho-ka-kola" (chocolate with caffeine from Cologne / Germany) cans. In the first version the blower wheel was turning too fast. That made the system, still working with a plastic fan wheel and a sensitive junction from the gear box to it, too vulnerable. So, I was able to use its round shape and size, again perfect for the gear wheels I wanted to use. Putting two cans together to one gear box was easy, just cutting the edge of the two cans and pressing it together gave it a snug fit. The brass casing of the gear wheels had to be cut smaller with a hand saw on several sides - see photos in step 2 and step 4.

Step 4: Screwdeedooh...

The clock's gear box had a square rod for turning the spring wheel; that one was perfect for using with the new crank.

Fixing the metal gear box to one side of the cans and also to the plastic fan wheel box was easily done with three holes and screws.

A bit tricky was fixing the fan wheel on the rod where originally the clock hands were on. You can use what's around in your shed like small brass tubes, epoxy, clamps...

The fan wheel had too many fan blades in it for the fast rotation so it stopped immediately or started staggering. I cut half of the blades away. Afterwards it was running perfectly.

Step 5: Test Tube

The original aluminum "air outlet tube" was good but too short. I wanted to burn wood or coal and not my hands. So another can (from cashews, yummy!) was cut, bent round, a bit bigger than the aluminum tube, and folded with pliers to hold it together. Now it has a snug fit on the aluminum tube and is the part that can get close to the embers while I'm turning the crank.

Step 6: Fire Starter

There are many ways to start a fire, as you may know.

One possibility is using a spark lighter that works with ferrocerium metal, that works by rapidly rubbing a small piece of ferrocerium upon the sharp edge of any substance that is harder than the rod, e. g. iron. Those tinder-igniting campfire starter rods are sold under trade names as Blastmatch, Fire Steel and Metal-Match for survival and bushcraft users. Sometimes they are incorrectly called "magnesium" rods.

The created sparks can easily ignite seed of cattail / bulrush or other seed with parachutes on it. That's my preferred method. From that birches bark can easily start burning. Its fire will burn a while so you don't have to hurry now so much by bringing new burning material.

Later on you could use some dry paper, cardboard or better waxed fabric such as a piece from a torch or, of course, small wood pieces. The more rosin the wood contains such as pine, spruce or fir, the better and brighter it'll start burning. Later on you can use your preferred long-burning wood, e. g. oak, beech tree or other hard wood. The dryer and thinner, the better it will burn, of course.

Step 7: Conclusion

The "Fire starting air turbine" has a nice sound but can be driven quietly as well. For sure it's not a real turbine. The amount of air getting out of it is immense. This is not a step-by-step i'ble because there are no pictures of the built any more because I created it many years ago. But this nice and easy little tool is still working and in tune - having been tuned (with tuna and upcycled stuff) a little bit it has travelled many countries yet. Hope you get inspired a little and don't throw away your plastic barbecue blower fan next time when the crank or a gear wheel says "crack!"...

Thanks a lot and enjoy!

Fire Challenge 2017

Runner Up in the
Fire Challenge 2017