You have a life outside of work. Fun Friday gear reviews are just like they sound. These are posts for those who play as hard as they work. This post is on how to make an excellent homemade ultralight backpacking stove.
Watch the Video for Step by Step Instructions
Why do you need an ultralight stove?
Wilderness areas often prohibit campfires and a portable stove is your only ticket to a hot meal on a cold night. If you are bugging out, smoke from even a small campfire is a surefire way to get your camp raided, or worse. Dry and dark camping may be your only option.
On an escape route, your ability to move quickly and silently may save your life. Every ounce matters because weight and bulk slows you down.
Why denatured alcohol?
High tech means high maintenance. Compressed gas or white gas stoves are relatively noisy. They hiss or roar like a small jet engine when in operation. It may not seem like much but your escape route may mean a trek through the wilderness. Wilderness areas at night are dead silent. Any noise is bad noise.
Silence and the darkness are your friends. Stay dark, stay silent, say hidden, stay alive. The alcohol stove makes no noise and the blue flame is dimly lit. Denatured alcohol can also be found much easier than compressed gas canisters or white gas.
Shelter, food, water. Those are the essentials. Once you are in a temporary safe place, you want to quickly boil water to make it safe to drink. You will then want to boil water to rehydrate, and heat, a freeze dried meal. This is not a time for gourmet meals. This little stove will deliver on the promise to a fast, safe, and stealthy way to boil water and provide much needed nutrients.
This post is about how to create hot meals with a reliable stove that does not weigh as much as a brick or cost as much as a five course meal. This stove was cheap, easy to make and serves its purpose very well. The goal with this stove is to boil water. We are not cooking a pot full of seafood gumbo or your favorite chili recipe. The point here is to make something hot, edible, fast!
Here is what you will need:
- Cheap $1 extruded aluminum bottle from the Dollar Tree or similar bargain store. DO NOT go out and buy a $20 SIGG bottle. The cheap versions are less rigid and work best.
- A cutting tool. It is not necessary to use a dremel tool with cutting wheel. It just made the job easier. You can use an affordable hand saw as well.
- Drill and drill bit in the size of 1/32. You can also use 1/16 bit and make less holes.
- Sandpaper in 60 grit.
- Measuring tool like a small tape measure or a ruler.
- Sharpie or permanent marker.
This stove burns denatured alcohol (preferred). It will also burn isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol 70%). 2oz lasts about four minutes in the stove. You can get denatured alcohol at almost any hardware store.
Make a wind screen and ground mat out of tin foil. This serves as a wind break which greatly improves efficiency. The ground mat helps prevent your stove from catching the forest on fire. Make the tin foil windscreen and ground mat by sneaking into your kitchen while your wife is asleep and snag all of her tin foil. Make two pieces 12″x12″ each. Fold them in half for strength.
Step 1: Measure
Make a mark on your bottle approximately two inches from the top, not including the plastic cap. This mark should be 1/2 of an inch below the spot where the bottle starts to expand.
Step 2: Cut the top and base
Carefully cut the circumference of the bottle separating the two inch section from the rest. Do your best to maintain the 2″ measurement all the way around, evenly.
Use the freshly cut two inch bottle piece, place it next to the base of the bottle. Mark the base of the bottle two inches from the bottom to mach the piece that was previously cut. Your goal here is to create two pieces that mach when pressed together. The bottom cut should be two inches in height just like the top piece.
Step 3: Invert and Press
Place the two inch high base facing up. Invert the two inch piece, with the bottle spout, facing down. Press the two pieces together. Note: DO NOT press the top of the bottle all the way into the bottom. There should be a small gap inside the pressed pieces so the fluid can seep into the chamber. This gap should be 1/32 in width.
Invert the newly pressed pieces together. Lightly sand the open end of your new stove on a flat hard surface. This should even out the ends of the two pieces that have been pressed together.
Step 5: Drill the holes
IMPORTANT: Only drill through the outer layer of the stove. If you drill all the way through the flames won’t come out the holes.
Measure one drill hole approximately 1/2 inch from the top or just slightly below where the expansion chamber starts from the top. If you are using a 1/32 bit then you will have twice as many holes as you have if you are using 1/16 bit. Be sure they are evenly spaced all the way around. These holes are where the heated alcohol that transforms from liquid to gas escapes creating flames.
NOTE: I had to use a larger drill bit because my 1/16th bit broke…oops. The smaller the holes, the lower the flame will be. You can see from the picture my flame is a little too much.
Step 4: Sand
Make sure and sand any sharp edges off for safety. You can sand as little, or as much as you would like. I wasn’t too concerned about the cosmetic appearance of this DIY camp stove myself.
Step 5: Fill and Light
Fill your new stove with approximately 2oz of denatured alcohol. DO NOT OVERFILL. Swirl the liquid around in the bottom for it to seep into the chamber.
Light the small amount of alcohol that is left in the bottom of the stove. The flame will be faint and difficult to see. In approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute, you should hear and see the alcohol start to slightly boil and turn to a gas. Small flames should begin to emerge from the drilled holes in the side of the stove.
Good to go
After the flames start to aggressively exit the drilled holes, you can place your pot on the stove. Expect boiling water in less than 3 minutes.
Vernon Taylor says
Camp stoves are a fascinating subject and really the heart of a camp. I have used a few methylated spirit burners and made a couple from softdrink cans. When I was a kid there was a cheap and very good spirit-burning picnic stove available but Camping Gaz butane stoves became popular and they disappeared.
These days anyone who wants a small, light and efficient spirit burner can’t do better than purchase the one from the Trangia kit or one of the rare but cheaper copies. I just checked ebay and it seems I am out of date and spirit burners are back in vogue.
Spirit stoves have superior performance to the alternative – the solid fuel combat style stove is abysmal even though they are safer and lighter.
I still prefer the traditional paraffin pressure stove though petrol stoves tend to be more practical and I own a couple of examples of both.
The main trouble with camp stoves is how the price of fuel has gone through the roof, but that must be endured as mostly in the UK camp fires aren’t allowed.
The Oncoming Storm says
if you make grooves in the mouth of the bottle, you can drive it all the way down. also, it’s better to drill the holes BEFORE you assemble it. less chance of “oh $h!t, i drilled to far!” mostly, i carry a emberlite knockoff, that way i won’t have to pack fuel and yet it’s small enough to not attract attention. if things are too risky for that, i have an esbit stove with a pack of fuel tabs inside and a spare pack in the ruck.
The Oncoming Storm says
i meant to say “that way i don’t have to pack a bottle of fuel.”
I like your campstove.
This would make a great weekend project to teach kids how to make essential survival gear.
I was wondering if you left the base part longer and drilled your holes 1/2″ from the of the base. Would this give you a longer burn time?
I was thinking of using suck a stove to use in a terra cotta pot heater.
I would like any thoughts you could offer towards this idea.
I think I’ll try making this with my kids. Just a thought how much of the bottle is left after cutting off the top and bottom? You could always cut the left over to size and then cut thru to make a ‘wind screen’. Just slip the stove into the screen and secure with a rubber band or Velcro strip for packing. At the campsite when setting up bend out the screen for max effect.