Introduction: Volcano Picnic Plate

Eat, Drink and be Merry with this all in one food and drink assist system.  Everyone loves outdoor finger foods but with one hand holding a plate, and another holding a drink, there are no fingers available to actually get food to your mouth.

The worst things about outdoor eating...not enough hands.
Outdoor eating by nature is a mobile event.  As you move about, circulating amongst the guests (or fellow campers), it can be difficult keeping track of where you left your burger and Kool-aid.

It sure would be nice to keep both the vittles & venom in a single hand.

Make a Volcano Picnic Plate that combines food and drink into a single convinent carrying module.
It truly is, a "Handy" way to carry all your refreshments; wet & dry, while leaving a hand free for eating.  No need for a table.  This set-up keeps all your food mobile, so you can actually eat on the go, as you wander about.

Use it with conventional glass bottles for a quick empty "cartridge" replacement. Or use a wide mouth refillable drink container; very practical for camping. 

Camping Aid
In addition to outdoor entertaining, there are various adapations that make this system a versatile outdoor camping essential.
A dedicated wide bottom container (like a sports drink bottle or a traditional campers water bottle) creates a pedestal to keep a plate full of food up-off the ground.
This is especially useful when camping with our Boy Scout troop in the back woods; where picnic tables tend to be rather scarce. 

This is an easy to make project that is a great extra hand at camp.
You can eat while standing, when tables are scarce, and yet, set your food down, up off the ground, to tend to the fire.
This Instructable is entered in the Summer Camping Contest.  If you like it, be sure to vote. Thanks.

Step 1: Lend a Hand

Don't be anchored to a picnic table, the Volcano Picnic Plate keeps you mobile while keeping your food, drink, and utensils in check.

Anyone who's loaded up at a buffet line while trying to hold a plate and a cup knows there is no easy way to put mustard on a burger without finding room to set something down. Something's gotta go. If you're lucky, there are a few inches of clear table space to set your drink down; if not, you're out of luck.   

Keep a hand free by using this Instructable to make Volcano Picnic Plates; with a variety of different plates and hole sizes to acccomodate your beverage container of choice.

Although  various style containers can be used, there are two main application methods:  

Method 1:  Dedicated Container (preferred) - With this method, the volcano plate is sized for a reusable  wide mouth sports drink bottle. (photo 1) Fill the bottle with your favorite beverage and ice, and slide the plate over the mouth of the bottle. A cap, with a straw hole, screws onto the bottle to hold the plate in place.  With this method, the plate is held securly to the bottle.  Just lift the straw to drink.

The advantage of this method is that the wider bottle can be used as a pedestal to elevate the plate when the bottle & plate unit is set on the ground.  Also, because the two are securely attached together you can hold the plate without the bottle dropping out.

Method 2: Loose Bottle - This method allows for quick bottle removal for drinking, and empty change-out. (photo 2)  Quick release of the bottle for drinking means that the bottle is always in hand. (You cannot hold the plate only; the bottle will slip out.)
Also, the plate and bottle should not be set down together. The narrow base of the bottle will not keep a plate with food from tipping over.

Method 2 is fine for back yard bar-b-que's where a new bottle can be grabbed from the cooler however, for camping, I prefer the screw cap water bottle from Method 1; with a secure plate that can be set down, up off the ground.

Step 2: Volcano in Action

Sure anyone could put a hole in a plate and set it on a bottle...and that would be fine for burgers and chips.
However...How do you contain wet picnic food from dripping through a plate with a hole?

A plate with a hole kind of defets the purpose of a plate... to hold food...all kinds of food... including saucey picnic food like coleslaw, beans, or BBQ sauce. An ordinary plate with a hole won't keep these food from dripping.

The real secret of this plate is the Volcano.
The Volcano hole  in the plate accommodates a drink, while the height of the Volcano walls keep food liquids from leaking through.

Step 3: Construction

Most any soft flexible plastic plate will work however, it should be a thicker reusable plate (2-3mm thick). Thin disposable plates are not structural enough
The type of plate used here is from a family of plastics known as Polyolefins.  Common grades are Plopropylene (PP) or High Density Polyethylene(HDPE).  (HDPE is the type of plastic used in milk jugs.)
Olefins are a soft, almost waxey feeling plastic. (Ref. Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers)  
Stiffer acrilic type plastic plates, which are more brittle, probably will not work.  They likely will will not form as well when heated.

1. Drill a hole in the plate.
The starter hole is much smaller than the required finished diameter. The "Volcano" shape is formed during the process of stretching the starter hole.  Try various starter holes sizes to get a taller volcano draw depth (~3/4" dia for a plate to be used with a glass bottle)  
Experiment and customize with different hole sizes to accommodate different types of containers

2. Heat the center of the plate.
A hair dryer works well (only because I don't have a heat gun)  but, it could have used the higher tempatures of a heat gun to make the proceess faster.

The use of a torch to heat the plate is not recommended.  Too much heat, too fast.  You only want to soften the plastic to make it pliable.  A torch will take it to molten & scorched in no time.
If the plastic becomes too hot and approaches moltan rather than just softened, there is a good chance the plate will warp beyond use.  The hair dryer never got it hot enough to take it to that point however, becasue of the lower heat output, it took several minutes to sufficently soften the center of the plate.

3. Stretch the hole to form the "Volcano"
While continuing to heat the plate, push it down over a mandrel to stretch and form the volcano shape.  I used a glass long neck bottle as a mandrel.  For different size holes I used various long neck glass condiment bottles to stretch the hole and for one I even used a tapered shot glass.
- There will be some shrinkage as the plastic cools.  Leave the hot plate on the bottle as it cools to minimize this.

4. Finish the hole edge
While a hair dryer / heat gun was used to soften the plastic plate for forming, a torch can be use for a finishing touch.
Carefully, and quickly, pass a torch flame over the raw edge of the volcano rim.  This will deburr, and round the hard square edges of the cut hole. The torch will add a finished soft edge to the hole but, care must be taken with the torch or the extreme heat will, melt, warp or make other areas of the plastic shiny.

Step 4: Refillable Beverage Container

The volcano hole can be sized to any size beverage container however, I like the size of this sports drink container.
The mouth is wide enough to allow for ice to be added yet, not so large that it take up too much plate surface.

Bottle Base
With this particular set-up, the bottle can be used as a pedestal to keep your plate up off the ground. (demo photos in step 6) 

The wide bottom of this bottle creates a stable base that prevents a plate full of food from tipping over when set down. 

Cap Hole
Drill hole to accomodate a straw in the top of the container lid. The size will depend on the size of the straw you plan to use.  It should be sightly oversized to allow the straw to freely drop through.
   - As an alternative to drilling, a hot metal rod (heated with a torch) plunged through the lid will form a nice hole without a ragged edge. In the case of this particluar sports drink bottle, it will fuse the plastic of the inner cap liner to the separate plastic of the cap itself.  
Note: Plunge from the underside of the lid up through the top. This will fuse the liner better, and create a rim lip around the top of hole.

There are two approaches for the straw:  If you can find a straw long enough, the end will be far enough above the surface of the plate to allow you to drink without "putting your face in your food."
A conventional length straw can be used but, will need to be "pulled-up" with your free hand to drink.
Personally,  I like the shorter straw; it drops down out of the way for eating.

Note: When using a sports bottle, the plastic "cap ring" should be removed from the bottle.  The plate will sit down better on the neck of the bottle without the ring. Also, this will provide enough height for the cap to be screwed on over the plate.

Step 5: Camping

A Volcano plate can be sized for a classic camper's water bottle.  Perfect for backpacking in the backwoods.

Backpackers commonly have to carry their own water on the trail, and for cooking at camp.  The volcano plate can be used with popular refillable water jugs.
To carry water, I use a regular cap on the bottle for travel, and then screw on a modified cap, at camp, for use with a drinking straw on the Volcano plate

Perched on the bottle, the plate can be set next to a camp stove to use as a food prep table.  The bottle keeps the plate off the ground and the hanging utensils are close by for stirring the cook pot.

Step 6: Up Off the Ground in the Wilderness

A wide base bottle is a pedestal  to hold the plate up off the ground.  It provides a safety moat between the ground dwelling crepy crawlies, and my dinner. 

Perfect for setting your plate down in the backwoods when picnic tables aren't available, or use it as a mini tray table alongside a lightweight backpacking stove.  Perched on the bottle, the plate can be used as a cook station food prep. table. The bottle keeps the food off the ground and the hanging utensils are close by for stirring the cook pot.

Commercial backpacking water bottles can be used however, I like to re-purpose a plastic sports drink bottle.  It holds the same amount of water, and its wider base provides a little more stability when used as a plate pedestal.  

Step 7: Utensil Caddy

Utensil balancing is another outdoor eating challenge. You can't eat beans with your hands, yet a fork or spoon balanced on a plate is just waiting to teeter to the ground.

Another Volcano Picnic Plate feature that helps eating mobility, is utensil management.

Flatware can be hung from the rim of the plate by adding slots.

1. Drill two holes at the ends and and cut to remove the web of material between to form a slot.

2. A torch was passed over the slots to round and finish the edges of the cut slots. 

Silverware or plasticware can be stored in these slots when not being used without fear of having them fall off.

Summer Camping Challenge

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Summer Camping Challenge