Introduction: Pocket Sized Camp Stove (The Improved

This instructable actually came about through necessity. I love camping, and often go hiking in the woods. How often have you spent a day fishing, and wished you could throw some fresh fish into a pan right there on the dock?

For me, this always meant carrying a bulky, expensive kerosene or propane stove which themselves can be something of a pain to get warm enough to use.

There are numerous instructables here on how to make a "Penny Stove." However, there are a series of problems with the Penny Stove concept that need to be addressed. For instance:

1.) You cannot put a large pot on a penny stove without crushing it.
2.) Penny Stoves get very hot, so must be placed on something that will not burn to be used.
3.) Putting a Penny Stove in your pocket or backpack for a hike, it will get crushed fairly quickly.
4.) Penny Stoves are either difficult to light, or do not conserve fuel well.
5.) Penny Stoves are easily blown out in the wind.

As for the commercial "camp" stoves, the *only* ones I've found are either glorified penny stoves (with all the same problems) or require you to carry bulky, heavy, expensive canisters of propane or butane. (Or a mix of the two.) I never did get the point of spending $50 for a "3 oz stove" only to have to carry a 13 oz canister to use it for 1 hour.

Most DIY Camp Stoves I've been able to find use a separate wind screen that's generally a piece of aluminum that would get bent and banged up in my backpack, or no wind screen at all.

All of these issues have been addressed with the new and improved "Penny Stove" or as I like to call it, the "Pocket Sized Camp Stove." I do honestly prefer this over any commercial stove I've yet seen (and I've seen a lot). Better still, it was free. Even a cheap commercial camp stove starts at $30 and goes up quickly from there. I've seen less useful stoves selling for over $100. Considering that commercial stove fuel is also more than twice as expensive as denatured alcohol (calculated by burn time) and harder to come by, there's just simply no reason for me to purchase anything commercial.

While this isn't the size of an Altoids tin, and won't fit in your hip pocket, it will easily carry in a cargo pocket, or in the pocket of your backpack. I keep it in one of the smaller pockets of my ruck sack whenever I go hiking.

For $1.25, you can get a bottle of HEET, and numerous other fuels are even cheaper. (Though I'll tell you from experience, you'll get odd looks buying half a dozen bottles in the middle of the summer. I think the guy thought I was cooking meth.)

Compare this to the Esbit Stove that takes solid state tablets that burn (realistically) for approximately 10 minutes at $0.50 a piece. That's $3/hr, and it's not easy to come by.

While I haven't tested it, I'm pretty sure a $1.25 bottle of HEET (that can be picked up nearly anywhere, including gas stations) lasts me more than an hour.

My preferred fuel is Denatured Alcohol. (See the "Fuel" step.)

Finally, the problem I've had with solid state fuels is the time it takes them to heat up, the amount of heat they put out, and the amount of time it takes to put them away. This stove is ready to go in 1 minute, can be extinguished by blowing it out, or putting the measuring cup over it, and cools off in less than 3 minutes.

For a quick stop to fry up some lunch, this is my stove of choice.

If anyone has suggestions for improvements, I'm all ears.

Step 1: WARNING!!!

I want to make it clear that Penny Stoves CAN detonate. This is not a minor warning, but a very serious one. Unless you take certain precautions, you *can* actually cause your stove to explode.

Just as with any gas that burns, vapors can be dangerous when you do not handle them properly. You should *NEVER* do the following:

1.) Attempt to fuel a lit stove. (Note that the flames of alcohol can be invisible.)

2.) Attempt to light a stove that is already nearly out of fuel.

3.) Bring a stove that has been saturated with fuel near fire (unless attempting to light as instructed)

4.) Bring a stove that has recently been extinguished near fire unless it has been refilled.

5.) Pack a stove that still has fuel in it.

6.) Place anything valuable (including the face) above the stove while lighting. (Generally, detonation will fire straight up.)

7.) Overfill an alcohol stove. As the stove heats up, it will spew flaming alcohol out of the vents.

Vaporized fuel lights quickly, and can actually cause the stove to detonate. While a stove this lightweight isn't likely to cause severe damage, it is possible that in the detonation, it could throw excess fuel around and catch the surroundings on fire.

Once a "Penny Stove" is extinguished (even if it "burns out") it is still hot, and thus, can still produce gas vapors. These vapors can collect in any space in the stove and detonate with force when lit. Always make sure that a stove that has been recently used is either completely refueled and set up properly prior to re-ignition, or is allowed to evaporate all fuel prior to storage.

I say again, use caution when playing with fire and fuels. Things can get dangerous when proper precautions are not taken. Watch the video, and read the instructions, and do not mess around with the stove otherwise. Always, always, always make sure no fuel is stored inside the stove.

Whenever using any kind of open flame stove, always have a method to extinguish a fire should one occur. (Well, obviously one will occur, but if it should occur where it shouldn't... erm... occur...)

Step 2: Required Materials

What you will need for this is the following:

  • Two (2) aluminum soda cans to make a very standard "Penny Stove"
  • Two (2) wire hangers (enamel finished, not the plastic covered ones)
  • One (1) Large Tin Can (Juice Cans work Well) - 4.25" (10.8 cm) diameter.
  • One (1) Medium Tin Can (Only very slightly smaller in diameter to the Large Can, I used the large sized refried beans can.) - 4" (10.16 cm) diameter
  • One (1) "Small" can. (Just large enough to fit around a soda can. For this, I used a diced tomato can.) 3" (7.62 cm) diameter.
  • One tube JB Weld (or any other liquid epoxy that can withstand temperatures up to 500 degrees F (260 C). For those of you outside of the U.S. who still want to use JB Weld, here's where you can find it: They should pay me for this.

** Note: It is not important to get the exact size of the cans. All that matters is that the small can fits around the soda can. The medium can fits around the small can, and the big can fits around the medium can.

Step 3: Optional Materials

JB Stik Weld is also an epoxy, but in a thicker, putty format. I would strongly recommend using this as well, although for the patient individual, it *is* possible to use the liquid epoxy by waiting until it has hardened to almost a putty consistency. This will, however, give you a weaker bond with the putty than if you had used an actual epoxy putty. I would recommend keeping some of this putty handy anyway, as it has a million and one uses.

Again, any heat resistant (500 F or 250 C) epoxy putty will suffice.

Step 4: Required Tools

The tools shown in the image are pretty much needed for this instructable. I know not everyone owns a Dremel, but I can't stress enough just how much any hobbiest needs one. Even a cheap one.

The wire snips and needle-nosed pliers are a must-have.

The clamps and slide square are semi-optional. You will need to come up with your own rig for holding the blade and needles if you don't have them.

I'll let the picture speak for itself.

Step 5: Optional Tools

While you can get away with using your wire snips and Dremel to prep the Penny Stove's top, I find it's much easier to use some heavy duty scissors and a hole punch.

Note that I have discovered that while a hole punch does will against an aluminum can, it does not fair so well against tin cans.

RIP Hole Punch... Your life was short, but productive...

The wet or dry erase marker will be invaluable for drilling all the necessary holes in the correct spots, as well as cutting the pieces to the right sizes.

Step 6: Fuel

There are a number of fuels that can be used in these stoves, but they are specifically designed to use alcohol based fuels.

The most common fuels seen are:

"Heet" Gas-Line Antifreeze and Water Remover - Easily found in the U.S. at virtually any gas station, this is mostly Methyl Alcohol. It burns well in alcohol stoves, but does have a small amount of petroleum additives, and leaves a bit of an odor behind. Great in a pinch, but not my favorite.

Denatured Alcohol - Denatured alcohol is the best choice for most alcohol based camp stoves. This can usually be found in the paint section (as a paint thinner) of a hardware store, and seems to burn slightly hotter and cleaner than Heet. I don't know if this is found under this name outside of the U.S. In the U.S. "denatured" means "poisoned." This is regular alcohol that has had poison added to it so people can't drink it, thus it does not get the alcohol tax, making it cheaper. (Still runs roughly the same price as Heet though.)
User Tips: telboyo - in the UK denatured lcohol is called Methylated Spirits and is colo(u)red purple

Transportation of Fuel - Many people have mentioned they prefer squirt bottles to take their fuel on hikes with them. My personal favorite container are old "5-hour energy drink" bottles. These are easily cleaned out, and hold almost exactly 30 minutes worth of fuel for me.

Step 7: Making the Penny Stove

Penny Stoves have been covered in length on this site, but I will go through the simple steps used to make the one I use for my own stove. Many cans were sacrificed to determine which stove was the most efficient for this rig. Some stoves that are more efficient outside of this rig do not fair well inside of it due to the unique "heat channeling" of the wind guard.

The best design discovered is made with 8 thumbtack holes instead of needles. (Though larger needles can be used.)

The Penny Stove I will show you how to make is, in summary, nothing more than the bottom of two cans with holes in one that's stuffed inside the other. Nothing more. No "wicking" inside such as fiberglass, cotton, lint, etc.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Make absolute sure that your cans are thoroughly cleaned before you start work on them. If there is any soda residue in the bottom of the cans, it will be evaporated by the alcohol and clog the vent holes. You will have to start all over.

Note that while there are many stove designs that tell you to first sand the paint off of the stoves, I very specifically do not want you to do this. At least not for the "top" of the stove. The paint will act as a "glue" the first time the stove is lit adding strength and stability.

Step 8: Making the Penny Stove (Cutting the Pieces)

1.) Using the razor blade rig (Image 1), score both cans approximately 1.5" from the bottom. Note that the score line does not have to be particularly deep, as it's just a "guide" that allows the can to split where you want it to. A couple of passes is usually sufficient. See Image 2.

2.) Once scored, poke a very small hole in the line with razor. (Image 3)

3.) Using your thumbs, gently press on the top portion of the can to cause the "hole" to continue to "tear" along the score line. (Image 4)

4.) The scoring will cause the can to continue to "tear" along the score line, giving you a very clean cut. (Image 5) Remove the bottoms from both cans this way.

Step 9: Making the Penny Stove (Prepping the Parts)

1.) Scoring the stove will cause the can to slightly bend "inward" where it was cut. While this is desirable for the top of the stove, you'll want to "stretch out" the opening of the bottom of the stove. Simply place a can inside of it, and "roll" it around a bit in a circular motion as shown in Image 1. Do not press hard or you will split the bottom. You do not need to stretch it much, just slowly work it around just enough to very, very slightly flair out the top.

That's all the prep necessary for the bottom of the stove.

2.) Using the hole punch, punch 8 evenly spaced holes approximately 1/4 of an inch (or 1 cm) down from the curve in the top of the stove. Then, using the scissors, cut a line from the bottom into each of these holes. (Image 2) The holes will keep the can from continuing to split along the line that you cut. The cut lines allow you to easily insert the top into the bottom.

3.) Using your wet/dry erase marker, put dots on the stove where the vent holes will belong. Be careful to space them evenly, and put them at the same height around the top (Image 3)

User Tips: Tetrafish - To evenly space the holes you could wrap a strip of paper around it, mark it's (circumference) length, then evenly divide them... 
                    jacksteal4 - ...just fold the paper into 16 or 8 parts [using the creases to get your even spacing]...

4.) You can use needles to punch holes by holding them in a clamp (Image 4). However, keep in mind that I've found that using a thumb tack to make the 8 holes works best with this stove.

5.) Using the Dremel, drill a 1/8" (3.25mm) hole in the center of the top piece. (Image 5)

That's all the prep for the pieces!

Step 10: Making the Penny Stove (Final Steps)

The assembly of the stove is by far the most delicate step in the instructable. Be very careful here.

1.) Slide the top into the bottom piece. (Image 1)

2.) Very, very carefully, start pressing the two pieces together evenly, a little bit at a time. When it starts to get tight, you will find that at the top of some of the holes that were punched you will need to use a shim cut from the spare parts of the can (Image 2) to work the two pieces down. Again, do this very, very slowly, a very small amount at a time. Do not use a lot of pressure. If the two parts seem to be too hard to push together, simply wait for a few more seconds. The two cans will slowly stretch ever so slightly allowing you to eventually work them together. I cannot stress enough how delicate you have to be, making sure that all sides evenly go in tiny fractions of an inch at a time. Attempting to force them too quickly will make either one of the cans split, or one end will pop out of the bottom while the other end goes in too deep. Slow and steady here.

3.) Gently, slowly, and evenly press the cans together until the bottom is even with the curve in the top. (Image 3)


  • I say again, you do not want to sand the paint off of the top piece. As the paint heats up, it will actually act like "glue" and seal the top to the bottom piece the first time you use it.
  • As said above, you also do not need to use glue to make this.
  • Since this stove will not recieve ANY weight, it does not have to be reinforced, or otherwise made any stronger. (After its initial lighting, the paint on the inner can adhering to the outer can will still make it fairly sturdy.)
  • Note that I did not use any fillers such as cloth, fiberglass, etc.
Throw your favorite lucky penny (NOT quarters, dimes, or other ridged coins) in, and you're ready to go. This is as much as needs to be done to make the standard "Penny Stove."

Step 11: Making the Measuring Cup

The measuring cup is made out of the "small" tin can and is approximately the same size as the penny stove itself.

1.) There's no need to be too exacting here. Just set the small can next to the penny stove, and draw a line approximately the same height. (Image 1)

2.) Cut off the top (with the dremel, unless you're fortunate enough to own a large tube cutter) so it's close to even.

3.) Sand all of the edges of the cup so it's not sharp.

4.) "Pinch" the lip of the cup so it looks a bit like a spout (Image 2).

The measuring cup can be marked, though I just know by looking how much fuel I need to use in my stove. The ribbed lines around the edge can be used to figure out approximately how long the stove will burn through testing (it will be different for every stove).

I found that this cup was necessary, since the containers of fuel seldom want to pour smoothly, and I didn't feel like having a large fireball in my tent. (Yes, you can use this indoors, with the proper fuel and stability!)

Step 12: Make the Rack Pins

The rack pins are fairly simple. Take a straight piece of hanger wire and bend a hook into it as shown. The length of the pin should be approximately 1/2" (~13 mm) taller than the wind guard. (This will actually be made in the next step.)

Step 13: Making the Wind Guard

The Wind Guard serves two purposes. It will not only protect the stove from light winds when outdoors, but it will also help channel the heat upwards. This means more efficiency, which means less fuel consumed.

The most important part here is how the lid is removed from your large can. A standard can opener cuts the INSIDE of the can. More modern can openers now actually cut the OUTSIDE of the can. You absolutely will have to use one of these newer can openers and keep the lid or this will not work. You will need this lid later. I recommend one of the "One Touch" can openers for the most solid, stable lid.

The wind guard is quite simple:

1.) Set the Stove next to your Large can.

2.) Measure 1/2" to 3/4" above the stove and draw a line around the "down" part of the ribbing. You will need to do this for the lid to fit. (Image 1)

3.) Cut the top of the large can off with the Dremel.

Now is when you would create your rack pins from the previous step!

4.) Drill 16 evenly spaced 1/8" (approx 3.2 mm) holes on the "bottom" of the Wind Guard. These should be a few millimeters above the bottom so alcohol doesn't leak out during priming.

5.) Drill 2 rows of 8 evenly spaced 1/4" (~5 mm) holes (note emphasis) staggered on the "top" of the Wind Guard. (Image 2) Note: I used the hole punch for these holes. As it utterly destroyed the hole punch, I would not recommend this.

You will need to refer to Image 3 for the following steps. This looks much more complex than it is. Make sure you know what you're doing before trying, as the JB Stik has a fairly quick setting (hardening) time. If you mess up, you can use water to remove the putty, dry thoroughly, sand a bit, and try again.

6.) Pick two pairs of the "lower" holes that are across from each other. (blue circles) Now, draw a wet/dry erase line (red lines) on the bottom of the can from below one circle to its opposing circle. Now, approximately 1/2" (13 mm) towards the inside, drill four 1/8" (3.2 mm) holes that intersect this line (green circles). These will be the support holes for the pegs that will hold the rack.

7.) Apply a very small (smaller than pea sized) ball of the JB Stik to each of these holes on the "bottom" of the Wind Guard (Image 4) and flatten it out so it's close to flush with the bottom of the can. You can wet your fingers a little bit to keep the weld from sticking to them, but make sure not to get water on the putty where it needs to stick to the Wind Guard. Notice that I also sanded a bit around the hole just to rough up the surface to get a better stick. You should do this with anything you use the putty on.

8.) Going back to the inside, you will see that some of the weld has pushed through. Flatten this out as well, then slide a rack pin through the corresponding large hole, and make a small indentation in the putty. You do not want the rack pin to go all the way through the putty. A small indentation is all that is necessary. The indentation will need to be deep enough that the rack pins will not "slip" when an item is placed on the stove, but not so deep as to break through the bottom of the putty. I recommend holding a finger on the putty below so you can feel the pin getting close to breaking through. This should be sufficient. (If you do not feel that the hole is able to go deep enough without breaking through, you can add a very small amount of putty to the holes on the inside of the Wind Guard. Be careful not to use too much putty, though, as it is only able to handle temperatures up to 500 F (260 C) and will need the rest of the can to act as a heat-sink for it.)

The final indentations should look like those in Image 5.
User Tip: jacksteal4 - The trick was to wet the pegs when you put them in so it didn't stick to the epoxy.

Those who have been following this instructable will notice that this is a significant improvement over the original design. Originally, the JB Stik "nubs" stuck out on the sides of the wind guard. Not only did they block priming holes, but they had a tendency to get hooked on items while in the backpack and get broken off. This new design eliminates that problem, and makes the final stove look more "sleek."

Step 14: Creating the Base/Lid

The Base will also double as the lid for the stove.

The Base will allow you to use the stove on surfaces that would otherwise burn. It only ever gets lukewarm to the touch, and as you'll see in the end video, can be used to even hold the lit stove in the palm of your hand. Not sure why you would want to, other than to prove you can, though.

1.) Take your medium can, and cut the bottom of it off with a Dremel at about an inch and a half.

2.) Cut a hole in the middle of the bottom of the can large enough for the base of the small can (measuring cup) to fit through. This doesn't have to be particularly accurate, but don't make the hole so big that when put together, all the pieces will rattle around.

3.) VERY IMPORTANT: Use the JB Weld to "glue" the UPSIDE DOWN LID of the large can to the top (ie: part that was cut) of the medium can on the INSIDE. Make sure it is centered. Reread this, then look at the images to make sure you understand it. The large can lid will need to be flipped so the "lip" faces "upwards" on the base, or it will not be useful as a lid. I found that a piece of tape or clamps were handy to hold the parts in place while applying the JB Weld.

Step 15: Making the Pot Rack

The Pot Rack will enable you to put much larger pots and pans on your stove, making it functional for much more than just heating coffee. Between this, a mess kit, and some spices, you'll be ready to fry up some fish right out there on your little John Boat! (Do keep a fire extinguisher handy. No reason to be stupid.)

The rack doubles as both the rack that your pots and pans will rest on, as well as the "lock" for when the container is closed. (Image 2)

This is made by simply bending a piece of hanger around the stove when the lid is put on (Image 1) and then using a loop at the bottom to attach it. It's very important that this be very snug, as it will stretch over time.


As seen in Image 3 I like to use a small hooked piece of hanger to handle the rack when its hot. I curve it to fit inside the Wind Guard, and put a hook on it to allow me to pick up the rack when it's been heated. It's a handy tool for dealing with anything hot.

Step 16: Assembly (Packed)

When you're ready to put your stove in your pack, this is how it's assembled:

1.) Put your rack pins into the lid (Image 1)

2.) Put your measuring cup into the lid, and put in a coin (my lucky penny) (Image 2)

3.) Place the Penny Stove into the measuring cup upside down and put the Wind Guard over the whole rig. If you made a hook for holding your rack, this can also be put in at this point. (Image 3)

4.) Lock everything in place by sliding the rack over the whole unit. (Image 4)

That's all there is to it! You're ready to go camping!

As a final touch, to make your rig look more "professional" as well as extend its life, here's some great tips from some of the comments:

User Tip: GWESTMOR - might want to paint the stove with grill paint to keep it from rusting
User Tip:  LCsDAD - I might just DuraCoat mine in a sweet olive drab or go the opposite direction with a 'hazard' orange...


Step 17: Usage (Video)

1.) Remove rack from around stove.
2.) Remove lid/base, and empty contents (rack pins).
3.) Place lid/base upright on stable surface.
4.) Remove fuel cup and set aside.
5.) Remove stove/penny.
6.) If you created the optional hook tool, remove this.
7.) Place wind guard on top of lid/base.
8.) Insert rack pins through appropriate holes, and set them in their "nubs."
9.) Place stove (sans penny) into center of wind guard.
10.) Slowly add fuel to stove (either with fuel cup, or squirt bottle) by dumping fuel into the top of it and letting it drain.
11.) Dump small amount (will differ for each stove, experiment) of fuel into wind guard as primer.
12.) Add penny to stove, covering fuel hole.
13.) Place rack into rack pins.
14.) Light with flint striker over stove, or bring lighter near a side hole.
15.) Stove will take approximately 30-45 seconds to heat up.
16.) Use only stable flat-bottomed pan/bowl/cup to cook.

Note that if desired, the penny stove itself can be turned upside down and used to burn solid state fuels such as esbit fuel tabs.

Notes when using:
  • The pictures of the lit stove were taken in a dim room. Keep in mind that outdoors, or in bright light, you will often not be able to see the flame at all. Take care not to burn yourself.
  • Read the 2nd step's warnings.
  • Try to measure your fuel so it burns out just as you're done with it.
  • The stove can be extinguished by placing the inverted "measuring cup" over it, or blowing it out. Water will also quickly put out any alcohol fires. (Make sure the measuring cup has no fuel left in it.) Do not store the stove with fluid in it.
  • When primed, it can be started with a flint striker.
  • The thinner/smaller the utensils used to cook on it, the faster and hotter they will get. Have gloves handy.
  • If using this indoors, make sure you have a *very* stable place for it to sit where it will not get knocked over. Have a method for putting out the fire handy just in case.
  • If you cannot understand how to build it by reading these instructions, do not attempt to do so. You shouldn't be playing with fire.
The attached video shows how to unpack and use your new stove.


Any comments, improvements, or any critiques are welcome!

Step 18: Specs

After much experimentation, it was determined that for this particular design, the most efficient stove is one with 8 evenly spaced "thumbtack" sized holes. Even spacing is important for most efficient heat output. Also make sure your holes are all the same size.

  • The packed camp stove (when made with the same materials in this instructable) is 4.5" (11.43 cm) in diameter, and 3" (7.62 cm) high.
  • The stove with all options (cup/hook) weighs 6.5 oz (184.27 grams).
  • The stove can easily handle up to 5 lbs (2.27 kg). I did not bother testing further as you shouldn't need to cook anything over 5 lbs (2.27 kg). while camping/hiking, and I didn't want to destroy another stove.

When using denatured alcohol:

  • The stove can hold up to 2 oz (59 ml) safely.
  • 2 oz (59ml) will burn for roughly 30 minutes.
  • Stove should take 30-45 seconds to heat up enough to use.
  • Stove takes approximately 3 minutes to cool down after use.
  • 2 cups (16 oz, 1 lb, 473 ml, 453.59237 grams) of water at room temperature (70 F, 21.1111C) will boil (212 F, 100 C) in under 5 minutes (300 sec).
  • "Heet" burns slightly longer, but with less heat (ironic, no?) meaning longer boil times. It also has an off-putting odor. Not recommended, but works in a pinch.

Other Notes

The penny stove does have a good deal of "wasted space" in it. Particularly in the lid. If this stove is something you like to keep around "for emergencies" instead of to use regularly, consider using that space in the lid.

  • Rig a long, sturdy plastic bag (can be made with a FoodSaver) to hold 2 oz of alcohol, and stuff it into the empty space. Remove the "Fuel Cup" for even more space.
  • Add some waterproof matches or a small flint
  • Fishing hooks and fishing line
  • Band-Aids
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Water purifier tablets
  • A small compass
  • Sealed toilet paper
  • Lengths of nylon cord

See what all you can stuff into all the nooks and crannies, and you'll have the ultimate emergency kit, complete with stove! The stove can be used to get even the wettest wood started burning.
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