Thursday, December 28, 2006

85 holes

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I intend for this blog to not only be a forum for vegetable oil and alternative fuels, but also for traveling and camping in general. To this end, here is my first experimentation with ultralight camping tools...

Growing up in New Mexico, I loved hiking, camping, and backpacking. Unfortunately, this is something I haven't kept up in the intervening (let's just say "several") years. So, I'm trying to get back into backpacking. In looking at the modern world of backpacking, I found a cool sub-genre called ultralight backpacking. The ultralight backpackers' philosophy is essentially that less is more. If you carry less, you can walk further. They figure out how to do just as camping with less actual objects in their packs.

So far so good, right? Here's where my interest really gets piqued: most ultralight backpackers' equipment is made by hand, including stoves, tents, and even (gasp) backpacks. This defninitely triggers the hobbyist tendencies in me, so I'm going to explore this stuff. They are making equipment from empty cans and tarps that easily rival the most expensive equpiment out there!

Well, since stoves = fire, and therefore the greatest chance for personal harm, that's where I decided to start.

I have been eyeing the excellent looking (and highly recommended) penny alcohol and penny wood stoves created by Mark Jurey for quite some time, so I decided to attempt to build the easier wood stove first.

After looking at the photos and descriptions of the penny wood stove, I chose to make a small adjustment - in the penny wood stove, Mark cuts the top ring of the can and forms the sheet metal to hold the stakes. I realize that he does it to save weight and space (his stove fits inside his cooking pot- very clever), but I don't think the (small) weight savings are worth it, for a few reasons:
  1. It looks like this step decreases structural integrity of the stove.
  2. This step increases the complexity of the build and chances of failure
  3. I'm pretty sure that cut metal = even more sharp surfaces that can cut me and my equipment.
  4. I'm lazy and I don't own a pair of tin snips. Why should I? Tin snips aren't power tools.

Chances are, I'll end up buying a pair of tin snips and eating my words on this, but I'm anxious to make fire, so let's proceed, shall we?

Update: yeah, I'm probably going to cut the ring off, to make the thing shorter - Mark really does know what he's doing...

Instructions for making my modified penny wood stove:

1 Large can of tomatoes, emptied (28 oz) - I use one of those new-fangled can openers that cut from the side, to decrease the number of sharp edges on the thing...

3 Tent stakes (from your tent, to save room, weight and space)

1 Center punch (you can substitute a nail)

1 Hammer or mallet

1 Power drill (yay for power tools!)

1/8" bit

1/4" bit

1 Variable diameter bit (great for drilling larger holes in sheet metal)

1 Circular file (for removing sharp edges and metal burrs)

1 Pair of safety glasses

Note: Before drilling any holes, use the center punch (or nail) and hammer to make a dent where you want to drill. This keeps the drill from "walking" and going places it shouldn't (such as your hand).

Note (2): Wear eye protection!

Note (3): Despite my enthusiasm for power tools, remember that they are very dangerous, know proper technique, and never use them when you're tired or under the influence of chemicals.

Note (4): Theses instructions are for informational purposes, and are only here to document what I did last night - if you follow in my footsteps and hurt yourself, burn down a forest, or singe your pinky finger, I accept absolutely no blame. Please, please, please be careful and don't hurt yourself or others!

  1. Drill six 1/2" holes in the side wall of the can - 3 in the top and 3 in the bottom, in pairs, each pair separated by 120 degrees.
  2. I used the file to bend the upper (near the opening of the can) holes so from the outside, the opening bends downward, and I bent the lower holes so the outeside opening bends upward. These holes are where the tent stake will pass.
  3. Drill a 1/4" hole into the base of the can, inline with each of the 3 pairs of 1/2" holes.
  4. Make sure your tent stake can pass through the 1/4" hole and each 1/2" hole, and end up poking out the top of the can (this may take some forcing the first few times, carefuly bend the can to allow the stake to pass. Remove the stakes before continuing.
  5. Drill six 3/16" holes between the 1/2" holes, and bend the upper 3/16" holes to match the upper 1/2" holes. The upper holes will act as air jets to help promote combustion. There should now be 6 holes in the upper part of the side wall and 6 holes in the lower part of the side wall, and 3 holes in the can's base.
  6. Drill about 70 1/8" holes into the base of the can.
  7. Using the metal file, remove all those sharp pointy bits you just created in your can.

You now have a can with 85 holes in it.

Insert the stakes (you removed them between steps 4 and 5, right?), go outside, place a pot with water on there, and test it out!


I took a small crumpled piece of newspaper and put it in the bottom of the stove, followed by a few broken pieces of wood (nothing resembling a good campfire), lit the paper by inserting a lighter into a lower hole, and stood back (it was a breezy night).

Very quickly, the sticks lit up and began burning quite well! After the paper died down, I was amazed at how ferociously the little bit of wood that I had in there burned! This photo shows the fire well into the burn, and obviously needing a wind shield (the next part of the project).

All in all, it burned itself out in about 5 minutes - most websites I've seen recommend loosely packing the can so it's almost full of fuel before lighting to get a long burn.

Next up: a wind shield and a more prolonged test of the stove.

After that, I'm going to attempt to build the alcohol stove (for use when there is no dry fuel available)


  1. is that flame concentrated enough to boil water quickly? That's been my issue with stoves like that.

  2. I haven't done enough experimenting with it yet. In my very short experiment, on a cold windy night, with no wind shield, the water heated up quite a bit. As I said, I was impressed with the intensity of the flames - it got quite hot.

    I'm in the process of making a new one that fits inside of the pot. Once I'm done with that stove, I'll perform a more lengthy experiment and post the results.

  3. Thanks for sharing. I don't like cutting metal too ;-)