DIY Alcohol Stove

By: Mark Valenzia

I've been looking for a light weight and cheap backpacking stove for some time now. After doing a bit of research on Google and YouTube I found a design and thought I'd give it a go.

DISCLAIMER: This build/DIY guide is for informational purposes only, I do not guarantee the safety of this design or build process. I have built this stove for my own purposes and it will be used by myself at my own risk. If you decide to follow or use this guide you do so at your own risk. Remember people, you’re using sharp tools, there is sharp metal edges and your working with fire. Have the proper safety gear and equipment available.

Research

I started my research as do most people these days, on the internet and like so many others I started with Google. After finding numerous designs and names from the ‘penny can stove, 'hobo stove’ and ‘soda can stove’ I settled on an open jet style design. I found a fantastic site by the name of Zen Backpacking Stove which had a list of different types of alcohol stoves and a basic construction page. It was here that I started reading up on the construction of the stove and what materials and tools I would need.

Materials and Tools

A lot of the designs on-line use 2 soda cans to make their stoves as they utilise the bottom of both cans. These designs are fine and work well but I found you needed a pot stand to help focus the flame. You also have to cut up 2 cans and there is a fair bit of waste. After some careful planning a few prototypes I found a way to make it out of a single can.

Before I started construction I had to get my materials and tools in order. I have listed below both the materials and tools I used in the construction of my stove.

  • 1 375ml soda or beer can (rinsed)
  • A black permanent marker
  • 1 ruler or tape measure
  • A pair of scissors or tin snips
  • A stapler.
  • Box Cutter or Stanley knife
  • A thumb tack
  • A a couple of thick books like the Yellow Pages (bigger the better)
  • A flat work surface
  • A block of scrap timber and box cutter blade (option and I’ll explain why later)
  • Alcohol fuel (I use Methylated Spirits)
  • A lighter or matches
  • A fire blanket and or large pot to smother the stove if needed.

Materials needed to make the stove.

Materials needed to make the stove.

Prep the Can

First thing you want to do is grab your marker, your thick book and your drink can. Make sure you’ve rinsed your drink and let it dry before cutting it as any residual liquid will come out. Standing the can upright, place the marker on the thick book so the tip is approximately 25mm (1") in height off the work surface. We want to mark a line 25mm from the bottom of the can, you can achieve this by opening the book and flipping the pages to increase and decrease the height. Once the height is set, holding the can against the book and marker. Slowly rotate that can 1 full rotation, and this should leave a straight line around the entire can, which we’ll use later as a cutting guide.

Next, increase the height of the marker so the point is 65mm (about 2.5") above the work surface and repeat marking the can by rotating it again. This 40mm piece of can will be used as the inner wall which is important in directing the vaporising fuel to the jets.

Now we will flip the can on it’s head and mark a ring around the can 35mm (1-3/8") in height using the same technique as above. With the can in the upright position we should have 3 rings marked around the can at the following height measuring from the bottom.

The can should have 3 lines marked on it as listed above.

The can should have 3 lines marked on it as listed above.

  • First line at 25mm (1") from the bottom of the can.
  • Second line 65mm (about 2.5") measuring from the bottom of the can.
  • Third line 35mm (1-3/8") measured from the TOP of the can.

Now it’s time for us to start cutting the drink can up into its individual components.

Cutting the Can

With the can in the upright position, you will see a groove in the top about 3-5mm (about 1/8") from the cans lip. Slowly and carefully start scoring your box cutter or Stanley knife blade around the groove. You have to be patient doing this as you want a nice clean cut. It will take several rotations to score out enough of the aluminium to cut through the top as it’s much thicker than the rest of the can. You can punch through the top and cut it out that way but it leaves a jagged edge which may catch on your gear or cut your hand. Scoring the top multiple times will give you a cleaner edge and a more professional look.

Scoring the can will give you a much cleaner look.

Scoring the can will give you a much cleaner look.

With the top now cut out you’ll need to grab your scissors to cut around the rings marked out earlier. Carefully punch a hole through the can between the top pen mark and the middle line. This is where we will cut the can in two as this area is going to be waste material. With the can cut in two, carefully cut around the top line and set aside. Repeat the same process to the middle line (now the top line) on the bottom portion of the can.

We now have to cut a straight line from the middle line to the bottom line of the can. This cut seems to line up well with the barcode on most drink cans so use that as a guide. When you get close to the bottom line, cut a small round corner to line the scissors up with the bottom line and continue cutting along the bottom line pen mark.

The three sections of the stove.

The three sections of the stove.

The Inner Wall

Once you have your three sections cut, it’s time to make the inner wall for the stove using the cut middle section of the drink can. To do this, grab the middle section and form a cylinder that will fit inside the bottom section of the can inside the pressed rim (where the outside of the can makes contact with the work surface). This should leave a 5mm (about ¼") gap between the outside can wall and the inner wall you just made. Trim off any excess overlap on the inner wall so it leaves a 5-10mm (¼-½") overlap and staple the top and bottom to hold it in place.

Next cut 3 evenly spaced ‘V’ 5mm (¼") grooves in the bottom of the inner wall. These are important to allow the alcohol to get in between the outer wall of the stove and the inner wall. This gap is where the alcohol vapor will rise up and out of the jets.

Tip: If you have a single hole hole punch, you can punch 3 evenly spaced half circles instead of cutting ‘V’ grooves which is what I now do.

The completed inner wall of the stove with the 3 grooves/punch holes.

The completed inner wall of the stove with the 3 grooves / punch holes.

Assembly

This part can be a bit tricky and does require a bit of patience and perseverance to get the stove assembled. Start by taking the bottom of the stove or another full can and wriggle the bottom of the can into the bottom of the top stove section (see photo below). Basically you are trying to increase the size of the top section of the stove so it will slip over the bottom portion of the stove.

Tip: Be careful doing this as you don’t wont to split the top section of the can and you don’t want it to get stuck on either.

Wriggle the bottom of a can into the top section of the stove to make it a little wider.

Wriggle the bottom of a can into the top section of the stove to make it a little wider.

Once you’ve stretched the top a little you can start to assemble the stove. Place the inner wall (with the grooves / half circle holes facing down) into the bottom section of the stove. Then slip the top of the stove over the bottom, this bit is the tricky part and takes some time. Once you get the top part over the bottom, slowly and carefully push the to portions together. It is important to make sure when you do this the inner wall stays in the bottom groove of the can and the top of the inner wall should insert into the top groove near the lip of the can.

Tip: Use the off cut from the inner wall to make a shim by folding it in half length ways. You can then use it to help lever / coax the top part of the stove onto the bottom. You can also cut a small knick in the top of the bottom section so it overlaps itself when fitting the top.

Making the Jets

With the stove assembled it’s time to make some jets for the alcohol fumes to burn through. Start by taking your marker and placing a dot on the top of the can about 12mm (½") from the top lip. Now rotate the can 180 degrees and make another mark at the same height. Rotate the can 90 degrees and place a dot splitting the middle of the two dots. Do the same on the other side and keep splitting the difference until you have 16 evenly spaced dots.

Grab your thumb tack and start pushing it into the can on each dot to make your jet holes. Pay particular attention to not push the thumb tack through the inner wall. When I make the holes in my stoves, I tend to push the thumb tack down angling towards where the inner wall meets the bottom. I think this helps direct the jets up towards the pot base and helps eliminate punching holes through the inner wall.

Testing

This is where we get to test out our new stove. As we are lighting a very combustible fuel that burns almost clear in daylight, please take extra care when testing. Have a fire blanket near by, do it in an open area away from other combustible materials and have a large pot that you can cover the entire stove with to smother it if needed. Fire needs 3 things to burn; fuel, heat and oxygen. To put it out you need to remove one or more of these elements and in the case of the stove it’s the oxygen by smothering the stove. I use Methylated Spirits for my stoves but you can also use either a rubbing alcohol or surgical grade alcohol.

Get a small pot and fill it with 1-2 cups of water, place the stove on a heat tolerant, flat surface away from combustibles and place the pot onto the stove to make sure it will be stable. Remove the pot and fill the stove up with about 5-10ml of fuel and get ready to light the stove. Using a lighter or a match, light the stove and you should hear a poof or whoomp noise as the fuel ignites. If you are doing this in daylight it may be difficult to see the flame. If this is the case, carefully wave you hand 300mm (12") above the stove to see if you can feel any heat. If you can it is lit, if not try lighting it again.

Once the stove is lit, it takes a few seconds for the stove to prime itself. Basically it is heating up the stove and alcohol and when it gets to a certain temperature the alcohol will start to vaporise. This vapor will travel up the inner wall and start to escape through the jets. When this happens it will light making 16 gas jets or something similar to a gas stove. As this process is starting it may look as though the jets are fluctuating in size or they may light one at a time. Once they stablise, place the pot of water onto the stove carefully as not to tip the stove over or burn yourself and keep an eye on it.

Tip: Make sure you have a cup and tea bag handy to make yourself a brew once you water is heated

Modifications

Since I started making these stoves I’ve been looking for ways to make them better and speed up the process of making them. I found adding another row of 16 holes slightly under the first ring of holes and offset by half, decreased my boil times. I also purchased a specialty cutting tool like the one below to cut the tops out of my stoves and use it with a jig to cut it on the drill press.

A Circle cutter like this can reduce the time required to cut the top out of the can and results in a cleaner cut finish.

A Circle cutter like this can reduce the time required to cut the top out of the can and results in a cleaner cut finish.

I have also made a jig for marking the cut heights on the can and use a utility blade to score a mark on the can instead of using a marker pen. This helps speed up the production of these stoves but is not necessary if you’re only going to make one or two. I have made at least a dozen stoves so far and currently have 12 more ready for assembly.

Jig for marking the cut heights on the can.

Jig for marking the cut heights on the can.

These stoves are a great alternative to a gas stove and weigh in much lighter at around 12 grams plus fuel. They are fun to make, easy to use and they cool down very quickly making them quick to pack up. This is now my go to stove for short hunts and overnight stays and they are cheap as chips to build and run. So next time you have a beer or soft drink don’t just throw the can in the recycle bin, why not make a stove out of it.

Until next time, happy hunting.

Mark Valenzia

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