Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tin Can Stoves

I love propane-fueled camp stoves for their ease of operation and controllable burner temperature. But, one of the problems with this kind of stove in a long-term survival situation is limited fuel supply. Run out of propane and you’re done cooking.

An alternative is the use of natural fuels like wood. There is an interesting stove on the market called the Stratus TrailStove. It weighs less than a pound, is about the size of a hiking shoe, costs about twenty-five bucks and fuel is free forever. This little stove will burn twigs, small bits of wood, or charcoal. There are no moving parts to fail and the thing is dumb as a tin can, so you can hardly screw it up. To learn more about this stove, go to

If you don’t want to spend money for the commercial version, build your own tin can stove for next to nothing. By improvising, you can turn a piece of trash into a functional kitchen appliance. Here’s how to build one:
  • Start with a coffee can, cut out the top, dump the coffee into another container and let the lid fall to the bottom of the can. 
  • Turn the can over and, while holding the free lid tight against the bottom inside the can, take a punch-type can opener (the kind that makes triangular-shaped holes) and work it around the outside of the can adjacent to the bottom so you end up with 10 or 12 vent holes punched in the side. The metal that is punched into the can by the opener will hold the free lid in place. When the can is turned over, this will be a double top that serves as your cooking surface. The double layer of metal helps distribute the heat a little more evenly and slowly. 
  • At the wide-open end of the can, cut two slits up the side about four inches apart and three inches in length. This allows you to bend the “door” up so you can feed fuel into the stove, and so it can draw air inside. 
You can fuel this stove with pinecones, needles, twigs, small bits of wood, or whatever you can find. But you can also fuel it with a homemade “buddy burner” made from a discarded tuna can, a bit of corrugated cardboard and paraffin wax. 
  • Start with a clean, empty tuna can from which the lid has been removed, but save the lid. 
  • Cut long strips of corrugated cardboard that measure about an inch in width. 
  • Coil the cardboard inside the can so that it is completely stuffed, but not crammed too tightly. 
  • Melt paraffin wax into the can until it is full. 
  • A wick is useful, and can be made from an inch of wax-soaked string. 
To use the burner, light the wick and slide the burner through the door of the tin can stove. It will burn for about two hours before all the wax is consumed. If you use the saved lid to cover the burner and put the fire out when you’re through cooking, you can use the burner for several meals before it runs out of fuel. Replenish the fuel by melting more wax into the cardboard coil.

Using this type of stove allows you to carry lots of fuel safely in plastic baggies. No worries about explosions or running out of fuel. Do take precautions, however, to ensure that the ground beneath the stove is nothing but mineral soil or rock, so you don’t start the forest on fire.

When not in use, the stove is an empty cavity into which you can stuff whatever will fit.

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