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Old 09-05-2011, 03:13 PM
Alan Alan is offline
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Join Date: May 2009
Location: Vancouver
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Default Cheap, Light, Alcohol-burning "Penny Stove"

JetBoil and MSR make very cool high-tech stoves that are quite light...and pricey ($65 for the most basic JetBoil). Instead, you can make your own stove that is lighter, costs less, runs on alcohol (available everywhere) and works just fine. In fact, you may be able to scrounge the parts you need to make it for free! There is actually a whole range of simple alcohol-burning stoves around. A commercially available Trangia (nice brass unit) is about $35. But that's still more than you have to spend, and it's a little heavier than this one you can make for yourself which works just as well.

There is loads of info scattered around about homemade alcohol stoves--search for things like "pop-can stove" or "penny stove"--but the two sites that helped me the most:

1. - Mark Jurey's instructions for building and operating a penny stove. If you read all his directions and follow them carefully, IT WILL WORK! Some directions are on different pages, so browse it all before you begin constructing a stove.

2. - General information on many kinds do-it-yourself stoves with lots of background info, comparisons and links to other sites.

The very first penny stove I made worked but I did need to seal it up with JB Weld epoxy as explained on Jurey's site because the crimps on the burner ring slightly split the side of the fuel cup, and it leaked slightly around the burner ring. Same with the second attempt. The trick for me was gently tapping the burner top into the fuel cup, moving around it as I tapped, rather than pressing the whole thing in at once. The first one had too small a fuel cup depth and the second was too deep, but they still worked. By the third, fourth and fifth tries, I nailed it every time, no epoxy, even experimenting a bit with dimensions, can size, jet locations, base construction, etc. Once you have production set up, it takes about 10 minutes to mark, drill, cut and assemble the burner. The wire pot stand and windscreen are another 10-15 minutes total, but they can be re-used with various burners; you don't need to make them each time you try a new burner. The stove needs the whole system to work properly: burner, burner stand, simmer ring, pot stand, pot and windscreen. So, before you throw up your arms and scream "it's just not working right," be sure you have put together the whole kit!

Many kinds of aluminum cans will work just fine but some seem to fit better or have a ring around the bottom that makes for better flame-jet positioning. My favorite burner so far is made from two Budweiser Clamato beer can bottoms, with the top of a 12-oz Red Bull can for a base which fits perfectly (all scrounged). One made from two Tecate cans for both burner and base, as Jurey describes, also works perfectly (drank those ). My third good one is from Steel Reserve 24-oz beer cans (scrounged, no way I'm drinking that!), and the next one will be from Arizona Ice Tea 23-oz cans with a base from one of those Bud Clamato tops. (PS - that one works very nicely, too.)

Last night, my Tecate penny stove brought 2 cups of cold tap water to a full boil in about 4 minutes. After a couple test runs to figure out the simmer ring[1] I decided to actually cook a rice-and-lentil curry dish on it. It worked perfectly, heating the water quickly, then simmering down a a gentle boil for about 25 minutes of cooking time until the alcohol burned out, followed by another 10 minutes resting under a cozy of towels. Recipe: 2 C water, 1/2 C brown rice, 1/3 C orange lentils, 1 t curry powder; came out a little wet but just fine for rehydrating after hiking/biking. No scorching on the bottom of the pot!

I'll leave the construction and operation instructions to those other websites, particularly the Jurey site, but just to indicate how cheap and light it is, here's the materials list:
  • Two or three aluminum cans . . . . . . . . . . free (or cost of whatever beverage you choose)
  • One or two wire coat hangers . . . . . . . . . free (or some other similar guage wire)
  • 18" of fine steel or copper wire . . . . . . . . free (scroungable; e.g. florist wire)
  • One penny . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $0.01
  • Aluminum dryer duct . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $4.00 [2]
  • HEET alcohol fuel dryer . . . . . . . . . . . . . $2.50 12-oz [3]
  • Cooking pot (1-2 qt) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $14.00 (~6" diam; e.g. Open Country aluminum) [4]
  • Lighter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $1.00 (or matches, or lucky find)

For tools you'll need a ruler or measuring tape, drill (1/16" bit; you could substitute a push-pin or sharp tack for the drill), scissors, Sharpie, thick book (phone book), straight edge, pliers with wire cutters for pot stand. Tin snips for the windscreen or you could do it with a sharp knife and straight-edge, or with tough scissors, kitchen or pruning sheers. Fine sandpaper for finishing edges (optional). Once you've assembled materials, tools and have Jurey's instructions handy, it will take about an hour to build your first full set-up.

Burner, windscreen and pot stand will all pack down into the pot, and even the fuel if you decant it into a 4-oz plastic squirt bottle (which is plenty of fuel for dinner and breakfast for two). The thin wire is for assembling the coat hanger wire pot stand. All the rest of the details are well presented on Jurey's site, although I strongly suggest a slightly modified simmer ring[1]. Total weight is around one pound depending on the pot and how much fuel you pack. Burner alone is about 1/2 ounce, windscreen and pot stand an ounce or so each.

[1] Make the simmer ring out of the same heavier-guage aluminum as the windscreen. Thin ones from the sides of aluminum cans burn up very easily.

[2] Get dryer vent at any hardware store. You could also try a disposable roasting pan or other scrounged aluminum sheeting that is a bit thicker than aluminum cans, but the dryer vent is just about perfect. One section of dryer vent will make enough for several complete stoves, each stove using two pieces: 4"x12" for the windscreen and 3/4"x~9" for the simmer ring.

[3] Any highly distilled alcohol will work as fuel. For testing and home use, I go with cheap denatured from the hardware store. For camping, I'll pick up some 190-proof Everclear from the liquor store for its higher heat value and because it can double for "medicinal purposes" in a cup of cocoa. HEET is available darn near anywhere--auto stores, super markets, convenience stores, gas stations--so it's available en route on most bike journeys; get the yellow bottle, not red (which has a lower grade alcohol which makes less heat).

[4] Lots of choices! You might already have a camping pot which will work, or you can spend more for titanium to shave a few ounces. I had a stainless steel 1-qt camping pot that works very nicely, a little heavier but transfers heat very well.

Caution! Safety!
NEVER use petroleum products in these stoves!
NO: gasoline, white gas, diesel, kerosene, etc.
Alcohol burns with a clear flame, and all parts get very hot even if you can't see the flame, so be careful when these stoves are lit.

Last edited by Alan; 12-16-2011 at 10:53 PM. Reason: minor edits; PS; yellow HEET!!
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