The Evolving Backpacking wood/alcohol/solid fuel Stove- 2012 edition

I think I have finally come close to my version of the perfect home made backpacking wood stove.

Uncle Tom's Home Made Wood Stove

Uncle Tom’s Home Made Wood Stove

In 2007, I started my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail with a wood stove.  For that trip, I disassembled an older version of the Sierra Zip Stove , replacing the inner chamber with a modified titanium Sierra cup from REI, and ditching the old heavy base plate in favor of a Lexan replacement, with the addition of three Coleman folding legs. It weighed in around 9 ounces.  The stove worked fine, but the Lexan base did not hold up (it cracked).  I replaced it in Hot Springs, N.C. where I bought a simple Etowah alcohol stove that held up well for the remainder of the 2,175 mile  walk.

But my preference for using a wood backpacking stove led me to sign up for a stove building workshop at Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous in November of 2007.  The workshop was put on by Don Kivelus, of Four Dog Stove Company. You can view all of Don’s products here: Catalogue.    Don sells a titanium wood backpacking stove, the Bushcooker.   I viewed the stove at his vendor table and when I inquired about purchasing one ( for $120) , he told me that I could buy his used demonstration model for $60, but then Don encouraged me to take his Sunday morning workshop for $10 and make my own low cost version.  I had a blast with the workshop.

We each made our stoves out of one 1-quart paint can, one 1-pint paint can, 6 sheet metal screws and and six 1/4” bolts. No special tools were needed. We used only a can opener, knife, and screwdrivers.  I have a video of that stove in use on YouTube , that has over 38,000 hits to date.
I used the stove throughout the 2008 backpacking season, and felt it could be improved.

For the last week I have been making and testing stoves.
The finished stove, including windscreen, weighs a mere 5.7 ounces.  I filled the inner can with 2.9 ounces of air dried wood, scraps really, from around my wood pile.  On 12/21/08, the air temp was a crisp 17 degrees.  I was able to rolling boil a pint of cold tap water in 8 minutes and 45 seconds from touching off the birch bark tinder with a match.  I removed the boiled water, made a pot of tea and then checked the stove at the 20 minute mark and could still see a small bed of coals glowing inside.  NOTE:  I did not add any additional wood after the stove was tindered. There were occasional gusts of wind as well.  I plan to take along a sheet of aluminum foil to use as an emergency  windbreak.

The most interesting finding about this new version is that it did not have to be tended.  The first stove required me to frequently remove the cook pot in order to add additional wood.  This one has been redesigned to allow adding wood without removing the cook pot, for example if you wanted to simmer for 10 minutes or so.  But I never needed to add any additional wood.

I also revisited an older fire building technique. This stove burns from the top down. I packed the stove with 2.9 ounces of wood, lit it from the top, and forgot about it.   Flames exit the top inner holes in this stove after the burn is halfway done.

At our summer camp,  we have a older commercial wood stove that operates under the same procedure, brand name Tempwood .  It was marketed in the 1970’s as a downdraft model. You load it with wood and kindle the top, just like this little stove.  The Tempwood works just as advertised.  There are disbelievers out there that are adamant that any backpacking wood stove can’t be a true downdraft unit, but doubters can check out the data/diagrams on the Tempwood, play around with this stove and decide for themselves.

Construction  Details:
Outer Can- 1 quart paint can, bottom removed and 1/2 “ holes drilled along base. I bought my can for $1.70 at Lowe’s.  You can use old paint cans as well, just clean them out, or throw them in a fire.  I didn’t drill all the way around,  but left untouched a 4” side of the can. You could do just half the can, in case you wanted to block wind, and add more holes later if you wanted to.   A #1 Irwin Unibit cuts through these cans quickly , but a regular drill bit is also OK.  It is easier to drill out the side holes on the paint can if you remove the bottom after you drill out the holes.

p10404561

Inner can – best choice is a Progresso soup can, 1/4” holes drilled through bottom.

Bottom of inner can with 1/4# hole pattern

Bottom of inner can with 1/4″  hole pattern

Any 20 oz. can works as well, such as DelMonte or Dole crushed pineapple.  Drill out a ring of 1/2” holes on the top of this can, about 1” apart and centered about  1” below the top of the can.

Friction fit the inner can into the paint can.  Keep pushing, and you will feel it lock.  I suspect you could use high temperature JB Weld to cement it in, but it functions with the press fit.  For long term use, I secured the fitment by screwing through the top sides of both with three 1/2 sheet metal screws.  No drilling required.

The pot stand I made was constructed from a large can of canned chicken with 3/8”  holes drilled and the use of tin snips.  I fit it into the groove of the paint can for stability.
Morning coffee anyone?

[Editor's Note, 7/14/2012]I made two modifications that retains a 5.7 ounce stove weight. The first minor mod is with the attachment of the inner to the outer can, using three small nut/bolt/washer assemblies, rather than pot rivets. The other change is with the inner can. I substituted a standard 1 pint paint can for the soup can, cutting out the base with a standard rotary handle can opener. The lid is discarded. The pint can is reversed for insertion into the quart can, with the bottom now the top, and remember to drill a row of holes below the “new top” before securing with either sheet metal screws, pop rivets, or little nuts and bolts. Instead of using the old pint can lid as a base for the firebox, a new part is cut resulting in a 3 and 1/4″ diameter piece of metal stock.

Base

Here is a diagram of the cutting pattern.

cut pattern for base

Thin sheet metal stock could be used for these finned assemblies that could be cut with metal shears and then bent with a pair of needle nosed pliers. I was fortunate enough to have an extra titanium fin assembly that Don Kivelus gave to me that fits the 1 pint can perfectly. It drops right in through the top and does not have to be secured. Not many of us have sheets of titanium lying around, but the advantage of titanium is that this will be a lifetime part. The rest cheap cans will rust and have to be replaced, but not the titanium fin assembly, which can be moved into the replacement stove, if ever necessary. I have burned out my original firebox after 4 years.

I was able to get a boil from 2.7 ounces of wood, with 16 oz.of tap water just before the 5 minute mark, lighting and building from the bottom, quickly adding dry wood. Granted, it is 90 degrees out, rather than the 17 degrees during the original tests. I was not using a wind screen.

The addition of the finned base plate appears to bring additional burning efficiency due to the vortex created by the air moving upward into the burn chamber. On 7/25/12 I received confirmation from Don Kivelus about the improvement in efficiency using the finned grate .  Here is what he sent me:

Kivelus installed his “fan grate” in the “Bush buddy” and found it improved the performance by 10-20%.
His results, as follows:
16oz water, 80 degrees F, SP900 pot /with lid
1 oz wood dowels/ 3 cc alcohol
4DS quick burn technique- [The quick burn technique -> stack your fuel wood in a random fashion in your fire pot to just below the top holes, then dribble 3-4cc alcohol on the fuel. Light, place pot, walk away and let food cook !!!]
No fan grate:  4 minutes 50 seconds = 200 degrees / no rolling boil achieved

Fan grate installed: 4 minutes 50 seconds = 207 degrees/6 min. rolling boil @ 212 degrees

Another big advantage to using the 1 pint, rather than the soup, can for the burn chamber is that the shorter vertical height allows enough height to place an alcohol burner cup under the stove. Find a small metal cup that holds 1 oz of yellow Heet or denatured alcohol- fill it, light it, and then after a few seconds place the stove over the burning cup, carefully! If you have never used alcohol for boiling, do this in the dark the first time, so that you can see the flame pattern, which is invisible in strong daylight. Also be very careful of spilling the fuel. I highly recommend taking along some alcohol so that you have a backup when you can’t find dry firewood, or just want to quickly get water boiling at the end of a hiking day. I was able to get 16 oz. of water to boil in 5 minutes, 10 seconds.

You can also use solid fuel tablets ( Hexamine), sold as Esbit or Coghlan’s fuel tablets. (Two Coughlan’s = 1 Esbit). Just light and drop into the burn chamber.

[For those of you who live in the midcoast Maine area, I'm scheduled to conduct a workshop on building your own backpacking stove through FiveTowns Adult Education on Tuesday night, 6 PM, October 16, 2012. $10 materials charge.]

A brief video of the stove in action.

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64 thoughts on “The Evolving Backpacking wood/alcohol/solid fuel Stove- 2012 edition

  1. Looks like the snow has given you a lot of time to play around these days. This is to cool for school. I know with my stove the venting out the top was not enough distance between pot and stove. so this will help eliminate that problem. I am going to make another one myself, I really enjoyed using mine this year and will definitely be taking it with me next year. The new and improved Uncle Tom version.

  2. I’ve been intrigued by the wood burning stoves for a while and it looks like you’ve nearly perfected it. I’m going to have to make one. It’s kind of funny that with all the jetboils and other super stoves out there this wood burning method seems much more enjoyable and can be made for next to nothing. I love it. Keep up the good work Tom.

  3. Out of the blue yesterday I received this message from my stove mentor, Don Kevelus. I had not heard from Don since Nov. 2007. What are the chances?

    “Tom; Great to hear from you ! Glad to see you have become a true stove tinker and injoying life and spending time on the trail ! Stay warm !”

  4. Tom, I plan on definetly making one of these stoves ! This stove would be perfect for the jobsite as theres always alot of scrap wood ! As you know , running out of fuel just as your dinner is coming to a boil is bad news !

  5. Why cut out the bottom of the paint can? If you left it in place, the stove would be a bit sturdier, and you would have a way to collect the ash that falls through the soup can holes. May also help prevent burning whatever you have set the stove upon.

    • You have to cut off the bottom of the paint can. The reason why is to slide the inner can up through and get that top edge to lock into the groove on the top of the outer can. Other wise, yes, your comments are on track.

  6. Tom. Thanks for the info. Will you post some pictures of how you used the screws to lock the inner and outer parts together, please? Thanks.

  7. hi tom,
    i made one of your stoves & was highly pleased with the results on first try. using literaly a handful of dead branchs of various diameter , broken small to fit in the stove. i laid the biggest stuff at the bottom & progressively smaller stuff with kindling & cat tail fluff at the top. the stove fired up immeditately &burned completely, right down to ash. all this in a 5 mph breeze with no wind screen.i didnt boil water etc. but there was more than enough burn time to boil up 2 + cups of water.
    just one question, how do you carry this stove in your pack without it getting squashed?
    many thanks for a great stove!
    ck

  8. Hi

    Looking around at designs for stoves like this, it seems common to have a few holes towards the top of the inner can. As I understand it, the idea is that air is warmed between the two skins and these holes funnel the warm air into the top of the fire chamber to assist burning gasses.

    But you don’t seem to do that – is there a particular reason, or have I misunderstood some difference in the way this stove works?

    Thanks

    • My stove has the upper holes in the inner can. You must have missed it …”Drill out a ring of 1/2” holes on the top of this can, about 1” apart and centered about 1” below the top of the can”. In operation, you see flames emitting from these inner upper holes.

  9. Pingback: Wood Gas Stove Success! | Everyday Prepper

  10. I am a wood stove fanatic and have been tinkering with several for some time but this stove that you have created is the epitome of a successful woodburner! I made one from your plans and have been nothing but pleased…thanks for the great idea!

  11. I used an end cap for four inch round duct as a bottom. I cut the bottom off of the paint can and slide the end cap into the bottom of it. Then I drill the half inch holes around the bottom – going through both peieces of metal. I had to file quiet a bit. Then I removed the end cap and snapped the prepared soup can into place. Then I lined up the holes between the paint can and the end cap and shoved it into place. It’s very snug. I’m going to fire it up a few times before deciding to add metal screws.

    On the first lighting it brought 20 oz. of tap water to a roaring boil in about eight minutes.

    There was a lot of smoke. Does this mean I don’t have the correct number of holes in the top or bottom?

    don
    in colorful colorado

    • I’m not sure why you need to put that end cap on there. It does sound like you have enough holes. How many did yo put on the bottom? The amount of smoke has more to do with how dry your wood is, how much moisture you have to drive off, and how much resin there is in the wood. If you got that much water to boil in 8 minutes I’d say you have a good stove there.

      • according to “guns4toys” on youtube, the inner can MUST be HIGHER than the 1/2″ holes on the bottom of the outer can, or YOU WILL HAVE TOO MUCH SMOKE!!! Just tryin’ to help. thanks for great comments and videos, guys

  12. I used the end cap to keep from leaving traces of my fire on the ground. I’ll try it without the bottom, and see if it is really so bad. Thanks for your sharing of this great idea!

    don

  13. If you don’t want to mess with drilling double holes, then you can just save the bottom of the 1 quart paint can that you originally cut off and place the can on that, or even use piece of aluminum foil. You are right that you need to put something under the stove if it is not on sand or a rock. It will burn down through wood if you do any amount of simmering with the stove.

    • I’m not sure that will work. There isn’t much space between the bottom of the soup can and that of the paint can, (about 1/4″). If you put the bottom back on the can, you reduce the gap another 1/10″. I made one of these according to your guide and it burned quite nicely with an open bottom, and poor fuel,(wood mulch fresh from the yard). I glued the bottom on the stove and, even using fatwood, could not get it to fire properly. I wound up with a lot of smoke and some charcoal. It seems that there was not enough air-flow for the main combustion.

      • I would not glue any base to the bottom, but have one available in the stuff sack for this situation. That way, even if you use the base, you can prop up the edge of the stove on the metal base with a pebble. The preferred method is to keep the bottom open. You also might want to experiment with drilling more holes in around the lower edge of the 1 quart can. Putting a base under the stove is only necessary when you need to put the stove on a wooden table, etc, where extended use of the stove would burn the table. The coals actually generate a lot of heat, which is what allows you to simmer for extended time after the boil. I actually use a flat rock, so the irregularities of the top of the rock create air spaces.
        Thanks for commenting.

      • I’ve been playing with your design. I tried 7/16 holes on 3/4 spacing around the paint and soup can. Better.. I then decided to make bigger holes in the bottom of the soup can. Much better. You can also tell your correspondents that Dole’s Tropical Fruit is approximately the same diameter as a Contadina can. It is an inch or so shorter, and it needs to be attached to the paint can by screws. Much better updraft.

  14. Thanks, I’ve enjoyed your postings all over the net. I am pretty happy with this stove. It comes in at about 9 oz, and heats up very well. I really enjoy the smoke and smell of a real fire, and eight to ten minutes to boil is a nice “break time”. The only thing I haven’t liked is all the soot left on the ring I made to hold the pan above the stove. I think I’m going to drill a 1/2 inch a hole in the center of paint can lid, and then cut some tabs that I can bend to support the pan. That way I could just flip the modified lid over and snap it into the stove with the tabs tucked inside.

    Now, I want to look for things that I might use to make a homemade Kelly Kettle type stove. I looked into using the cone part of an anglefood-cake pan, but usingn it and a 20 oz can might only heat about 8 oz of water, so I need to look around for some other materials.

    Thanks for getting me into stove-tinkering-mode.

    don

    • One improvement not on the blog yet you can try is to use hardware cloth for the pot stand. Three squares wide and long enough so that when you bend it into a circle, it fits snugly into the groove at the top of the can. Wire or clip the ends together. Cut out the interior wires to create a rectangular hole that you can pass fuel through. This pot support stores easily inside the bottom of the can.

  15. I’ve decided to try bolting three pieces of soupcan metal to the inner can that I can turn a quarter turn up for a pot stand and then turn them back down for storage. I’m hoping the soot from the fires will gunk them up and keep them from getting too loose. I figure I can use my knife blade to move them. After I turn them back into the stove, I can put the paint can lid back on and have all the mess inside (remember I have a bottom on my stove).

    don

  16. Thank you SO much. I have wanted a stove for a while, and I think this is the BEST solution possible. I have an old 1Qt paint can (I’m hoping for no rust, thinking it may have thicker walls) Progresso Chicken Barley is the best they make, check 2. That chicken can top has the wood slot “built in” perhaps a spot weld of hardware cloth on top is best of both?
    Of course, I’m sure you meant “0.9L MSR Titan Titanium POT [NOT stove?] with lid…” but thanks for those important dimensions BEFORE I order. I was hoping for a reason to splurge on titanium – saving money on a stove is a good one. ANYWAY, most of all I just want to say: THANK YOU.

  17. Hello TJ – Very inspiring!

    One questions comes immediately to mind: Can your homemade stove be used to burn alcohol, as the Four Dog Bushcooker can? I read on the Four Dog site that one places the stove over the container holding the alcohol, so would one do the same with your Evolving Backpack Wood Stove?

    Many thanks,
    Kevin

  18. Looks great. I tried the Penny Wood Stove, but liked this design better since the dirtest part was enclosed in the quart can. I made it just like above, but haven’t gotten quite the burn I was expecting. Without my pot (6″ aluminum non-covered), it never came to a boil – very close, but never made it. 70 deg day at that. I tried three burns with the same results. Now I am trying to get a burn without adding any additional fuel as it goes. Just wondering if you had any tweaks that you hadn’t published on the blog yet.

    Thanks in advance!
    Michael

    • Michael,
      No tweaks available. Sorry you are not getting a boil. You using dry wood? No bigger than pencil in diameter, laying the wood loosely in the chamber? You need to cover the pot to get the boil. Thy dribbling a few CC’s of denatured alcohol on the top of the piled-up wood and ignite that, or use a bit of lint from a clothes dryer filter screen.

  19. Thanks so much for such GREAT instruction! I’m definitely going to make one of these. I’ll try it your way first and then play around with an even smaller size. Only one question though: In the picture above that shows the paint can and the can of crushed pineapple, off to the right there’s a little porcelain squirrel-sort-of thing with a little cap on. WHAT IS THAT???? Ahahahahaha!

    P.S. I’m from Maine too. :)

    • Melanie, thanks for the reply. The figurine you refer to is a little Christmas bunny salt shaker! I am in the process of refining the stove again, and plan to switch to back to an earlier model that had an inner 1 pint paint can, but now I have these with a titanium fan bases that will vortex the air. I was at the Sherwin-Williams store today trying to buy some new 1 pint cans but they don’t carry pint cans any more, so I am looking for some sources. Stay tuned and let me know how your stove works out. Maine is the best.

  20. Hi there, and thanks for the update on the bunny salt shaker, LOL! Well, I went ahead and did it. I built my first wood gas stove, but instead of making it smaller as I said above, I made it larger. Total weight with pot stand is 7.6 oz. I tried using a drill — eek! power tool! — for the first time and failed miserably, so I just used hand tools: An awl, hammer, tin snips, and can opener. It’s not the prettiest stove, but it works quite well and I’ll keep tinkering with it. I’d like to post a little video I made on how I did it but I don’t know how to do it. Could I just e-mail it to you and you could post it, if you want to, of course? Let me know. Thanks! I had a ball doing this!!

  21. Howdy, and thanks. Not sure how to send it to you. There’s nowhere to click to find your e-mail. When you reply on this thread, I do get an e-mail but it comes from “donotreply@wordpress.com,” so that won’t work. We’re both probably hesitant to put our e-mails here, but I’ll take a chance with mine and then hopefully you can erase it. Please e-mail me and then I’ll send you the video. melanielee at comcast dot net. I think you might like how I affixed the burning chamber to the lid of the pot. My cans weren’t all the same as yours so I couldn’t use a “pressure fit,” and I decided to forgo the epoxy route because I was too impatient to wait for it to dry, LOL. None of these are my original ideas. I just looked all over the net and tried to find the best of all instructions and took ideas from everything. Thanks!

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  23. Hey I thought I would chime in! I make the wood stoves al the time for my Scouts. At the bottom of the paint can you need at least two rows of holes ! This will eliminate the amount of extra smoke that some of you are having! If you bring an alcohol stove as backup put the paint can lid on and the pot holder on also and slide your alcohol stove ontop of the lid and you have a nice wind guard and pot stand for your alcohol stove! I put my alcohol stove inside my wood stove and put the lid on and put the wood stove inside my hillbilly pot for a really nice lightweight set up!

  24. It struck me that controlling the airflow would be an interesting improvement.. so instead of figuring out the optimal hole number.. what about a “carburetor” of sorts… one could use something like a steel bike pant strap… or some other bendable/springy metal.. with holes drilled at the same locations as the outer cans’ lower holes…. placed to slide around the lower diameter of the outer can.. this way one could meter the airflow.. sort of like the old Weber BBQ’s…

    • I plan to make a newer version within a month and the improvement will be in the air intake, as you are considering yourself. Rather than controlling, it will accelerate the mix, which should result in shorter boil times, and possibly less fuel . Thanks for replying and stay tuned!

  25. Hi Tom!
    I made your stove! I’m just starting to get into backpacking, and liked the DIY element of the stove, and also the price. All the gear is so expensive. $55 for a tiny stove, and those gas cannisters! Not for me.

    My stove had too few holes, and so the burn could have been better, so I’m just going to make some more holes. Voila!

    Can’t wait to see your new, improved plans.

  26. How’s those improvements coming? I’m going camping with my ol’ man soon and I dont wanna use our propane stovetop for cooking, I want to be close to natural, with a nice touch.

  27. Hey UT,

    Glad to see your report on wood burners. Check out the folks on hammockforums.net. There are a ton of folks making and modifying wood stoves. Seems to be a major past time on how to get the lightest and most efficient burner. You will find many similar to yours. Look under the DIY sections. Check out our “most ” famous hammock guy – Shug. Many vids on light weight camping with hammocks, stoves, snow, all the good stuff!

    • Easiest is to first get a good pile of 3 inch long or so dry pencil-thick wood ready. Get some tinder, either bit of firestarter, clothes dryer lint, or dry birch bark shavings. Tip stove over, light kindling, then loosely lay over wood, and adjust things to get it burning. Put it down, and keep adding a little wood every 90 seconds or so, preferably through the pot stand so that the stove can continue to stay on the fire.

      • I’ve been putting lint in between the sticks, and lighting. It doesn’t go down, it just goes out, and it’s really dry wood. I think wood chips are starting to work better, but when I add more chips, I have to blow on it. Is that an oxygen problem? Thanks for the answers so far. I think I just about have it, and I think I have a mod you might like.

      • Try building a fire from the bottom up. It is possible that there is not enough air in your packed mass of wood. What’s the modification?

        Tom Jamrog Sent from my iPhone

      • The modification is vents for methane, so making it a small gasifier, too, instead of a woodstove. I fill it up with chips to the vent level, and light the bottom. It burns hot, and it burns the methane. I’ve got water to boil in 4m 53s with that mod.

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