Ultra-simple, Improvised Camping Stove

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Introduction: 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

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

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.

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    70 Discussions

    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

    1 reply

    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!

    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!

    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.

    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.

    1 reply

    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.

    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.

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

    4 replies

    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.

     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

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

    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!

    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.

    1 reply

    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